Goal setting and life planning

Article by Gideon King, founder of NovaMind

Mind Mapping is great for personal life planning, goal setting and achievement.

If you look at all the articles here, many of the things are helping you with your own personal life planning and achievement. The note taking will help you as you learn new things. The problem solving techniques can be used for solving personal problems too. The to-do lists will help you to remember the important things in your family life. The confidence you will get from giving great presentations, and the language patterns we talked about will help you in negotiations and communication. The ideas from strategic planning and brainstorming can be applied directly to life planning.

So there is really no need to go over that information again in this context.

Instead, I will give you some other key tools you can use right now for life planning, and although this means sharing quite a lot of personal stuff about myself, which is pushing my boundaries a bit, I will do so because I think of you as a friend now, even though the article series is a one way medium, and I believe the things that I will reveal may well help you to live a better, more fulfilled life, and therefore a worthy goal.

Your Statement of Purpose

When you are thinking about your personal vision statement, it can be helpful to mind map out how you want your life to be, thinking about it from multiple perspectives. I like to put together a statement of purpose that covers the areas of:

  • Social
  • Spiritual
  • Physical health
  • Family and relationships
  • Career and business
  • Finance
  • Personal development

In each of these areas, I break down the topic into three sub-topics: Be, Do, and Have. This gives you the identity, activity and ownership aspects of the vision, and as you can see on the Mind Map, this helps bring out different aspects of what you are going to do with your life. I originally put this Mind Map together in late 2005, and have only made minor adjustments to it since then, and I can certainly say that the focus that this has given me has allowed me to already achieve at least 80% of the items mentioned on the Mind Map, maybe even 90% of them, and following this path has opened up a massive list of other opportunities.

All because of the fact that I know where I’m going and have that focus.

Deciding your Life Purpose

But what if you’re not sure what your future should look like? Here are some ideas you might like to think about:

  • you can start from a character assessment of what you are good at and what you enjoy and how you can contribute the most, or
  • you could start from imagining your ideal day in 5 years’ time, or
  • you could go from your dream chart of all the things you want in your life, or
  • you could think about what you would like people to say about you by way of eulogy, or
  • you could combine all of these things to come up with your vision for your purpose.

Self Assessment: Where are you now?

So the next thing we’ll look at is where are you now. Of course you need to have knowledge of both where you are starting from and where you are going to set appropriate milestones along the way, and have a way of measuring your progress, as well as a plan for achieving your goals.

I have put together this template which helped me to understand where I was at the time I did the exercise. You can use this as a template too, so that you understand where you stand.

Basically there are cues there in each of the main 6 areas of life to get you to think about and assess where you stand on each of them.

You can create a Mind Map from this which shows your assessment of yourself in these areas, and add or remove any categories that may be required or not required for your self assessment.

Getting from the Start to the End Point

Once you have both the starting and ending point, it’s pretty much a case of doing a gap analysis and working out the steps to get from the start to the finish, making sure that you have set achievable milestones with appropriate rewards along the way, and that you have in place what is known as an evidence procedure so that you know for certain when you have achieved your goal. In many instances you can make this even easier by working back from the goal and saying “what’s the step before the goal?” and “what’s the step before that”, and reverse engineering it back to where you are now.

How to Take Action

Then you need to know how to take action on your plan, and to assist with this, I have put together this Mind Map to help, because although many people say that time is our most precious resource, I would beg to differ and say that our willpower is probably a more precious and fleeting resource. So here are some ideas:

  • Just do it without allowing yourself to debate it internally or question anything about it
  • Schedule it in as part of your routine – we love to have routines or rituals, and well designed rituals can dramatically increase your productivity

We know that we respond to pleasure and pain, so we can use them as drivers.

Pain is a good instigator of action, but tends not to have such a good long term impact because as soon as we get out of pain, we tend to slack off again.

Pleasure is often not such a strong motivator, but if we can attach an action or goal to a positive trait of our identity or the identity we are building, then this is often strong enough to draw us forward, and unlike pain, generally speaking the pleasure impetus gets stronger over time as we make progress.

Sometimes you need both, so imagining the benefits to yourself and others if you do take the positive action, and the consequences if you don’t, will help you get the willpower to follow through. Often it helps to think worst case scenarios for the pain aspect and really turn up the heat, like for me if I was to fail financially, then I wouldn’t be able to provide for my children and wouldn’t be able to give them a decent education, and they would end up living unhappy and unfulfilled lives, not reaching their potential, so I would basically have screwed up their whole lives. That would be a huge pain motivator for me.

