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Before starting with Step 1, you might first want to read the introduction.
Twelve Goals (or 12 Goals) is a goal-setting program for beginners. If you’ve never set goals before – or if you’ve tried and failed – Twelve Goals can help get you unstuck and on path to achievement. There’s nothing magical or mystical about this process at all. In fact, it’s downright boring and overly practical; you aren’t going to find any talk about magnetism, psychic powers, or the law of attraction. What you’ll find is a systematic way to look at your personal goals over the course of a year, along with some step-by-step advice and accompanying tools to help you achieve them.
Twelve Goals is still very much a work in progress. My hope is that the program will adapt and evolve over the course of 2010 based on feedback from you! If you ever forget how to find these posts, they will be available at www.12goals.com (or www.twelvegoals.com).
Beginning at the End
“Writing or reviewing a mission statement changes you because it forces you to think through your priorities deeply, carefully, and to align your behavior with your beliefs” – Stephen Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People
One of the underlying principles of 12 Goals is to “begin with the end in mind”, similar to what Stephen Covey proposes in his books. This is a key tenet of any planning process, and is absolutely essential to do as a first step on the path to achieving your goals. When you think about anything you’ve ever accomplished in your life – from remodeling your kitchen to getting a new job – you probably had some level of vision about what you wanted the outcome of your process to be. It may have taken a little while to get a handle on what that vision really was, but somewhere deep down you knew it was there. You probably didn’t just wake up one day, make a phone call, and land a job that afternoon. You likely spent time and energy defining your end result. Beginning at the end is about figuring out what the ideal end result is, writing it down, and then working backwards from there.
Think about creating your vision (or personal mission statement as some call it) as being explicit about what you want your life to be about, and through the process, learning more about what you want your year to be about. Your next year should be a very deliberate step in the right direction – and it’s awfully hard to do that unless you know where you’re going.
An example of vision creation “beginning at the end” that I like to give relates to software development at a large company. In certain divisions of Microsoft, a thoughtful planning process takes place prior to the start of any major release. It’s during this time that the team works to formulate the game plan by looking at market research, doing deep competitive analyses, brainstorming about potential breakthrough ideas, and so on.
One of the outputs of this process is a mock press release or blog entry, post-dated around the time the team expects the software to be released to the world, describing in detail (in present tense, of course) what the “story” for the release is going to be. Frequently the team will also go into depth about what they expect the press, bloggers, and enthusiastic users to say about the release as well as a means to better describe the vision.
Imagine that: describing in advance what you’re working towards – months, and in many cases, years before you’re ready to announce it to the world. And before you’ve even started any of the “real” work on the project (in this case, writing code). This particular document has a few immediate effects on the team. First, it clarifies for them and their management what they’re committing to (and by extension, what they aren’t) so they can focus on the things that matter the most. Secondly, it always, without a doubt, excites the people on the team to see the potential impact of the thing they’re working on!
There’s no better way to ensure the members of an organization have similar goals than to write down the vision first; goals should always flow from vision. While this process isn’t the same as creating a personal vision, it’s remarkably similar in terms of its intent. Our main objective with our envisioning process is to make sure our monthly goals flow from the ultimate vision we have for ourselves.
Creating Your Vision
Now onto the fun part: creating your own personal vision. Your vision might be a single sentence, a few pages of written prose, or a bulleted list. Ultimately the format isn’t important – it should be in a format that resonates the most with you. It may even change from time to time as you get more comfortable with it. You might start with a paragraph, migrate to a bulleted list, and end up with a combination of both. So long as it’s serving its purpose – which is to inspire and focus you – it’s probably fine.
Important note: Even though 12 Goals is a year-long process, your vision isn’t. How you view yourself and how you’d like to grow over time shouldn’t have a time limit or a deadline. Think about your vision as “above” your goals.
Setting out to create your vision can be intimidating. Heck, writing is intimidating no matter what it is you’re writing. Just keep in mind that you are the only consumer of this document (for now) and perfection isn’t required. What’s most important is that you start with something. As any writer will tell you, it’s a lot harder to edit a blank page than a poorly written draft. Ultimately this process should be fun. I get a real kick out of thinking about, and putting to paper, how I view myself in relation to the universe now and in the future. It’s nothing if not clarifying.
So let’s get started. I’d recommend freeform writing at first, which means just let your pencil or keyboard work for as long as you can. Spend at least 15 or 20 minutes jotting down whatever comes to mind as you think of it. Don’t spend any time correcting your writing or going back and adding punctuation – there will be time for that. Just write. If you feel like it helps, start putting things into the format that helps you best describe your vision – for me it’s a set of bullets or an outline, but for others it may be keywords, phrases, or memorable quotes.
Realize that whatever you write can always be changed later. It’s not permanent, nor is there a time limit on the process. Clarifying your vision may take multiple sessions over a couple months, or you could be satisfied after just a few minutes. The most important thing is to start with something.
