How You Doin’?

We’re a little bit past the middle of the year and some of you have already decided whether this is going to be a good year or not so good. For those of you who have struggled thus far let me remind you we’re a little bit past the half-way point. You have plenty of time to turn things around. For those of you who have done well so far let me remind you too, we have a whole lot of this year left. If your year has been good so far then there is no reason it needs to stay that way…you can change it into a great year.

The key to moving from not so good to good is the same as moving from good to great. You must know where you are today in order to know what you need to do to be someplace else tomorrow. 

Many people reading this have not yet invested any time this year to determine exactly where they are and how they got there. Now is the perfect time for some self-reflection. 

What have you been doing that is not working for you? What haven’t you been doing that you should be doing? When was the last time you sat quietly and reviewed your goals for the year and your goals for life? Are you spending time with people who feed you negativity or investing time with people who build you up?

NOW is the perfect time to ask yourself those questions. The opportunity to change direction remains yours to seize. The decision to speed up your progress is yours to make. 

Wherever you are at this point in time it’s vital that you understand that you put yourself there. Your decisions, choices and actions have consequences or benefits. If you’re blaming others or blaming your circumstances then you’ve lost control of your year…maybe even your life. 

The most successful people don’t blame their circumstances. They create circumstances that give them the best chance to succeed. They create those circumstances with thoughtful decisions, good choices and taking appropriate action to follow through on both. 

Self-reflection requires that you be honest with yourself. Sometimes brutally honest. It also requires an understanding that you are the master and creator of your future…if you choose to be. 

Invest some time today to take a mid-year assessment of your current situation and your desired situation. Adjust what you must and be fearless in jettisoning the things, actions and maybe people, who add no value to your life. 

You still have time to make this year exactly what you want it to be. Perhaps even better than you could have imagined. Just remember, if it’s to be it’s up to you to make it so.

Leaving Life to Chance

Most people would describe themselves as relatively cautious. They say that they are willing to take some risks but there must be something in return. They say any risks that they do take are considered in advance. Most people are “careful,” or so they say. 

But watch them a while and ask a few, and I mean very few, questions and you’ll discover that they are in fact huge risk takers. They make huge gambles all the time. Taking chances that no truly prudent person would ever consider. 

So how would you describe yourself? Are you a person who makes well considered decisions or are you a Willy Nilly type who mostly throws caution to the wind and takes life as it comes. Asked another way…do you control your life or does your life control you?

You are free to disagree with this but I would submit to you that if you do not have written goals for your life along with a fairly detailed plan for how you will achieve those goals then you DO NOT have control over your life. 

If you’re thinking to yourself that you do have goals but they aren’t written down then you may be kidding yourself. You likely have dreams, aspirations, wants, and hopes but you DO NOT have true goals and the control over your life that comes with them. 

Write down those dreams. Write out a detailed plan that includes how much effort you’re willing to invest to make those dreams come true. Write down the date that effort will begin. Write down how many minutes or hours a day you will invest in turning that dream into an actual goal. Write down the month, day, and year you will achieve that goal. 

If you won’t invest the time to even write down the dream then other people and other events are controlling your life. If you don’t have a plan that turns your dream into a goal those other people and the events that they control will frustrate you even more than you realize.

Don’t leave your life to chance. Stop gambling that the life you want will happen as a result of other people’s plan for their lives. Stop hoping that “everything” will somehow magically turn out fine. Write out your goals and invest the time to plan them into reality. You’ll wake up every morning knowing without a doubt that you are the master of your universe. 

Without goals and plans you might as well be buying lottery tickets. Your chances of controlling those ping pong balls are about as good as your chances of controlling your life. 

The Hopelessness of No Goals

I’ve always been a big believer in the power of goals. Goals that my wife and I set decades ago are still being achieved. Things we said would happen in 2021 are indeed happening, almost to the day we said they would years and years ago. Most of what we have and have achieved we owe to the power of setting goals and developing a plan to achieve them. Even though some of the plans spanned decades. 

So when I was invited recently to attend a full-day Goal Setting Seminar my instincts said to decline, especially considering the Seminar was being held on a Saturday. I figured I knew enough. But then I discovered that the day included 9 holes of golf and I was suddenly way more interested. 

I figured if nothing else I’d learn something I could add to the sessions I present on the subject of goal setting and play some golf too. So I signed up. 

The early session was about what you’d expect if you’ve ever taken a class on setting goals. Lots of talk about setting SMART goals and having goals for different parts of your life, career goals, financial goals, personal goals, health goals and the like. 

