Thanks to Mark Modesti for guest blogging!
Confession: in the past, I've been a reluctant goal setter. It's always felt like a mix between prophesying about the future and hunch-guessing. Along with that, my inner voice keeps saying, "Seriously?". The thing is, I'm pretty clear about the undesirables that won't go away in the foreseeable future if I don't intervene. With those two facts in mind, I started off my goal setting expedition differently this year.
It all started when I participated in a roundtable discussion on how to turn obstacles into opportunities hosted by the great Scott Perry. One of the big aha’s that came to light for me in our conversation was that when we choose opportunities, we choose the obstacles they present. For example, if I decide I want to be healthier, then diet and exercise are going to be the primary areas of opportunity. But when I start setting goals around diet, I’m not immediately mindful of every obstacle such a change represents. Will everyone else in the house eat this stuff? How do I break the news to the ice cream lover down the hall that I’m taking it off the grocery list?
I’m even less mindful of the opportunities suggested by my current set of obstacles.
Let me define my terms. I see opportunities and goals as very similar, so I use them interchangeably, but there is a distinction worth mentioning. Not every opportunity is a goal, but every goal is an opportunity. If my goal is a road trip to Yosemite, there will be ways I can enhance the experience. These are opportunities to see and taste certain things along the way. When I see the roadside sign for fudge and saltwater taffy, I don’t need to set a goal. I can just take that exit.
So, where do the obstacles fit into all this?
My challenge has always been with choosing specific goals (see my hunch-guessing remark above). When I had that obstacle/opportunity revelation I decided to try a new method for choosing goals by considering the current in-my-face challenges, or obstacles, that prevent me from being “healthy, wealthy and wise.”
I’m convinced that we can free up significant negativity in our day to day, if we spend time thinking differently about... well, the negativity. Our current set of obstacles. Doing so, can reveal goals and opportunities.
Let’s face it, one of the reasons we set goals is because we get tired of looking at the same old problems, day after day. Our thought life can be overrun by negativity about what we have and don’t want, or want and don’t have. I’ve decided that the starting point for breaking that cycle, is to look closer at the most persistent obstacles.
Obstacles are Opportunities in Disguise
In ancient fables, the dragon always guards the treasure. In this crazy modern world, obstacles guard the opportunities. So, I started by listing the most pressing, pesky obstacles. For me, It began with a mind map, but it could just as easily be done with a list on a yellow legal pad. The first question was, “What’s currently in the way of my success, fulfillment and happiness?” I approached it as a way of taking inventory.
Once the obstacles were listed, I completed a second list containing the options and opportunities each obstacle presented - or what they’ve been keeping me from. Digging into that second list I saw some patterns and similarities. Without a huge amount of time and effort, I was able to narrow it down to a few pivotal goals for 2020.
Three questions emerged as I made my list:
- What opportunities are these obstacles guarding?
- Which opportunities offer the most leverage?
- What’s the argument I need to have with myself in order to exploit those opportunities?
I also found new clarity about which goals to focus on. For example, I want to earn more from my writing, and one of the keys to writing successfully is to write well. I know, pretty obvious, right? But if I had set a goal to market my writing and weighed it too heavily, the whole thing could backfire. I could wind up marketing crappy writing. Questions 1 and 2 helped with this process.
That last question - #3 on the list above - may seem out of place, but it’s pivotal. Stay with me here…
The best goals are disruptive to self-identity. The obstacles I listed weren’t just about doing or not doing external stuff, but also about how I see myself. Setting those disruptive goals is the beginning of an argument over who I am. What I’m about.
I won’t elaborate on how to set goals here - you can find plenty about that elsewhere - but I will say that stating the goal in present tense, as a present fact (“I am”), is a game changer. It may sound a bit “out there” but it’s extremely practical.
I now have this note posted above my computer:
The minute I wrote the goal as “I am a copywriter” and posted it front and center, an argument ensued, and so far, I’m winning that argument.
It goes something like this:
Me: I am a copywriter
Me too: No, you’re not. Copywriters make good money at it. You don’t.
Me: Yeah, but copywriters also write copy. Look! See? I just did that!
Me too: I’m not sure you know what you’re doing.
Me: Sure I do. I’m writing. There. Did it again.
The way I look at it, I’m either going to have an ongoing argument about what I should be doing, or a higher stakes argument about who I am and what I want.
Now The Fun Begins!
I still feel uncertainty about the future, but obstacles and opportunities are certain. Why not use the obstacles instead of being used up by them? That’s my plan anyway!
A GIANT thank you to Mark Modesti for starting off the new year with such wise words. So appreciate your time!