What if we set a goal and then instead of marching off to achieve it, we reverse-engineered our steps? In other words, we begin with the end vividly in our mind’s eye.
“Begin with the end in mind.” – Stephan Covey [ 7 Habits of Highly Effective People ]
Today we take a page from the business world and see how it might fit in our busy lives, regardless if our goals are business related.
Have you always wanted to be a better public speaker? Have you set a goal for your retirement date? Do you want to have a better relationship with a teenager? Do you wish you could start saving money each month? What about de-cluttering your home?
Choose a challenging but realistic goal to keep in mind when you watch today’s EWC video-share and we’ll have some fun with a little thought experiment.
How would you finish the sentence, “I sure wish I could… (fill in the blank with something attainable in 1 year).”
Tim Ferriss is an entrepreneur and public speaker whose books have appeared on the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and USA Today bestseller lists. He is definitely “all business” in his approach to problem-solving, but I think there are some pearls here for all of us, no matter our goals.
I know this will be a stretch. At points, you might find it hard to stay with Mr. Ferriss’s dialogue, but if you do, you might notice he’s talking about solving problems backward! And then after the video, we’ll work through a few real life examples so you can use this insight to accomplish some things you have long held out hopes for!
Now hold your own one year from now goal in mind and see if you can reach past his references and apply the insights to your project.
Interesting! Were you able to see achieving your goal in a new light?
Let’s see if we can simplify this and come out with something useful in our everyday lives:
Beginning with the end in mind
Let’s use Tim’s analogy with the startup and apply it to a goal; say you want to be as healthy has you’ve ever been as an adult, by the end of one year.
Remember in his startup analogy, the founders thought about the end game first, which was selling the startup for a huge profit. And for us, it will be finding a way to have a healthy body and mind indefinitely.
The startup founders then tailored every early and mid-term decision towards their exit strategy? Well, the same would be true of our goal to become, and stay, totally healthy.
So the first major step for any of us is to choose early and mid-term strategies that assure our end-game is achievable.
For example, in our living healthy project, going on “a diet” in the earliest phase of this endeavor is not the right move. One can’t stay on a diet forever. Better to find a way of eating that you can stick with indefinitely.
The same logic could be applied to attaining and staying at your peak of mental health. Maybe finding a life coach sounds like a good step in the beginning, but if you can’t afford to keep that up forever, you will eventually fall off the peak there.
Instead of using a strategy that you can’t continue forever, like trying to find mental health through the lens of others, perhaps you could find something that you can do indefinitely to calm the mind.
Some people find endless peace-of-mind from reading the classics of philosophy. (I have given you 9 of my personal favorites at the end of this article.) Others find exuberant joy in taking time each day to do something they have a personal passion for, one hour spent painting, or woodworking, singing, or playing a musical instrument. Others find they have a stable mind when they meditate or study a spiritual path for one hour each day.
Bottom-line: Define what your goal looks like in detail, and then identify 3 or 4 key elements that must be firmly in place for you to be able to enjoy it forever.
No thinking about the messy details at this stage. No reiterating stories of past failures. Just pare things down to what success looks like exactly.
For our healthy mind and body project, those key elements might be: keeping a strict routine of daily exercise, eating a low carb diet, and reading philosophy for one hour before bed every night.
What are those elements for your own goal? No really, get out a scrap of paper and give this a little thought.
Just like Tim described, the young chess player learned chess best by focusing the strategies that must be in place at the end of the game to win. Only then did he moved on to being able to understand the details of getting there.
Learning the Macro from the Micro
So once we’ve chosen the two to four elements that must be in place at the end, let’s go from the macro look to some micro scale issues that could derail our project.
This is a huge part of reverse-engineering a problem: We begin with the end in mind and now look at what might prevent us from getting there.
What kind of systems can we put in place that would work well to keep our goals out in front of all the other things competing for out time and attention?
If we stick with the goal of having an exercise routine, nutrition boundaries and reading time before bed commitments, then we can next drill down past those macro goals and try to identify micro stumbling blocks.
- Motivating yourself to actually work out each day may we a hurdle.
- Learning to cook instead of eating prepared or fast foods will be a challenge.
- And staying awake to read and contemplate for an hour may present a problem.
What are the top three or four barriers to your success with your goal? Again, write them down so you can engineer your way around them.
Creating Empty Space before you start
For almost any goal that most of us can imagine, the key to success is going to be managing our time and attention.
Can you clear the board some before you start to play the game?
This must be totally protected time that you can devote to your goal each day; no saying you’ll start tomorrow, no texting, to emails, no phone, and no double-tasking.
Tim recommends 3 to 6 hours each week for “protected time.”
