What Tony Robbins, Antarctica and my dog taught me about getting started

Updated to Business, Productivity on January 3, 2023.

For over three hours we sat uncomfortably on the shag carpet of a West Vancouver home listening to a giant of a man berate us about mindset, attitude and “awakening the giant within.” He didn’t seem aware of the time or the numbness in our butt – he was fired up and in no hurry to move to the final experience of the night – the fire walk.

The man was Tony Robbins and this is how he started – thirteen people, three hours of lecture, followed by the slightly-bizarre fire walk ritual. And then he was off to the next city and the next group.

Of course we all know about his best-selling books, sold-out, multi-day live extravaganzas, schmoozing with world leaders and top athletes, and the island in Fiji. All nice toppings on the cake – I’m more interested in how he got started.

And he did it one step at a time.

In this post (which coincidentally is being published at the start of the new year) I’m going to be your “Tony Robbins” (sans fire walk) and challenge you to get started.

It could be your marriage is stalled (been there),

your work or entrepreneurial enterprise has gone stale (been there too),

your body has divorced you for Häagen-Dazs,

or you’ve simply lost faith.

Here’s what I learned in Antarctica that changed the course of my life.

What I learned in Antarctica

On our way to the Antarctic Peninsula

When I stepped off our supply ship (in truth, a retire shrimp boat) onto the glacier in Jones Sound, just inside the Antarctic Circle (66° S), I knew something magical had occurred. Just three months prior I was in a office crammed with ice axes, skiis, large blue plastic drums (I would learn later these were for packing food) and meeting with two of my future partners: Pat Morrow (first Canadian to summit Mt. Everest) and Martyn Williams (first person to walk to both poles).

How did we, three months later, have a ship, volunteer crew from three countries, 400 drums of JP1 airplane fuel and the start of what would become (and still is) the world’s only private airline, tour company and guiding service in Antartica?

We took the first step.

We can all plan, but inertia is what gets results. Whether you buy into BJ Fogg’s start-flossing-just-one-tooth tiny habits advice or research that proves we love to complete what we start, it should be self-evident that to overcome Newton’s first law of motion (a body at rest tends to stay at rest), we need to get started.

What I learned from my dog

Every day in rain, snow, or glorious sunshine, I walk my dog, Riley. And, unless we ran that morning, he gets an evening walk to boot. Riley is a mild-tempered (with the exception of pugs – apologies to my neighbour 6 doors up) Golden Doodle my wife said we should get in memory of an angelic young man she treated for many year for Muscular Dystrophy.

Riley in the moment.

And so, one August, with two very very happy young daughters in the back seat, we returned home with two very cuddly puppies: one for us and one for the boy’s parents.

And now I walk Riley.

Somedays I’m in a funk – thinking about work that’s piling up, or feeling rushed. Somedays I feel great – my morning writing had gone well and I’m feeling on top of my game. None of that matters to Riley.

You see, Riley is in the moment.

Sniff, sniff, lift a leg, pee.

You won’t catch Riley first conferring with a list or going to his InBox hoping to be distracted from the work at hand. No sir. Lift a leg and pee.

Work done, he’s happily trotting alongside me again.

We can all learn from Riley.

And here’s what I know about life.

What I know about life

Let’s be blunt. Nobody gives a flip what you did yesterday. Nobody.

All they care about is what you’re doing today. That’s it: done, finito, kaput.

When I said “Yes” and set about finding a ship to cross the Drake Passage I was creating my future.

I could have spend my energy worrying that I’ve never (caution: this is a very long list):

  • been to Antarctica
  • rented a ship
  • sold trips to the South Pole
  • rented airplanes
  • raised $1 million in pre-sales
  • hired doctors, radio engineers, mountain climbers or any of our nefarious crew

If I’d invested my energy worrying about what I HADN’T DONE I would have run away screaming.

If you know what you need to do, but are still on the start line, here’s what I recommend.

What it takes to get started

I don’t know what’s your biggest burning goal for this year, but I do know it won’t happen until you get started. Here’s a formula that never fails to give me a kick in the momentum:

  1. List everything you want to do. Next decide what are 1-3 big goals you must do and cross out the rest (this year I am only working on 1) speaking, 2) BOSS and 3) SOS.) This is perhaps the hardest and most important – don’t move on until you do this.
  2. For each of the “must do” goals, define them in as much detail as possible (see SMART goals). That’s the picture that drives you on. For our business in Antarctica, we knew each year exactly the outcomes we needed to create.
  3. Now it’s time for milestones. In our business we build a Campaign Calendar to map out projects and product launches. Even if we aren’t certain about Q4, we can plot out the first three quarters – that’s a start.
  4. Finally it’s Flight Plan time – dial down your big goals to this week and get those actions on your Flight Plan.

Get started

Tony Robbins was in that living room in West Vancouver because he got started. Three years after saying “Yes” I was able to sell my equity in Adventure Network, move to where I live now, and buy a house all because I got started.

And my dog Riley? He’s still happily lifting his leg and…well, you know the rest.

So, what are you doing to get started?