TIB #22: How the archer metaphor shows you where to put your best efforts

Written by Arno Jansen

The archer metaphor helps us figure out what to focus on and what to let go of. It teaches us to focus on actions and not on results. 

The archer takes great care of his bow, strings it carefully, and ensures his arrows are straight and meticulously calibrated.

He practices a lot. He also pays attention to his posture and his breathing and accounts for the prevailing wind.

In other words: the archer will do anything in his power to hit the target in front of him. 

But all that effort is no guarantee for success. As soon as the arrow leaves his bow, he has no control over the outcome of his shot. The arrow may hit the bulls-eye, or it may miss the target completely. Any number of influences may happen on the arrow as it flies away from the archer. 

We can learn two things from the archer metaphor and apply them to our daily practice. 

Focus on input

What that means for creators and business builders is that we realise we focus on the effort we put in. Learn your craft, know your stuff, and get to know your audience. No matter your product, platform, or format of choice, focus on creating the best content you can. Distinguish between what really matters and window dressing. 

A pixel perfect mobile-first design, with the latest web design trends, e-mail signups, analytics and social media means exactly nothing if there is no content for your audience to consume.

Justin Jackson (still) gets a lot of traffic from this post which is about 10 years old now.


Well, definitely not because of the amazing design. It works because it resonates with people 

With all that effort now put in, make sure you hit publish. Share it. Give that presentation. It will not be perfect, but make sure you get it out into the world. 

Once your content is out there, it is out there. You have no real control over the response of the world on your content. Which leads nicely to the second lesson of the day:

Effort does not equal success

Any athlete will agree: Effort does not predict success. There are too many variables outside of your control to predict the level of success.

Accepting that makes letting go of expectations for (short-term) success, a lot easier.

Also, and this is a departure from the archer metaphor, your work is published and out there pretty much forever. While the archers results are almost instant (the arrow arrives at the target within a second of leaving the bow), the success of your efforts may slowly grow over time. Or it may sit dormant for a long time, before it is picked up.

People and algorithms are weird sometimes.

So, now what?

The stoic archer metaphor is a helpful tool to help you figure out what really needs your attention. Not the number of subscribers on your e-mail list. Not the number of followers on your social media. Not the number of downloads of your podcast or views of your video. 

Your work needs time to find its audience. Sure, SEO, (content) marketing, all help to increase your exposure. But it needs your best content to expose. You are in this for the long-haul.

The stoic archer metaphor helps us ease our minds, knowing that we did the best we could. By doing that we grew as a person. We got to know ourselves a little bit better and we have taken the best steps to increase our odds of success. Now there is not much else we can do, besides doing it all over again. 

Looking to get more productive, focused, and resilient?

Join my free Focus Finder email course to transform yourself from deeply distracted to fully focused.

    Looking to get more productive, focused, and resilient?

    Join my free Focus Finder course and go from deeply distracted to fully focused.

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