The second session was a little more unusual; it covered the motivational aspects of having goals and how we can actually lose interest in life without goals. It was okay but it was a little blah blah blah for me. No examples or evidence, only an instructor telling you goals were important. Duh! 

But then the best part of the day…a boxed lunch and off to the golf carts for some fun. The Golf Course was in the community were I live so I was very familiar with it. Something didn’t feel exactly right as we left the conference room and headed outside. It was a Saturday, and normally a busy golfing day. 

We were only playing nine holes. There should have been plenty of tee times available for other golfers. But the place was completely empty other than those of us participating in the seminar. 

I asked what was going on and was told the course was preparing for some renovation work.  We would be the last group playing before it closed for a couple of months. That’s not unusual in the Phoenix area for a course to do major work in the summer, golf actually slows down when the temps reach 100 degrees day after day. While that all turned out to be true it wasn’t the only reason there weren’t other people on the course. We’d discover the other reason soon enough. 

So off we went. My first drive was a little right on a hole that bends to the right, not ideal. I’d have to make a decision to either play back out into the fairway or take a shortcut over the trees to the green. I decided on the shortcut. The shot I hit felt pretty good but I couldn’t see the green so I’d have to wait until I got the the green to see how the shot turned out. I knew I made it over the trees and I knew I went in the general direction of the green so I was pretty hopeful.

As we approached the green I was focused on seeing whether my ball was on the green or not, so focused that I didn’t see what I normally would have. When I got right up by the green I noticed there was no flagstick. For those of you who don’t play golf the flagstick indicates the location of the hole on the green.

Then I discovered why there was no flagstick. It was because there was no hole. It was absolutely the weirdest feeling I’ve ever had. I hit balls on the range like I usually do. I studied my yardage, carefully selected my clubs and hit the best shot I could, all with the goal in mind of making par or better on the hole. 

But there was no hole. The would be no par, no birdie, not even a bogey. I would have been mad except I figured out almost instantly what was going on. The evidence that was missing from the second session was now staring me in the face. The goal of golf is to get the ball in the hole with the fewest strokes possible. With no hole for the ball to go into the rest of the game becomes pointless in a hurry. 

The roaming instructor showed up and told us to go ahead and pick up the ball and move to the next hole, maybe there would be a hole on that green…or maybe there wouldn’t. 

I couldn’t win at this game of golf, I couldn’t lose. I couldn’t measure my results against other rounds I’d played in the past. I couldn’t measure myself against the other players. I lost interest in the game before I got to the second green. It was no fun at all. And when I did get to the green there was no damn hole again. The roaming instructor said “maybe next time.”

It was hopeless. It was pointless. 

It was also the best example of what a life devoid of goals must be like. I suppose if you’ve never had real goals you wouldn’t know what you’re missing. If I’d never played golf I might not have known there was supposed to be a hole in the green. 

But I did indeed learn something that day. I learned a life without goals can get hopeless even quicker than I thought. I was disappointed, frustrated, confused, even mad when I reached a place where I should have been able to accomplish a goal. The only reason I couldn’t was because a goal didn’t exist. 

Are you disappointed, confused, even mad at the end of a day? Do you wonder what the point is of going to work day after day for a mere paycheck? Could it be that you don’t have clearly definable goals you’re working towards each day? 

Setting goals and developing a plan to achieve them will make everything in your life more meaningful. Goals give you purpose. Goals provide you with motivation, even on very difficult days. Goals become the roadmap to success, in your career, in your relationships, in every part of your life. 

Don’t go one more day without knowing exactly what you want out of life and exactly how you’re going to get it. Invest time to set goals and invest more to build a solid plan to achieve them. 

It will truly change your life. 

Planning for a Better 2021 – The “Will Be”

The first two steps in our planning process were foundational in nature. Use any GPS you want and you’ll discover that without both a starting point and destination GPS is worthless. So is a plan!

Now that you understand the “As is,” or your starting point, and you have a clear picture of your “should be” or destination, you can begin the heavy lifting of developing a plan to reach that destination.

I call step three of the planning process the “will be.” This is where you set goals. For your plan to be viable you’ll need short-term goals, medium-term and long-term goals. Others may disagree but I don’t think there is any perfect answer to what “short term” actually means. For some it might be 6 months and for others it might be 6 minutes. Remember this is YOUR plan. While I encourage you to share it with people you trust for honest feedback, do not be dissuaded from going after something you feel strongly about. 

Keep in mind that while we’re planning for a better 2021 next year is only a stepping stone to future years. Your long-term goals may stretch out 5 or 10 years or even longer. 

Whether something should be classified as a short-term goal or a long-term goal matters far less than your commitment to achieve it. So, while we’re on the commitment subject….

