Personal Goals: Take Aim and Score Multiply your Chances for Goal Realization
"People with goals succeed because they know where they are going." Earl Nightingale
Dreams and wishes. There's no shortage of them in world, that's for sure. But then why are so many unrealized?
Not all aspirations are achievable. Some are unworkable because of environmental issues (physical limitations, age, location or travel restraints), while others are unworkable only because they're not supported by good goal-setting techniques.
There is a continental divide that runs between wishes and goals. Wishes are unattainable, because inactive dreaming is their greatest asset. Good goals are attainable, because they're realistic, and when attacked with the right skills, can be realized.
Consider someone that we'll call Uncle Elmer. Uncle Elmer drifts off to sleep every night while visions of fellow Russian Ballet dancers whirl in his head. He's always dreamt of dancing, and still holds onto wishes from his youth. He might admit that his dreams are unattainable, but it's easier to imagine that someday, though inexperienced and past his prime, he might be asked to be a guest on the big stage.
But Uncle Elmer needs to back up and establish some goals that are realistic. He's simply setting himself up for esteem-crushing failure. He's dead in the water; slumped over the starting gate; doomed to failure?sorry, Elmer, but those are the facts.
A more realistic goal for Elmer? He could vow to be dance-ready to attend the senior center's annual Independence Day Dance. Sure, it's not the Russian Ballet, but it's also not lying in bed under the weight of a dream that will never be realized.
Goal Realization and Goal Realization
No, it's not a typo. I've intentionally repeated myself. That's because realization is a polysemous word (that is, one with dual meanings). And both of those meanings mesh nicely with the two components of goal-setting.
? Goal Realization Definition #1: Awareness of your goal (naming a goal that is achievable and drawing up a plan that will promote success). Example: When Elmer realized that he wanted to dance, he immediately signed up for dance class at the senior center.
? Goal Realization Definition #2: Achievement of your goal (arrival, success, the satisfaction that comes from accomplishment). Example: When Elmer realized his dancing goal by cutting a rug at the Independence Day Dance, the ladies surrounded him like seagulls on a cheese puff.
Goal-setting is a twofold stunt. Its major aspects lie in Realization, and Realization.
Want that Bulls Eye? Then you'll Need Target Practice
There are two types of respectable goals. There are long-term, life-changing goals (running a marathon, getting a promotion, learning Chinese). Then there are the smaller, more easily achievable goals that contribute to the realization of the long-term goals, (respectively: taking the stairs instead of the elevator, organizing your desk, learning to eat with chopsticks).
One large goal is difficult to swallow, and even more difficult to achieve. Mapping out a course to that large goal, by establishing a game plan of smaller goals, is the only way you can expect to experience success.
Let's consider Uncle Elmer's new dancing goal again, and break it down into manageable pieces.
? Elmer's Large Goal:
o Getting down with the ladies at the Independence Day Dance
? Elmer's Target Range of Smaller Goals:
1. Sign up for beginner jazz dance class 2. Start a vitamin supplement plan 3. Walk a half-mile every night after dinner 4. Go to bed before the Tonight Show, every night 5. Eat carrots instead of carrot cake for snacks 6. Find Lawrence Welk reruns and practice steps every morning 7. Sign up for intermediate jazz dance class 8. Attend a seminar about healthy aging 9. Walk one mile every night after dinner 10. Replace lettuce salad with spinach salad 11. Sign up for advanced jazz dance class 12. Ask pretty lady at the senior center to the Dance 13. Buy new cologne, shoes, slacks, and cardigan 14. Wash the Buick; hang a scented pine tree from the steering column
Without Elmer's breakdown of his large goal into smaller goals, he might be wandering aimlessly, and find that time had slipped away, leaving him ill-prepared for cutting it up on July 4th.
Maybe this mental illustration will further aid you in grasping the idea of goal-setting:
Imagine that Elmer sets up his goals as targets on an archery range. The largest diameter target on the range represents the Independence Day Dance. It's 100 yards away, and Elmer believes it nearly impossible to hit. He's not that good at archery, after all.
But Elmer doesn't have to worry about that big goal target yet. He's knows it's there, but he will concentrate on the smaller goal targets for now.
He has set up the 14 smaller goal targets, one in front of the other, so that each one blocks the view of the one behind it. He has spread them out across the 100 yard range, so that each one is approximately 6 ½ yards from the one in front of it. The first one is 6 ½ yards from Elmer -- relatively close.
