Losers engage in pleasurable activities with no particular result in mind. We call this instant gratification. Winners choose activities that will give them long-term positive results. That’s delayed gratification. Delayed gratification is perhaps the most difficult concept to teach people in America and the industrialized nations today. But it’s really what separates champions from also-rans. It’s the reason immigrants are often able to succeed when they arrive in any wealthier country. They’re eager to work at doing things that the majority of the population are not willing to consider.
Your definition of success will change throughout your life. Think of success as a lifetime journey, not a destination. Always remember, focus precedes success. One of the major reasons so few people reach their goals is that most people don’t set specific goals and the mind just dismisses them as irrelevant. Most people want financial security, but have never considered how much money it will take. Would it surprise you to learn that only five of every one hundred Americans who are in the higher income professions such as law and medicine reach age 65 without having to depend upon government support? I was astounded to learn that so few individuals achieve any degree of financial success regardless of their level of income during their most productive years. Most people live their lives under the delusion that they’re immortal in the body. They squander their money and their time and their minds with activities that are tension relieving instead of goal achieving. Many Americans and others -who are not motivated to succeed – work to get through the week with enough extra money to spend on the weekend.
Some time ago during a live goal setting seminar for executives, we asked the participants to write down and discuss five questions which all centered around their goals. In the goal setting seminars that I’ve been giving throughout the United States and internationally, it’s obvious that the majority of the people spend more time planning a party or a vacation than they do planning their lives. By failing to plan, they are actually planning to fail by default. In one of my early seminars, I divided two hundred participants into groups of six attendees each and they sat at circular tables and they wrote down and discussed their personal responses to each part in a series of five questions. The questions I asked were these:
1. What are your greatest personal and professional abilities and liabilities?
2. What are your most important personal and professional goals for the balance of this year?
3. What is a major personal and professional goal you have for next year?
4. What will your professional level and annual income be in five years?
5. Twenty years from now, where will you be living, what will you be doing, what will you have accomplished that could be written or said about you by family or peers. What state of health will you enjoy and what will your assets be in dollars?
Well, after the groaning and grumbling had subsided, the master mind groups went to work discussing the most important topics they could ever share. As difficult and unreasonable as these questions may appear, you must remember that these two hundred people each paid $250.00 to attend a goal setting workshop and they seem dumb-founded that someone actually was challenging them to think about their own lives in specific terms. It was fun to sit and listen to the stories of people crawling out of the ghetto into greatness, but it was no fun to consider doing it yourself. That sounded like work or being back in school.
They struggled trying to be specific, because most of them had work priorities or quotas assigned in their jobs but had never given any definition or priority to their own personal goals. All but one person, who was too young to have given up on his dreams. He was a red-haired, freckle-faced ten-year-old named Eric, who tagged along with his father to get some positive input. Instead, his output startled the adults in the group. When he was asked the five specific questions, he eagerly went down the list. He said his greatest talents were building model airplanes and doing well in computer games. He said he needed improvement in cleaning his room and being nice to his sister. His personal goal for that year was to build a model of the space shuttle and his professional goal was to earn four hundred dollars doing yard work for neighbors. For the following year, his personal goal was to take a trip to Hawaii and his professional goal was to earn seven hundred dollars for the super-saver travel package. When asked about his five-year goals, he said: : “I’ll be fifteen in the tenth grade, and I’ll be taking a lot of math, science and computer classes.”
Eric had to think for a moment when asked about his twenty-year life goals. He said, “Twenty years from now, I’ll be thirty years old, right? I’ll be living in Cape Kennedy, Florida as a space-shuttle astronaut working for NASA. I’ll be in great physical shape. You have to be in good shape and study hard to be an astronaut,” he finished proudly.
Just boyhood fantasies, you might think? Eric graduated from the Air Force Academy entered flight training, and on his thirty-first birthday, he celebrated in outer space aboard the space shuttle, putting a communication satellite into orbit.
Here are five “powers” that will help you create more focused goals to achieve your dreams.
The Power of the Positive. Your goals should be framed in positive terms. Winners dwell on the rewards of success, while losers dwell on the penalties of failure. In other words, instead of focusing on “not being late,” “not being fat,” “not being in debt,” or “not working in my regular job,” you want to concentrate on images of achievement, such as “I’m an on-time person,” “I am lean and am in great shape.” “I am creating wealth and success in my business.” Remember that your mind cannot concentrate on the reverse of an idea, so keep your goals framed in the positive.
The Power of the Present. Your character goals, such as being a good leader, parent, or being healthy, on-time, enthusiastic, for example, should be framed as images of achievement in the present tense. Your long-term memory stores information in real time, that is critically important to you. The reason your memory stores information in the present tense is obvious. Can you imagine what would happen if your mind had to remind your heart to beat tomorrow? Or what if it put the command for breathing, eating, or calorie burning on next month’s agenda? So any goal that involves your health, behavior, or self-leadership should be framed as if you are already that person. Some examples might include: “I spend quality time with my loved ones.” “I am always on time for meetings.” “I am feeling more healthy every day.” “I have healthy habits that add years to my life and life to my years.” “”I am relaxed and in control.” “I encourage input and ideas from the employees I lead.”
