By Sue Clement
One tool that will help you with achieving your goals is a roadmap, not unlike what you’d take with you on a trip if you want to get where you’re going. When I was in Paris a last October, as I headed out each day to explore the city, one essential was my map. When I got turned around (ok, I’ll admit it… lost) a few times all I had to do was stop and ponder my map for a few minutes to see where I took a wrong turn or missed my subway exit to get back on track. I consulted it so often navigating my way, that it was tattered in just a few days.
And even in the age of GPS systems, which is just an electronic version, you still need to know where you are and where you’re headed.
When it comes to life and setting business and personal goals, we sometimes overlook the essential of having a map - knowing where we’re coming from and heading to. Here are a few guidelines for setting goals that will help you get where you’d like to go during this new year.
1. First spend time thinking about your values
What’s really important to you? Time, money, freedom, family, community, fulfillment, health, achievement, a trim body, lifestyle, and so on.
Then spend some time ordering those in terms of priorities, limit yourself to three or so but no more than five of them as your top priority values. As you go about setting specific goals it’s important to make sure they fit in with your values.
2. Come up with goals that are compatible with your values – and reflect what’s important to you.
Don’t go for goals just because you’ve read somewhere that you’re supposed to do a certain thing, no matter how reasonable. Make sure it’s something that YOU really want to achieve. I believe that the bigger the WHY the easier to achieve the goal.
Your goals need to be something you’re willing to do the work for and can really get behind so that when the going gets tough you don’t quit.
3. Make sure the goals you set are compatible with each other
If one of your most important values and goals is to live a healthy and balanced lifestyle, or to spend lots of time with your family, you can’t have another goal that would require you to work 80-hour weeks, no matter how good that might be for your finances.
Doing that would set you up for failure right from the start. So look at all of the goals you’re considering next to each other, and make sure that they all work together to help you achieve what’s most important to you.
4. Make your goals come to life
Make your goals come to life by going into as many specifics as possible. If you want a new car, make sure you include details like what it would feel like to drive the car, how comfortable its interior would be, what it might look like (color, shape, and even its specific make and model if you have one in mind).
My favorite is… to feel the sun on my face, the wind in my hair (yes, I’m a convertible girl) the throaty sound of the exhaust as I downshift thru windy roads - and yes, it’s got to be fast and either red or yellow. Just typing this brings it all to life for me and draws me to the goal. So what’s yours?
And if you want to achieve a certain amount of income, don’t be shy - specify your desired income level. It’s okay and even good if it’s a stretch. Just don’t make it so high that you don’t believe you can actually reach it with a realistic amount of effort. And think past just the dollar amount - what would you DO with the income?
5. Write down what you want to achieve
This is the step most people miss. You will greatly increase the outcome of achieving your goals if you write them down. And when you do, make sure you write them in terms of what you want to achieve, i.e., increasing your client base and your profits, not in terms of what you are trying to get away from, i.e., avoiding debt.
While there’s nothing wrong with avoiding debt, phrase it in a positive way. For example, you could resolve to pay all your bills on time and work towards an ever increasing positive net worth.
6. Set aside some time to work out the action steps
Setting goals is just the first step. You can’t just write them down and then sit there wishing they’ll come true. Next, you should set aside some time to work out the details of how exactly you’re going to get there. You’ve got to be willing to do the work.
Mark out benchmarks along the way to check your progress. I’d really be in trouble if I just looked at my Paris map at the start of the day - I needed to consult it occasionally to ensure I wasn’t too far of course.
Coming back to our GPS or map model, the goals are just the destination. The action steps are what will get you there.
7. Goals aren’t written in stone
Finally, once you have them written down; keep in mind that goals are not written in stone. Remember, your goals must be realistic and achievable or they quickly become de-motivating. If they become unreachable downsize (or rightsize) them.
Also, if they no longer fit, no one is going to come and arrest you because you change your mind. Yes, if you’ve done the job of aligning realistic goals well with your values and a big enough “why”, it’s unlikely you’d want to.
However, sometimes your life circumstances may change, and when they do, don’t be afraid to make adjustments. Just remember to go back through the same process and make sure your new goal is aligned with the rest of your goals, and your values, and go for it.
