Too many goals: Currency blowing in the wind

Well, well, well.  In spite of the fact that at the start of Lent I anticipated ramping up my blog entries, I actually wound up in freeze mode, and had the longest dry spell since I’ve started blogging.

What happened?   I think the answer actually lies something Dale Carnegie said about goal-setting:  While it is true that most people don’t succeed because they don’t have clearly defined goals, some people fail to make progress because they have too many.   So my analysis of this year’s Lenten goals:  I simply bit off more than I could chew and lacked the focus to follow through on any of them.

An analogy can be found in something that happened to me yesterday.  I went to CVS to go to the ATM machine.  I remembered I needed a small item, which was on sale for only 1.87.  So, I used one of the newly-ejected $20 bills from the ATM machine to pay, which left me with a ten dollar bill, a five, and three singles.

On my way out the door, I had the bag, a receipt, and my change.  As I was trying to put my change away, it slipped out of my hand, and all of a sudden, I saw the five bills fluttering in the wind and scuttering across the parking lot.  I lunged for the closest bill, which happened to be single.  Then it occurred to me–If some of these bills are going to be blowing away beyond my reach, I’d be better off just pursuing the ten dollar bill.  If the others blow away, it won’t be as great a loss.

As it turned out, I was able to retrieve all five bills.  But the moral of the story is, don’t go chasing down five things, when you’re best off just nailing the one that has the most value.  And that’s what I didn’t do during Lent.   Instead, I ran around chasing a bunch of goals and never succeeded in grabbing onto what was most important.

I’m kind of bummed that I lost that opportunity during Lent, because there is really something so exhilarating and empowering about setting a good worthwhile goal.    My favorite goal-setting experiences:

  • I had a clue that my employer, a large multinational corporation, was going to let me go during a series of lay-offs.  I happened to be pregnant.  Getting laid off at that point would have cut me off from the maternity leave pay that I had coming to me.  When I was conveying my fears about this to my mother, she said, “Well, what are you going to do?  You’ve never been much of a fighter.”  That was all she had to say to turn on the tiger inside me.  As a result, I successfully fought the impending lay-off and won my maternity leave.
  • When I earned a really valuable entry-level spot, jumping from a dead-end job, I was elated with the prospects of a brighter career, so I set a monetary goal that I thought was really aggressive.   I was making $42k at the first rung of that ladder, so I set a goal to double my income in 5 years.  I wound up quadrupling it in that amount of time.
  • Back around the time I graduated from college, my Colombian best friend invited me down to South America.   I had spent my high school years learning French.  So I decided to learn Spanish, at least as much as I could before I went to South America nine months later.  So, I got a self-study book, and at 3pm every day, I did one chapter.  No more, no less.  I continuously built upon lesson after lesson, winding up with a fairly passable traveler’s fluency in Spanish.

So, those three examples point to three elements of successful goal setting:

  1. Have passion for your goal.  As Anthony Robbins says in Awaken the Giant Within, in order to motivate yourself to achieve any goal, you have to stir up the power of your internal pain/pleasure drivers.  How you respond to those drivers will dictate your ability to get motivated and stay motivated.  In my mind, my mother unwittingly dared me, and touch a hot button–she in effect told me I’m a passive person, and I just had to prove her wrong.
  2. Have a measurable goal. Numbers are wonderful goal-setting aids.  Where some goals can be elusively rhetorical, numbers give you instant focus.   How many pounds do you want to lose?  In what amount of time?  How much money do you want to make?   Or you can use dates as goals:  “I want to get my MBA by the time I’m 31.”   Just imagine the banner across the finish line.  It can only say so much.  What does your banner say?
  3. Be consistent and persistent. You can’t exercise sporadically.  You can’t be really focused on eliminating debt on some days-and out at the malls on others.    It has to be something you think about every day.   Hey, you can stop thinking about your goal when you achieve it.  This isn’t a life sentence.  But the more you are committed to your goal on a daily basis, the faster you’re going to cross that finish line.

I have one more really important lesson about goal-setting.  And that is, goals are more likely to be met if they are grounded in a mindset of abundance, rather than a mindset of lack. For instance, how demotivating is it to be obsessed with what you don’t have while you’re trying to achieve what you want to have.  Turn your thoughts over from a mindset of lack into a mindset of abundance. If you have financial goals, don’t obsess over the debt you have.  Think instead about the money you do have, the income you can project, the natural ability you have to earn more money.  This is the horse you want to ride into battle.

If you have diet or exercise goals, what good is it to focus on how much weight you have to lose?  Or how clumsy you look in the pilates class compared with all the other more experienced exercisers?  Instead think about how beautiful you are now.  Stand up straight and decide to honor yourself by giving your bodily temple the care it deserves.  Rather than harboring thoughts like “I’m ugly now, but in the future I’ll be beautiful,”  realize the future now.  Believe you are beautiful  now.  Be prosperous in your mind now.  Your mental approach to a worthwhile goal isn’t to take you from lack to plenty.  It’s to simply manifest what is already there, hidden inside, ready to bloom, ready for you to simply snatch up as it surfs the wind.