The Power of the Personal. I cannot stress this enough. Your images of achievement must be yours. They cannot be your bosses goals, your spouse’s goals, or your friend’s goals. No goal set for you by others will ever be sought with the same passion, effort, commitment, or motivation as the one you set for yourself. Keep your mind focused on your own goals, but achieve them by helping others succeed. So, ask yourself these questions: What does winning really mean to me? What does being successful mean to me? What do I really want to achieve in my life in the long run? What are my talents and capabilities? What am I willing to sacrifice, trade-off or invest in to become more successful? And how will other people benefit from my success? How will my life be improved by my success? How will my life be complicated by my success? And who can I count on to nurture and support me in my pursuits. Remember, personal goals, the ones you want, are those you’ll be more likely to achieve. And when you do set personal, meaningful goals, keep them to yourself. Or share them only with other winners who will take the time to give you positive feedback and input. Remember, misery is always looking for a place to become company. Never share a dream with someone who’s likely to rain on your parade.
The Power of Precision. Make your images of achievement specific and precise. Remember when you talk about goals in generalities, you will very rarely succeed. But when you talk about your goals with specificity, you will very rarely fail. A good way for you to determine if your images of achievement are focused enough is to simply ask yourself, “Can this goal be timed, checked, or measured?” If you cannot time, check or measure your performance, your goals are not specific enough. Your brain is more marvelous than any computer that will ever be invented. Think of your brain and central nervous system as the hardware, and your mind as the software program. The mind does not compute ideas like “doing your best,” “doing better,” “getting rich,” “being happy,” or “having enough.” It deals only with specificity, not vague ideas. What are your income needs for next year? What is your desired weight? What amount of cash asset do you need to save, that will give you enough income to enjoy your life in the future, after taxes, without depending upon employment? At what age do you plan to be financially secure? The brain and mind respond to specifics, like spending seven-tenths of your take home pay on current living expenses. Spending two-tenths of your take home pay on reducing your debts. And putting at least one-tenth of your take home pay in a mutual fund, or interest bearing savings vehicle to finance your future. Make it your mission focus on specific achievements. Change masters concentrate their energy. They have detailed, magnificent obsessions. They have laser focus and will tolerate little distraction away from their goals.
The Power of the Possible. A formula that works well is that your goals should be just out of reach but not out of sight. Another way to state that is that your goals should be realistic, but not achievable by ordinary means. Your goals should also be broken down into small, incremental action steps. Remember the best way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time. So set challenging, realistic goals with small, doable action steps. It’s always useful to clarify long range goals, the ones that have been stimulating future benefits that are worth the wait and the work. Long range goals, however, don’t offer you the step-by-step reinforcement and feedback you need for continued motivation. So, if possible, break your long range goals into many short range ones where you can know the thrill of victory on a smaller scale. Then you can thrive on the many smaller wins, spaced closer together which will give you a winning pattern that will strengthen you for the long haul toward the bigger long range goals.
The idea is to set short-term goals that are just beyond your current range of skills. And when you miss one of these short-term increments, you review, revise and retry. When you hit your incremental goal, you reinforce yourself with a positive reward or ceremony. Face the challenge, meet it, or learn from your mistakes and then move up to the next higher goal. The point is, we all need to win and win again to develop the winning reflex. Setting step-by-step goals that can be reach, revised, retried and reinforced really works.
It seems to be an irrevocable part of nature that we work harder toward our goals as our deadlines approach. A material goal is not a goal unless it has a deadline. That’s why we have quotas, due dates, quarterly reports, and dates for exams and term papers in school. We humans work best when we have a target date for arrival and the best goals are in writing that we can review on a daily basis. Attorneys know the wisdom of the written contract. It demands clarity, specificity, conditions, a time frame and commitment of money. When all the terms are understood and mutually agreed upon, it usually results in better performance. Before you leave your place of business in the evening, write down at least five personal goals you want to reach the following day. Before you go to sleep that night prioritize these five personal goals and focus on how you’ll start reaching them the next morning.
And, finally, do your goals pass the win-win test? To be true winners and change mastersfor life we must consider the impact of reaching our goals on other people. Once a goal is defined as to its integrity and merit for our own success, we must ask ourselves the key question before we embark on an action course. What affect will the realization of my goal have on the others involved? And the answer should be: beneficial. One of the most critical aspects of goal setting is that we seldom succeed in isolation without the support of others. When our own goals match the aspirations of those with whom we come in frequent contact and they in turn identify with us, a chain reaction is formed and the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Synergy is achieved when a team is striving for the same outcome.
Think of your own dreams and goals as previews of coming attractions in your life, in which you are the producer, scriptwriter and star performer in an exciting documentary. Remember, focus always precedes success. The mind cannot begin to formulate the strategies and actions required without specific information. Your mind will simply not respond to a request to get rich, have more, do better or make money. Once you set a goal, you can adjust and fine tune it any way you wish. That’s creativity. And persistence is what allows you to keep progressing toward the goal no matter how many adjustments are required, and no matter how long it takes to accomplish it. After more than forty years of research, we’ve discovered that the main reason individuals fail to reach their goals is that they never really set them properly in the first place. The brain and mind are target seeking by design. Concentrate your attention on where you want to go, not away from where you don’t want to be. You will always move in the direction of your currently dominant thoughts. Since we are well into the 21st Century, I like to think of my mind as a marvelous GPS system, but instead of a Global Positioning Satellite system, either hand-held or in our cars, our brain is like a GPS system, where GPS means Goal Positioning System. Tell your internal GPS, where you want to go. Be as specific as possible. The more inputs the better. And it will guide you there. But first you must know where you are right now. And where you want to go. What you see is who you’ll be and what you set, is what you’ll get.