By Yana Hempler
Most people have a general idea of where they would like to be in life, but unfortunately they spend a lot of time wondering why their goals did not come to fruition. People are always dreaming and wishing, which is great, because every truly amazing achievement begins with a dream.
However, after a dream is formed, certain actions are required in order to make that dream a reality. A dream without action cannot possibly come to fruition, because if it was that easy, everyone would be highly successful in whatever it is that they dreamed of. What separates those who achieve their dreams from those who don’t?
First, turn your dream into a clear goal.Having a general idea of what you want to achieve is a start, but it is not enough if you actually want to accomplish it. Clarity allows you to measure your progress toward your goal. Knowing exactly where you want to go makes it easier for you to see where you are at and how far you still have to go. In addition, having a clear direction allows you to create an effective action plan.
For example, if you stated that you wanted to go to Europe but did not specify the country or the city, there is a chance that you may end up in the part of Europe that you did not necessarily want to visit. However, if your goal was to travel to Paris, France, you would know the critical details, such as which flight to book, how much it costs and where you would stay once you got there. Same goes for your goals.
If your goal is to “be successful,” you need to dig deeper into what success actually means to you. For example, for some success means a lot of money and for others it means having loving friends and a happy family. It’s your job to define what success looks like to you.
Once you’ve clearly defined what you want to achieve, write it down. Writing down a goal solidifies it. You can look at what you’ve written and you can feel yourself achieving it. People often write down to-do lists so that they don’t forget the important things that must be done. Same goes for your goals. If they are important to you, writing them down is an essential step that should not be overlooked. Also, writing your goal down allows you to evaluate it to make sure that it is realistic.
After you’ve written down the goal, you can break it up into smaller steps. People often get overwhelmed when they have a huge goal that requires a lot of work. They sometimes feel like there is no way to reach it because they have no idea where to start. Therefore, it is crucial to have smaller goals, also referred to as milestones, within the goal.
Achieving smaller goals that will eventually lead you to reaching your ultimate goal will help you gain confidence in yourself. Confidence is that state of mind that keeps you believing in yourself. When you are trying to achieve something great, it’s crucial that you don’t get too discouraged along the way when you face some setbacks. This also helps you see that your goal is attainable if you keep working on it.
Keep measuring your progress because it keeps you on track. In addition to keeping you focused, measurement allows you to evaluate what you learned from your journey as well as how to avoid pitfalls for your next goal. Once in a while, it’s important to assess where you are at and what you can do to improve your plan. You can also evaluate the results that you are currently seeing.
Then ask yourself if you are happy with the results so far. If you are, that’s excellent. If you are not, it’s time to go back to the drawing board and revise your plans. This doesn’t mean that you have to change your goal completely, it just means that a slightly different action plan is required.
Ask other people for advice. If you are finding yourself “stuck,” there is absolutely no shame in asking for advice from people who have achieved a goal that’s similar to yours. Most successful people are more than willing to talk to others and provide helpful information.
In fact, they achieved their success through a combination of focus, hard work and information from people who have done it before them. It’s crucial to leave your ego out of this and listen carefully to those who are giving you advice that you can apply to reaching your goal.
Ultimately, apart from accidents and other unpredictable events, you are in total control of the direction of your life. First, your goal must be specific because that is how you will know exactly where to go. Second, you must write it down so that you can see whether the goal is attainable and realistic.
Third, it must be measurable because you want to always be aware of how far you have come and how far you still have to go. Lastly, the goal that you set must be timely because it is always good to have an idea of when you would like to accomplish it. If you don’t know when you want to accomplish something, it becomes very easy to put it off.
If you follow the aforementioned goal-setting strategies, there is no reason why you shouldn’t succeed in whatever it is that you genuinely want.
By Ali Luke
Everyone has trouble with motivation.
Sometimes you need to get something done, but it just isn’t happening.
That’s when you need a motivational boost.
But remember, there are no quick fixes.
In the end, you have to be the one to take the first step.
There are things that can help, however, and today, we’ll cover 10 of them.
- Focus on the End Result
Whatever you’re working on has a purpose. Even if the process is boring or frustrating, the end result is worth having.
