At one point in my life I had a horrible case of the “why bothers.” I couldn’t get my engine running, let alone rolling to its destination. Then I ran into an old friend, Chad, who told me to set some goals.
“You’re not listening,” I informed him. “Goals won’t help – I have no energy! I can’t do anything.”
Chad promised that committing goals to paper would supply me with plenty of energy and enthusiasm to reach my objectives.
“Just try it,” he said.
This is the time of year when resolutions are made and broken. But don’t sell the practice short. Experts in motivation and achievement claim that setting a goal, imagining how it would look and feel to reach that goal, then putting a plan into action to reach that goal – are the three hottest tickets to your success.
“A goal is something that a person wishes to achieve,” says Gary Glasscock, authority in goal-setting and visualization techniques and owner of a life coaching business called Manifesting Your Life. “What you hold your focus on is what you will receive, especially if you look at that goal as already achieved. It will draw the goal to you.”
Glasscock has seen this principle at work in his life as an increase in income, client base and referrals. Plus he has seen clients establish a great deal of success.
“Life does not go according to plan if you don’t have a plan,” says Gary Blair, the Goals Guy and President of the GoalsGuy Learning Systems in Tampa, Florida. “A goal is created three times. First as a mental picture. Second, when written down to add clarity and dimension. And third, when you take action toward its achievement.”
Richard E. Williams, a former member of the Positive Picker Toastmasters Club near Cleveland, Ohio, agrees. As a business professional, he sets financial, physical and career goals.
“I thought I was already a very accomplished presenter before joining Toastmasters,” he says. “I was surprised to learn that I had some serious refining to do to reach the professional presenter level. I achieved my presentation goals due to the goal-setting work I had done up to that point.”
As a result, Williams became an advisor for presentation skills with the national governing body for the sport of bowling and helped start a Toastmasters club at the organization’s headquarters.
A goal is an objective; it’s something to aim for. There’s a saying that you won’t hit the target until you know what you’re shooting at. Goals drive us in the direction of the dream that most often occupies our thinking.
Bill Brown, President of the Rancho Speech Masters club in Rancho Santa Margarita, California, uses goals to win speaking competitions. His preparation includes learning what is expected at each level of competition. For instance, one of his objectives was to listen to a member who would compete against him.
He uses feedback from others to fine-tune his speech, constantly changing it to meet the demands of higher-level contests. “I ask myself how I can be more expressive, use body language to better make a point and use greater vocal variety,” he says. And as a result of his diligence, Brown won both the division and district contests.
There are as many different ways to approach setting goals as there are people who make them. But certain points are central to most of these techniques:
- Be clear and specific. Beware of vague goals, like “to become a better person” or “lose weight.” Both are good objectives but offer little direction; they don’t answer the question, How?
- Make them measurable. Lose how much weight and by when?
- Set a time limit. “You must hold yourself accountable to deadlines and adjust tasks accordingly,” says Blair. “Slipping deadlines is a symptom of poor execution and a lack of discipline.”
- Break projects down into small, more manageable units. Rather than setting a goal of losing 30 pounds, make one for losing five pounds this month.
- Establish stepping-stone goals. In order to lose five pounds, you can aim for walking 20 minutes three times a week or eating five helpings of fruits and vegetables a day.
- Write them down. Most experts consider this a crucial step. Writing your ambitions down makes them real and keeps them in your mind longer. Plus it establishes a commitment to yourself.
- Post goals around the house. Experts suggest displaying Post-it notes or other signs around the house – perhaps on your computer monitor or on the bathroom mirror.
It’s been said that golfer Jack Nicklaus never took a shot before first picturing it in his mind. This technique brought him six green jackets for his (six) wins at the Masters Tournament, one of the most prestigious golf events.
Visualization is being used more and more in competitive sports. For example, Olympic gymnasts spend hours each day visualizing their perfect performances.
This practice involves picturing the outcome, emotion or object that you desire. It enhances motivation, direction and commitment. On a neurological level, the brain doesn’t differentiate between an actual and an imagined experience. Picturing images causes some level of physical sensation, leading to muscular responses. It’s not only the brain that has a memory; the muscles do as well.