Elmer draws back his bow. His arms are shaking. He's having difficulty holding the bow steady, and the bow string is cutting into his finger. He releases the arrow, and it misses the first target, "Sign up for Beginner Jazz Dance Class," by a few inches to the right.
He takes a deep, steadying breath, positions another arrow, adjusts his stance, and moves his aim a bit to the left of the bulls-eye. He releases the arrow and it lands dead-center on the first target. True, the target was only a few yards away from Elmer, but he hit it and feels a bursting sense of pride and accomplishment.
Elmer removes the first, conquered target from the range. Behind where it stood, is the "Start a Vitamin Supplement Plan" goal target. Elmer knows that he naturally shoots to the right, so he aims a bit to the left of the bulls-eye. He recognized last time that the bow string was hurting his fingers, so he's put on an archery glove.
When he releases the arrow, it hits the target, but is a bit higher than center. He sets another arrow and hits a bulls-eye at 13 yards. Elmer has realized another goal.
By the time Elmer has conquered all of his 14 small goals, he is equipped, ready, and practiced enough to hit the large-goal target at 100 yards. He hits the bulls-eye on the first try. All of his preparation has paid off.
In this metaphorical illustration, Elmer started small and worked his way to success. He learned of personal weakness along the way (shooting to the right), and learned to compensate for it. He learned to bring in a tool to promote success (glove). And in realizing success in his smaller goals, he also acquired skills (arm strength, flight speed, accuracy) needed to reach his larger goal.
When you set your own goals, follow Uncle Elmer's lead. If you aim for your big-picture goal from the start, you'll lose your way. Your arrows will end up in the neighbor's yard (or in the neighbor's dog), and success will not be realized. No goal is too simple to be broken down into smaller, more manageable pieces.
The Qualities of a Quality Goal Everyone's goals are different (revisit the marathon, promotion, and Chinese language). The types of goals that you choose aren't nearly as important as the tone you use when naming those goals. Here are a few pointers to remember when establishing your goals:
? Be optimistic. Goals should be achievable. They are achievable when you believe that you can accomplish them. If you find yourself doubting your ability to achieve a goal, no matter how small, you must back up and further break down that goal into manageable bites. When you can be optimistic about a goal ("I know I can do this"), then the size of your goal is digestible. If you find yourself feeling fearful or doubtful about your ability ("I'm going to screw this up?I know it"), then break it down.
? Prioritize. Few of us have one single long-term goal. You might want to run the marathon, get the promotion, and learn Chinese. But you can't do everything at once. Maybe you'll want to run the marathon first, since that's what I like to do, and then work on the other two goals. And if you're lucky, many of the skills and life lessons that you learn through the realization of the first goal will contribute to the success of the others (training for the marathon will teach stamina and goal-setting techniques).
? Be specific. When you're making a list of goals for yourself, number them, set completion dates, and stick to the plan. A list that allows you to pluck random goals from it, without any accountability or timeline, will never be completed.
? Be in control. Do not set goals with outcomes that are beyond your control. For instance, don't vow to win the baseball game. You can't control the performance of the players on either team. You can't guarantee the condition of the field, or the direction of the wind. Instead, start early and make it your goal to avoid being struck out, or to hit at least one ball, or if you're confident, strive to hit a homer. Your quality goal should rely on your performance alone.
? Don't overinflate. What happens if you add too much helium to a balloon that's already dry and brittle? Boom! And the same will happen to your goals if you haven't planned and honestly considered your ability to realize them. Uncle Elmer felt better about himself at the Independence Day Dance than he would have felt being turned away from the Russian Ballet. And now he can conquer more goals because he carries a feeling of accomplishment and capability with him.
? Take lessons from yourself. When you make mistakes in the pursuit of a goal, don't quit. Rework the way that you approach the next goal, or avoid repeating the same mistake. If you quit after eating that slice of pie, or missing that morning meeting, or tripping up the steps of the Great Wall, you'll never enjoy the opulence that comes with wisdom, or the ease with which you can avoid repeat mistakes.