Think how useful it’ll be to have all your files organized. Remember that getting a newsletter out to your clients will bring in new sales and repeat business.
- Take a Break
Sometimes, your motivation wanes because you’ve been working too hard for too long.
Take a break.
Even a few minutes away from your computer can help you unwind. This is also a great way to recover a sense of perspective, if you’re feeling overwhelmed by the task at hand.
- Go for a Walk
One of the best ways to take a break is to go for a walk.
Even a five-minute walk helps. You’ll get your body moving and your blood pumping, and you’ll return to your work feeling re-energized.
- Write a Task List
Sometimes, your motivation might take a nosedive because you’ve got so much on your plate, you don’t know where to begin.
Write a task list for the rest of the day. Get everything out of your head and onto paper. It’ll only take a few minutes – and everything will look much more manageable.
- Race Against the Clock
Struggling with a tedious task? Challenge yourself to work faster.
Aim to clear your inbox in just 30 minutes. Push yourself to sort that huge stack of files in under an hour. Set a timer, and try to beat it.
- Talk to a Friend
Friends are a great source of support. A quick chat online or on the phone can give you a genuine motivation boost.
If you’re struggling with your diet or exercise plan, call a friend and tell them. If you’re having doubts about your freelance design work, talk to other designers. Remind yourself of the value of what you’re doing.
- Drink a Glass of Water
Are you drinking enough water?
Mild dehydration makes it hard to stay focused – so if your concentration levels are dipping, grab a tall glass of water.
- Alternate Between Two Tasks
Got several big tasks to tackle? Pick two and alternate between them: work on one for ten - fifteen minutes, then the other, and so on.
This helps keep you moving (if you’ve only got ten minutes, you’ll focus better than if you’ve got two hours) and stops you from getting bored with doing the same thing endlessly.
- Tackle an Easy Task
If your motivation is low in general, do something easy. Get one simple task knocked off your list.
That might be sending an email, making a phone call, sorting out a niggling problem with your computer – anything that takes under fifteen minutes. If it’s something you’ve been putting off, you’ll feel great that you’ve finally got it done.
- Write Down What You’ve Already Accomplished
Perhaps you feel like you’re not making much progress towards your goals. If so, get a piece of paper and write down everything you’ve already accomplished.
Maybe you’ve started working for yourself, gathered some testimonials from people you worked with in the past, and found your first client. Those are genuine, big achievements – writing them down will remind you how far you’ve already come.
By CRAIG HARPER
Our Real Goals
In Personal Development-speak we are always talking about goals, outcomes, success, desires and dreams. In other words, all the stuff we want to do, achieve and create in our world. And while it’s important for us to know what we want to achieve (our goal), it’s also important for us to understand why we want to achieve it; the reason behind the goal or some would say, our real goal.
Exploring the WHY
Sometimes when we explore our “why”, (why we want to achieve a certain thing) we realise that our “what” (our goal) might not actually deliver us the thing (feeling, emotion, internal state) we’re really seeking. For example, the person who has a goal to lose weight in the belief that weight loss will bring them happiness, security, fulfillment, attention, popularity and the partner of their dreams. In this instance, their “what” is weight-loss and their “why” is happiness (etc.) and a partner. Six months later, they have lost the weight (achieved their goal) but as is often the case, they’re no happier, no more secure, no more confident, no more fulfilled and in keeping with their miserable state, they have failed to attract their dream partner. After all, who wants to be with someone who’s miserable? They achieved their practical goal but still failed to have their needs met. So they set a goal to lose another ten pounds. And then another. And maybe just ten more. With the destructive and erroneous belief that if they can get thin enough, they’ll find their own personal nirvana. And we all know how that story ends.
The important thing in the process of constructing our best life is not necessarily what goals we set (what we think we want) but what motivates us towards those goals (what we really want). The sooner we begin to explore, identify and understand what motivates us towards certain achievements, acquisitions or outcomes (that is, we begin moving towards greater consciousness and self awareness), the sooner we will make better decisions for our life, set more intelligent (and dare I say, enlightened) goals and experience more fulfilment and less frustration. We all know people who have achieved what they set out to, only to end up in the same place or worse (emotionally, psychologically, sociologically) because what they were chasing wasn’t really what they were needing. What we think we want will rarely provide us with what we actually need.
