Goal Setting

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My Secret to Success in Goal Setting

It’s funny how much running imitates life. In the Marine Corps, we ran a lot. I’d usually run at least nine miles a week, and found that the key to staying the distance was simply keeping my hope alive.

After several years of running the equivalent of a 5k each time I ran, I picked up quite a few little tricks like pacing, breathing and how to build endurance. But the greatest lesson I learned was that to keep my mind active and engaged, I needed to set very immediate goals. You see, the more you run the more you realize you have to keep your mind focused on something. Otherwise, you wind up focusing on the pain and giving up or just getting bored and burning out.

I’d tell myself that I’d get to that tree, or this sign post or that curve in the road. When I did, I was already on the hunt for the next goal. Doing this made the goal more tactile and immediate, and kept my hope alive and well. It made time seem to go faster, and gave me a rush of achievement when I did. Over time, I developed goals that pushed me to pace faster and harder; running was always a race, and you are always in a race against yourself or someone else.

“Do you enjoy what you do?”

I once believed that simply looking forward to something (more than you didn’t) was the key to enjoying life. There are good and bad times, but the balance of good would outweigh the bad.

I bought into this as an employee. I told this to my team as a manager. I even subscribed to this idea as a husband and father.

However, there are two problems with this point of view:

  1. This view puts you in the passenger seat far too often.
  2. This view favors the destination over the drive to get there (when both are equally important).
Each of us has a spark in us. This spark is our hope, comprised of those dreams and desires that we cling to when all else is stripped away. It defines us and can often defy the cackling majority. But somewhere along the way we trade, sell or even give away our dreams in exchange for some shadowy wisps and wants.


But there is hope. The practical advice I can offer you is that you must view life like running. Find your tree, your sign post or your curve in the road. Set your sights on the clear and immediate goal that is the next small step in fulfilling your dream.


Take a deep breath and enjoy the feeling of hope once again.

Zanshin: A Mind Like Water

Drop in the bucketZanshin is a Japanese term referring to a state of relaxed alertness and awareness. In Aikido, we practice this constantly – how to clear your mind, not to anticipate, react to the action at hand – no more and no less.

David Allen has this to say in his book Getting Things Done (link in the sidebar):

Imagine throwing a pebble into a still pond. How does the water respond? The answer is, totally appropriately to the force and mass of the input; then it returns to calm. It doesn’t overreact or underreact.

… The power in a … punch comes from speed, not muscle; it comes from a focused “pop” at the end of the whip… a tense muscle is a slow one. So the high levels of training in the martial arts teach and demand balance and relaxation as much as anything else. Clearing the mind and being flexible are the key.

Anything that causes you to overreact or underreact can control you, and often does.

Imagine finding a constant state of Zanshin. Is that even possible?

I for one don’t know yet if that is possible. However, I must remember it is a path to be walked not a destination in which we arrive.

What would be the goal of this you say?

Well, imagine if you will being able to slip into a highly productive state at will. For those that care about being productive, this would be a definite must have, right?

The danger I would surmise most of us “Type-A’s” have would be in the simple fact that we allow our life to O Sensei - Nihon Goshin Aikidobecome unbalanced. I allow work to flood into my life because I work in a profession, job, company, and role I truly love. However, by letting it become all-consuming, I risk polluting my “mind of water” and I can actually feel the physical and mental drain this begins to cause; I can feel the creep towards burn-out.

The other thing I have begun to realize is that I have allowed my physical well-being to slip. I eat what I want, not what I should; I do not exercice on a regular schedule outside of Aikido, lowering my endurance – both mentally and physically. I do not take enough time for spiritual enrichment. I do not take enough time for family and friends.

The sad thing is that I can rationalize just about any of this: Oh, there’s too much work to do to allow for the other things, just this one project needs to be done, If I only had 1 more hour in the day. But the truth is, as you all know, there is always something waiting around the corner for us productive people and there is never enough time in the day.

And as I step back and re-evaluate my tactical objectives in relation to my life goals, I realize I have taken a detour once again.

So remember: relax but do not become complacement, seek to clear your mind of clutter, and maintain balance in mind, body, and spirit.

Another great link is over at Zen Habits.

Ken Stewart’s blog,, focuses on the collision between the constantly changing worlds of business and technology. Ken is also the Director of Technology at Kearns Business Solutions.

What’s your excuse?

No Excuses

Are you a glass half empty of half full kind of person? Do you seek answers or offer excuses? I can throw a stone and hit someone that is giving excuses instead of solving problems – and I used to be one of them, too.

A couple of days ago, I started talking with someone who seemed very bright, confident, and seemed to bring a lot of experience from past positions. This person commented the training program was far less than expected and in fact didn’t think one even existed.

I paused a moment, and asked a question, “With whom have you spoken about your concerns? What types of training do you feel you were ‘promised’ but have not received?

