Drawing a Blueprint for Success: Goals that Work
Engineer your Life is all about creating a system through which we can achieve a better life for ourselves and those around us. A common misconception is that we can set goals without developing a system through which to achieve them and just expect those goals to happen to us, or worse demand them from others. This is endemic amongst my own generation — millennials — and those after. It is a generational trope I actively try to fly in the face of and know many who do the same, however, there is no denying its prevalence amongst so many of my peers.
Nonetheless, to create a system we first need to know what exactly is a better life? Last week we set out a roadmap for that personal vision of success, whether that vision is a selfless one working to achieve a cause or one of improving your own personal standing. By the way, I don’t believe either are mutually exclusive, but rather they are closely related. The best way we can work for others is through improving our own lives and having a strong, resilient platform so that we can actually be effective. Your ability to effect change starts with personal responsibility.
“If you want to change the world, start with yourself” — Mahatma Gandhi
So, we have our clear and precise vision from last week, we know we are the master and commander of our own ship and that change is born from within. That’s a damn good start, so what’s next?
Begin with the End in Mind
Many of us know through experience that goal setting is not the be all and end all of creating change, the goal is not the arbiter of change, your system, aka your engine of improvement, is. Nonetheless, goal setting is still a key part of that engine and still the crucial starting point of any successful journey.
We begin by writing the story of our life backwards. It is simply impossible to know what the right decision is today, if we’re not working towards a desired outcome. The desired outcome is our vision of success and the first step in making that vision a reality is creating 10-year goals. This week we’re going to discuss how to break a vision down into 10-year goals and the best way to develop them.
“To begin with the end in mind means to start with a clear understanding of your destination. It means to know where you’re going so that you better understand where you are now and that the steps you take are always in the right direction.” — Stephen Covey
Breaking Down Your Vision
You’ll remember that in creating your vision I asked you to be unrealistic, be bold in creating your vision and don’t tempter expectations. Be the winningest QB in the NFL, be the richest person in the world, be Prime Minister. After all, surely, we want to be the most successful version of ourselves, right? When it comes to our 10-year goals we need to start getting a tad less unreasonable. Our 10-year vision is the first step in breaking down goals into our daily actions and those need to be realistic. Too outlandish and we’ll just get frustrated in our first year, too easy and we might not be as motivated and we are too slow in the progress we need to make towards our ultimate vision.
Side bar: The example above of being the winningest NFL QB ever would likely take place in a ten-year span if you’re assuming a ‘normal’ career length and you’re currently in college. It’s okay to start with our final vision as your ten-year vision and go straight to the next step of a 5-year vision and then breaking down those steps further. For young people especially who struggle to see 10-years into the future may want to start with 5-year goals. Some common sense is required.
If our goal is to be the President of the United States and we just left College, we might set our ten-year vision as becoming a U.S. Senator. A remarkable feat considering you’d be joining the annals of youngest ever Senators, yet more achievable than becoming the youngest ever President by more than a decade. Through the example’s others have set we can look to them to see what is vaguely within the realms of possibility. If you’re highly motivated you may want to be audacious and break records and I encourage you to do so, nothing wrong with ambition. There’s also nothing wrong with finding a healthy medium — especially as your final vision is eminently more achievable if you build on doing the little things to the best of your ability at the start, than doing the big things on shaky foundations. Furthermore, if you’re not motivated by being a record breaker — don’t do it, focus on what’s important in your vision.
Yakul and Latham’s research in 1978 shows us that a greater understanding of why a goal was necessary, had more chances of being successful. Thus creating these 10-year goals helps turn a vision into tangible goal that we know is necessary toward achieving the vision. This is vital throughout the process.
There will be a lot more on language in other facets of Engineer Your Life, so for now we’re just going to focus on the parts that pertain to building your blueprint, of which there are two. Firstly, goals should be within our circle of control (read my article on that here), i.e. things that you can actually effect. Setting a goal like “I have 1 million followers on Instagram” is not strictly within your circle of control, although it is within your circle of influence. A better goal might be “I have built up a catalogue of YouTube Videos spanning 5 areas of interest and totalling 1,000 hours.” Coincidentally, this is 101 when it comes to content marketing and getting followers. Creating goals that you can directly control will be more helpful than getting frustrated by things we ultimately can’t control and usually fosters a better foundation and greater scope for learning.
