When comedian Jerry Lewis used to write in his diary after a show, he invariably jotted one of two things -
a. "I killed!"
(comedian-speak for "I was so funny the audience nearly died laughing!")
b. "The audience sucked."
(comedian-speak for "The audience was so stupid, drunk, and ugly that they didn't get any of my brilliant jokes.")
This rather nicely reflects the two extreme positions we tend to take in the world of personal achievement. Either we 100% create our reality ("I killed") or it's all down to fate ("the audience sucked").
As usual, however, there is a useful middle ground - a path that allows us to say when
we succeed (i.e. get what we want) - "I did my part, and fortunately, everything and everyone else came together as well" and when we fail (i.e. don't get what we want) - "I did my part, and unfortunately things didn't work out as I had hoped."
This seems to me to take into account how the world actually works - we can only do what we can do. The rest, for better or for worse, is up to a combination of other people, fate, and all those other things we like to pretend we control when really, we do nothing of the kind.
My theory, which for lack of a sexier name I call "Probability-Based Goal Getting", is built on the following set of assumptions:
1. We want what we want, whether or not we think we can get it.
One of the things we are constantly taught in traditional goal-setting is to set "realistic" and "achievable" goals. Among the many problems with this idea is the fact that by the time we've made our goals realistic and achievable, they often bear little resemblance to what it was that we
When in doubt, I always coach people to go for what they want, not what they think they can get. After all, in the words of author Barry Neil Kaufman,
"All dreams appear impossible until someone makes them happen."
2. There are elements of almost any goal that are outside of our control.
For years, I was reluctant to acknowledge that anything was outside my control. And in fact, working with shamanic techniques from courses like the Silva Mind Control Method, I learned that I could attain a slight but noticeable degree of control over everything from the weather to the reactions of a Brazilian woman named Constanze (a long story and nowhere near as interesting as it sounds :-).
The problem is that not only does it takes so much effort and energy to try and control the universe that there's very little energy left to enjoy it, but as even the most anally retentive control freak will tell you, "Stuff Happens". Letting go of our desire to control the universe brings freedom, energy, and ironically a giant increase in our ability to impact the universe.
3. We can, through our attitudes and actions, increase or decrease the probability of our getting what we want.
Probability-based Goal Getting allows us to evaluate our potential attitudes and actions against two very simple metrics:
a. Is this within my control?
b. Will this increase or decrease the likelihood (probability) of my getting what I want, either now or in the future?
Attitudes and actions that will generally increase our chances of getting what we want include:
* Prepare, prepare, prepare
* Taking regular action
* Enjoying the process for its own sake
Attitudes and actions that will generally decrease our chances of getting what we want include:
* "What's the point in trying? It's never worked before."
* Doing something once and then moving on to the next thing
* Punishing yourself when you don't behave or when things don't work out as you'd hoped
As an illustration of the differences between "probability-based goal getting" and more conventional "we control the universe goal-setting", take the conflicting fortunes of two great coaches in the field of basketball - Rick Pitino and John Wooden.
Pitino, who was a highly successful college basketball coach before coming to the NBA and leading the Boston Celtics straight into the heart of mediocrity, wrote a book called "Success is a Choice", which put forward the idea that if you just decided to be successful, no force on earth could stop you.
Empowering as that idea was in theory, Pitino found that in reality the Los Angeles Lakers and about 20 other basketball teams were able to overcome his "will to succeed" on a fairly consistent basis.
Will Pitino go on to find more success in his next coaching job? Probably. Determination is a powerful attitude, and does a lot to engender the kinds of actions that increase our probability of success.
However, take as a contrast UCLA's coach John Wooden, the most successful basketball coach since the invention of the game in the 19th century. His philosophy and approach to the game was fundamentally different from Pitino's, and is perhaps best summed up by his challenge to every one of his undefeated teams:
"We may play teams who are better than us. We may play teams who beat us. But let us never play a team who is better prepared than us."
If your job was no longer to "make things happen" but rather to do everything you can to increase the likelihood of it happening, how might this change your approach to goals?
Here's an example of how these two "systems" might differ. Note that both approaches have similarities and both may work (i.e. you get what you were going for), but imagine how your experience of going for and getting what you want would be different in each example...
Example - Earning a million dollars
a. Control-based goal-setting:
My goal is to earn one million dollars by the end of 2005. I will do this by:
*Talking about it as if I've already got it, with a great deal of certainty in my voice and manner.
*Looking for an opportunity that has the potential for me to earn a million dollars
*Working as hard as it takes to overcome any obstacles or people in my path
*Doing whatever it takes to get where I want to go
*In the words of Hannibal, "We will either find a way, or make one."
b. Probability-based goal getting:
I want to earn a million dollars by the end of 2005. Things I can do/think to increase the likelihood of it happening include:
*Choosing an opportunity with high-earnings potential
*Choosing an opportunity I will really enjoy pursuing, because a) what I enjoy I will naturally do more of, and b) if for some reason beyond my control I don't succeed, I will at least have had a great time going for it!
*Doing all I can to master the relevant skill sets
*Look for people to help me succeed and with whom I can share my journey - teachers, peers, coaches, models and mentors
In the words of Barry Neil Kaufman, "I will go for what I want, in spite of the evidence."
You can do this one of your current goals or you can start from scratch.
Adapt the experiment to suit your situation...
1. What is it that you really want?
2. Which elements of that are entirely up to you? Which elements are
dependent on people or things outside your control?
3. What are some attitudes or "working premises" you could adopt to make it
more likely that you will get what you want? What are some attitudes or
"working premises" it might be useful to let go of?
4. Create an initial action list based on those things within your control
that would make it more likely for you to succeed. As new ideas come up,
a. Is this within my control? (if not, look for what aspect or element of
it is within your control)
b. Will this increase the likelihood of my getting what I want, either now
or in the future?
Have fun, learn heaps, and remember - applying what you've learned today
will have a profound impact on your future... probably!