How to Achieve Your Most Ambitious Goals | Stephen Duneier | TEDxTucson
How to Achieve Your Most Ambitious Goals | Stephen Duneier | TEDxTucson

Translator: Oriel Yu
Reviewer: Queenie Lee By a show of hands. How many of you believe you
could replicate this image of Brad Pitt with just a pencil and piece of paper? Well, I’m going to show you
how to do this. And in so doing, I’m going to give you the skill necessary to become a world-class artist. And it shouldn’t take
more than about 15 seconds. But before I do that, how many of you believe
you could replicate this image of a solid gray square? (Laughter) Every one of us. And if you can make one gray square, you can make two, three, nine … Truth of the matter is, if you could made just one gray square, it’d be very difficult to argue that you couldn’t make
every gray square necessary to replicate the image in its entirety. And there you have it. I’ve just given you the skills necessary
to become a world-class artist. (Laughter) I know what you’re thinking. “That’s not real art, certainly wouldn’t make me
a world-class artist.” So let me introduce you to Chuck Close. He’s one of the highest-earning artists
in the entire world, for decades, he creates his art
using this exact technique. You see, what stands between us and achieving even
our most ambitious dreams has far less to do with possessing
some magical skill or talent, and far more to do with
how we approach problems and make decisions to solve them. And because of the continuous
and compounding nature of all those millions of decisions that we face on a regular basis, even a marginal improvement in our process can have a huge impact on our end results. And I’ll prove this to you by taking a look at
the career of Novak Djokovic. Back in 2004, when he first became
a professional tennis player, he was ranked 680th in the world. It wasn’t until the end of his third year that he jumped up
to be ranked third in the world. He went from making 250,000 a year
to 5 million a year, in prize money alone, and of course, he did this
by winning more matches. In 2011, he became the number one
ranked men’s tennis player in the world, started earning an average
of 14 million a year in prize money alone and winning a dominating
90% of his matches. Now, here’s what’s really interesting about all of these very
impressive statistics. Novak doesn’t control any of them. What he does control
are all the tiny little decisions that he needs to make
correctly along the way in order to move the probability in favor of him achieving
these types of results. And we can quantify and track
his progress in this area by taking a look at the percentage
of points that he wins. Because in tennis the typical point involves
one to maybe three decisions, I like to refer to this
as his decision success rate. So, back when he was winning
about 49% of the matches he was playing, he was winning about 49%
of the points he played. Then to jump up,
become number three in the world, and actually earn
five million dollars a year for swinging a racquet, he had to improve
his decision success rate to just 52 percent. Then to become not just number one but maybe one of the greatest players
to ever play the game, he had to improve
his decision success rate to just 55 percent. And I keep using this word “just.” I don’t want to imply this is easy to do, clearly, it’s not. But the type of marginal improvements
that I’m talking about are easily achievable
by every single one of us in this room. And I’ll show you what I mean. From kindergarten, all the way
through to my high school graduation – yes, that’s high school
graduation for me – (Laughter) every one of my report cards
basically said the same thing: Steven is a very bright young boy, if only he would just
settle down and focus. What they didn’t realize was I wanted that even more than they wanted it for me, I just couldn’t. And so, from kindergarten
straight through the 2nd year of college, I was a really consistent C, C- student. But then going into my junior year, I’d had enough. I thought I want to make a change. I’m going to make a marginal adjustment, and I’m going to stop being a spectator
of my decision-making and start becoming an active participant. And so, that year, instead of pretending, again, that I would suddenly be able
to settle down and focus on things for more than five
or ten minutes at a time, I decided to assume I wouldn’t. And so, if I wanted to achieve
the type of outcome that I desire – doing well in school – I was going to actually
have to change my approach. And so I made a marginal adjustment. If I would get an assignment,
let’s say, read five chapters in a book, I wouldn’t think of it as five chapters, I wouldn’t even think of it
as one chapter. I would break it down into these tasks
that I could achieve, that would require me to focus
for just five or ten minutes at a time. So, maybe three or four paragraphs. That’s it. I would do that and when I was done
with those five or ten minutes, I would get up. I’d go shoot some hoops,
do a little drawing, maybe play video games for a few minutes, and then I come back. Not necessarily to the same assignment, not even necessarily to the same subject, but just to another task that required
just five to ten minutes of my attention. From that point forward, all the way through to graduation, I was a straight-A student, Dean’s List, President’s Honor Roll, every semester. I then went on to one of the top