Our Internal State
We all set specific goals to achieve/acquire certain things (a job, a car, a partner, a better body, a bank balance, a title, a victory) because on some level most of us believe (consciously or not) that the achievement of those goals will bring us what we really seek; joy, fulfilment, happiness, safety, peace, recognition, love, acceptance, respect, connection. Of course, setting practical, material and financial goals is an intelligent thing to do considering the world we live in and how that world works but…setting goals with an expectation that the achievement of certain things in our external, physical world will automatically create an internal state of peace, contentment, joy and total happiness is an unhealthy and unrealistic mindset to inhabit.
What We Want and What We Need
Sometimes we need to look beyond the obvious (superficial) goals to discover and secure what we really want. Sadly, we live in a collective mindset which teaches that the prettiest and the wealthiest are the most successful. Some self-help frauds even teach this message. If you’re rich or pretty, you’re happy. If you’re both, you’re very happy. Pretty isn’t what we really want; it’s what we believe pretty will bring us. Same goes with money. When we cut through the hype, the jargon and the self-help mumbo jumbo, we all have the same basic goals, desires and needs: joy, fulfilment, happiness, safety, peace, recognition, love, acceptance, respect, connection.
What We Don’t Need
Nobody needs a mansion or a sport’s car but we all need love. Nobody needs massive pecs, six percent body-fat, a face lift or bigger breasts but we all need connection, acceptance and understanding. Nobody needs to be famous but we all need peace, calm, balance and happiness. The problem is, we live in a culture which teaches that one equals the other. If only we lived in a culture which taught that real success is far more about what’s happening in our internal environment, than our external one.
Different but the Same
It’s a commonly-held belief that we’re all very different and we all have different goals but in many ways we’re not, and we don’t; we all want essentially the same things. Now all you have to do is see past the fraud and deception and find the right path.
By Russ Moran
Goals are Dreams Written Down
I don’t know who came up with the SMART acronym for goal setting, but he or she was brilliant. It forms a basis for any step toward setting goals and should be adhered to. Here is what the SMART principle holds. A goal should be the following:
Specific: Define your goal in exact language. This is where you turn a dream into a goal, as will be discussed shortly. This is the mental space that you begin to populate with the tangible stuff. “I will open a new branch within 10 miles” beats “I will expand.”
Measurable: Set forth your goals and their intermediate benchmarks in a way that can be actually measured, both at the end and at every step of the way. The measurement could be dollars, mailing pieces sent, appointments, sales closed, or new clients signed up. Most organizations involved in direct sales have statistics breaking down each part of the sales process. For example, the statistics may show that for every 50 calls you make, you will get three appointments. For every three appointments, the statistics show that you will close one sale. The average commission on a closed sale is $1,200. Therefore, every call is worth $24 ($1,200 divided by 50)—just for making the call. Want $24? Pick up the phone.
Achievable: Is it possible to reach your goal within the set period, given the resources that you will need? Don’t hope that something will show up; make sure you have the resources, or at least access to the resources to make the goal achievable. “I will renovate 100 new kitchens within six months.” Well, that’s very exciting, but you’d better have a contact list filled with subcontractors who have nothing else to do in the next half year. An unachievable goal will only lead to frustration; that will turn you off on the whole goal-setting process.
Realistic: Is your goal based on reality, or is it a fantasy? An unrealistic goal is unlikely to be met and can only lead to your disappointment. If it’s realistic, you can form a mental picture of your goal. Once you have that mental picture, a picture you can really be a part of, your goal will have a real life. A week after opening your doors, I don’t suggest that your goal setting include “I will be bigger than Microsoft within a year.”
Timed: It is crucial to place a time limit for achieving a goal; otherwise, it remains a dream. Timed goals lend themselves to charts, especially bar charts. Think of hospital fundraising campaigns, which are often accompanied by a big bar chart right by the entrance. Every week or month, or whatever period is appropriate, you can gauge the progress. This is one of the fun parts of business. I love working with Excel. I mastered it enough to know how to do all kinds of charts based on the underlying numbers. Many people think of a spreadsheet as a tool for showing them what has happened. Open your mind to it as a tool for charting the future—for goal setting. If you don’t know how to use Excel, you should consider taking a course. It will be worth your time and money.
