Writing Out Your Goals: The Actualization and Evolution of What You Want

I was cleaning out the basement this weekend and I came across a list I made about 3 years ago. It is a “to do before I’m 40” list and I wrote it after I got laid off from my IT management job. I remember the list well because it was my first ever goals list and it looks like:

By 40

  • Record an album
  • Complete a triathlon
  • Own a business
  • Own a house
  • Have $50000 in the bank
  • Own a mountain bike trail
  • Complete a 24 hour mountain bike race by myself
  • Have written two books
  • Be working as a motivational speaker
  • Get a nose job
  • Have a suit made for me
  • Sing in front of other people
  • Bench press 200 pounds
  • Have a six-pack (abs)
  • Drive across Canada
  • Go out East
  • Have a recording studio
  • Have an MA
  • Have invented something
  • Meditate 30 minutes per day 3 times a week

It’s a lofty list with a few very challenging items, a few superficial items, a few status items and a number of fitness/sports goals. When I saw the list I remembered it instantly in spite of the fact that it was in a box in my basement and I hadn’t seen it for three years.

Of particular interest to me are the number of these items that I no longer care about (they aren’t my goals anymore), and the number of items that I have been able to cross off the list.

On the face of it, the few items that I have cleared off the list are fairly modest. But when I think about it more, I realize that many of my peers have similar goals but have not achieved them or are not even working towards them. Even if I didn’t achieve anything else in the last 3 years, I think I have achieved more success than most people have as far as setting a goal and moving towards it because I did achieve some of the things I put my mind to.

But that isn’t the case as this was just the FIRST goals list I made. As I worked towards building my own company (making video game cabinets) I realized that it didn’t really make me very happy – I wasn’t that I wanted my own company, it was that I wanted to work for myself and have my success be determined by my own effort. Given at this was the case, I needed to learn how to sell. Learning how to sell became an item on the next goals list. I also knew that I’d have an easier time being taught how to sell working for an established company vs. learning through trial and error with my own company. “Working as a sales person for an established company” was also put to paper as a goal. I ended up getting a job with GoodLife Fitness Clubs as a membership coordinator; it’s a sales role.

With reference to GoodLife and selling, my goals changed very quickly as I attained more and more of what I put my mind to. It went something like this:

  • Learn the theories of selling – 6 weeks
  • Make a sale – 10 days
  • Achieve my monthly goal – 30 days
  • Lead the team in sales – 75 days
  • Lead the division in sales – 120 days
  • Become a General Manager of a GoodLife Club – 160 days
  • Become a successful manager – did not happen

There was some over lap with these goals – I completed my first sale and achieved my monthly goal when I was still learning the basics of how to sell. The other thing that is interesting is the speed at which I changed my goals – what started off as a desire to prove whether or not I could sell became a desire for a career with a company in about 60 days. Recall that working for GoodLife was not one of the before 40 goals and even the goal of learning how to sell was only tangentially related to anything on that list. There is a sort of evolution with this – what we want can be changed by what we do today, one achievement leads to a desire for other related achievements or to a desire for something completely different.

My failure to become a successful manager was a bit of a disappointment but it was also a huge learning experience. I worked hard to be successful at it and had enjoyed some successes but did not achieve what I viewed as success and after a lot of soul searching I realized that I wasn’t going to be able to. Once I saw the futility of what I was trying to do, I conceded and stepped down allowing someone else to try and make good on what I had hoped to achieve.

The next goals list moved away from leading a team in favor of leading individuals:

  • Become a personal trainer – 4 weeks
  • Help someone start working towards his or her fitness goals – 2 weeks
  • Achieve my first month goal – 2 weeks
  • Sell over $3000 in training – 5 weeks
  • Sell the most on the team – did not happen

Again, there was a goal that I gave up on because I realized that I wasn’t going to be happy working towards it. In fact, I found training people to be one of the hardest things I have ever done, seriously. It takes a special type of person to work one on one with someone to help him or her achieve their goals. The problem was fit. I never had the goal of seeing someone achieve their goal, only to sell training, be a trainer and help people get started. Had I had a better idea of what the job was actually about, I wouldn’t have done it because it’s a long haul thing and not the simple once-off that selling memberships is.

So I left the job, particularly drained, and since I had saved some money I took a month to travel the east coast of Canada and do some camping. I went with my childhood friend Deb who loves traveling. It seemed to make sense to go with her because we had spoken about traveling together before and the opportunity just present itself last May. So that cleared off another couple of goals (one from the first list and one from a fifth or sixth list).

Now what does this all mean? Well, I think it means a bunch of things:

  • That by writing your goals out you make them real
  • Real goals will be achieved more often than imaginary ones
  • Goals will be achieved or changed based on new information
  • Every action you take can impact your desire for things that were never considered before
  • By looking at a list of your goals, you can begin to create a sense of entitlement or, at least, a sense of ability that you can do something
  • You’ll have a better chance of finding yourself doing what you want to do if you figure out what you want to do and working towards it
  • That your desires are based on what you are doing at the moment and less on what you think you want

I encourage everyone to write out their goals and I’m not sure how it goes. When I ask them about it, they say things like “I don’t feel like it” or “it feels really stupid” or “I don’t need to”. But I think that most people don’t do it because they don’t think they have the right to anything better than what they have now. Life is something that is done to them and not something they are willing to take an active role in creating. Life isn’t like for everyone, those who have taken the time to write out their goals tend to be working towards achieving them.

