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Human Behavior

How to Achieve Goals: Out of Reach but in Sight

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A few years ago, I gave a speech to the Western Golf Association Evans Scholar Foundation. That speech, which addressed leadership and goal-accomplishing tactics, later become a book called Out of Reach but in Sight: Using Goals to Achieve Your Impossible.

I’ve released portions of that speech as a series of blog posts so you can enjoy some of the content. If you’re interested in seeing the material in its entirety, check out Out of Reach but in Sight: Using Goals to Achieve Your Impossible or go to my YouTube Channel to listen to the pre-recorded audio.

Let’s do a little recap. You’re going to set goals for things you love. You have insight into a good perspective regarding how to look at them, making sure you enjoy the journey toward achieving them. And you want to set the bar high. So how do we bring it all together? How do we make the best attempt toward achieving these great heights for the things we love? What do we need?

You need a map. The weather forecast would be nice too.

You need a map. You need a plan. For most of you, up to this point in your life, someone else has put the map together for you. It’s been a boss, a coach, a teacher, or your parents.

What is the first thing the teacher hands you when you go into class? When you walk into the classroom on the first day—or perhaps they place it out on the Internet—what do they hand you? There it is—the syllabus—classes one through forty-eight in all their glory. There is every topic we’re going to cover for the next sixteen weeks. There it is. Why? Because the teacher knows, “For me to do my job, for us to hit our goals for this class, and for my students to learn what they need to know, we need to go through all this stuff.” The teacher’s not going to roll out of bed on week fifteen and say, “Huh. What do I feel like teaching today?” No! There needs to be a plan—a map! And the teacher just gave it to you!

When you get out of school, the fun really starts because you get to play Magellan yourself. You get to build your own map. If you don’t know who Magellan is, then you need to go take a history class. That map you build will serve as your guide.

I don’t want just the map. I’d like to know the weather too. I’d love to have the map and the weather. But unfortunately, you’re not going to have the weather. You’re not going to see the storms coming. You’re not going to see the curveballs and the sliders people are throwing at your head. Here’s the bad part: the further away your goal is from today, the more storms you’ll encounter. Here’s the worst part: the further away your goal is from today, the greater the likelihood that somewhere along that way, you’re going to fall out of love with that goal. Why?

Why do we fall out of love with something? It isn’t going well! Does this sound familiar? “I’m tired. I can’t remember why I loved this in the first place. I’ve been at this for so long. I don’t even know why I got started.” You are going to feel that way, so I’d like to help you avoid that. The map does that. The map is there so when your life gets interrupted and things aren’t going well, it shows you how to get back on track. The map shows you how to make the adjustments to get back on track.

The map also shows you how far you’ve come. “Whoa—I’ve already gone fifty miles! I only have ten more to go!” Seeing progress nurtures your psyche. It nourishes it. It helps you build self-esteem. That nurtured psyche helps you weather the emotional and mental storms. When you get fatigued and want to throw in the towel, you can look at the map to see how far you’ve progressed. It helps you remember why you started in the first place.

Another great attribute of the map—or you all have those Garmins or GPS devices—is it gives you the fastest route. It’ll give you an alternate route if you need one. It helps you get there as fast as possible.

It’s never too late or too early to become the person you are capable of being.

I have a story for you. I consider this to be the best story I could come up with to illustrate a long-term, difficult goal. It also happens to be a golf story, which I thought was a little on the nose considering why we’re here today. This story also falls under the category of it’s never too late or too early to become the person you are capable of being. It’s never too late if you’re still breathing.

I came to golf late in life—much later than any of you. I know many of you play and some of you don’t. I was thirty years old when I started playing. I didn’t have any coaching or take any lessons when I started. I played for seven years, and I tried to play as well as I could by mimicking some of the great professional players. I read the golf books and magazines. I practiced hitting golf balls.

When I was thirty-seven or so, approximately ten years ago, I decided to commit myself to becoming the best player I could possibly be. I wondered how good I could become if I had proper instruction and commitment to the game. I also thought becoming a better player would enhance my enjoyment of the game.

So I went to see a coach named Kevin. I walked in on the first day, and he said, “Welcome to the program. I think you’re going to like it. The first thing you need to do is hit a golf ball or two. Then we’ll talk about what you’d like to get out of the program.”

He hooked me up to these ridiculous contraptions and wrapped cords around my head, shoulders, and waist. There were video cameras everywhere. I hit the golf ball with a seven iron. He videotaped it. We sat down, and he said, “OK, thanks. What would you like to get out of this program?”