Getting Help

Sometimes it is good to have an accountability buddy, who you have an agreement with, that you will report in to them regularly, maybe every week or even every day that you have accomplished certain specific tasks, and if you don’t, then you have to do something that is painful to you – perhaps you have to give them $500 for every time you don’t complete the tasks. Something so painful that it you are definitely going to follow through on your actions, but not something that is dangerous to your health or going to make you completely broke just because some completely unforeseen circumstances prevented you from achieving your tasks.

So back on to the more positive aspects: it’s a good idea to have role models that you are modeling, and this helps to reinforce the positive aspects, and you act the way you imagine they would in the circumstances.

You should also give yourself rewards of doing things that are fun, and in keeping with your goals – for instance, don’t reward yourself for having being good on a diet by going out and eating a huge cake all by yourself!

Another thing to do is to change your focus so you are thinking about the enjoyable aspects of the tasks you have to do rather than any parts that you may find unpleasant.

The next strategy is to break the task down into manageable parts so that you don’t feel overwhelmed by it, and just do it bit by bit (hint: Mind Maps are great for this!).

And finally, you can list all the things you need to do, and then prioritize them according to importance and urgency, and then potentially delegate some tasks, or just work through them in the order you know is best.

So there are a few ideas around taking action, but the most important part of it is at the bottom: always know why you are taking action! If there’s a big enough “why”, then you will find the motivation, the money, the resources and a way to achieve it all.

How to Take Action

This is something that I think about in regard to all my major goals and objectives, and I distill it down to:

  • why this benefits me,
  • why it benefits those around me,
  • and why it benefits the world

So for instance, when I’m thinking about my plans for NovaMind, and my goal for taking it to the mass market, I’m thinking that while there is obviously a benefit for me personally, I’m thinking more about the benefits to my staff and the things I will be able to do with the business to make NovaMind even more powerful and easier to use, but even more than that, I am thinking about the benefits to the world in general, because of the proven benefits of Mind Mapping to improve productivity, help make better decisions so that there is less conflict in the world, and develop better project plans so there is less wastage of time, money and resources etc. The world is a better place because of NovaMind, so the more people use it, the better the world will be, and the more people buy it, the better I can afford to make it, which in turn benefits even more people. The clarity I have around this purpose has led to some amazing opportunities opening up for NovaMind.

Even for more personal things, you still need to relate them to the bigger picture of their impact on everyone around you, and the impact on the world. Take for example something that is very personal: the search for the right life partner. Now there are obvious benefits to yourself and to your family, but if you have well defined goals, as a team, you will be able to accomplish more and more quickly, by joining forces, joining goals, and pouring your combined resources into fulfilling your combined life goals, which will have an even greater impact on the world through the things you will be able to achieve together.

Also for each main attribute of the overall goal, you can ask the same questions about how it benefits you, how it benefits those around you, and how it benefits the world. So seeing as we were talking about finding a partner, and I could ask the same questions for myself – why do I want her to be intelligent and literate?, why healthy and energetic?, why adventurous?, why beautiful? Sure, there are benefits for me in those attributes, but with each one of those characteristics in a partner, it would be a case of 1 + 1 = 11 as far as our goals and impact for good on the world is concerned. The clarity I have gained around this has led to me meeting some amazing people, and being able to quickly work out how aligned our values are.

I guess the main point here is that with all your goals, think of the wider picture than just yourself and put together goals that are also good for everyone they impact, and look at how you can extend them to have a positive impact that extends as far as possible.

Following through on your goals

There is often a problem with following through with these goals and plans. You see, when you have those goals in place, it’s easy to live in a world of delayed gratification, or getting lost amongst the big goals, or just losing the energy and willpower to continue. So you need something that will allow you to know that you are on track every day, and give you reassurance that you are going in the right direction towards your goals.

The last part of this article is based around my personal hierarchy of values, so if you are planning to use it, make sure you alter it to match your values and your goals. To create this “Spiral of life” mind map, I started by looking at my values and what is important to me to have in my life in order for me to be living the life that will fulfill my dreams and goals, and then I put them into a hierarchy because many of the items are not possible without others that come before them. For instance, it would be difficult for me to maintain focus and dedication if I was not healthy and energetic, and it would be difficult for me to grow and learn if I was unable to focus and dedicate myself to something.