graduate programs in the world for finance and economics. Same approach, same results. So then, I graduate. I start my career and I’m thinking, this worked really well for me. You know, you take these big concepts, these complex ideas,
these big assignments, you break them down
too much more manageable tasks, and then along the way, you make a marginal
improvement to the process that ups the odds
of success in your favor. I’m going to try and do this in my career. So I did. I started out as an exotic
derivatives trader for credit Swiss. It then led me to be global head
of currency option trading for Bank of America, global head of emerging markets
for AIG international. It helped me deliver top-tier returns as a global macro hedge fund
manager for 12 years and to become founder and CIO
of two award-winning hedge funds. So it gets to 2001, and I’m thinking, this whole idea, it worked really well in school, it’s been serving me well
as a professional, why aren’t I applying this
in my personal life, like to all those big ambitious goals
I have for myself? So one day, I’m walking to work, and at the time my commute was a walk from one end
of Hyde Park to the other, in London. It took me about 45 minutes each way, an hour and a half a day,
seven and a half hours a week, 30 hours a month, 360 hours a year, when I was awake, aware,
basically wasting time, listening to music on my iPod. So on my way home from work that day
I stopped at the store. I picked up the first 33 CDs
in the Pimsleur German language program, ripped them and put them onto my iPod. But I didn’t stop there. Because the truth of the matter is,
I’m an undisciplined person. And I knew that at some point, I’d switch away from the language
and go back to the music. So I removed that temptation
by removing all of the music. That left me with just one option: listen to the language tapes. So ten months later,
I’d listened to all 99 CDs in the German language program, listened to each one three times each. And I went to Berlin for a 16-day
intensive German course. When I was done, I invited my wife
and kids to meet me. We walked around the city. I spoke German to the Germans,
they spoke German back to me. My kids were amazed. (Laughter) I mean they couldn’t close their jaws. But you and I, we know, there is actually nothing amazing
about what I’ve just done. I made this marginal adjustment
to my daily routine. This marginal adjustment to my process. (German) Und jetzt, ich spreche
ein bisschen Deutsch. And now I could speak some German. And so in that moment, I’m thinking, it’s not supposed to be this easy
for a guy like me – an old guy – to learn a new language. You’re supposed to do that
when you’re a kid. And yet here I had done it. This marginal adjustment. So what other big ambitious goals
I’ve been holding onto, putting off until retirement, that I could potentially achieve if I just made a marginal
adjustment to my routine? So I started doing them. I earned my auto racing license. I learned how to fly a helicopter, did rock-climbing, skydiving. I learned how to fly planes aerobatically. Well, if you’re like me, back in 2007, you might have the same goal I had. I was just moving back from London. I was about 25 pounds overweight
and out of shape, and I wanted to rectify that. So I could go to the typical route, you know, I could write a check
to a gym I’d never go to. Or I could swear to myself
that I will never again eat those foods that I love but are doing all the damage. And I knew that going that route
rarely results in the outcome you desire. So I decided to become
an active participant. I thought about the habits and passions
that I’ve developed in my life, and I thought, can I make just
a marginal adjustment to them so that they work in my favor
as opposed to against me? And so I did. I’ve got a habit where I’ve been walking an hour
and a half a day for the last seven years, and I’ve got this passion
for being in the outdoors. And so that year, I didn’t actually set the new year’s
resolution to lose 25 pounds. I set a resolution to hike all 33 trails in the front country
of Santa Barbara Mountains. And I’d never been on a hike
before in my life. (Laughter) But the truth of the matter is,
it’s not about the 33 trails. You have to break this big ambitious goal down into these more
manageable decisions – the types of decisions that need
to be made correctly along the way in order to improve the odds of achieving
the type of outcome you desire. It’s not about even one trail. It’s about those tiny little decisions, you know, like when you
are sitting at your desk, putting in just a little extra time
at the end of a day. Or you’re lying on your couch, clicking through the channels
on your remote control, or scrolling through your Facebook feed, and in that moment,
make the decision to put it down. You go put on your hiking clothes, you go walk outside your front door,
and you shut it behind you. You walk to your car, get in,
drive to the trailhead. You get out of the car at the trailhead, and you take one step,
you take two steps, three steps. Every one of those steps
that I have just described is a tiny little decision that needs
to be made correctly along the way in order to achieve the ultimate outcome. Now, when I say I want to hike
33 trails in the front country, people think about the decisions
at the top of the mountain. That’s not what it’s about. Because if you don’t make
