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Unlocking Your Potential: A Guide to 'How to Begin' by Michael Bungay Stanier

Mar 26 2023
Unlocking Your Potential: A Guide to 'How to Begin' by Michael Bungay Stanier

Embrace the spark of creativity and embark on your pursuit of a significant objective - one that invigorates you and simultaneously sends a shiver down your spine, an aspiration that not only satisfies you but contributes more than it consumes. In this engaging and instructive article, acclaimed writer, and business visionary Michael Bungay Stanier presents his 

Discover the "How to Begin" method to propel you into action on your path. Michael Bungay Stanier's pragmatic guidance and user-friendly activities lead you in the pursuit of your objective while simultaneously identifying potential obstacles that could deter you from reaching the finish line. Allow Stanier to inspire you to unleash your potential. 

Key Insights: 

  • Awaken your desires to create a meaningful impact in your life and the world around you. 

  • Establish a "worthy goal" that merits your dedication and effort. 

  • Refine your worthy goal's initial draft through feedback and evaluating its practicality. 

  • Solidify your worthy goal draft by ensuring it is genuinely "exhilarating, significant, and intimidating." 

  • Contemplate past "false starts" and existing habits that may obstruct your progress. 

Acknowledge the innate inclination to maintain the current situation. Reflect on the personal attributes you will develop and the potential hazards you will face while chasing your worthy goal. Make steady progress by regularly evaluating your plan's robustness. Rely on your support network and discern who should accompany you on this venture and who should not. 


  • Ignite your aspirations to foster change in your life and the surrounding world. 

  • Joy rarely stems from acquiring status or financial prosperity. Instead, it arises from experiencing a rich life and engaging in meaningful endeavors. 

Embrace your aspirations and expand your abilities to tackle meaningful endeavors. Utilize your skills and determination to improve both your own life and the lives of others. Consider leading a team focused on a significant project, exploring innovative technology, launching a podcast, or volunteering within your community. "Our greatness is unleashed by addressing the challenging tasks." Channeling your ambition can be tough without a concrete starting point. A dependable method is required - one that clarifies your objectives, no matter their scale, and supports your commitment to accomplish them. 

The "How to Begin" approach provides practical and dependable steps that assist you in: 

  1. Establishing a "worthy goal" that not only exhilarates you but also positively impacts the broader community. 

  1. "Committing" to your goal while acknowledging the risks and sacrifices involved. 

  1. "Crossing the threshold" by initiating small steps, envisioning your best self, and involving others in your quest. 

To set a "worthy goal" deserving of your time, focus, and energy, ensure it meets these three criteria: 

  • Thrilling – The idea or project excites you, aligning with your desires rather than external expectations. 

  • Important – Your concept benefits others around you, whether on a small or large scale. 

  • Daunting – The idea pushes you beyond your comfort zone, stretching your talents and capabilities. 

When formulating your worthy goal, consider its sphere (work or non-work), scale (extent of influence), and class (context). Draft an initial statement of your goal, then refine it by soliciting feedback and assessing its feasibility. 

To solidify your worthy goal, employ actionable verbs and measure its "thrilling, important, and daunting" aspects using the "voting test." If the total score is below 18, enhance your statement by specifying commitment level, time for completion, quality of deliverable, and desired outcome. 

Continuously revise your goal, incorporating additional factors to create a well-defined and energizing objective. 

As you finalize your worthy goal statement and feel it encapsulates the essence of the challenge, start committing to your objective. Reflect on past "false starts" and current habits that could obstruct your progress. When tackling new challenges, contemplate your approach to significant goals in the past. Analyzing previous false starts helps you determine why you stalled or made minimal progress. Reasons may include external discouragement, dwindling interest, uncertainty about seeking assistance, or impatience due to lack of immediate results. "Understanding your starting point is crucial, if not indispensable, for achieving your worthy goal." 

Also, evaluate present habits that may impede your success in reaching your worthy goal. These habits can consume time and energy, diverting you from your pursuit. Examples include lowering your standards, making your goal seem less important; committing to other projects, putting your goal on the back burner; or excessive research leading to inaction. Be mindful of behaviors you do not exhibit, such as neglecting to attend conferences or not allotting sufficient time for completion. Assessing these habits for patterns and insights allows you to proceed with a clear vision. Acknowledge the natural human preference for maintaining the status quo. 

