Whether you are a go-getter, a planner, or a set-it-and-forget-it type of person, I think we can all agree that our chances of living a life of our design are improved when we have a fairly detailed idea of what it is that we want. As Zig Ziglar put it, “If you aim at nothing, you’ll hit it every time!” Unfortunately, too many of us do just that. We don’t establish a clear vision of what we want, and yet we expect whatever it is to just fall into our laps, somehow and someday soon. Well, I have good news and bad news. The bad news is that that isn’t how things work, but the good news is that once I go over the simple methodology in this post, you can start putting it to work for yourself.
This time of the year, there is no shortage of articles and posts about New Year’s Resolutions; how to make them work, why they never work, why you should set them, why they are overrated, etc. Rest assured that this is not one of those posts. While the process I describe below can be used for New Year’s Resolutions, it is equally effective with any kind of vision or goal. To be clear, I have never really been a fan of Resolutions the way they are promoted, but a practice that my family and I have engaged in fairly regularly over the years is to clarify our vision for the future and make commitments to ourselves and each other to take the steps needed to make it happen.
We have used this very effectively in many areas of life, including most recently publishing my book and establishing a family business, which experienced phenomenal growth, impact, and revenue, and getting our finances in order and paying off our houses (which I detailed in a previous post (LI)). We have found the practice of getting clear on our vision to be effective in both directing our activities and opening our eyes to the relevant information and resources all around us that we would have otherwise not noticed and not utilized. In fact, in some cases, the vision we had set ended up coming into being unbelievably quickly and with almost uncanny accuracy, despite not even consciously remembering setting the goal in the first place!
That last part is an important distinction, however, that sometimes discourages people who have the wrong idea of how visioning actually works. We have all encountered the idea of setting goals and letting the “universe” bring them into being, either in the form of The Secret, the Law of Attraction, Vision Boards, affirmations, and so on. What people miss about these methods is that they aren’t like submitting an order for an item on an online store; you don’t just click “Submit” and wait for it to be delivered at a specified date and time. Visioning is not magic; it does not guarantee that you will get exactly what you envisioned exactly when you want it. In many ways, it is a case of “aiming for the moon, so that if you miss you still end up among the stars.” To paraphrase Disraeli, creating a vision may not always bring success, but there is rarely success without first creating a vision.
So, while visioning is the important first step in achieving success, it is definitely not the last. There are several reasons why visioning may fail to produce results, which I have mentioned in various blog posts in the past, but I will briefly go over the relevant ones here. One of these is that we don’t realize that visioning operates primarily on a subconscious level, and thus interacts with all of our subconscious beliefs about ourselves and the world. Generally, these beliefs tend to be negative, or at least limiting, and until we acknowledge and address them, the goals that we set just end up as “icing on a mud pie.” Since these deeply held, albeit fallacious, beliefs are so integral to our understanding of ourselves and the world, they block us from achieving anything that contradicts them. So, the first step is often interrogating our beliefs about whether we deserve success/happiness/love, where those beliefs came from to begin with, and whether they actually match up with objective reality. I’ve covered this topic in many blog posts and in my book, The Transformative Leader, so I won’t belabor the point here.
Another mistake that I have seen made is the failure to follow through. We set our vision, take zero steps to make it happen, even when the opportunity to do so presents itself, and then wonder why we haven’t achieved anything. That’s like setting your GPS, sitting in a parked car, and wondering what’s taking you so long to get to your destination! Visioning works partly by activating our subconscious to make us aware of resources and information relevant to achieving the goals we set, but simply being aware of those resources is useless unless we actually put them to use. What many people misunderstand is that visioning isn’t like ordering food in a restaurant, which will then be cooked by a chef and served to you by the waiter. Visioning is more like deciding what dish you want to eat, picking out the right ingredients from everything else in the store, and then cooking and serving it yourself; it is essential to know the proper recipe for the dish you’re making, but when you eat and how it tastes are completely up to you.
Lastly, and finally coming to the main point of this post, many attempts at visioning fail simply because they aren’t specific enough. All too often, when envisioning the future we want, we set goals so vague that we probably wouldn’t even know even if we did achieve them. I’m talking about goals like ”get healthy,” “be happier,” “become wealthy.” These may be a bit generic, but you get the point, and hopefully, see the problem as well. What exactly does “wealthy” mean? Getting out of debt? $1 million in income, or in the bank? $2 million? Does “healthy“ mean 20 lbs lighter, or does it mean being able to run up the stairs without getting winded? And when exactly are these meant to be achieved? Next year? In the next 5 years? You get the idea. Goals like this, with sliding scales of criteria for completion and ambiguous or nonexistent timelines—aka VAPID goals—basically guarantee failure, and frustration along the way for good measure.