I listened intently for a period of time. I heard things about needing to know how to show features of systems X, Y and Z. I heard things about filling out leasing paperwork. I heard things about sales training.

And you know what I heard loud and clear? This person was feeling a little deflated and had allowed some obstacles to get in the way, I heard reasons “why not”, but not “how can I…?” questions. Basically, being brutally honest – I heard excuses.

As a manager, I do not wish to deflect any blame either. We are responsible for creating training programs for our teams. To be quite fair, I could lob out a whole slew of excuses as to why I’m not very good at this, but suffice it to say – I’m not. What I can say is that I look at life as a great proving ground. There are all sorts of lessons to be learned, and if I am asked I am always more than willing to stop and explain something – in particular why something works the way it does.

So you better be listening, and you should be expecting me to tell you why. I expect you to reason out the rest and ask me questions if you are unsure. You are an adult, as am I, and never want anyone to feel like a problem is bigger than they are. It’s all a perspective game… a game of how to eat an elephant.

If you want to succeed in life – not just exist - you must have a seeking heart and set your mind about reaching your goals. Don’t allow obstacles to turn into excuses of “why not” and the stand in your way.

Do You Walk the Critical Path?

Do you find yourself often looking for more time in the day to do the things you need to get done? With competing interests and a growing plate of responsibilities, it has become rather difficult to effectively “juggle” your responsibilities. Family, work, honey-do’s, fun stuff, not-so fun stuff that you have to do – it all adds up and begins subtracting your time, your focus, and your energy reserve.

A simple question I have begun to ask myself, “Am I walking my critical path?”

The critical path is not a bad thing; the critical path, or Critical Path Method (CPM), is a project management tool used to define the total time it will take to complete all tasks in a project, as well as whether this project is on target, in jeopardy, or behind schedule. If the project is on-schedule to be completed in the desired time, it is considered to be on the critical path.

CPM has been taught to me time and again in both project management and personnel management. However, applying this to your life can be a real eye opener – IF you allow it to open your eyes.

Let’s say your life is the project. Generally speaking, none of us really know when we are going to die. However, many of us expect to live some period of time before we do, so this is where the Critical Path becomes important.

The key to this exercise is remembering your time is finite.

First, we must choose to do those things that are most important to us first and foremost. For instance, I do have to go to work everyday, but my top priority is to come home and be with my daughter at least 2 nights a week, have a date night with my wife 1 night a week, spend all day on Saturday with my daughter, and spend all day Sunday with my whole family. These are not flexible. If one has to be taken by some work priority, then it is replaced immediately with time from another of “my other days”.

When I ended my tour of duty with the USMC, they offered exit training. This was geared to help Marines, young and old, make the transition into the civilian sector more prepared. I must say, this was some of the best career advice I ever got.

First thing I was asked was to evaluate what was important to me. I thought it was money. So the trainer asked me how far would I ethically go for money? Would I move to the Middle East? Would I live on a submarine for 6 months at a time? Would I leave my family for a year at a time to follow the almighty dollar?

“Well, of course not.” was my reply. He then leaned in a little close so I could smell the coffee on his breath, and whispered, “So money is not what is most important to you then.”

This created the first, recurring task on my critical path – my faith and my family. Next, came my career goals , followed by my other goals such as education and fun.

My critical path became filled with goals that I “backed into”. I knew I wanted to make a certain salary figure before 10 years, I knew I wanted to finish my BS degree in 6 years, I knew I wanted to take a beach trip in 2 years. Those became goals I then turned into sub-projects and established milestones to accomplish – all keeping these in relation to my primary goal.

As I have reached the end of my 10 year goal setting exercise, I have found myself meandering a bit. I have allowed the noise and static to fill my head on more occasions than one, and have now began to reassess my critical path.

Here are some tips I have learned that I wanted to share:

1. Know yourself: Do you know what you want in life and how you are going to get it? Are you a student of life?

2. Know your goals: Which are set in stone and which are flexible?

3. Know how to achieve your goals: This requires integrity, resolution, patience, and empathy for others.

4. At the beginning of your day, write a list of what you have to get accomplished and what can wait if need be.

5. Allot time to put out fires if you know fires will come up. Do not begrudge the fires as they are another method of defining your critical path.

6. Seek out mentors and try to learn as much as you can from their wisdom (remember: mentors can even offer painful lessons of what not to do as well).

7. Seek out colleagues to share ideas and bounce ideas off of.

8. Set aside some self-reflection or meditation time in your daily routine. This will help you stay centered.

9. Find something that you can be the best and and be the best at it, but do not let it consume you.

10. Do not stress about the things you cannot control. Either focus your energy on the things you can affect, or create a resolution to put yourself in a position to affect the situation.

So, the critical path you must find is within you. It does not come in a wave, but in fits and starts at first. Then, like the rising of the tide, your critical path brings you a quiet power that cannot be stopped and a fulfillment no person can take away.