Most business writers and consultants, myself included, would add one other element to the list: your goal should be challenging. It may not fit nicely into the acronym, but it is essential. Suppose, for example, you are a real estate broker, and you sell an average of two houses per month at an average price of $250,000 ($6 million gross sales per year), and you set forth a goal of increasing your house sales by three per year. This is obviously S pecific, M easurable, A chievable, Realistic, and T imed, but so what? There is nothing challenging or exciting about the goal. How about one additional sale per month, or twelve per year? This would bring your gross sales up to $9 million. Remember, for goals to be meaningful, they must be dream-based. Realistic, yes, but also exciting. Yes, I know that as I am writing this, we are in a horrible real estate slump. But working through the SMART principle of goal setting and adding the word challenging, will get you to your goal faster than by bitching about the market to the folks at the diner.
Goals and Dreams Are For Life, Not Just For Business
As you begin your goal-setting adventure, you should organize goals into categories. The number of categories is limited only by your own imagination, but I suggest that you start with just a few. Here are my recommendations in alphabetical order:
Financial Goals (personal)
Turning Dreams into Goals
Dreams are great. Without them you are really not in the game of living up to your potential. But dreams are fuzzy; they have no sharp edges and can meander into mental mush. Remember Helzel’s book, Goals are Dreams with a Deadline ? Try the following exercise, which is closely tied to the Specific part of the SMART principle. On the left-hand side of a piece of paper, list your dreams, broken down by category. On the right-hand side, turn that dream into a goal by making itSpecific.
Dream: To write a business plan. Goal: I will investigate business planning software and begin the plan no later than one week from this Friday.
Dream: To build a successful business. Goal: To achieve $5 million in revenues and $1 million in net profits by December 2014.
Dream: To own my own office building someday. Goal: I will purchase a four thousand-square-foot building within 10 miles by July 2013.
Dream: I need a better filing system. Goal: I will research different filing systems and decide by next Tuesday.
Dream: To spend more vacation time with my family. Goal: To purchase a vacation house within 100 miles in the next 12 months.
Dream: To have family projects that we can all enjoy. Goal: With my family’s input, I will come up with a list of 12 monthly projects by February 2012.
Dream: To build a retirement nest egg. Goal: To accumulate $3 million in liquid assets by age 65 (break this down to monthly or at least annual amounts).
Dream: To be debt free. Goal: Meet with my financial planner and develop a plan to be debt free within 10 years.
Dream: To be a really good golfer. Goal: To knock 10 points off my game in the next year by practicing daily for one hour and taking monthly refresher lessons.
Dream: To learn to enjoy fishing. Goal: I will research and decide on an instructor or group that will teach me how to fish by November 1 of this year.
Dream: To clean my messy desk. Goal:I will attack my desk tomorrow afternoon at 1 PM.
Dream: To learn how to dock my boat. Goal: I will research books and videos on boat docking and decide on course of action by tomorrow at 3 PM.
Dream: To give more to charity. Goal: I will donate $5,000 to my five favorite charities by 2013.
Dream: I would like to help combat illiteracy. Goal: I will contact local literacy groups and become a literacy volunteer within 60 days from now.
Goal setting is fun. You might have 10 or more dreams for each of the above categories. How about setting a goal right now? When will you schedule your first dream-to-goal conversion session?
If you want to know about Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ obsession with longevity, all you have to do is read up about his side projects. You could check out his super-secretive aerospace company, Blue Origin. Or you could look in the Sierra Diablo Mountain Range in Texas, where Bezos is carving out a hole in one of the mountainsides to build a 10,000-year clock using $42 million of his own money.
Why focus 10,000 years into the future? The answer lies in Bezos’ letter to Amazon shareholders from 1997 when the company went public, a manifesto of sorts about the benefits and approaches to long term thinking.
The 1997 letter’s main point: we can’t realize our potential as people or as companies unless we plan for the long term. Every subsequent year Bezos has ended shareholder letters by attaching the original 1997 essay with a reminder of the importance of thinking long term. And every year, he is proven right.