We set goals like this partly because we are afraid that if we set a specific goal and then fail to achieve it, that is somehow shameful or embarrassing. So, we reserve the right to define success however we want, and we usually exercise that right to define it as far less than we can actually achieve. However, as G.K. Chesterton once said, “Anything worth doing is worth doing badly,” and that applies just as well to setting goals as to anything else.
Another important reason we tend to set these unsatisfying goals is because we set them using a change paradigm, as opposed to a transformation paradigm. Change involves altering the present state to create a better version of what already exists, whereas transformation is about creating the ideal future without limitations or preconceptions from the past. One example I use to distinguish these two types of goals relates to health. If someone has a headache, they may have an immediate goal that involves change, namely, “I want this headache to go away,” whereas a transformation paradigm goal would be, “I want abundant health and vitality.” Or, if we were setting career goals, the change paradigm might be, “I don’t want to work at my dead-end job anymore,” whereas the transformation paradigm would be, “I want a satisfying career where I am paid X amount, my contributions are appreciated, and I have X many hours per week to spend time with my family.” I talk more about change vs. transformation, and the importance of creating a vision and working it backwards in my book and other posts, so I’ll leave it at that for now.
Over the years, and keeping the above points in mind, we have gone about doing our annual planning a few different ways, some more structured than others and have found that the 6 simple steps that I’m going to introduce you to work the most effectively in setting us up for success.
The actual process is quite simple and can be completed individually, with a partner, or as a family. Here are a few things to consider before you get started:
· Don’t overthink the steps and get stuck on trying to get it perfect. You will get it about 80% right on the first pass, and then you can come back and tweak it until it feels right to you.
· The time horizon you choose is up to you. The steps indicate a suggested timeframe but this is not set in stone, so set a challenging but realistic deadline for yourself.
· You don’t have to wait for the beginning of the year or the month to start this process. There is no tie like the present, so start as soon as you are ready to get moving toward your goals.
· If you are single or you’d prefer to complete this process individually, consider having someone else that you trust to encourage you and give you honest feedback at some point in the process. This is so you don’t end up missing the forest for the trees, and to ensure that your goals are stretching and also realistically achievable.
Now, let’s get right into the steps I would recommend you take for creating a crystal-clear vision that you are excited about and strategies to bring it to life:
1. Acknowledgment. Before you start visioning or planning proper, take some time reflect on the previous year, or whatever period of time is significant to you, and acknowledge what you have accomplished already. As I explain in great detail in my previous blog post (LI), this is an extremely important step as it proves that you have what it takes to accomplish the goals you set in the past, and your past victories act as milestones and motivation to propel you toward achieving new successes. A simple list will suffice for this step, and don’t hold back; anything notable you accomplished last year is fair game, as long as you consider it a victory. If you tend to be “too humble for your own good,” enlist the help of a supportive colleague or friend who can help you see your victories a little clearer from the outside.
2. Brainstorm. Create a list of all the things that come to mind relative to various improvements you want to make in your life and outcomes you would like to achieve in the future. These are what you want to achieve. This is a brainstorm list. Don’t try to perfect it, just throw out any ideas you have, set your goals out in broad strokes. It is fine to be vaguer than usual here, because this is an intermediate step. If you are doing this as a couple or group, don’t question the items that others want to put on the list. You are allowed to ask questions for clarity, but not evaluate the validity of what is being offered up. Again, a simple list will suffice.
a. Once you have complete the brainstorm list, discuss it with an accountability partner or with other people who are doing the exercise with you. Now is the time to evaluate the items on the list and make a decision about what stays and what gets erased or modified.
