Visions, Strategies and Tactics
Anyone who has spent time with me knows that I’m a big fan of setting goals. I’ve coached dozens of people on how to set, and achieve, goals. One common theme I have noticed among novice goal-setters is a tendency to focus a disproportionate amount of attention on the “to-do” lists that are the foundation of any project or accomplishment. While tasks are critical in achieving a goal, strategies must drive the tactics. But before you can prioritize the strategies, you must have a crystal-clear vision of what achieving your goal will look and feel like in order to stay diligent and reach even your loftiest goals.
When I begin working with a new goal-setter, I ask them to start by thinking about some of their visions (also commonly called goals). I like to call goals visions because it helps if you can actually picture yourself where you will be when you achieve your vision. The science behind the power of visualization techniques is well documented, and having a clear vision of what you will look and feel like is a strong motivator to maintain the focus necessary in achieving goals. It’s also helpful to surround yourself with visual cues that conjure up your visions. For example, I review and update my goals every December while traveling over the holidays. Once they are complete, I find a great location to read them out loud to myself and take a picture of the scenery. Then I use that photo to create a new mouse pad for my office as a daily reminder to stay focused on my goals.
For new goal-setters, quite frequently their initial visions are actually tactics. For example, someone might set the goal of losing 10 pounds, which is really just a tactic towards a greater goal that they have yet to articulate, even to themselves. It typically takes several rounds of pushing back on someone’s goals to lead them to their true visions, and they get there by understanding the roles of where, what and how in goal setting. “Where” you see yourself is the driving question behind understanding your vision. Losing 10 pounds is a great goal, but when you achieve that, “where” will you BE? A bit thinner, sure, but also healthier. So the goal, the vision, is really “healthy body.” The reason so many people gain and lose the same 10 pounds is that achieving and maintaining your ideal body weight requires a long-term strategy that you can’t build until you have a clear vision.
People often hesitate when they arrive at their true visions because they often sound quite generic, or even far-reaching. Doesn’t everybody want to have a healthy body? I encourage people to embrace the commonalities that we as humans share as the building blocks of their personal goal-setting process. Take, for example, the ultimate generic vision: world peace. Yes, that’s a true stretch goal that, of course, everybody wants. If you don’t reach for it, you could be working just as hard for a lesser result. For example, if a genie gave you three wishes, you wouldn’t burn them by asking for peace between Iran and Iraq, Israel and Palestine, and ISIS and al Qaeda; you’d wish for world peace and still have two left to deal with those 10 pounds! So if world peace is your true vision and you “only” bring peace to the Middle East, you’ve achieved a great accomplishment that would not likely have occurred if you had set your goals lower.
So if the “where” (vision) is to have a healthy body, “what” does that mean to you? The “what” questions drive the strategy and is where we start to differentiate from each other by deciding what your vision means to you. What, exactly, do you have to do to arrive at your vision of a healthy body? For one person it might mean maintaining a certain weight, but to another person it could be achieving the highest levels of athletic performance. The strategies are where we round out the factors that define your vision. The path to a healthy body requires a plan around diet and fitness, which could include specific strategies like eliminating processed foods, exercising five times a week and maintaining a desired weight or size. Keeping these strategies top-of-mind will allow you to course correct when you see yourself straying too far off track.
Once you have a clear vision in your mind and can simply articulate the strategies that define that vision for you, it’s time to answer the “how” question. You need to decide how you are going to get there and what, exactly, you need to do more of and what you need to do less of to reach your goal. Listing out the tactics can quickly become very overwhelming as you discover some tactics have extensive “to-do” lists associated with them. For example, you might decide that the best way to ensure you work out five times a week is to hire a personal trainer, so your task list for this tactic could include researching and joining a gym, purchasing workout clothes, even things like creating music playlists to make the time enjoyable or putting your workouts into your calendar on a reoccurring basis. The more organized you are at the tactic level, the better your chances of reaching your goal. This is because being able to check things off your list has the psychological benefit of showing progress and can motivate you to stay focused and determined. Because of this, you will want to constantly refresh your tactics to adjust to where you are on your path. Once certain things become habitual, adding something new will serve as a continued reminder of your end goal. For example, once you’re working out five days a week religiously, perhaps you can decide that you’re going to get off the subway one stop earlier to squeeze in extra exercise over the summer. In the winter you might change that to getting off the elevator five flights lower than your apartment and walking up the stairs. Simple daily tasks can be a constant reminder that you proactively live a healthy lifestyle, which might cause you pause when you find yourself about to do something inconsistent with your desired identity. If I’m someone who gets up at 5 a.m. to work out, do I also want to be someone who eats an entire pizza at 2 a.m.? Are my actions consistent with my vision?
By taking a holistic approach to setting your visions, strategies and tactics, you increase your chances of making positive, lasting changes that improve your quality of life. When you can go from being just one more person who “really needs to lose 10 pounds” to someone who continually strives to make their body the strongest and healthiest it can be, your entire outlook shifts from focusing on a negative attribute that doesn’t make you feel good about yourself, to a positive, empowered enlightenment. You and only you control the goals you have for yourself and, ultimately, the outcome.