These represent the things I want to feel on a consistent basis in my life, because I know that when I do, I’m heading squarely towards my goals, but like most people, I had seriously bad rules around when I would allow myself to feel this way. For instance, I used to think that the only time I was adding value to people was if I would go for about a month with no bug reports in NovaMind and receiving praise about the capabilities most days, and that at the same time I was making money from it, and keeping my family happy and well cared for. Notice how all the items are joined with “and“. All those things had to happen at the same time, for an extended time period, and some of them were outside my control, but they all had to happen, and then I would feel that I was making some kind of contribution. As you can imagine, I didn’t feel that feeling very often!

So I was doing one of Anthony Robbins’ trainings, and he talked about having a menu of options to feel these positive emotions. I could see that I was totally blocking myself from achieving my goals by my harsh rules, so I changed the rules, and you can see how easy it is for me to feel any of those emotions, because if *any one* of those things happens, I give myself permission to feel that emotion. So what is the impact of that? Well I am getting constant positive feedback every day, and that naturally keeps me on the right path.

Let’s take today as an example. All 16 of the things I want in my life happened today, and many of them were fulfilled in multiple ways, so I’ll use this as an example, and mention just some of the ways in which they were fulfilled:

  1. Health and Energy: I felt great, which would in itself have fulfilled number 1, but also I went to a dance class (learning Zouk Lambada, Salsa, and Forro), so I absolutely nailed #1 today
  2. Knowledge & Understanding: well my dance class increased my knowledge and understanding, and of course writing this article is also another fulfilment of #2
  3. Focus & Dedication: I have been focussing on creating the new web site today, and have also learned some Ruby coding from a web site, and have done my best both at work, at home, and in my dance class, so that’s #3 covered.
  4. Growing & Learning: again, this is covered by my dancing class and the coding methods that I learned, and I watched a short educational video, so that’s #4
  5. Happiness & Fun: I absolutely love dancing, so that’s an easy one for #5
  6. Love & Connectedness: I chatted with my sister on Skype, emailed my father, had a big hug with my daughter, and got to meet up with all my dancing friends, so #6 is easily taken care of
  7. Intelligence: I am making the best use I can of my knowledge through this article to assist, so that is #7
  8. Honesty & Integrity: I did some work on the Mac OS X 10.5 compatible version of NovaMind 5, which is something that I am only doing because I said 2 years ago that I would, and for my integrity need to create at least one release of NovaMind 5 that runs on that operating system, so #8 is dealt with
  9. Resourcefulness: I have used NovaMind, Photoshop, research on the Internet, and knowledge of various tools and techniques to produce the articles I have been working on today
  10. Creativity & Inventiveness: I have created this article and all the Mind Maps that are used in it, as well as the software used to produce the Mind Maps, so there’s tons of creativity and inventiveness at work there
  11. Confidence & Courage: I used my confidence at dancing to lead some very difficult (for me anyway) moves, and it worked out well (yay!)
  12. Passion: I’m absolutely passionate about my dancing, and enthusiastic about these articles and the new web site and the new versions of NovaMind we are producing etc.
  13. Beauty & Elegance: I have been listening to some great music today, and dancing is always elegant, and I was talking to a cute girl at the supermarket this evening, so that’s #13 well and truly taken care of
  14. Being Inspiring: I think this article could be useful to someone else – at least I hope so! – and also I sent some information to several customers, so that’s #14.
  15. Service, Contribution & Adding Value: I have been providing information and tools through this article and through NovaMind, so that’s #15.
  16. Adventure & Discovery: The things we were learning at dancing were new to me, so that’s #16

So as you can see, it’s easy to feel the progress for most, if not all of those areas every day. I don’t have to do anything truly earth shattering to be on the right track and know that I’m on the right track. Often, one activity will cater to a number of the areas.

All this means that I’m living my values, which means that I don’t have inner conflicts over what I am doing and what I “should” be doing, because I know I am doing the right thing according to my life plan.

And the reason I call it a spiral is because each item builds naturally on the others, and as you go through it day by day, it is building, and you find yourself achieving big things in each of those areas. The foundations are at the start of the spiral and the big payoffs both for self and the world are at the end of each cycle.

The Keys

Now I believe that the three biggest keys to all of this are health, learning and effectiveness. I hope what I have already shared with you will help you a lot with these key areas, especially with effectiveness in all areas of your life.

I really hope this article has been and will be useful to you, and that you will download and use this document, in order to create a better life for yourself and those around you, to the benefit of all.

Click to download the Mind Map document used in this article.