? Be elastic. As long as your small goals are benefiting your journey to the pie-in-the-sky goal, they are negotiable. If you're rocketing ahead (running easy miles, being asked to lunch by the CEO, ordering carryout in Chinese), then consider skipping ahead to a goal that suits your current level. If you're lagging behind (running breathless miles, being turned down for lunch, or getting orange duck when you thought you ordered lo mein), then back up the truck and add some more goals to bring your game up to speed. You can't possibly predict how the road to your large goal will wind, so be ready to apply the brakes, speed up, or take some hairpin turns when necessary.
Like any recipe, your final goal's success relies on the planning and implementation of its recipe. Miss and egg, or add an extra cup of flour, and your cake will counter the Sahara in its texture. Adopt negativity, or refuse to be flexible, and the texture of your goals will counter that of thin air?nothingness.
Taming that RAScally Rabbit
Imagine that you're in a busy apparel store during their winter clearance sale. You're looking for the best deal on a pantsuit for your upcoming meeting (one small goal closer to that promotion!). Faceless men and women mill around you, each group involved in its own unique conversation. Banners are plastered on every wall, advertising next season's coming fashions. The overhead speakers spill out jingles touting the remarkable styles being showcased for spring.
As you move through the crowd, not noticing the music filtering through, or the brightly-colored advertisements, or the words that float through the air, you are suddenly jolted from your quest for clearance signs by a voice over the loudspeaker, announcing that all winter pantsuits are an additional 25 percent off today.
Why is that announcement the only thing you really heard?
Or why, at night, are you never awakened by your spouse's coming in from second shift, or by the sound of the shower, or by the sound of your son's early morning alarm clock from the other room? But, you're jolted upright when the downstairs smoke alarm sounds, or your toddler shuffles into your room in the middle of the night?
The answer is the RAS, or Reticular Activating System. Its center is housed in your brain stem, and yes, everyone has one. In the beginning, when the RAS applied for the job, it responded to an ad for a translator, to filter and send messages from the conscious mind to the subconscious mind. It promised to nudge its users away from pain and toward pleasure, for safety and evolution purposes.
Historically, humans have endured pain for as long as possible, and then moved away from it when pushed to do so. If you've ever avoided having a painful tooth fixed until it was bad enough to keep you up at night, you might identify with early man's reluctance to migrate to other geographical areas, even when famine, drought, or animal attacks became unbearable. Their current living situations may have been terrible, but the thought of packing up and moving to a new place, with unknown dangers and questionable food and water sources, was frightening.
Today, humans have learned to avoid pain. If you've ever avoided going to the dentist because it might hurt (and your teeth are already perfectly shiny and seemingly healthy), you understand this concept. Even if something will be beneficial to our well-being and longevity, if it has the potential to be painful, our subconscious mind pushes us toward pleasure -- which in this case is inaction, and the maintenance of an already acceptable situation. That's why it's so difficult to kick drugs and alcohol -- a goal of quitting can mean moving toward pain, while continuing to use chemicals gives sensations that are, at least temporarily, pleasant.
When you were shopping for that pants suit, a bargain was foremost in your mind. In the car, on the way to the mall, you'd thought about spending as little money as possible. You'd counted the money in your wallet; calculated how much you could charge on your credit card without accruing interest. Your RAS took that information and promised to notify you, should anything regarding the subject of saving money on a pantsuit be heard or seen. Everything else (the surrounding noise and advertisements), the RAS converted to white noise.
In much more subtle ways, the RAS takes your self-image and the ways in which you define yourself, and highlights the things in everyday life that align with those beliefs.
The same applies to goals. If you hold a goal dear, think about it, imagine yourself achieving it, believe that you can achieve it, your RAS will not only filter out things that are unimportant to the realization of that goal, but will command that you pipe up and pay attention to things that will contribute to the achievement of that goal. And furthermore, if your self image aligns with that goal (e.g. self-recognized high achiever wants that promotion), then your RAS will work in seamless overtime.
The RAS doesn't control you -- it is controlled by you, and can even be hoodwinked if you know what you're doing. Consider this: You have a vocal recital coming up. Your nervousness about the performance is created by your RAS's primitive function of pulling you back from uncertain situations. But if you practice often, imagining that you are in front of an audience, picturing yourself nailing every note, even bowing when the audience gives you a standing ovation, your RAS will see that as genuine experience, not hopeful practice, and will be more than willing to help you to repeat that same performance, free of nervousness, on the night of the show.
