Have you ever been struck by a crazy and impulsive idea, wondering what would happen if you actually pursued it? I recently had an experience like that, so I'm in a good place to share some insights about it.
On Wednesday I returned to Las Vegas after a 23-day road trip. It was an amazing journey through 9 U.S. states and 2 Canadian provinces, and I'm so glad I did it. For the purpose of this article, I want to focus on one particular day of that trip: Day 21.
Actually, the story of that day began the night before. I was staying in Columbia Falls, Montana, a small mountain town west of Glacier Park. I knew that I wanted to visit Yellowstone Park the next day, but I wasn't sure where I was going to stay the next night.
I figured that if I left before dawn, I could make it to Yellowstone by noon and still have several daylight hours to enjoy the park. But I didn't care to stay the night in Yellowstone or any of the surrounding towns. After Yellowstone, I wanted to hit Salt Lake City next. But from Columbia Falls, it's about a 6-hour drive to Yellowstone, and then it's another 6-hour drive from Yellowstone to Salt Lake City. Depending on which route I took, the total distance would be at least 750 miles. That was way too much driving for one day. I'd have to split the distance over two days and find a place to spend the night in or near Yellowstone.
But then some voice inside of me said, "Make the whole journey in one day. So what if it's crazy? It will be a kick-ass challenge. Frakkin' go for it!"
It was a crazy idea of course. Who in their right mind would do a 6-hour drive, explore Yellowstone Park for several hours, and then do another 6-hour drive — all in one day? That's just nutso.
And yet, I couldn't shake the idea. I went to bed that night still dwelling on it. Part of me said I should go for it. Another part of me dismissed it as ludicrous. So I went to bed undecided. I didn't make any plans for where to stay the next night because I wasn't sure what I was going to do.
The next morning I popped awake at 4:45am. I packed up, got gas for the car, and hit the road at 5:50am. As I began driving to Yellowstone, snacking on apples and bananas so I wouldn't have to stop for breakfast, I was still possessed by the crazy idea of making it to Salt Lake City by the end of the day.
As I anticipated, I made it to Yellowstone Park just before noon, driving through some amazing terrain along the way. Going at my own pace, I visited many interesting sites including rivers, geysers, hot springs, Yellowstone Lake, and more. I saw deer and bison as well as a wolf and a small bear. I exchange light banter with other tourists. I witnessed a timely eruption of Old Faithful.
I've been to many national parks, and I've gone camping dozens of times, so I'm no stranger to such locations. I'd already been through the Canadian Rockies and Glacier Park on this trip, seeing some beautiful places like Lake Louise and Banff, but I was blown away by the natural beauty — and the variety — of Yellowstone. It's a truly magical place. In case you didn't know, Yellowstone is the world's very first national park.
By 4pm I'd seen everything I wanted to see. The crazy idea of immediately doing another 6-hour drive to Salt Lake City was still stuck with me, so I decided to go for it. This would mean breaking my previous one-day driving record by about double.
To make it even more insane, instead of taking the most direct route, I decided to take the scenic route, going south through Grand Teton Park. This would make the drive even longer, especially since it required spending a lot of time on winding mountain roads at about 45 miles per hour. And after that, it would require traveling down a series of single-lane highways through Wyoming, Idaho, and Utah.
But somehow I did it, reaching Salt Lake City at 10:30pm. I didn't know where I was going to stay in advance, so I used my cell phone to find a hotel and drove straight to it. I booked a room at the counter when I got there. Fortunately there was a 24-hour grocery store across the street where I was able to procure a late dinner.
I drove 790 miles that day (1270 km). Including the time I was driving through Yellowstone, I probably spent 13-14 hours behind the wheel. When I finally collapsed into bed and closed my eyes, I still felt like I was speeding down the highway. I also dreamt that I was driving.
It was a crazy idea, but it turned out to be an amazing, rewarding, and memorable day. I saw many fascinating sights along the way, all through territory I'd never visited before. A few times I was driving on such remote roads that more than 10 minutes would pass before I saw another car on either side. For a guy who grew up in Los Angeles, it's an unusual experience to see more cows than cars on the road.
The road trip itself was also a crazy idea. There were lots of reasons not to go. I wouldn't see my kids for 3+ weeks. I'd be neglecting my business projects. And so on. But then the crazy voice would chime in again: "Frakkin' go for it!"
When to Be Crazy
I'm sure there have been times in your life when you've had a crazy impulse. How do you know when it's a good idea to act on it?
I wouldn't say it's always a good idea to act on such impulses. Some impulsive ideas can be quite destructive. I've had experiences along those lines from my teen years, although in hindsight they still turned out to be powerful growth catalysts.
But other times, these urges are coming from a place within you that knows you're capable of more. It's the part of you that wants to stretch. It's the part of you that's tired of settling for the mundane and the routine. It's your passion trying to awaken.
How can you tell the difference? I think that comes from experience. As you selectively act on some of your impulse ideas, your wisdom will grow. You'll learn to push yourself without being self-destructive.
One aspect of wisdom is learning to trust yourself. For example, even as I pushed myself to do so much driving in one day, I trusted that I wasn't going to do anything too risky. A couple of times when I felt fatigued, I pulled over to a rest area and took a 20-minute nap. I continued driving when I felt refreshed and alert. When I thought I might be getting a leg cramp, I stopped and stretched for a while. And I always knew that if I got burnt out on driving, I could find a place to stay and quit for the day... or simply pull over and sleep in my car for a few hours. So I didn't back myself into a corner where I'd be forced to do something stupid or dangerous.