The company that started out as a few guys in a garage has now revolutionized the way we buy everything from books to toys to clothes. Amazon is now one of the 100-largest companies in America, mostly thanks to bold long term plays like the Amazon Kindle.
“If everything you do needs to work on a three-year time horizon, then you’re competing against a lot of people,” Bezos told Wired in 2011. “But if you’re willing to invest on a seven-year time horizon, you’re now competing against a fraction of those people, because very few companies are willing to do that.”
In a nod to Bezos’ obsession with long-term thinking, 99U has combed through a dozen interviews and profiles on the CEO and pulled out a handful of his day-to-day habits that can help you keep an eye on the long term, just like Bezos.
(Disclosure: Bezos is an investor in Behance.)
1. Write out new ideas.
At Amazon, senior executive meetings don’t start out with conference calls or PowerPoint presentations, they start out with reading. Lot’s of it. From a Fortuneprofile:
As Ben Casnocha points out, when you’re speaking it’s easy for audiences to fill in the gaps in your ideas and for you to gloss over the details. By demanding his team to write everything out, it makes them consider all aspects of an idea to make it more durable for years to come.
2. Incentivize team members for the long term: make them owners.
Compared to the lavish salaries and perks of some other established Silicon Valley tech companies, Amazon likes to run lean. The company doesn’t give its employees free snacks, keeps salaries low, and even once (allegedly) preferred to use doors as desks instead of expensive modern furniture. But that doesn’t mean employees aren’t well compensated.
Amazon prefers to reward employees with stock options rather than cash. Bezos explains his logic in the 1997 letter: “We know our success will be largely affected by our ability to attract and retain a motivated employee base, each of whom must think like, and therefore must actually be, an owner.”
3. Follow the “two pizza rule.”
Bezos believes in avoiding complacency at all costs, especially when reinforced by groupthink. From a Wall Street Journal profile:
His antidote? Make his teams as small as possible while throttling communication where appropriate. Bezos said he believed in “two pizza teams”: if a team couldn’t be fed with two pizzas, it was too big.
4. Dedicate time to think about the future.
A 1999 Wired profile of Bezos revealed that he purposefully keeps two unstructured days a week on his calendar so he could allow his mind to wander and generate new ideas. Sometimes he just surfed the web, other times he set up his own meetings.
5. Routinely “check in” on long-term goals.
The same Wired profile reported that Bezos meets with his assistant every quarter to assess his progress on 12 pre-selected initiatives. Mainly, he wants to assure himself that he is spending adequate time on each one by reviewing the past three months of his calendar. The exercise enables him to “check in” to make sure he stays true to his long-term goals and while not getting distracted by new and fleeting ideas.
6. Work backwards.
As Amazon jumps from books to music to web hosting to content creation, its endeavors may seem random, but are all the result of working backwards from a common goal of customer satisfaction. This is opposed to a “skills-forward” approach where people – and companies – let what they are good at determine next steps.
From Bezos’ 2008 shareholder letter:
Bezos even applies this logic to his personal life. When he has to make big decisions he often works backwards and thinks about how he’ll feel about the choice when he is 80. As he was weighing whether to quit his day job to start Amazon, he toldWired that potential regret made him say yes.
“Am I going to regret leaving Wall Street? No. Will I regret missing the beginning of the Internet? Yes.”
By Chris Savage
I’m 52, and usually the oldest guy in the room whenever I meet with colleagues or clients. How has this happened? How have I survived and prospered in a so-called ‘young person’s industry’? Why did all the others drop by the wayside along the way? Here’s the answer, in 5 simple Golden Rules. Well, they worked for me.
First, not a rule. Just a reality. To survive in business and ensure your career keeps evolving and remaining relevant, you have to work on yourself as a project. You have to work harder on yourself than you do on your job. Seriously. Hairdressing icon Vidal Sassoon told me 20 years ago this: “The only place success comes before work is in a dictionary.” And it’s true. Get very serious about yourself and working on improving and developing yourself.
Here are the five Golden Rules:
- Stay Green: If you’re green you grow. If you’re ripe you rot. As simple as that. Stay green. Be open to new learning. Develop a thirst for it. Ensure you are learning and growing every day. Take steps to make this happen. Critique your progress regularly.
