Levels to Achievement: Lesson 1 (Intro and Defining Levels)

A little while back I listened to the book The Power of Moments by Dan and Chip Heath. It’s a great book with lots of wonderful stories and an actionable rubric for creating powerful moments for one’s self and for others. During one chapter, they tell the story of a guy that beat his video game addiction by turning his real life into a video game. That fellow’s name is Steven Kamb and he went on to write a book about his process for beating his addiction and creating a system that helped him manufacture incredible achievements in his life. It’s called Level Up Your Life: How to Unlock Adventure and Happiness by Becoming the Hero of Your Own Story. (Obnoxious title, right? That’s fine. He’s on to something).


He set up a system of levels that worked like the video games he loved so much—each one getting progressively more difficult, or more anxiety producing, as he moved toward achieving his final end.


In the book, they talk about his example of wanting to play the fiddle at an Irish pub—in Ireland, not some chain knock-off in Times Square. So, he set about creating his video game, level system. He practiced for a certain period of time to reach level one, then he played with other people, and he moved on through a series of levels that lead to the culmination of fiddling in a pub in Ireland. That’s pretty fucking cool.



So, I set to experimenting on myself with little goals that would just make me more efficient with work or getting things done around the house. Then, I took the project to our staff at BSP NOVA, and we used a level system to complete big projects. Geoff used it to begin construction on a civilian first responder course. Megan used it to outline her nutrition program. Jon outlined a massage business. Chris used it to order his end of year work. And I used it to finish the first draft my novel.


All the while, I was experimenting with it during our End of Block meetings with our clients, finally settling on a structure and a worksheet that we now use to guide our end of block meetings and help our clients get clear on what they’ll aim toward during the next four months of their training. (P.S. We also use this level system to guide the Strength Faction In-depth Coaching process.)


And we’ve noticed a few things.


First, this process is difficult for people. Our clients were used to our End of Block meetings and projecting forward to an end that might be four months to a year away, but building out the steps to get there is difficult for them. And it makes sense, its rare that people are asked to do stuff like this. But exposing them to a process like this helps them carry it over into other aspects of their lives. But they need time and assistance to think through the different levels that will lead them to their ultimate goal.


Second, people get clarity. Through the process of thought, conversation, writing, and doing, our clients get a better picture of where they’re going. The levels give them the short-term action to achieve a long-term vision, and it makes the changes seem less daunting. It also creates milestones that are cause for celebration, or at least a feeling of progress on the way to completion.


Now that we have some background, let’s get into tactics.


Vision First


Before we start talking about, and flushing out, levels we have to know what they’re leading toward. We have to start with a vision. The Heaven-Hell goals form that you filled out at the end of the “Feeding the Piggy Bank” lesson is a great tool for helping you get clear on your vision for the next sixteen weeks. You have to think, and write, about an ideal situation you’d like to create for yourself. You get to create an aim—an achievement that transforms your life to a place that you think is more valuable than where you currently are. And that’s cool. We all need that.


But as we look at visions and partition them into levels, there are a lot of ways we could think about them, unpack them, and break them down—but we’re going to think about them, for simplicity’s sake, in two ways. We’re going to consider Event Visions and Cumulative Visions.


Event Vision


This is prepping for one big achievement—think playing fiddle in an Irish pub. It could also be lifting a certain weight or convincing someone that you find very attractive that your genitals are worth exploring—at least for a night.


Cumulative Visions


Cumulative visions work just the way you’d guess—they are the outcome of accumulating effort toward something. Now, an event achievement could, technically, be considered the outcome of the cumulative effort leading up to the event. But, when we’re thinking cumulative visions we think about the process of creation step by step rather than thinking that our efforts lead up to a single event.


For example, let’s say that you want to overhaul your coaching process and that you’re going to spend the next sixteen weeks focusing on that. At the end of the sixteen weeks, your efforts would culminate in a new system, but it wouldn’t be one grand event that’s over now that you have the new system, unless your sole purpose is to use that system for one day and then throw it away forever. We guess you’re not going to do that—because, honestly, that would be a very silly thing to do.


Cumulative visions are about taking efforts that culminate in a transformation.


Ok, So Which One?


Here’s a space age, super complex answer—it depends. Seriously, it depends on you and what you’re trying to do. Sometimes an event vision is going to make more sense and other times a cumulative one does. Having a little blend of both usually serves us well, but if you really want to focus in on one cumulative achievement or one event achievement, that rules, too.


Think about where you are right now, and what you’re trying to do, and make a choice.


Defining Levels



I’ll preface the rest of this section by saying the time frame and the amount of levels that you’ll construct are totally up to you. We use a four level system because our blocks are four months long—a month per level. But, in theory, you could construct as many levels, denoting whatever intervals and durations, you choose so that they work within the context of your vision.


But, for our current purpose, we’re going to use four levels.


Let’s have a quick chat about defining these suckers.


It’s Systematic Desensitization…with Prizes!


Look, I’m going to get nerdy up on ya for just a second. There’s this process in psychology land called systematic desensitization. Essentially, it’s a process of helping someone get over a fear, or something equally as emotionally affective, by systematically exposing them to it.