People tend to favor the status quo, but what are the implications of not embracing change? Perform an analysis weighing the advantages and disadvantages of maintaining the status quo. First, determine what you gain by avoiding this challenge and identify any patterns these "rewards" reveal about yourself. For instance, by not committing, you maintain control, allocate time for other projects, and avoid the risk of failure. "Breaking free from the status quo requires energy, which occurs when the drawbacks (the cost you and others bear for not pursuing your worthy goal) outweigh the benefits (the comfort of things remaining unchanged)." 

Next, assess the costs of accepting the status quo, such as missed opportunities for personal growth or mastering new skills. Consider not only your personal "penalties," but also the potential losses for others. Compare the pros and cons to determine if you need to reevaluate the rewards and drawbacks or reframe your goal to make it more appealing. 

Pursuing your worthy goal will enhance certain personal qualities, but also entails risks. Committing to this challenge yields external benefits like financial gain or recognition, as well as internal rewards that foster personal growth. However, sacrifices may be necessary, such as reduced time for other activities or potential disappointment. Evaluating the benefits and risks provides insights into your current position. 

To move forward, take small steps and test frequently to ensure your plan is robust. Regular testing and data analysis allow you to make informed decisions and avoid potential obstacles. Consider three common testing strategies: 

  1. Reflect on past successes to gauge risks realistically and prepare yourself psychologically for the future. 

  1. Conduct small-scale experiments to test assumptions, estimate required resources, and gauge your enthusiasm. 

  1. Commit to practice by repeating small experiments and recognizing your progress. 

By following these strategies, you will steadily advance towards your goal while minimizing risks and maintaining motivation. 

As you progress on your journey, there will be moments of self-doubt. Remind yourself of your best self to overcome these apprehensions. Utilize the "This Not That" technique, where you use concise descriptions to recall your past peak performances. For instance, consider how you excelled in meetings when you were calm rather than reactive, or how you felt invigorated instead of burdened during successful projects. Develop a list that highlights your emotions at your best and refer to it when feeling disheartened. 

Your support system is crucial, and it is essential to identify who should accompany you on your journey and who should not. Exclude those who take more than they give or cause you to proceed with caution. Avoid anyone who makes achieving your worthy goal even more challenging. "Having the right people around you are invaluable, especially when venturing into the future." 

Instead, surround yourself with a diverse group of supporters who will help you succeed in accomplishing your worthy goal: 

  1. The steady warrior: Stands by your side through ups and downs. 

  1. The healer: Offers encouragement during challenging times and inspires you to be your best self. 

  1. The teacher: Provides guidance, insights, and clarity to help you navigate challenges. 

  1. The visionary: Encourages you to aim higher than you initially believed possible. 

  1. The challenger: Playfully disrupts your comfort zone to promote growth. 

Author Michael Bungay Stanier is a best-selling writer, public speaker, coach, and founder of Box of Crayons, a learning and development company that assists clients in transforming cultural behavior within their organizations. 

"How to Begin" by Michael Bungay Stanier is a practical guide that helps individuals identify and pursue their "worthy goals" - goals that are thrilling, important, and daunting. The book offers a step-by-step process to set, commit to, and achieve these ambitious goals, unlocking one is potential and fostering personal growth. 

The "How to Begin" process involves: 

  1. Defining a worthy goal that excites you and serves the broader community. 

  1. Committing to your goal while recognizing the risks and sacrifices involved. 

  1. Crossing the threshold by starting small, envisioning your best self, and engaging others in your journey. 

The book encourages readers to reflect on past false starts, identify behaviors that hinder progress, and recognize the human tendency to favor the status quo. It emphasizes the importance of weighing the pros and cons of change, acknowledging personal qualities that will be enhanced and risks that will be taken when pursuing a worthy goal. 

To achieve success, the author recommends taking small steps forward, frequently testing assumptions, and using a support system of like-minded individuals. By following this process, readers can unlock their ambitions, stretch their capabilities, and make a positive impact in their lives and the world around them.