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 GOALS ----PUBLIC OR PRIVATE

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PostSubject: GOALS ----PUBLIC OR PRIVATE   Sun Dec 30, 2007 8:57 am

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Goals: Public or Private?

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Somewhere low on the totem pole of human appreciation are those individuals who talk big but never take action. Such people are called, sometimes cruelly, "all talk" and "dreamers," with suggestions of such hypocrisy and broken promises that, at times, it seems as though they rank even lower than those who attempt nothing at all.

Higher up the totem pole come those with a talent for execution but who possess little ground-breaking imagination of their own. We'll respectfully label these with a broad brush, for convenience only, as "professional managers," with apologies to the many obvious exceptions in which hired guns demonstrate tremendous creativity every day on the job, if never applying it to their own grand, secret dreams.

The totem pole's crowning eagle, however, are the "idea" people who also possess the wherewithal to see their ideas through to fruition. These are the rare folks who think big and can make it happen. They already have a contemporary, if buzz-wordish, label: the dreamer-doers.


The Curse of Creative Brilliance

Most highly creative people share a common frustration. Owing to an innate or trained ability to find unexplored territory and identify new opportunities every place they look, dreamer-doers (such as successful entrepreneurs, scientists, and artists) almost always have more ideas than they have time to pursue.

Indeed, one of the biggest challenges for the world's most capable people is possessing the self-discipline to say "no" to exciting things, opting to stay focused on a handful of things done well, rather than attempting to chase down a multitude of things done poorly or halfway. Aside from commitment and follow-through, it is this ability to filter one's favorite 2 or 3 out of 10 potential pursuits that separates the dreamer-doers from the mere dreamers.

On the other hand, intelligent people accept that life has some inherent risks and unexpected turns. We seek strategies to keep options open, our mental portfolios diversified. Contingency plans and fall-back scenarios are normal components of effective strategy. And then there is the entirely healthy repository of possible future endeavors that we call the mind's "back burner," where potential future projects lie dormant or percolating, sometimes for a decade or more, just waiting for a better time to move to the forefront of our attention. And finally, it is sometimes a good idea to simply put goals on hold, if circumstances warrant. This is all to say that it is okay to have more ideas and dreams than we can address simultaneously, so long as these dreams do not compete too much with one another. The problem comes when conflicting dreams become commitments.


Levels of Commitment

Merely making a decision, such as saying to oneself "I'm going to do X," may seem like a commitment, but is it really? Real commitment means cutting off options, taking some action that is difficult or impossible to reverse. And just as the difficulty of such reversal can vary, there are varying degrees of commitment. When you promise something to yourself, that is a weak commitment because reversal requires only your own consent. In contrast, delivering a non-refundable $10,000 down-payment or jumping out of an airplane are significant commitments. When Cortez reached Veracruz, he ordered his own ships to be burned, eliminating the option of retreat. That's a commitment.

While not quite so dramatic as setting ships ablaze, there is a potent form of commitment that works well in modern contexts: social commitment.

Even the most disciplined among us break promises made to ourselves; it's called "changing our mind." There is usually little penalty and it's often the right thing to do. But breaking promises made to other people is so loathsome in our society that we have a whole category of nasty names for those who do it, such as flake, liar, dead-beat, and adulterer.

Most of us are strongly motivated by morality, pride, or fear to avoid such labels and otherwise endeavor to be known as reliable. The most reliable of us keep our word even when doing so requires great effort, inconvenience, or even pain. There is a trick for harnessing this natural tendency if you're having difficulty with procrastination or otherwise following through on one of your goals. The trick is to make a formal public commitment of your intentions. Announce to friends or co-workers that you will do such and such, or better still, that you'll do it by a specific date.

A great example is that of the smoker who makes a toast at a formal gathering, personally promising to everyone in the group that he will not smoke another cigarette for six months (for example), and asking everyone for their support and encouragement. A round of applause ensues. Now imagine the complex whirlwind of psychological forces going through the mind of this person the next time he contemplates lighting up. It's no longer just about fighting nicotine withdrawal; it's about losing face to his peers, looking like a loser, or worse, a liar. Powerful stuff indeed.


Too Much of a Good Thing

But typical dreamer-doers have no problem committing. As stated above, their problem is that they tend to commit to too many things simultaneously. If all of your goals are made public, then a once-good motivational device can become a serious problem if you've promised too much to too many. Dreamer-doers must consciously reign in the desire to talk about their big ideas if they are to avoid becoming slave to their own lofty words, or worse, abandoning some plans and becoming known as just a dreamer, without the -doer.

If a little bit of this keeping-you-honest-by-telling-others motivation is a good thing, then the trick, as always, is to find the right balance, a happy medium. The following tips suggest when to share—and when to not share—your goals with other people:

First, it's okay to share early-stage ideas with a select group of confidantes. (Ideas aren't goals because you haven't committed to yourself yet.) Your confidantes should be people whom you can trust to be discreet and able to provide either support or useful feedback. Either let them know that you'd like to keep the topic under wraps or make it clear that you are still just exploring the idea.

Second, don't make a formal proclamation about your goal to your confidantes or any public group until you have first: a) formally committed to yourself, and b) created a plan for accomplishing your goal. Your plan should be written down or otherwise formally recorded for future reference. Ideally, you will also have taken additional, non-reversible steps to further cement your commitment.

And finally, always remember that actions speak louder than words. So either make your actions very big, or make your words very small. If you want to let people know what you're up to, follow the old adage, "show, don't tell." Not talking sometimes requires an iron will, especially when you're excited by what you're doing. But springing completed successes on people is far more exciting (to you and to them) than telling them what you plan to do. And if, for any reason, you're forced to put your goal on hold—or even abandon it—then no one's the wiser but you.








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