3. Categorize. Once you have a more-or-less finalized brainstorm list, it is time to divide your goals into categories. You can create your own categories or use the ones below. Check to make sure there is a good balance of items that belong to each of these categories. If there in an imbalance, address it by adding or removing items as you see fit. Stay with this process until you feel you have a well-rounded view of the future. You may choose to copy the list to a new piece of paper, but if the existing brainstorm list is tidy enough, you can use abbreviations next to each item instead. Regardless of how you go about it, mark each item to indicate which of these categories they belong to:
a. Physical – Your physical health and fitness. (Nutrition, exercise, sleep, etc.)
b. Mental/Emotional – Your peace of mind and mental well-being. (Reading, recreation, organization, habits, etc.)
c. Spiritual – Your sense of existential meaning and significance in relation to the world and others. (Faith-based activities, time in nature, meditation, volunteering, etc.)
e. Relational – The quality of the closest relationships in your life. (Friends, family, coworkers, romantic partners, etc.)
f. Social – The quantity and quality of your social interactions
4. Elaborate. The next step is to create an aspirational vision of the future by elaborating on each item in the categorized list. Take a look at the items in each category and come up with one or two aspirational statements for each category that summarizes and represent(s) the state of affairs in that area of your life when all of those items have been taken care of. These aspirational statements are a description of what it will look and feel like once you achieve your goals. They should be written in present tense and be an image of the ideal future, not a reaction to the past or present. For instance, if you have several items relating to health and wellness, you might summarize it like so: “I proactively nurture my health and fitness at every opportunity, so that I am filled with abundant vitality and strength throughout the day. I look and feel better than ever before.” Note that this step is not intended to be a repeat of each item you have already listed specifically, but a description of their collective culmination in a few paragraphs. Discuss and tweak this until you get it to the point that it inspires excitement and enthusiasm in you.
a. This step will produce an aspirational vision of the future for each category. You may also want to craft a one or two sentence Vision Statement for the upcoming year, basically specifying the overarching “theme” that will define it. Once you have this, I would recommend you stop the process and take some time to let it soak in. I would recommend somewhere between 1-3 days. This will allow your subconscious to start making you aware of resources and methods you might use to achieve these aspirations. During that time, feel free to take additional notes and tweak what you already have.
5. Action Planning. While the previous steps dealt with what your goals are, and how they will feel, this step deals with how to actually achieve them. This next step is to identify the strategies you need to use and actions you need to take to bring each of your aspirations to bear in reality. This is the most detailed part of the process. The tactic I would recommend for this stage is to write down the aspirational statement(s) in your vision that pertain to each of the categories listed above, and then list the strategies related to that area underneath it. You will end up with six sections, one for each category. These could be individual pages if you plan to include a lot of actions and strategies. Another option for those who have more confidence in their planning ability would be to divide these actions and strategies into various time periods rather than categories. So, you might have actions related to various categories to be completed in different 3-month periods, or 1-month periods. Use whichever format works best for you.
a. Now get into the details of the steps involved in executing each strategy. Depending on the specific goal, these actions could be simple or complex. For instance, if your goal is to walk 10,000 steps per day, one action could be “Park farther away at work and the grocery store.” If your goal is to lose weight, however, the strategy may be something more like, “Find the right gym, decide on the right exercise program, find a sustainable dietstyle, decide how many calories to cut, etc.”
6. Execution. Once you have the detailed list of actions you need to take to make your vision a reality, identify the items you can get started on immediately. Add these to your calendar or whatever granular mechanism you use to hold yourself accountable for doing what you said you were going to do. This is the time to plan your work and work your plan. Don’t overload yourself. The key is to establish habits and rituals that will support moving you toward your goal, not taking huge dramatic actions that will either succeed or fail spectacularly. (It’s “park farther away from work every day,” not “run a marathon next week”). Remember, we tend to overestimate what we can get done in the short-term, and underestimate what we can get done in the long-term. It is best to get a few victories under your belt before you start taking on too many changes all at once.
a. Revisit the list of actions frequently and incorporate the work in your schedule. I would recommend weekly planning. Not every item on your list needs to be revisited every week, but it is good to look at your plan to make sure you incorporate the work that needs to be done in small, manageable chunks in your weekly schedule.
I hope you find this process to be helpful in sticking to and achieving your goals, New Year’s or otherwise. My family and I have used this process to great success, and I know that, if you follow the steps provided, you can do the same. I wish you abundant success and fulfillment in this new year, and until next time, may you boldly declare, courageously pursue, and abundantly achieve the Extraordinary!
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About the Author: Amir Ghannad is an international keynote speaker, author of The Transformative Leader, leadership consultant, culture transformation champion, and founder of The Ghannad Group. He has made it his life's work to guide leaders and equip them with the tools, skills, and the mindset necessary to create extraordinary workplace cultures that deliver breakthrough results. Download his free e-book, titled 5 Practical Steps to Make Your Culture Transformation Stick by clicking here.
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As always, have a great week! May you Boldly Declare, Courageously Pursue, and Abundantly Achieve the Extraordinary!
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