Another aspect of wisdom is staying in the sweet spot of challenge. I knew that it was physically possible for me to end up in Salt Lake City by the end of the day. I wasn't trying to do the impossible. But I could also see that it was going to be challenging. For me this crazy idea was right in the sweet spot. It was beyond anything I'd done before, so I'd have to push myself, but it was technically possible. If I could pull it off, it would be a nice growth experience for me.
My little story may not be that exciting to you, but that isn't the point. It's enough that it excited and challenged me. Your task is to pursue those crazy ideas that are exciting and challenging for you, regardless of what others might think.
Too Tight vs. Too Loose
If you act on every crazy idea that crosses your mind, you're playing too loose. Eventually you'll do something stupid that will backfire in a big way.
On the other hand, if you dismiss all of your crazy ideas without ever acting on them, then you're playing too tight. You'll miss some golden growth opportunities, and your life will become very dull and demotivating.
How do you know whether you're playing too tight or too loose?
If you're feeling stressed out by all the craziness in your life, or if your impulse actions are creating negative consequences that are a pain to deal with, then you're playing too loose. Tighten up a bit, and let some of those crazy ideas pass through your mind without acting on them. Pause and reflect on your impulse ideas before you act. Journal about them. Discuss them with a friend. Slow down, fire up your logical mind, and consider the potential consequences.
On the other hand, if you feel that your life is becoming boring and repetitive, and you're craving more passion and excitement, then you're playing too tight. It's time to push yourself more. Look for ways you can begin to act on some of your crazy ideas to see where they lead you.
For many years, my life was out of balance. Personal dreams like traveling were always pushed back as I tended to the more important career and contribution goals. When I considered doing some extended travel, it always seemed too selfish and low-priority. I could never justify it. My travel goals were perpetually stuck on my Someday/Maybe list. They were fantasies but not realities.
It was only when I allowed myself to finally act on the crazy impulse to travel that I broke through those limitations. That voice was there all along, but I'd always tuned it out. Eventually I came to see that all the limitations I had were self-imposed. I was the one who deemed it a bad idea to take time off for myself. It was my own limiting beliefs that said I'd be negligent if I didn't see my kids for a few weeks, or that I was being irresponsible if I let my business projects slide for a while.
It didn't matter how other people might judge me. I was my own harshest critic.
Even so, some people did judge me for it. I remember seeing one forum member post fairly critical feedback about the road trip idea. But by that point, I was already committed to it. Outwardly I ignored the feedback, but my inner response was, "Piss off, loser! I'm excited about this, and I'm doing it anyway."
But of course I was really saying "piss off" to the old limiting beliefs within myself, beliefs that I could clearly see weren't fulfilling me.
When I finally allowed the crazy part within me to express itself, I was pleased to see that I didn't self-destruct after all. Instead I began to feel I much more whole and integrated.
I remember when I was in the Canadian Rockies, looking across Lake Louise at the snowy mountains behind it, I thought to myself, "Maybe it's a little crazy that I drove thousands of miles to get here, but I'm loving it!"
I've spent about 9-10 weeks traveling out of state this year, with 4 of those weeks spent out of the country (5 weeks if you include Puerto Rico). By some people's standards, that may not be a lot, but compared to my previous pattern, it's a huge change. It's way more than I've traveled in any previous year. And I see it as just the beginning. In 2011 I intend to devote even more time to traveling.
Is it a good idea for me to spend so much time away from home, selfishly pursuing my own goals without trying to turn them in a work projects or a form of service for others? It's hard to say. The reasons not to do it are still in the back of my mind. I can focus on those reasons and slip back into my previous patterns, but I already know those patterns aren't as fulfilling as this crazy new one. So I'm going to keep pushing myself to act on that crazy voice, if only because I feel happier and more fulfilled when I do so.
Acting on your crazy voice can expand your sense of possibility. After driving almost 800 miles in a single day, the Western USA seems a little smaller to me now. If I wanted to, I could drive out of Vegas one morning and be in San Francisco, Denver, or Albuquerque by nightfall. I could even drive to Mexico. I'm not feeling inspired to do those things right now, but it's nice knowing that experiences that would have previously been outside my comfort zone no longer seem so daunting.
I'm now considering doing a road trip through Europe. I've never been there, despite the fact that traveling through Europe has been on my goals list forever. I think it would be fun to travel through many different countries by car, so I could see the countryside as well as the cities. Of course there are plenty of reasons not to do it, but how much will they really matter when I'm strolling through Paris?
When your life is out of balance, acting on your crazy voice can help you bust up patterns that aren't working for you, so you can create a life that's more challenging and more fulfilling. Easy is boring.
Despite their apparent illogical nature, there's a certain wisdom in acting on crazy impulses from time to time. They can help you discover new truths about yourself. They can expose you to new growth experiences you'd otherwise miss completely. And they can help you face challenges that will make you stronger.
When you return to your normal life after such an experience, it's not quite the same. It's easier to see what hasn't been working for you and change it. For example, when I returned from my trip a few days ago, I realized that my communication processes weren't working. I was still spending too much time and energy dealing with communication, and that was crowding out more important goals. Over the years I tried various ways of handling it, such as a FAQ and a well-crafted autoresponder, but after this trip I realized that I simply needed to shut off the flood. So a couple days ago, I took down my website's contact form, replacing it with a short page explaining the reasons why. While I love to connect with people, email is not the right medium for it — it's too weak of a substitute for face to face interaction. I didn't have that level of clarity until taking this road trip, getting away from my routine for 3+ weeks, and coming back to see it through fresh eyes. There's a blog post about this if you wish to read the details.
What is your crazy voice telling you to do right now? What might happen if you acted on it this time?
Maybe the reasons not to act are valid and reasonable. Or maybe they're just limiting thoughts that have been keeping you stuck.
Frakkin' go for it!