Here are some things you can do to get started creating your own vision:
- Define your top three focus areas. Your vision should be a result of the most important things to you (for me it’s family, career, and personal development). Think about the various things you want to be known for and make sure those things are represented in your vision.
- Identify your core values and incorporate the five most important into your vision. Examples might include integrity, dedication, enjoyment, efficiency, empathy, courage, wisdom, friendliness, flexibility, strength, focus, improvement, balance, or honesty. A quick Internet search yields many more for you to consider.
- Consider the roles you play. Each of us serves various roles everyday: parent, teacher, businessperson, babysitter, manager, employee, and so on. Make sure your vision addresses each role that’s important to you.
- Think about your personal heroes. What characteristics or values do they have that you admire? What are they best known for and how does that relate to what you’d like to be known for?
- Answer these four questions in order to learn more about yourself and who you want to be.
- What am I here for (Purpose)?
- Who am I really (Values)?
- How do I live that Purpose and those Values every day?
- How do I translate that Purpose and those Values into a successful year?
Over the years, I’ve found that the best personal vision documents have had the following attributes in common. While you don’t need to address each and every one, look at your vision and see how these seven attributes describe it.
- Written down. There’s little use in coming up with a vision if you can’t remember it or pull it up when you need it. Writing it down (or typing it up as I do) is more important than any other attribute. Research has shown that writing things down helps us remember them.
- Uniquely you. When your read your vision, you should deeply identify with it. Your vision shouldn’t reflect anyone else’s vision for your life but your own. Your values, your ambitions, and your dreams should be encapsulated by your vision.
- Holistic. Your vision needs to incorporate all aspects of your life that are important to you. If it’s only about your business, it’s not going to be personal enough. Make sure to call out everything that’s important to you.
- Uplifting. Keep your vision positive and you’ll be more inclined to refer back to it. The more you refer back to it, the more you reinforce it. Reading your vision should be inspiring, not something you avoid.
- Birds-eye view. Your vision shouldn’t be too specific. It needs to be something that’s above the fray, taking a top-down look at your life. Your vision isn’t your goals, and neither of them are your to-do list. Your vision is high-level.
- Simple. Or at least as simple and short as you need it to be. If it takes you thirty minutes to read your own vision document, it’s not something you’ll do very often. Keep it short and sweet to be most effective.
- Available. Your vision doesn’t do much good if you don’t read it! One thing you could do is carry a printed version of your personal vision around in your wallet or purse. I have a digital version stored on my phone so I can refer to it regularly.
Remember: format and length don’t matter at all so long as it’s your vision, it’s simple and uplifting, and you have it with you when you want to read it.
Sample Vision Statements
Here are some sample personal mission/vision statements from around the web. Note how they’re all different formats and structure, yet all are unique to that individual.
Gandhi: “Let the first act of every morning be to make the following resolve for the day: I shall not fear anyone on Earth. I shall fear only God. I shall not bear ill will toward anyone. I shall not submit to injustice from anyone. I shall conquer untruth by truth. And in resisting untruth, I shall put up with all suffering.”
Ben Franklin’s Thirteen Virtues:
- TEMPERANCE. Eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation.
- SILENCE. Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation.
- ORDER. Let all your things have their places; let each part of your business have its time.
- RESOLUTION. Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve.
- FRUGALITY. Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself; i.e., waste nothing.
- INDUSTRY. Lose no time; be always employ’d in something useful; cut off all unnecessary actions.
- SINCERITY. Use no hurtful deceit; think innocently and justly, and, if you speak, speak accordingly.
- JUSTICE. Wrong none by doing injuries, or omitting the benefits that are your duty.
- MODERATION. Avoid extremes; forbear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve.
- CLEANLINESS. Tolerate no uncleanliness in body, cloaths, or habitation.
- TRANQUILLITY. Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable.
- CHASTITY. Rarely use venery but for health or offspring, never to dullness, weakness, or the injury of your own or another’s peace or reputation.
- HUMILITY. Imitate Jesus and Socrates.
Ralph Waldo Emerson: “To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children… to leave the world a better place… to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.”
Walt Disney: “Animation offers a medium of story telling and visual entertainment which can bring pleasure and information to people of all ages everywhere in the world.”
Mike Torres (mine :)): I suppose now’s a good time to laugh about “which of these doesn’t belong” since putting my name next to Ben Franklin and Gandhi is pretty ridiculous. But I figured why not show you what I wrote down for myself. My own vision document started in 1999 as a paragraph or so and has evolved since. I recently added happiness commandments to it so I make sure to read them. Here is my vision.
By now you should be ready to start documenting your own personal vision. Using some of the recommendations in this post, you can set out to really craft a vision for yourself, which will make the next step in 12 Goals easier – and set you up for greater success. Remember: if you don’t have a vision for yourself, you’re like a boat without a rudder. You’ll end up going wherever the wind takes you. It’s a lot more fun to be in control of your destiny than it is to be an actor in someone else’s play.
Creating your vision is step 1. Continue to Set Your Monthly Goals (Step 2) ->