If you want to change your life, change your life and the best way to start is to figure-out what you want to get out of it. Go on, make that goals list!

Look At Me If You Want To Keep My Business

If you want to make me feel ugly, don’t look at me. Avoid making eye contact and look away from me when you are talking to me. The best thing about doing this is that you won’t have to deal with me again. And it’s fair that you don’t look at me, you don’t have to. In fact, it really is the best way to get me to go away, I’m a pretty good single trial learner. I usually won’t come back because I’d rather feel happy than that feeling I get when someone won’t look at me.

The first time I ever told someone that I feel ugly when people won’t look at my face when I’m talking to them, it was to my boss. We were at a company retreat and had just wrapped up a long day of meetings and roll playing. Part of the roll play had been for the entire group to form two circles, one inside the other facing each other and rotate, taking the time to look into each persons eye and think something positive about them. It was a tough exercise because I didn’t know most of the people and found it difficult to think something positive about them. During it, I noticed that some people were not looking at me as I looked at them. In fact, about 10% of the people wouldn’t make eye contact with me at all. At first I thought I understood their issue, it is a difficult task, but as more and more people did it I started to feel kind of crappy. By the end of it I was glad it was over and more than happy to calling it a day.

We all gathered with our respective bosses to have a few drinks and review the day’s progress. When I mentioned to my boss that it made me feel ugly when people wouldn’t make eye contact with me. As a group we discussed it, which gave her the opportunity to reinforce the lesson – look people in the eyes when you talk to them otherwise you have no control over how they perceive the situation. She knew that left to their own devices the situation would be viewed the same way I viewed it, as a negative.

Why would this be the case? Why would I take people not looking at me in a conference as an indication that I was ugly? First off, what is important is that I took it as a negative. It makes sense that I would take it as a negative because there people were deliberately trying to hide their intentions from me. All human beings can cold read others to some degree and the most revealing part of a person is their face. There are more muscles in the face than any other part of the body and the combination of possible movements and positions is enormous. Most of these expressions are meaningless – look at some of the expressions of a young child – but some are universally meaningful – a smile, for example, has a mouth component and an eye component. We can identify someone who is really smiling by looking for a tightening of the muscles around the eyes in an almost squinting position. This is a universal facial expression and studies indicate that people from different countries can identify real smiles and happiness on the faces of people from other countries. Most expressions are like this and we are able to pick up on them almost immediately.

We are pattern-matching creatures so we constantly try to read as many faces as we can to try and interpret the intentions of other people. Our end goal is survival so we are looking for people who have negative or bad intentions. Since the consequence of miss reading ones intentions is harm, we are conditioned to become suspicious of those who do not let us read their faces. My interpretation that others were not looking at me because I was ugly wasn’t necessarily accurate. I was correct in getting a bad feeling from them because they were not letting me read them; I matched a pattern that indicates that someone is trying to prevent me from reading their intentions, a behavior that triggers a negative emotional response to warn me that my survival may be on the line and that I need to avoid these individuals. My belief that they were not looking at me because I was ugly is strong enough to repel me from them thus avoiding the potentially dangerous situation; while it doesn’t necessarily reflect reality, it serves the purpose of removing me from their situation.

It is important to keep in mind here that the emotional system of the body has not adapted to the relative safety that exists in modern society. It is based on conditions that would lead to death if important details were missed when it was critical that the individual be driven to action when certain patterns were matched.

During the discussion with my boss and coworkers about the feelings that were created when someone doesn’t look at me, it became evident that I wasn’t the only person who feels ugly when it happens, but there were others did not feel ugly. My boss, who is a particularly pragmatic individual, admitted that it made her feel unsettled and untrusting of the people, but she did not feel that it had anything to do with her. She believes, and I think correctly, that it revealed more about the character of person who won’t look at you than what they think about you. She and others in the group said that they just couldn’t do business with people who won’t look at them and that they try to avoid these people because they never feel connected to them. What was key was that all of us felt something when people won’t look at us. This type of behavior is important enough a piece of information that we are dialed in to identify it.

If you run a business you BETTER look at me when I’m shopping with you. When you are the seller, you not looking at me doesn’t make me feel ugly, it makes me not trust you. It raises doubt in my mind about you and the value of service that you offer. It makes me question the quality of the products you sell. It makes me think you are a con man because you are not giving me the opportunity to read you. You are, in essence, facilitating the same response in me that the social non-looker does. The difference is, when my money is involved I attribute your actions to some quality you possess vs. some quality that I possess. We are, after all, dealing with something tangible like currency and not esteem.