I said, “Kevin, it’s really simple. There are only two goals I care about. I want to become a scratch golfer [zero handicap], and I want to have a lot of fun doing it.”

After he picked himself up off the floor and wiped away his tears of laughter, he composed himself long enough to say, “OK, let me take another look at the video of your swing.” He looked at the swing again and then looked back at me.

I asked, “Well? How long? How long before I become a scratch golfer?”

He looked at me with a stoic face and deadpanned, “Three years.”

I asked, “Three years? That’s a long time.”

He said, “No, actually it’s not. Most people are never going to achieve that, and the ones that do usually require much more time. You have a pretty decent swing, so if you work really smart and put the effort in, you can get there.” Then he said, “Hit another ball.”

I got the contraptions back on. I took my stance over the ball, and just as I was about to hit it, I looked up at him and asked, “When you say three years…?”

As the speech bubble was still hanging over my head, he replied, “That means every single day for the next three years, you will have a golf club in your hand doing something I have instructed you to do.” I thought,Goodness, that’s something like a thousand hours or so of practice.

I said, “This is important to me. I’ll do whatever I need to, but I need a plan.”

He said, “I’m going to have one for you next week.”

The next week, I went back. There it was—three years of the program. The first year focused on the backswing, the second on the downswing, and the third on the short game, which included chipping, putting, and sand play.

The point is the map shows you how to get to where you’re going. A long-term, multiyear plan can be very overwhelming when you don’t understand where you are going. You don’t become CEO of the company overnight. You don’t go from a nonrunner to running a marathon in six months.

Here is another key point to remember. We spoke about setting goals very high for things you love. If they are truly, truly major goals in your life, then you can only have so many at one time. That means two or three or so. If you have too many, you’ll spread yourself too thin and won’t be successful in accomplishing them.

Think in terms of a pyramid or triangle. At the top, you have a few major goals in your life, and you set them very high. On the next layer, there are more short-term or intermediary goals, which are stepping stones to the top of the pyramid.

Going back to my golf example, when I returned for the second lesson, I looked at the plan Kevin had prepared, and the goal became manageable in my mind. I realized, “The first twenty weeks it’ll be snowing outside. I’ll be in a studio performing drills and shaping the way I think about the swing and the proper body motion. In the spring, I’ll start hitting more golf balls outside at the driving range. In the summer, I’ll be playing more and continually practicing. I’ll work with Kevin once each month to make sure the backswing stays in order. When the summer is over, I’ll go back to the studio, and I’ll move onto the next phase—the downswing and so on.” All of a sudden, it became easier for me to digest this lofty goal. I had a blueprint.

Here’s something you need to remember about big goals. I realize everyone wants a finished product right away, but you need to be patient. You should enjoy yourself along the way. As you work toward something—and anybody who plays golf knows this—your progress will not always be linear and rising. You will have setbacks. Embrace those setbacks. You know what setbacks do? They tap you on the shoulder and say, “Hello! Take a pause and examine things. What’s going wrong? Rethink things.” When you take that pause and step back, you often will subsequently take a giant leap forward. The map, at this point, is extremely crucial because it keeps you from meandering and gets you back on track quickly.

Back to the golf story. After four years of this training, practicing, and playing, I reached my goal. Yes, I was a year tardy, but hey, stuff came up. Life sometimes interrupts you and takes you off your desired path and timetable. At that moment, four years later, something undetectable happened. I wasn’t enjoying myself. I wasn’t enjoying golf. I had never anticipated this could happen. I had just reached a pinnacle I had worked so diligently toward, and I wasn’t enjoying myself anymore. I didn’t know why until I realized how difficult it would be to maintain that level of proficiency. In essence, getting there as I watched myself continually improve was much more enjoyable than being there at the pinnacle and needing to stay there.

The big lesson I want you to understand is that a goal can never be an endpoint. Regardless of what goal you set or how high you set it, it should never be an endpoint. Technically it can never be an endpoint because time keeps moving. The world keeps spinning. Whatever goals you set in life, however big they are, they will always be mere stepping stones to something else. I don’t know what that something else is, but whatever it is, goals will get you there.

There is no such thing as wasted time.

There’s one last point I’d like to make before we wrap up this section. All the hard work you put into achieving your goals will never be wasted. It will never be lost. There is absolutely no such thing as wasted time. You will always learn something. You will be more intelligent, especially if you’re paying attention and have the proper outlook, embracing the lessons. Maybe you learned you didn’t like something. That’s fine. Channel that lesson into becoming a more-evolved person. That newer, more evolved person will be smarter at whatever he or she attempts next.

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