the right decision when you’re on the couch, there is no decision that occurs
at the top of the mountain. So by the end of the year, I’d hiked all 33 trails
in the front country; I did them a couple of times each. I even did a few in the backcountry. I lost the 25 pounds,
and I capped the year off by doing the hardest
half marathon in the world – the Pier to Peak. In 2009, I got really ambitious, ambitious for a guy who still,
to this day, cannot settle down and focus on anything for more
than ten or ten minutes at a time, and that was to read 50 books. But again, it’s not
about reading 50 books. It’s not even about reading one book. It’s not about reading a chapter,
a paragraph, a sentence. It’s about that decision when you’re sitting at your desk
at the end of the day, or when you’re lying on the couch, or flicking through your Facebook feed, and you put down the phone. You pick up a book and you read one word. If you read one word,
you’ll read two words, three words; you’ll read a sentence, a paragraph,
a page, a chapter, a book; you’ll read ten books, 30 books, 50 books. In 2012, I got really ambitious. I set 24 new year’s resolutions. 12 of them were
what I call giving resolutions, where I did 12 charitable things
that didn’t involve writing a check. But it’s not without its failures. I tried to donate blood, and they rejected me
because I’d lived in the UK. I tried to donate my sperm;
they rejected me because I was too old. I tried to donate my hair, and it turns out nobody wants grey hair. (Laughter) So, here I was trying to do something
to make myself feel good, and it was having the opposite effect. So anyway, I’ve also had
these 12 learning resolutions, to learn 12 new skills. And when I was done with unicycling,
parkour, slacklining, jumping stilts and drumming, my wife suggested
that I learned how to knit. (Laughter) And I’ll be honest, I wasn’t all
that passionate about knitting. But one day, I’m sitting
under this 40-foot tall eucalyptus tree that’s 2.6 miles up the cold
spring trail in Santa Barbara, and I’m thinking, that tree would look
really cool if it were covered in yarn. (Laughter) And so I went home and Googled this, and it turns out it is a thing people do,
it’s called yarnbombing: you wrap these public
structures with yarn. And, the second annual
international yarn bombing day was just 82 days away. (Laughter) So for the next 82 days,
no matter where I was – (Laughter) if I was in a board meeting,
on the trading floor, in an airplane or in the hospital, I was knitting. One stitch at a time. And 82 days later, I had done my first ever yarnbomb. (Applause) And the response to it blew me away. So I kept going … (Laughter) with bigger, more ambitious projects that required more engineering skills. And in 2014, I set the goal
to wrap six massive boulders in Los Padres National Forest
at the top of the mountains. But if I was going to pull this off,
I’d need help. So at this point, I had a few
thousand followers on social media as “The Yarnbomber.” (Laughter) And I started getting packages –
lots of packages – 388 contributors
from 36 countries in all 50 states. In the end, I didn’t wrap
one massive boulder, I wrapped 18. (Applause) So I kept going with bigger, more ambitious projects that would require me
to work with new materials, like fiberglass, and wood, and metals, which culminates in a project
that is currently at TMC, here in Tucson, where I wrapped the Children’s Hospital. (Applause) Along the way, I stopped knitting. I never really liked it. (Laughter) But … I like crocheting. (Laughter) So, I started making these
seven-inch granny squares – because that’s
the standard granny square – and I thought along the way:
why am I stopping at seven inches? I need big stuff. So, I started making
bigger granny squares. So one day, I come home
from a business trip, and I’ve got this really large granny, and I went to the website of Guinness. I was curious what’s the world’s
largest granny square. And it turns out
there’s no category for it. (Laughter) So I applied, and they rejected me. So I appealed, and they rejected me. I appealed again, and they said fine, if you make it ten meters by ten meters,
we’ll create a new category, and you will be a Guinness
world record holder. So, for the next two years, seven months, 17 days, one stitch at a time, I finally reached more
than half a million stitches, incorporated more than 30 miles of yarn, and I am now the official
Guinness world record holder for the largest crocheted granny square. (Applause) (Cheering) Along the way, I’ve garnered an awful lot
of attention for my escapades. I’ve been featured in Newsweek magazine, Eric news, which is
kind of the Bible for artists. But what I want you to realize
when you hear these things: I’m still that C- student. I’m still that kid who can’t settle down or focus for more than five
or ten minutes at a time. And I remain a guy who possesses
no special gift of talent or skill. All I do is take really big,
ambitious projects that people seem to marvel at, break them down to their simplest form and then just make
marginal improvements along the way to improve my odds of achieving them. And so the whole reason
I’m giving this talk is I’m hoping to inspire several of you to pull some of those ambitious dreams
that you have for yourself off the bookshelf and start pursuing them by making
that marginal adjustment to your routine. Thank you. (Applause)