- Stay connected: Easier said than done, but I reckon I am more connected to what’s happening ‘in the street’ than most of the hip and groovy youngsters in my business… and we have 4,000 of them. Why? Because I read the papers, on line and off- every day. I read a lot. I read magazines on stuff I am not interested in. I go into shops I have never been in. Walk streets I have never walked. Have meals in suburbs I don’t know. Order dishes I have never had. Talk to taxi drivers. Go to the mosh pit of rock concerts. I have the biggest online brand (except for @the_brand_guy) of anyone in my business. And I’m the oldest guy in the room.
- Have breakfast: Seriously. Have breakfast, three times a week, with a client, a colleague, industry contact, journalist. Give them ‘no holds barred’ time. Ask them this powerful question: “How are you?”Make it all about them. They will tell you stuff they have told no-one. You will make genuine human connections. And you will become invaluable to them. Oh, and make lifelong friendships.
- Become a productivity ninja: Get more of the important things done every day. Work hard on improving your efficiency and effectiveness. Plan every day in advance. Make ‘to do’ lists. Prioritise them carefully. Keep to those priorities as closely as you can in the cut and thrust of the day. Police your progress – every day.
- Have a third place: Starbucks built its business on this concept. We have work. We have home. But where is your ‘Third Place’ – that quiet, comforting space you can go to for a brief retreat and quiet reflection? For me, a coffee shop in North Sydney. I go there once a week. For an hour. To reflect upon how I am going, my progress and failures. How I need to sharpen my offer and accelerate the growth. How I can get more done and ensure I am working on the genuine important stuff. I always leave my Third Place with clarity of mind, a lighter step and hope in my heart.
Those are the Golden Five rules for me on giving yourself the best shot at a vibrant, opportunities-rich and rewarding career, for as long as you want to have it. Beware though, you will end up the oldest person in the room, but, you know what, that’s kind of exciting too.
From the perspective of our brains, personal goals define who we are. Our goals are our identity. And when we think and act based upon goals that reflect our core values as well as what we have to deal with due to life’s stresses, we create an identity for ourselves that can withstand any stress.
Without goals, we are simply our reptile and emotional brain reacting to our surroundings. Our core identity, or self, is based on our fundamental values that become goals, and it guides us in what we focus on every day.
An identity based on alarm goals will almost always lead to stress. Alarm goals don’t guide us toward whom we need to be in our lives, they push us toward what we feel we have to do in order to escape a problem or satisfy an addiction. Alarm goals lead us to define ourselves in terms of temporary satisfaction or chronic problems, both of which are a recipe for feeling not only stressed, but fundamentally incomplete and unfulfilled.
For example, say your life revolved around watching a particular television show, or following the events in a celebrity’s life. What might have been a healthy initial interest in the show or person could become an obsession. That’s an extreme alarm goal.
Feeling like we have to have something or have to get away from someone or something is the first clue to determining if we’re caught in the revolving door that alarm goals always create. That’s our alarm dictating our goals, and the harder we try to accomplish that goal the more stress we feel. That’s why achieving alarm goals is often unsatisfying. They’re not really about what we need and value in life, but instead about getting something we don’t have or getting away from something we fear.
One way to think about alarm and optimal goals is what Margaret Atwood described as the difference between “freedom from” and “freedom to.” What she meant was that when our goals are to get away or to be safe from something, we’re always on the defensive. On the other hand, when we’re free to pursue what we truly value, we’re free. That’s when we can move beyond just avoiding pain and seeking pleasure.
Optimal goals lead us toward who we are and can be in our lives. Optimal goals are an expression of the beliefs, values, and hopes that are, as Abraham Lincoln said, “the better angels of our nature.” A life oriented toward optimal goals is not necessarily a stress-free or error-free life, but it is a life that you can look back on at the end of the day or the end of the road with a sense of it having been worth it.
Focusing more often and more regularly on the goals that reflect what we truly value, we provide our thinking and memory centers with a chance to counterbalance the pressures that come from alarm goals–while still honoring the intent of our brain’s alarm to protect us and help us get immediate rewards as well. For example, an optimal goal might be as mundane (but still important) as enjoying the taste of our favorite food, or as deep as giving our child the chance to be whoever they want to be.