That’s essentially what we are doing here—we are systematically exposing you to a better you by allowing you to create a process that systematically challenges you to improve. Present you gets to meet future you one step at a time, and at each step along the way you get to win a victory and create a celebratory moment for yourself.


Think Video Game


I love framing the levels this way—it made so much sense when the Heaths’ presented it in their book. Video games typically draw us in for two reasons—they take us on a journey and we have periodic accomplishments after struggling to complete something relatively difficult. And the difficulty increases as we get deeper into the game. We get to strive toward an aim, and our progress gets reinforced incrementally.


And, here’s the deal, it’s the striving and seeing progress that actually gives us more positive emotion than the achievement of the goal. It sounds crazy, but our brain is adapted to be reinforced more strongly by progress than it is by achievement. Nevertheless, we need the aim to strive for, we need to define it, and we need to use the levels to reinforce us along the journey. Besides they create these little “hooray!” moments that feel nice.


So, we plan in levels that progressively get more challenging and let us know that we are making progress toward our vision.


Let’s break them down level by level.


Level 1: A Smaller Hurdle


When plotting out level one, think about how level one goes in a video game—usually pretty easy with a slight challenge at the end. It’s a jump of a small hurdle. In this level, think about getting the party started and getting some momentum rolling. Even if your vision is an event achievement, consider making level one some kind of habit that builds momentum.


Example: Let’s say someone has a vision of deadlifting 200 pounds by the end of the year, but right now they don’t have the hip mobility to pull from the floor. Level 1 for them could be diligence with their hip mobility/active leg raise correction drills, setting a goal like doing them every day just before breakfast for thirty straight days.


That kind of Level 1 would take them closer to being able to deadlift from the ground, which in turn would take them closer to being able to deadlift 200 pounds—at least safely. It’s also an easy momentum builder—just check the box every day and at the end of 30 days you’ll have knocked out a level. It’s very easy to see progress and feel successful.


Level 2: A Little More Challenging


Ok, you’ve projected forward after setting up a Level 1 that you think will help you build momentum and progress you toward being ready for a challenging Level 2. You should feel a bit more stretch now.


Let’s shift gears to another example so that we’re covering lots of ground with this level system—demonstrating that it can be applied to achieve any type of vision or goal.


Example: We’ll hypothetically say your name is Todd and that you have a decent voice, and are a decent guitar player, but have a fear of performing in public but you’d really like to do it. We’ll say your Level 1 was getting your set list together for a gig. Level 2 could be playing in front of people in your home. You have to do something difficult for you, play and sing in front of people, but you have the comfort of home to give you a little cushion—and the people you’re performing for are your friends. So, it would be a nice, middle ground challenge.


Level 3: Up the Ante


It’s time for another step closer, and a bigger challenge. What will take you closer to your vision and demand a little more from you.


Let’s return to the hypothetical “your name is Todd” example.


So, you’ve done your living room gig. Your friends came over and listened to you play a few songs as you stuffed them with food and alcohol to make it all very agreeable for them. And it went pretty well. Now, it’s time to take the next step.


You decide to do a gig for the clients at your gym. No longer can you count on the comforts of home, but the gym is still pretty familiar. And, now you can’t cherry pick the folks that show up because you’re going to let all of the members know that you’re doing it so you can’t control who comes.


You’ve taken a step further into uncomfortable territory, and played a gig that stresses you out a bit more, but still in a familiar territory and with people you know. It was a good next step. Let’s look at the final step and the “big boss fight” in Level 4.


Level 4: The Big Boss


Ok, it’s go time. Level 4 is the big boss level. You know—when you beat almost every level of a game, but there’s that one gigantic challenge left for you, to defeat the boss of all bosses.


If you’re working toward an event vision, this would be the event—lifting a certain amount of weight, killing your dance recital, that kind of jazz. If you’re taking on a culmination vision, these are the final big touches that culminate in your transformative experience.


Want to keep pretending your name is Todd and you have a goal of playing a public gig? Cool, we can do that—no sweat.


So, Level 4 is the gig. It’s getting out on stage, in front of strangers, and playing those songs that you’ve been rehearsing—vulnerable and ready to stretch yourself to your capacity in that context.


What’s Your Gig?


We all have that equivalent of that first solo gig that we want to accomplish. What’s yours? Is it an event or a culmination? Is it something that you’re going to do this year or within the next couple of years?


Here’s an idea to get you into a good practice before applying this level system, use it for your Faction goals. Use the vision that you wrote about in your Heaven-Hell goals form at the end of the “Feeding the Piggy Bank” lesson and unpack it into four levels that will take, step by step, toward achieving that vision.


Give yourself some space to think with this, don’t rush or force it. Think, write, revise, and pay attention to yourself as you’re acting throughout your day. What are you doing? What are you fantasizing about? What are you really telling yourself that you want and wish to do. Capture that and use it to build your levels.


In 2010, two dudes Chris and Todd, started the business that would eventually become Strength Faction.

You know how they say the rest is history? Well, it’s not.

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