100 thoughts on “How to Achieve Your Most Ambitious Goals | Stephen Duneier | TEDxTucson”

  1. Shri Ranjani says:

    Thank you so much

  2. HackersGuild says:

    One of the best talks I have ever heard. Amazing guy

  3. Sick and tired Of complaining says:

    You must know something about drums if you play DW’s… best sounding drums out there 🙂

  4. mamasapaon says:

    Just add that one routine to your daily life and start leveling it up 'til you reach the goal


    What if you're in a big mess and have crazy timeless and targets to meet?


    What if you're in a big mess and have crazy timeless and targets to meet?

  7. Firapu Roki says:

    now this exites me.

  8. sangram bhumia says:

    I was on a 2 min break from doing my homework, here i am .

  9. Maksymilian K says:

    Every time I watch those "motivational" videos, I feel like I must do something. Read a book, learn a new language, travel. But in the end I always end up doing nothing. The hardest thing to do is always to start something.

  10. Gandang Sora says:

    Now I am thinking what marginal improvement shall I start doing today. I like what you shared!

  11. Hersh Shorsh says:

    It's true that Ambition along with Talent is equally necessary to achieve success, but Ambition is as much of a lottery as Talent is.

  12. Vishal Chavan says:


  13. divu ck says:

    I was awestricken and almost involuntarily clapped after his talk, though I was on my phone.

  14. divu ck says:

    This is awesome. Inspired.

  15. Brian Platt says:

    Got emotional somewhere in there.

  16. Gokul p kumar says:

    Forest gump! Sounds similar.

  17. Fatima Jedilyn Silao says:

    Just when I was about to give up my dreams. Now I am so fired up to start again. Tiny little decisions that must be made along the way, your approach towards your goal. Marginal improvement/adjustments that will make a huge impact in reaching your goals. From big goals breaking it down to manageable goals. Every little step you make and every little action you take matters. Love this video. Thank you. 💓


    So happy I saw it

  19. Damien Labonte says:


  20. RONG XIA says:


  21. shayon mojumdar says:

    Who knew Forrest gump Exists irl

  22. Rupesh Sahu says:

    if you are passionate about your work you will find a way. all this tricks doesnt work if their is no passion

  23. Ashlesha Kulkarni says:

    Awesome !!


    thank you for this.. i needed to hear for so long. I felt like a failure until i heard this! im going forward with something ive always dreamed about

  25. Bikash K Rai says:

    Hey folks, we all share one thing: we want to do something great with our life. That's why we are here. 💛💐

  26. Inter America says:

    This guy is the embodiment of Forrest Gump

  27. Stella says:

    Good for you! 🤗

  28. Tolga Karabas says:

    perfect, even more than perfect

  29. jai shree says:

    The is the best video on you tube n ted talk

  30. Andrea Janae says:

    I’m inspired 💕

  31. Danbwarang Bature Daniel says:

    "marginal improvement" is the profound theme in this talk. In case you didn't get it

  32. James Volel says:

    It took me 3 views of this video to implement this and as of today, Sept. 27, early morning, I am feeling great with this approach. Ask me how I am doing later down the road.

  33. seasong says:

    Interesting advice. I think the blender guru said something similar, about how he learned drawing.

  34. azan subhie says:

    he remind me of forrest gump

  35. Enrico Tigani says:

    only ted i could do something with (after Walsh)

  36. koxlc says:

    Very nice braggings of gifted and rich alpha male.

  37. Darpan Ramrakhani says:

    Awesome c grade student lots of learning thank you so much 😁

  38. Malerie Ayala says:

    If only everyone could be disciplined like him, we would all be successful. It’s all about discipline.

  39. Amritpal Aujla says:

    This is a great video

  40. visitor _t says:

    very deep meaning

  41. koxlc says:

    This TED Talk should have been named "How a financer went through midlife crisis and wrote a book about it".
    Try this one: v=F89eycANUrQ

  42. Ujjwal Kumar says:

    This is brilliant and just amazing ! So inspiring

  43. Story & Spice says:

    I've this video so many times and I'm not sure how to do it

  44. InnerPull says:

    The letter 'C' in Tuscon on the stage display is a bit thinner than the other letters.

