Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Lawrence Watkins: How to Set Goals and Achieve Them

by Lawrence Watkins

Kevlar is a material that is five times stronger, but is lighter and more flexible than steel on an equal weight basis. It is used in many products ranging from bulletproof vests and cables to sports and audio equipment. It has been around for over 40 years and more uses are being discovered for this “wonder” material every day. When I think about goal setting, Kevlar provides a great analogy on how individuals should structure their inherent wants and desires for maximum clarity and performance. When creating the mastermind plan for your life, you should have strong goals that challenge you, yet have enough flexibility to change your path if a great new opportunity comes your way.

As Lewis Carroll eloquently said in Alice in Wonderland:

“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?” said Alice.
“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.
“I don’t much care where…” said Alice.
“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat.

It is easy for a person to become diverted from fulfilling his/her passions and true calling. It becomes even easier if you do not have an end goal in mind, similar to the way Alice was feeling in Wonderland. I do not want you to be in Wonderland and you should not want to be! The most important thing is not for your goals and vision to be perfect. The most important thing is to aim for at least the general vicinity on where you want to be.

In the classic self-help book Psycho-Cybernetics, Dr. Maxwell Maltz talks about humans’ innate self-correcting mechanism. As humans, we have a trait that automatically guides us to self-improvement. Think about the basketball player who endlessly improves his/her jump shot or the foreigner who learns a second language well into adulthood. Each person has an end goal and they learn from their deliberate practices by correcting their mistakes when they veer from their original course. We can harness this self-correcting power to accelerate the goal achievement process. However, it all starts with knowing a general direction on where you want to go. You can relate this concept to riding a bike. Have you ever ridden a bike standing still? I haven’t. The bike only stays balanced as you are pedaling and pushing forward.

Now that we have talked about why creating a vision is important let’s get into the fundamentals of the life vision development process.

Developing your Kevlar Vision

There is a lot of debate on whether your overarching vision should be all encompassing or narrow in scope. Proponents of having a narrow vision say that this is to keep you focused on the end goal and enable you to not become distracted by items that do not line up with your plan. A simple example of this goal forming process would be to become a CEO of a Fortune 100 company whose work focuses on telecommunications. This vision is very focused and allows the goal-setter a specific task in which to focus.

Another strategy is to have your vision statement flexible and all encompassing. An example of this is Google. Their mission statement is “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” No part of this mission has to do with creating a great search engine or text advertisements. This structure gives Google the freedom to change with the times and not have a myopic view of what it originally set out to accomplish.

I am a strong proponent of the Google strategy over the first example which gives a very focused vision. As I previously mentioned in a prior article, my mission is “to become a tycoon politically, socially, and economically so that I can have a positive impact on my community.” I originally developed this statement my junior year of college and I strategically tweak it every year. I use this statement as a guide to make both large and small decisions in my life. When I decided to forgo corporate America to start my own business, I used my mission statement as guidance. When it came time to decide on a business school, I continued to use this statement as a guide.

Use Backward Planning To Set Your Vision

Imagine that you are about to attend one of the most important events in your life. It will be held in a room big enough to hold your friends, family, and others who are important to you. The room is conservatively decorated and at the front is a large table with candles all around. In the middle of the table is a large box. What is in this box? YOU! It was a celebration of your life and there was not a dry eye in the place. Coming from the back of the room is an old friend with a tape recorder playing your voice. You are explaining to the people close to you about your life. How would this story go? What did you want out of life? What did you value most? Who did you wish to be? Answering these questions is the first step of developing your Kevlar vision.

Backward planning is a process of starting with your end goal(s) and working backwards to create an action plan to achieve the aforementioned goal. You cannot plan any further out than your funeral! Once you truthfully answer the previously questions, you can then work backward and think about what you need to do to turn your vision into a reality. Remember, the intermediate goals do not have to be concrete, just make them like Kevlar and rely on your self-correcting mechanisms to guide your course. Life is nothing but a series of decades, years, months, weeks and days. People always look far to the future and say that they want to live an extraordinary life. But how are you going to live an extraordinary life if you wake up thinking you want to have an ordinary day? Backward planning is an important step to an extraordinary life.

Guidelines for creating powerful goals

Chicken Soup for the Soul author, Jack Canfield, defines a goal as “the ongoing pursuit of a worthy objective until accomplished.” I want to walk you through some of the attributes you may want to look for when deciding on your goals.

Your Most Important Goals Must be Yours

This sounds obvious, but many people have their life purpose created by someone else. These people may be your parents, a spouse, friends, etc. I have a friend who is a doctor at a prestigious hospital. He is making great money while helping sick patients become well. The only problem is that he is miserable. When asked why he went into medicine he states, “My grandfather was a doctor, my father is a doctor, so my parents told me I was going to be a doctor too.” You only have the chance to live life once. Do you really want to spend your life living someone else’s dreams? When you let someone else, or society, determine your definition of success, you are sabotaging your future. I do not condone lying, however, the last person you should ever lie to is yourself, especially when it comes to planning your life.

A technique that I use to make sure that my most important goals are my own is continuously asking myself one question. What do I really want out of life? The introspective process of regularly asking this question helps you to focus and organize your goals and determine what is really most important to you.

Your goals must be meaningful

The pursuit of meaningful goals will help you achieve greatness much quicker than the pursuit of non-meaningful goals. This is because meaningful goals are exciting and a person does not mind putting in the extra effort to accomplish them. This is analogous to school. Have you ever had a class that was too easy? The class was so easy that you did not offer the proper effort and instead of excelling you underperformed? Suddenly, the class that was a definite “A”, turned into a “B” or worse? I have done this numerous times. In fact, this was the story of my middle school and high school years. The classes did not challenge me enough and I did not perform anywhere near my highest potential or capability. Granted, in grade school you do not have as much control over your life compared to your adult years, however, individuals show symptoms of this problem well into their adult life.

Subsequently, total commitment to your goals is a critical ingredient if you want to be the best person you can be. This is true for both professional and personal goals. I recently finished the book Call Me Ted, which is an autobiography of the billionaire, Ted Turner. Turner’s father was a successful and wealthy billboard entrepreneur back in the 1960’s. Although successful in his career, the elder Turner was depressed and ended up committing suicide in his forties. In the book, Turner hypothesized why his father committed suicide. He is confident that the reason was that his father did not set his goals high enough, resulting in a lack of purpose for his life. Our situations may not be that dramatic, but as philosopher Jim Rohn once said,

“There are two major pains in life. One is the pain of discipline, the other is the pain of regret. Discipline weighs ounces, but regret weighs tons when you allow your life to drift unfulfilled.”

Your goals must be measurable

Although your vision statement needs to be flexible and answer questions about your life’s intents and purposes, the intermediate goals and objectives need to be firm. Management guru Peter Drucker says that “What gets measured gets managed.” This is true in business and in life. Remember, a goal without a number is just a slogan. It is easier for your brain to operate day-to-day on concrete items as opposed to the abstract. Both are important, but concrete is more important to execution.


I cannot stress enough the importance of developing a strong, but flexible vision for one’s life. Do not underestimate the power of the self-correcting mechanism present within each of our lives. I use this concept when initially training people who work within my company. You will be surprised by what you can accomplish by aiming even for the general vicinity of your ultimate goal. If you do not remember anything else I have written, please remember one thing . . . If you aim for the stars, you will at least hit the moon! Always aim for something!

Lawrence Watkins is the CEO of the Great Black Speakers Bureau.  For more information, please visit www.GreatBlackSpeakers.com.

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