From John F. Kennedy announcing that the U.S. would put a man on the moon and bring him back safely to Earth by the end of the Sixties to the reading of the Proclamation of Irish Independence outside the G.P.O. in 1916, the power of making a declaration should be obvious.
Aussie swim coach, Brenton Ford, hit on why it’s important to make declarations in one of his Effortless Swimming newsletters when he wrote:
“A friend of mine has registered for next year’s Melbourne Ironman. It will be his first one. The small act of registering will set in place an entirely different twelve months than if he hadn’t registered. Why? Because he now has a reason not to hit the “snooze” button. When it’s cold and wet outside, the challenge he has coming in March 2014 will be pulling him out the door and to the pool like a persistent child nagging to get what he wants. When you set a big goal it sits in the back of your mind with every decision you make. “Should I eat this donut?” ….”If I skip this session I promise I’ll make it up tomorrow.” When your big goal is set, it’s easy to make those decisions.”
At the outset of large business transformation projects executives often make large ambitious declarations in order to transform the future of their organisations. According to Tracy Goss, a well-known U.S. consultant “a declaration is an act of speaking that brings forth a future the moment it is spoken…Once you declare a specific impossible future, your way of being now operates in relationship to that declaration.” Whatever about the executive changing their own way of being, it’s another thing to change the way of being of an entire organisation.
With my own life I’ve found that declaring that I’d do the Dublin Marathon in 2008 and 2010 as well as doing this year’s Mallorca Ironman 70.3 brought about considerable changes of behaviour in order to achieve those goals. The declarations in 2010 and 2014 didn’t have as much transformative power as the one in 2008 as I knew by then that physically I was capable of achieving those aims. Before 2008 I had never put in the work required to complete a marathon, and hadn’t a clue if I’d be able to do it. Still, I changed my behaviour and completed a training programme in the hope that I’d be able to seal the deal, and I did.
Though a triathlete attempting an Ironman for the first time may not be entering entirely alien territory – which a business executive undergoing a radical transformation project may well be – it doesn’t make the undertaking any less daunting. It’s a huge physical commitment and nobody knows if their body will be able to cope. Both the triathlete and executive may eventually achieve their goal, but more often than not, the process embarked on as a result of making the declaration will be a lot dirtier and more haphazard than the training programmes or the neat Harvard Business Review “in hindsight” case studies will have you believe.