  45. Yosha says:

    What you're saying is… You discovered how software developers build anything.
    Also, sorry to rain on everyone's parade but what people consider as "undisciplined" is wrong.

  46. ravi chandar says:

    "Stop being a spectator in my decision making and start being a participant" Excellent.

  47. Raphael Akinpelu says:

    By far my best ted talk so far

  48. Arvind Vyas says:

    My man!!!

  49. Alexander Bäcker says:

    What a legend!

  50. Ana G Rosado Rosado says:


  51. Juliana Silva says:

    Thank you Stephen! I'm beyond inspired.

  52. Robert says:

    Duneier, does your book cover this method or can you reference material that teaches Cognitive Strain

  53. Alan Tan says:

    That is if you have lots of time

  54. Amadeus Frazier says:


  55. هجرة عصافير الخريف موسم says:

    ساكن جوه بدرالكسم

  56. هجرة عصافير الخريف موسم says:

    حاكم آل بروسيسر

  57. هجرة عصافير الخريف موسم says:

    انت الحاوي النقراوي صح؟

  58. هجرة عصافير الخريف موسم says:


  59. هجرة عصافير الخريف موسم says:


  60. هجرة عصافير الخريف موسم says:


  61. هجرة عصافير الخريف موسم says:


  62. هجرة عصافير الخريف موسم says:


  63. هجرة عصافير الخريف موسم says:


  64. هجرة عصافير الخريف موسم says:


  65. Mln MZ87 says:

    Thank you 💜

  66. هجرة عصافير الخريف موسم says:


  67. jo pearl says:

    wow this guy is amazing

  68. Sandroid says:

    'You have to break this big ambition goal down into these more manageable decisions. Types of decisions that need to be made correctly along the way, in order to improve the odds of achieving the type of outcome you desire.'
    Sounds very Tony Robbins.

  69. consciousmistakes says:

    Man believe me this works. Just like baby steps…

  70. AbnormalBat says:

    So basically he's an unporn version of Johny Sins!

  71. Hturt Yada says:

    This is f amazing!!!!!!!!!!!!

  72. Jenn Li says:

    Wow This is the most inspiring TED talks for me! Thanks!

  73. Simply Saying says:

    If only one has ears that can LISTEN and Eyes that can see the KNOWLEDGE that has been given – Then one would realize the WISDOM in the message. Thank you😊

  74. Zara Pine says:

    Ground Hog Day!

  75. Andjela Dimitrijevic says:


  76. Matthew Stachler says:

    Good message but, it still boggles me how much money hedge fund guys .make

  77. Exclusivesounds Beatsinstrumentals says:


  78. Maria Sparrow says:

    He’s like Forest Gump!

  79. Daniel Caputo says:

    Take the first step…awesome!

  80. Always Kim says:

    Half of this video is him showing off all of his achievements

  81. Dyaek says:

    This is Inspiring

  82. Anshul Lall says:

    This is the best Ted talk I have heard….so motivating

  83. Manu Mohan says:


  84. Dan Morin says:

    What a great inspiration video. I watched it twice in a row. Thank you Stephen Duneier for sharing with us.

  85. Awaecnan says:

    you explained How to Achieve Your Most Ambitious Goals really well, great points! thanks for sharing

  86. Sandeep Yadav says:

    Thank you, you work and approach is inspiring.

  87. Rohit Kajla says:

    Marginal adjustment

  88. Tahir Ahmad says:

    nice way to achieve the goals …lovely thanks

  89. Joel Quin says:

    This is one of best TEDx videos that I have ever seen!

  90. mai hernandez says:

    one step at a time.. thank you for your video.. 😊

  91. Patrick D. Lueke says:

    Now we can quanitfy and track his progress or we can just listen to abraham hicks

  92. Gergő Nagy says:

    Stephen Duneier you have just changed my life man! I am super thankful for you.

  93. Kyle Le says:

    Very inspiring and helpful. There’s a quote that goes like, “Most people fail because they never get started.”

  94. Arnold Chong says:

    Weird Flex, but Ok

  95. Melissa Ball says:

    He is very successful. That's true. And that's amazing. I just kept wondering how he had any free time for family, kids, or anything else but himself.

  96. Blue World says:


  97. Blue Titan Dragon says:

    Okay, I want to learn to animate, become an animator and hopefully build an animation film studio in the future. How do I break that into smaller, more manageable tasks?

  98. Luca Siciliano says:

    sounds like self auditing

  99. Presise says:

    wow!!! I teared up for some reason watching this.

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