If my life is so complex that I can’t even spare 30 minutes each day for myself, then maybe I need another goal that would sound something like, get rid of a third of the commitments and people who keep my life so complex! (Not joking.)
Ok, staying with our healthy in a year goal, and continuing backward, the next thing we have to do is make the time for this. Let’s reverse engineer an average day so we can lay out our time carefully. Try reverse engineering your typical day, starting at night and going backward, and see how you can make time for your goals.
Maybe your goal is to live a more positive life!
That was mine 2 years ago, and I have to say that I achieved it in a year and have stayed with it.
Quite by accident, I followed Tim Ferriss’s recommendations to the letter. No matter your goal, I’m quite sure you can put it through the following paces:
- I set a crystal clear goal: in this case it was to do something positive and meaningful each day that would make the world a little better place.
- I began with the end in mind by describing in great detail the 3 things that needed to be firmly in place for me to call this goal “achieved.”
- I identified the things that were sure to get in my way: I realized that the barrier to my being able to do that was my commitments to habits, groups and people who constantly frustrated my good intentions and drained my time.
- Based on those things in step two and three, I decided upon early and mid-term strategies that could be sustained forever.
- I carved out and protected time each day for this important goal: I got the negativity out of my day by nicely resigning from a few things, quietly backing away from a few relationships, and I stopped the habits of tuning into the negative 24-hour news cycle. I stopped mindlessly having the TV on in the background. I stopped turning on the radio news.
After step five, I was astonished how much more time I had for positive, meaningful activities!
Now, finding topics and writing articles like this is a pleasure and I’m able to focus my attention on that end goal: having a more positive life!
Maybe we can become a machine with this way of thinking, bobbing and weaving with the ever changing landscape of our situation?
Give it a try!
Want to see a few more articles in that light?
I love one of our earlier articles called, Stuck in the Negative. It’s a natural to follow this article and an even better thought leader give us her thoughts on staying positive in a crazy world.
Another great article is called, Why should we be optimistic?
Or you can just scroll down to the bottom of this page to find a few more articles I can recommend.
Feeling adventuresome? Try our new “Surprise Me” button!
Have a great day! See you tomorrow. Stay open, curious and optimistic!
~ Dr. Lynda
Want to read a little philosophy? Here’s a great quote I came across when researching this article:
“The genius of reading what geniuses have said, is that your mind expands like a balloon, and, if you don’t pop, you see much further every day.”
If you don’t know where to start when it comes to reading a few books that may send you in new directions of thought, here are 9 books that may arguably be the best philosophy books of all time:
You may remember Plato from high school or college references as being too lofty for ordinary readers, but my impression as an adult was entirely different. If you can settle into reading Plato for insights to ponder, you’ll find he uses analogies to talk about everything from metaphysics to marriage, music to war, leadership to parenting. Plato’s Republic is unparalleled in its coverage of all areas of life and will set your mind wandering in new directions from every page.
Want to live a good life? Aristotle lays out a path for using the best of our human capacities to flourish as happy individuals and important contributors in our community. Turns out there are particular activities that create happiness!
It seems that in 1945 Lord Russell decided that philosophy should be made understandable to even the most novice reader. He is thought to have written one of the most complete, graceful and yet witty books on philosophy ever written.
Nietzsche’s title seems to say it all. He brings us through the maze of western notions about truth and God, good and evil. If you are in a mood to question all you thought was foundational, this is the book for you.
If I had to chose one of these nine books to start with, it would be this one. Pirsig takes us on an entertaining journey through the most important philosophical questions of the 20th Century and somehow, all are still relevant here in 2017 and beyond. If you’ve ever felt alien in your own family or community, or if you wrestle with the ghosts of your past, this is a wonderful read.
What if we threw out everything we think is certain, everything, and then rebuild what can be truly known for sure. In this unusual book, Descartes takes us through 6 rebuilding thought-exercises that are the nearest thing to pressing the “re-set” button here in the 21st century.
Want some answers to questions you have always wrestled with? Here is a philosopher who will guide you through a logic that is both powerful and empowering. You have to scoot around the science references that are now long outdated, but after that, you’ll see Schopenhauer creates a picture of the world that is astounding.
This one could be a stretch for most of us as we have to translate Roman reflections into something congruous in our contemporary world, but the exercise is not that big of a leap! Best of all, Aurelius covers topics that are still the basics of our common struggles: understanding our emotions, grappling with self-doubt, the burden of our convictions, the questions about what is virtuous.
Some consider this book a wonder of the world in the way it lays out the art of living with balance and wisdom. If you feel you need a new perspective to build on, this may be the place to start. In brief chapters, this book addresses most of the predicaments we all face in life and points the way to a serene perspective in each.