Inc. readers are resourceful. We dream big.

We entrepreneurs and visionaries are inspired by our predecessors in science, technology, entrepreneurship, leadership, NASA, and so on. People who launched humans to the moon, doubled transistors per chip every 18 months for generations, worked for equality and fairness, beat humans at chess and Jeopardy!, and more.

We look to Mars, fusion, and artificial intelligence with optimism despite, or even because they are hard. We take on big challenges.

Except changing our personal behavior to pollute less

The New York Times yesterday published an opinion piece, "What You Can Do About Climate Change," that is the climate-change equivalent of President Kennedy challenging the nation, instead of going to the moon, to build a building a few feet taller than than the Empire State Building.

We would have created a new world's tallest building, but a far cry from reaching the moon.

Here are the article's suggestions:

  • Buy a new car that's more efficient
  • Drive less ... by 1.2%!
  • Inflate your tires more
  • Drive less aggressively
  • Fly less ... by a mere 10%!
  • Turn down your thermostat ... merely 8 hours, part of the winter, by 3 degrees!
  • Replace some of your incandescent bulbs
  • Eat less ... a mere 2%!
  • Eat less meat ... a mere 10%!
  • Throw away less food ... a mere 13%!

Drive less aggressively? Fly 10% less?

Imagine a patient whose teeth were falling out for brushing once a week and the dentist advised brushing 10% more. That's crazy!

But that's the change this article recommends. You know brushing twice a day is easy, no matter how much someone says it's too hard for them.

That patient with the teeth falling out may say it's not in his or her nature, but you know brushing improves your life. Once you brush your teeth regularly, there's no going back.

Imagine looking at reducing your pollution the same way. So what if others don't change? Why not lead them by your values instead of following them away from them?

Why the tepid recommendations?

Imagine our heroes acting so milquetoast.

Elon Musk might have created an electric golf cart. Michael Dell might have made a computer or two for his friends. Oprah Winfrey might have stayed a local news anchor.

Listen to Arnold Schwarzenegger speak about doing what others said he couldn't and imagine had just tried to lift a few weights.

What motivates

Nobody wants to pollute. Everyone wants to leave the world better than they found it, at least everyone I've come across.

What motivates people to change in big ways isn't small goals. Small goals don't inspire.

Small goals imply you don't want to do them. Small goals from a leader imply low expectations. Low expectations achieve low results.

Give big goals meaning

People love--not like, love--doing challenging things when they are meaningful. Nobody likes risking their lives, but read General Patton's speech to the Third Army and you see why his men loved doing it.

Nobody loves going to jail, but watch Martin Luther King Junior speak and you see why people loved doing it. Or read Susan B. Anthony's words to the judge who tried her for the crime of voting as a woman and you see why people followed her.

These leaders imbued these tasks with meaning. They gave them purpose.

People may not like flying less or eating less meat if it has no meaning.

Leadership means giving difficult things meaning. Then they cease to become meaningless sacrifices and become great goals.

The meaning can be obvious, though different for many people: providing for their families, sustaining the beauty of nature, living simply. Only you know what you care about.

You can lead yourself.

You grow by overcoming challenges

Want to grow? Take on a big challenge.

Instead of flying 10% less, try flying 100% less for a year.

I just finished a year without flying, as I wrote here in "365 Days Without Flying." I love travel as much as anyone. It was the year of the launch of my book, when flying could have helped me promote it.

But I ended up learning and growing more than I could have imagined. That's what trying things you didn't think you could do does. Not a safe 10% reduction.

What would Kennedy or the United States have achieved by proposing going 10% of the way to the moon?

Challenge yourself on something you care about

Look at the the New York Times's modest suggestions and make them challenging.

Look at your values and see if you care about protecting the environment or the world you leave for future generations. Or to lead in a growing trend. Only you know.

Now, if you care, elevate one of those suggestions to a life challenge and take it on. Maybe you'll fail. Fine, try again.

Instead of driving 1.2% less, how about driving 50% less for the next year? Instead of throwing away 13% less food, throw away 100% less food.

You may say your change won't amount to much on a global scale, but it won't stop with one action. And only with one action can you get to two, and so on. Who knows where it will lead?

I guarantee the greatest benefit you'll see is in yourself, living by your values and connecting with people who also challenge themselves to live by theirs.

Published on: Mar 27, 2017
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.