Never set a goal you’re not committed to work towards. If your goal isn’t something you are willing to make sacrifices in order to achieve then it’s not a worthwhile goal. You will develop the actual plan to achieve the goals later in the planning process but if you’re not 100% committed to working for a goal then don’t waste time setting it. 

Which brings us to what goals you should set. Have I mentioned that this is YOUR plan…it’s no one’s business what YOUR goals are. I’d recommend setting goals in many areas of your life. Personal goals, professional, financial, health, spiritual, growth/learning and wherever else YOU want.

Whatever your goals are you will be far more likely to achieve them if they are based on the foundation of your core values. And that’s what makes planning such a challenge for so many people.

Asked to articulate their core values very few people can actually do it. Core Values are those deeply held beliefs that make you who you are. The sad reality is that many people float through life never understanding what makes them who they are. It takes considerable self-reflection to know yourself. It takes a sizable investment of time to understand what your deeply held beliefs are and how you came to hold them so dear. 

And most people simply will not make that investment of time. In fact research shows the average person will invest 400% more time to plan a one week vacation than they will invest to plan the rest of their lives. Goals are actually the plan for the rest of your life. 

This my friends is where the rubber meets the road. If you are unwilling to invest the time to know and understand your core values then you might as well skip the rest of this planning series. It will only be an exercise in frustration. 

If however you are willing to turn off the TV, put down your phone, block out distractions to focus on the life you have then this series can help you. If you’re willing to consider the life you want along with the values that will guide you in your pursuit of that life then this planning process could change your life. 

This is the step of the process where you decide the “will be.” Not what you would like things to be, what they really “will be.” Imagine being able to simply choose the life you want… then skip the imagining part and set goals to choose it. 

Do You Have Time for Goals?

In my last post I wrote about understanding the difference between being busy and being productive. I said that if you didn’t do at least one thing to get closer to a goal each day then you were not productive…not matter how busy you may have felt.

What that means of course is that if you don’t have goals then you can’t be productive. When I say “goals” I mean real goals. Concrete ones, written down with deadlines and plans for achievement.

It’s great to dream and say things like “someday I’ll do this” or “one day I’m doing to.” Except that someday and one day do not appear on a calendar. There is a minor league baseball team in town and the beer vendors all wear shirts that say “free beer tomorrow.” The problem is when tomorrow comes the free beer is still tomorrow.

That’s how it is with unwritten goals as well. The day you’re finally going to pursue them never arrives.

Specificity is key to successfully achieving goals. The more wiggle room you allow yourself the more likely it will be that you wiggle out of them.

Real goals are measurable. “I’m going to lose some weight” is not a goal. It is at best a wish. To make it a goal you must put some weight (pardon the pun) behind it. “I’m going to lose 2 pounds a week for the next 10 weeks” is a goal.

Real goals are actually attainable. There are several reasons that “I’m going to be the first man on the moon” is not an attainable goal. Well, maybe more than several, but the point is if your goal is so far-fetched that you have no chance of achieving it then it is more likely to leave you unmotivated. Plus, ALL the time you spent going after it is a complete waste.

Real goals are realistic. “I’m going to lose those 20 pounds this week” is a wee bit unlikely to happen. In fact it ain’t going to happen so it’s not even a good dream. Real goals must be completely within your control. Setting a goal to have your bosses job in a year is not realistic because too many factors are beyond your control.

First, your bosses job must open up. Second, your company must be looking at internal candidates, the list could go on and on.

A real goal would be one that says “over the course of the next year I’m going to do this, this, this and this in order to be the best possible candidate should my bosses position ever open up.

If all the “this, and this and this are within your control then you have a real goal and a much better chance of achieving it. The time you invest will be well worth the effort…even if you never do get your bosses job.

Real goals need a starting date. Writing down what time on that date you will start is even better. They need a FIRM date by which they will be achieved. The time of day on that date is equally important.

The most successful people have a good cross section of goals. Some are professional goals and some are personal. Their goals align with their values. They have financial goals, family goals, educational goals, career goals, spiritual goals, health goals and goals in any area of their lives they choose to focus on.

If you don’t have formal, real goals then let me ask you this: why do you do what you do?

Do you get up each day and go to work in order to make money to divide up between your creditors with the hope there’s some left over for you? Do you seem to have more bad days than good days? Are you frequently frustrated with what life is repaying you for your efforts? Do you constantly have this feeling that there’s more to life than you’re experiencing?

If you answered yes to even some of those questions then it is likely that you are more busy than you are productive. You’re using your 1440 minutes each day with little to show for it.

You CAN have all you want from life and have time left over to discover even more amazing parts of life. The key to unlocking all that is productively investing your time to pursue real goals.