Much of the explanation for the above recital example is that the RAS revels in consistency. When something goes well, it pushes you to repeat. It also pulls you back when something doesn't go well. In this manner, it shapes human personality. It tries to kill risk-taking and promote matters that align with your beliefs.
If you believe in your goals, your RAS will point you toward it. If you change your mindset to a positive one that believes in your ability to complete your goals, your RAS will highlight helpful hints and push in the right direction.
Uncle Elmer believes in it -- when he thought of nothing but the Russian Ballet, he was constantly reminded that the Ballet was out there, thriving, and spurning him with every pirouette. But when Elmer turned his positive attention toward the Independence Day Dance, he saw it advertised in the papers, heard it talked about at market, and even realized that he was friends with folks who had attended in the past.
Elmer has learned that to change your life, you need to change your mindset. He is now a firm believer in the power of that RAScally Rabbit (Or is it Wascally Wabbit?).
Why Willpower Will Never give you Power
Willpower alone will never be the answer to achieving goals.
Human nature dictates, as discussed earlier, that we move toward pleasure and away from pain. So, when your conscious mind tries to deny your subconscious mind of that cigarette or slice of pie, there will be a mental tug-of-war, at the least.
Self control can only be used by humans in small batches. When you eat a salad for dinner, do you feel compelled to follow it with a cookie? Or when you've given a killer presentation, do you feel like rewarding yourself with a cigarette? That's your nature as a human -- primitive survival patterns dictate that we try to refill our stock after we've been deprived.
Your conscious mind consists of 6 thinking cranial areas. When you sleep, 5 of those areas are still active, and those five parts of the brain make up the subconscious mind. As you can see, subconscious wins by forfeit. It's no contest. Dare I even mention that the subconscious mind processes information 200,000 times more quickly than the conscious mind? When you try to battle the subconscious mind with your conscious one, you're setting yourself up for failure.
Instead of tackling your goals with willpower alone, tap into your RAS (subconscious mind) with focus on positive goals. If you picture yourself bursting through the tape at the marathon's finish line, you will want to run that extra mile. If you can picture the city view, feel the supple leather of the chair, imagine the sheen of the polished cherry desk, you'll naturally make the decisions that deem you promotion-worthy. If you can picture conversations with Chinese exchange students, where they compliment your command over the language, you'll turn off the television and put on the headphones for a late night language session -- without a second thought or the stretch of one willpower muscle.
Uncle Elmer accomplished his boogie-woogie goals without a single flexing of his willpower muscle. He maintained focus on his goal, and was eager to do whatever it took to shake what his momma gave him. He realized early on that willpower is in fact, powerless in the quest for goal realization.
Sinking Goals as Part of your Own Inner Game
To score a goal, you have to get past the goalie. And often, that goalie is the big mouth in your own head.
If any goal-setter expects to have success in goal realization, his or her inner game has to result in self-win.
Tim Gallwey teaches of two parts of a human's inner game.
? Self #1 berates, scolds, and is overcritical.
? Self #2 listens to everything that Self #1 says to it, learns it, and takes it as truth.
Tim so eloquently defines the result of this phenomenon as, "Performance equals Potential minus Interference." Interference is all of the "lapses in concentration, nervousness, self doubt, and self condemnation" that we impose on ourselves.
In short, your inner game is your opinion of yourself and your abilities to complete a set of established goals. If you fully believe that you are capable of tackling the goals that you have set before yourself, your inner game is balanced, and your outer game will tilt in your favor. If the big mouth in your head is shouting doubts, your chances of success in the outer game (goal achievement) are greatly diminished.
If you can believe in yourself, even the most seemingly insignificant goals will yield greater results, both outwardly and inwardly. And the more you achieve, the more confident you will feel about achieving more and more.
Remember Uncle Elmer and his target range? His inner game was off in the beginning; but as he progressed, his ability and self confidence blossomed and he accomplished more than he could have imagined.
You, too can realize goals for yourself. Remember to keep them realistic and positive. Realize that you can run that extra mile, or get that report in before the deadline, or order chicken with snow peas without stumbling -- and every time you accomplish one of these small goals, you are one mile closer to the destination that once seemed so far away.
I should warn you though, goal realization is a bit addictive. It's hard to realize just one. Just ask Uncle Elmer. He's competing in the Jitterbug National next week.