A principle of energy is that energy of a certain quality or vibration tends to attract energy of a similar quality or vibration. This is why successful thoughts manifest success in our lives. According to books such as Creative Visualization by Shakti Gawain, and The Secret by Ronda Byrne, we attract into our lives whatever we think about the most, believe in fiercely, expect to occur and envision most vividly.
So when a golfer visualizes making a putt from the rough, the muscles and nervous system react to the mental images of correct golf technique. Toastmaster Richard Williams applies the same techniques to coaching bowling. “Using visualization prior to performance in a sports activity allows the athlete to practice in his mind. I encourage the athletes to surround themselves with the cues of the competition environment; to take in sights, sounds and smell to experience a deeper, more effective visualization than trying to do it in a surrounding that is nothing like competition.”
A bowler might visualize feeling confident and comfortable, excited about an upcoming win, feeling his fingers gripping the dense material of the ball lying cool in his hands, balls thundering down the alleys next to him, taking his regular number of steps to the line and allowing the ball to glide off his fingers, humming down the lane and mowing down all of the pins.
“This is process visualization,” Williams says, “and is essential to continued success, as it builds muscle memory that is necessary for consistent physical performance. I also encourage the use of outcome visualization. It serves as a motivator to work hard to achieve the outcome that is important to them.”
Outcomes can include a sun-bleached beach after spending months completing a project, the warm feeling of satisfaction from a job well done, or a celebratory lunch.
“For years we have been hearing how important visualization is from trainers and motivational speakers,” Glasscock says. Now we know how it works. It keeps us focused, in-tune with what we hope for. There’s an old saying, Where attention goes, energy flows.”
When you first begin to practice mental imaging, you may feel somewhat awkward and silly – and likely to disbelieve in its benefits. But it can be considered a mild form of practice in which you work out problems by thinking through to their solutions. Keep in mind what international motivational speaker Denis Waitley says, “If you get it right in drill; you’ll get it right in life.” Imaging positive outcomes is one way to reach success.
Here are some steps to visualization:
• Close your eyes and picture the mental images of your goal vividly and precisely.
• Use the senses to engulf yourself in the visualization
– Sight – What do you see around you? What colors are present?
Which grab and hold your attention?
– Hearing – What sounds are you hearing? Are there sounds that appear suddenly,
others appearing later? Are these sounds appealing or not?
– Smell – Are there smells that strike you, pleasant or unpleasant?
How do the odors affect you?
– Taste – Is there anything to taste? Are you eating or drinking?
Do you have some lingering taste in your mouth?
– Feel – What do things feel like? How do the clothes you’re wearing feel on your skin?
What does the air feel like? Is it cool, dry, breezy?
• Picture movement – your movements, things outside of you in motion. Quick motion is better,
although subtle movements might catch attention.
• Employ your emotions.
– In your mind celebrate how you would feel reaching this goal.
– Allow yourself to experience the completion of your victories – picture joyful elation,
wide smiling and perhaps, jumping up and down.
Goals and visualizations fade away without action.
“In order to receive a victorious outcome, perseverance is the only option,” Blair says. “As long as you are willing to do whatever it takes for as long as it takes, no one will be able to prevent you from reaching your goal.”
After Chad taught me to set goals, I considered the outcomes of his goals. What I learned from his experience convinced me that the process of goal-setting and visualization might work for me, too.
Later I learned that Chad came from an alcoholic home where he was either ignored – or punished severely. He saw the future as a way to get out of the house. When it happened, he didn’t know what to do or where to go. He moved from one friend’s house to another, at times begging on the streets.
Sitting on the stoop of a liquor store one morning, Chad met a clean-cut stranger who sat down with him. Just before Chad got up to move, this man told him about goals.
“I looked at him as quizzically as you looked at me when I mentioned goals,” Chad said. “I thought, me? Set goals? But I set one – to graduate from high school. Then I set another, to get a job. Then I really got down to this goal business; I even added visualization.
Today Chad owns a string of print shops, has three happy and healthy kids and a model marriage. He says he owes his success to the skill of goal-setting and the practice of visualization.
Judi Bailey is a writer in Lakewood, Ohio, and a frequent contributor to this magazine. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.