Stop spending time on things that offer you little return. Invest your time in the pursuit of goals and have the life you truly want to have. 

A Plan for Life

Research shows that the average person will spend 40 hours planning a two-week vacation. That is 40 hours more then they invest in planning the rest of their lives.

Goals are the plan for your life.

Most everyone claims to believe that goals are important. Somewhere around 10% of those people actually have goals that are written down. A very small handful of that 10% have a formal plan for how they intend to achieve those goals.

If you’re in that vast majority of people who don’t have a formal goal achieving plan then I have some shocking news for you. YOU are an unproductive person!

If you didn’t do something to intentionally get closer to at least one of your goals today then no matter how busy you may feel you were not productive. That means that if you don’t have formal goals along with a written plan on how you’re going to achieve them then you cannot be productive…not matter how busy you might be.

But having true goals and a plan to achieve them goes way beyond making you productive. True goals gives a purpose to everything you do. When your actions have purpose then your life has passion. If you’ve ever felt as if you’re sleepwalking through life then you NEED true goals. If you not certain why you’re doing what you’re doing then you NEED true goals.

If you want to live a purpose driven life then you NEED true goals. If you want a reason to push yourself to reach your potential then you NEED true goals.

I won’t kid you, developing meaningful goals takes time, likely more time than it would take you to plan your next two-week vacation. It requires serious reflection about what’s most important to you. You’ll need a vision for your life and what you want it to look like in a year, 3 years and 5 years and beyond.

If you don’t currently have true goals and a written plan for how you’re going to achieve them then it’s likely you lack discipline as well. If your goals are meaningful enough and your plan is thorough enough they will drive a new discipline within you. That’s the power of true goals.

President Abraham Lincoln said “The best way to predict your future is to create it.” If you want to wonder what the future holds for you then you don’t need to do a thing. Just keep floating along through life. If however you want to control your future and shape what’s in store for you down the road then you’ll need to get serious about setting true goals.

There isn’t a much better life than a life lived on purpose for a purpose. Purpose comes from knowing where you’re going and having a map to get there.

Do you know your purpose?

The Power of Focus

Somebody a lot smarter than me once said “the man who chases two rabbits catches neither.” I don’t recall who said it but it’s absolutely true.

But there is a way that guy can catch both rabbits. He just has to chase them one at a time.

That’s focus.

If you can’t say no to many things then you’ll find it impossible to say yes to focus. In most areas of your life what you choose not to do will determine what you are able to do. If you’re trying to do too much you fall victim to what is known as task saturation. If you fall into that trap you end up accomplishing far less than the person focused on one thing at a time.

That’s the big illusion that multi-taskers present to themselves. They believe they can do many things well and that they can do them all at once. But every bit of research shows without a doubt that they are fooling themselves.

One person doing eight things one at a time will do them better and faster than one person trying to do all eight of them at once. That’s the power of focus.

Some people would tell you they can’t focus. That’s not exactly right. What they can’t do is decide. They can’t decide on their priorities. They are like a kid in a candy store…they want it all and they want it right now.

That “kid in the candy store” mentality causes them to accomplish things right at the deadline. They get them done in the nick of time because suddenly they didn’t have to decide what to do next, a deadline made the decision for them. The problem is, things done at the deadline are seldom done as well as those things done with time to spare.

The most successful people possess laser like focus. They invest a bit of time, well actually some serious time, in determining their priorities and then they go after them to the exclusion of all distractions.

Warren Buffett has laser focus and he has a dependable process to keep it that he shares with people who struggle with their own focus.

He’ll ask them to invest some time to write out their top 25 goals. These can be life goals, 10 year goals or goals for the coming month or year. Once they have that list he asks them to review it and select their top 5.

So now they have two lists, let’s call them list one and list two. Buffett asks what the person intends to do with list two. Most say that they will work on them as time permits because while they are not as important as list one they are still important.

That’s when Buffett gives them life altering advice. He tells them list two is actually their “avoid at all cost” list. He says that list should get zero attention until list one is 100% complete. That’s what focus looks like in practice.

I can tell you from personal experience that focusing is easy when compared to developing the lists. If you want success with your own list one you must be willing to sacrifice everything on list two.

Most people are able to do that but are unwilling to do that. Those 20 things on list two prevent them from achieving any of the things on list one. In their case, ALL the rabbits got away.

Some would say if you’re focusing on more than one thing you don’t really have focus. I’ll give people the benefit of the doubt and say so long as you’re focusing on one at a time you can maybe have five or six things on your radar.

Any more than that and you might as well be Elmer J. Fudd.