An identity defined by optimal goals not only grounds us in what we do and how other people think and feel about us, but also focuses us on what we know to be true and important in life. That is different for each of us, but it is a possible reality for all of us.
Let’s say you want to become a chef whose restaurant earns a Michelin star. It’s one of the highest honors to have this guide, begun in 1900, proclaim your food to be the best in the world. But at this moment you cook macaroni and cheese from a box. You watched a cooking show, were excited by the idea of centering your life around food, and decided to become a master chef. You tested the idea by taking a few cooking classes. After really testing the idea for a few years, by cooking almost every recipe in the Joy of Cooking, it keeps nagging at you. You are ready to give up your present job and cook professionally. You still want to create a restaurant that earns a Michelin star. That restaurant is a long-term goal.
The long-term goals we create are the mountaintops that drive us. They are the experience we want in the future. They do not raise our alarms when we dream of these goals; they are the pleasant place our mind can wander, experiencing a sample of the pleasure we’ll feel when we accomplish something extraordinary.
Our long-term goals usually combine both the fears of our alarms and the core values that guide our thinking centers. At first, you may be mainly aware of the values that your long-term goals embody. But don’t be surprised when, and it can come on suddenly, your alarm starts sending anxious messages wondering if you’ll ever get there. Our alarms don’t want us to fail, and instead of feeling excitement about the future, they can push us to feel worry or even horror about what will prevent us from reaching our dreams.
Which is why we also need immediate goals. The great chefs begin their training doing the simplest of exercises over and over: knife skills, basic sauces, cooking meat and eggs to an exact level of doneness. If they focused on getting a Michelin star while julienning carrots, they might lose a finger. If in the middle of their first job, they talked about the honors they would receive as a chef rather than creating perfect dishes as a line cook, they would never internalize the technique and artistic vision necessary to be great one day.
Immediate goals are what keep us focused on the present, and allow our alarms to stay under control. They include the input from the alarm, to keep us safe and alert to immediate opportunities, but they also include what’s most important to us in life. In every immediate goal there is a wealth of deeper values and hopes that are our long-term goals–if we take the time to look closely. They point directly to what we truly need in the future.
If you’re not exercising this emotional muscle, you’re probably setting yourself up for failure.
I’m utterly convinced that the key to lifelong success is the regular exercise of a single emotional muscle: gratitude.
People who approach life with a sense of gratitude are constantly aware of what’s wonderful in their life. Because they enjoy the fruits of their successes, they seek out more success. And when things don’t go as planned, people who are grateful can put failure into perspective.
By contrast, people who lack gratitude are never truly happy. If they succeed at a task, they don’t enjoy it. For them, a string of successes is like trying to fill a bucket with a huge leak in the bottom. And failure invariably makes them bitter, angry, and discouraged.
Therefore, if you want to be successful, you need to feel more gratitude. Fortunately, gratitude, like most emotions, is like a muscle: The more you use it, the stronger and more resilient it becomes.
The best time to exercise gratitude is just before bed. Take out your tablet (electronic or otherwise) and record the events of the day that created positive emotions, either in you or in those around you.
Did you help somebody solve a problem? Write it down. Did you connect with a colleague or friend? Write it down. Did you make somebody smile? Write it down.
What you’re doing is “programming your brain” to view your day more positively. You’re throwing mental focus on what worked well, and shrugging off what didn’t. As a result, you’ll sleep better, and you’ll wake up more refreshed.
Reprogramming Your Brain
More important, you’re also programming your brain to notice even more reasons to feel gratitude. You’ll quickly discover that even a “bad day” is full of moments that are worthy of gratitude. Success becomes sweeter; failure, less sour.
The more regularly you practice this exercise, the stronger its effects.
Over time, your “gratitude muscle” will become so strong that you’ll attract more success into your life, not to mention greater numbers of successful (i.e., grateful) people. You’ll also find yourself thanking people more often. That’s good for you and for them, too.
This method works. If you don’t believe me, try it for at least a week. You’ll be amazed at what a huge difference it makes.