“The biggest thing I can tell you is that you have to make as much content as possible.” — Gary Vaynerchuk
Secondly, with your 10-year vision we want to talk in the present tense as though we’re already there. This is continuing from our vision — we are imagining we are in a universe where we’ve already achieved those goals. This is down to positive psychology, there are a multitude of factors as to why this important. Firstly, and simply, the “I” forms an association of yourself with the goal, connecting the goal with your sense of self. When it comes to 10-year goals specifically, if the goal seems too distant or future orientated, our Medial Prefrontal Cortex (MPFC) (planning part of the brain) activation is lower. Therefore, visualising ourselves having ownership over the rewards of the goal helps us to overcome some of the distant nature of the goal, being that it is ten years away — this is also why we will continue to break these down further, our daily actions become directly correlated to our 10-year vision and our ultimate life’s vision. It can also help us decide what is meaningful and what is not. Throughout this exercise I encourage you to write stuff down and then question it, it’s okay to cross a goal out if you derive little pleasure or meaning from it — that’s all part of discovery.
You will notice throughout this article the goals I have expressed have all been within this language framework.
We’ve all heard of S.M.A.R.T goals by this point (if you haven’t here’s a good summary). Anyone who’s ever held a corporate position has been flogged to death with S.M.A.R.T goals. After being bored out of my mind listening to trainers explain smart goals, it pains me to find myself in the same position, I have tried to find a way out. The reason they have been so widely adopted however, is because they’re effective and there’s nowhere to run from that. They are a great foundation when it comes to expressing our goals. Plus, by virtue of creating 10-year goals, we’ve taken care of the T (Time-bound), and the A (Achievable) and R (Relevant) will come into greater focus later when we break it down further. Thus for this part of the exercise it all comes down S&M, kinky!
We’ve already discussed Specificity: just as with our vision, our 10-year goals should be written in as specific detail as we can muster, see the section “…But Dream Accurately” for the justification. That leaves just one letter and therefore the most important when it comes to our 10-year vision — measurable. Have a distinct, irrefutable way of measuring your goal such that you know when you’ve achieved it or, perhaps more importantly, you’re able to review your progress against it.
As far as I’m concerned, when it comes to 10-year goals we want more S&M — Specific and Measurable. “In 10 years, I own a hot pink Lambo SVJ Roadster” — it’s specific and you either have it or you don’t so it’s measurable. “I have a million dollars in the bank.” “I have directly saved the lives of 10 whales I can name and track.” “I have two kids, Bill and Bob, and I spoil them.”
Consider the “why” when you’re writing a goal — this is closely linked to meaning in last week’s post too. Does it help you achieve your overall vision? Do you need $1 million or is what you’re really after financial security. Sure, writing a million squidoons as a goal can be useful because we’re putting a number on it, however, it might not be necessary. It depends on context — is a million in the bank necessary for financial independence if you live in Beverly Hills? Seems likely, what about if you live in rural Costa Rica? You could live like a king on much less and that’s an asset by the way — you don’t need the goal of making the million squidoons to achieve your vision of financial security while sippin’ on rum on the volcanic beaches — Pura Vida baby!
We have to make sure the goals achieve the outcome that we want. Why do you want 1mil Instagram followers? Is it to become a powerful social media influencer or is it to create a lifestyle business related to travel? Are there other or better ways to achieve the latter? Are there better ways to express that goal? Ask yourself why when writing down each of your goals. Are you writing it down for the sake of writing it, or do you want it so bad you can taste it? An especially good exercise if you have a lot of goals, it might be useful to narrow some of them down.
Fairly self-explanatory here folks — write down your damn goals. A Harvard Study by Dr. Gail Matthews and other’s who have done similar work consistently show that the simple act of writing down your goals yields greater results than not doing so. Even those who didn’t necessarily achieve their goals, attained a higher level of success. Why then, are you sat around with that stuff floating around in your head!? Get it on paper, achieving your vision depends on it.
Next week, we will discuss breaking these downs into smaller chunks.
This article was written by Cameron Readman for Engineer Your Life and is part of the Engineer Your Life series of articles. If you’d like to know more or receive notifications for future articles, please head over to the Website and subscribe at the bottom of the page!