Life Planning

Life Planning and Goal Achievement

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Article by Gideon King, founder of NovaMind

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

In the other articles on the NovaMind web site, there are many concepts and specific tools that help with your own personal life planning and achievement. There are things like:

  • Note taking will help you as you learn new things,
  • The problem solving techniques can be used for solving personal problems too,
  • To-do lists will help you to remember important things in your family life and organize your time effectively,
  • The confidence you will get from giving great presentations and the language patterns that we talked about in that tutorial 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 here.

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 want to share the benefits of what I have found out so that hopefully you can live a better, more fulfilled life.

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. 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 review it each year. I have only made minor adjustments to it over time, since it reflects pretty well what I am all about. 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, 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 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, get started even if you don’t know how or when you will be able to finish.

Schedule it in as part of your routine – we love to have routines or rituals, and well designed rituals can dramatically increase your productivity. Also if something is particularly hard, scheduling a small amount of time like 10 or 20 minutes on the task and rewarding yourself with 20 minutes off or doing something more enjoyable can help you keep the momentum going.

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 initial 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.

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.

It can also be good for you to celebrate with your accountability buddy to get positive reinforcement going.

It’s a good idea to have role models that you are modeling. This helps to reinforce the positive aspects, and you act the way you imagine they would in the circumstances. Go as deep into understanding them as you can, right down to their motivators, their reactions to problems, the people they associate with, and even down to how they walk and talk. The closer you emulate them, the more likely you are to get the same results. Be careful not to put them on a pedestal as if they were perfect. Everyone has flaws, and you want to recognize them too and obviously not emulate the flaws.

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 “how” – the motivation, the money, the resources and a way to achieve it all.

Beneficiaries of my Goals

Something that I think about in regard to all my major goals and objectives is who benefits and how. I distill it down to:

  • how this benefits me,
  • how it benefits those around me,
  • and how 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.

NovaMind brings so many benefits:

  • you can make better decisions so as to have less conflict, and you can always understand why you made the decision you made
  • you are able to plan your activities better so you waste less time, money and other resources
  • the improved productivity produces results faster and to a higher quality so you can contribute better no matter what you are doing with your life

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.

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.

This part of this tutorial 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 almost no bug reports in NovaMind and receiving praise about the capabilities most days, and that at the same time I was making good 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. Some of them were outside my control, but they all had to happen at once, 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.

Look at how easy it is to accomplish each of these. For instance, for the first one, the only thing I need to to is feel a sense of wellbeing. Number 1 done, just like that. Sure this is a baby step, but it’s a step in the right direction, and even if I do something on only half of those things each day, I will have taken 8 steps towards my life goals. It’s progress, and often one single activity will cater for a number of the different areas.

The thing is that it keeps your focus in the right direction and your subconscious looking for opportunities to do things that are in alignment with your life purpose. If you miss one aspect of your life today you will be aware of it and give it a bit more emphasis the following day, and every day you are building on the foundation of everything you have done previously. This is a fantastic way to consistently and easily advance towards your goals, and you are aware and confident that you are on the right track.

This also gets rid of any inner conflicts over what you are doing and what you “should be” doing because you know you are following your life plan.

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.

When the going gets tough

This is where it gets very personal, and I would not normally share this level of information but I think that it has the potential to help you, so I will go ahead. First a bit of background.

I’ve been building NovaMind for 14 years now, and during that time I’ve had many really hard challenges to overcome, but 2014 was the year from hell. I had so many ambitious plans, but so many things went wrong. On top of the stress of the previous years, it hit me hard on mental, emotional and physical levels. But I got through the troubles, and I want to share some of the things that I learned so that if you are ever in such a tough spot, hopefully these things that I found useful to get through it will help you too.

On reflection, the three main areas I had challenges were overwhelm, motivation, and physical challenges.

The overwhelm came from the sheer size of the project, working on doubling the number of platforms supported, introducing new capabilities, redesigning the entire website from the ground up, and replacing all the back-end processing systems and sales and support systems for the new subscription model…all at once. I was essentially betting the last 14 years of work and the future of my children and my employees on this working, but I knew that by making these changes I would be in a position to deliver much better and more compelling products for our customers in the future, and hopefully it would work out from the business perspective. My primary objective has always been to provide the best solutions to the NovaMind customers, but of course I need to live and look after my children and pay my staff, so it needs to work as a business too. Although it turned out to be a very rocky road to get there, it does look as if we will be able to fulfil all my dreams and really turn NovaMind into what I have always wanted it to be.

The motivation issues also stemmed from overwhelm and the number of times things went wrong. Everything that could go wrong did. For 14 years I have been trying to build the absolute best Mind Mapping application for our customers, and have given up many things to advance that goal. We have made massive progress and produce great software, but there are so many other things I want to do to improve it further. But roadblocks keep appearing and blocking my progress. Each time I have to pick myself up and renew my focus on delivering what I know is the best I can do for our customers given the time and resources available, despite the daunting size of the task. I had to develop effective strategies to do this.

Then right at the critical point when it seemed to be all done and ready to go, more major disasters struck, meaning that it was a rollercoaster of the high of achieving what had seemed like an impossible goal only for it to fail. Picking myself up from that and carrying on to see the project through to completion was even harder than anything I had faced before and my previous strategies weren’t enough so I had to work out even more strategies to get over the line.

All of these things led to physical challenges with muscles locking up due to the stress, making it difficult to do any work, and also the endless hours sitting in front of the computer taking a toll on my physical health. Also the fact that I haven’t had a holiday for over 4.5 years and only had one weekend off last year are contributing factors.

So I had some serious challenges to overcome, and these are some of my techniques for getting through it and achieving the desired outcome.

Here are some suggestions for dealing with overwhelm. We have already seen that breaking tasks down into smaller more achievable tasks helps a lot, as do having milestones, rewards and evidence procedures. When you are trying to achieve difficult goals, one of the biggest things that stops you is having too many options and possibilities. Sometimes you don’t know whether it is best to do one task or another, and many times you don’t have complete information to be able to make a fully informed decision. This can rob your energy from actually achieving it. So choose the one that seems to be the best right now, and if they both seem of similar importance, just pick one. But once you have decided, you have decided and you don’t second guess yourself. Keep working on that thing until either you have completed it or you are unable to go any further.

In the Statement of Purpose and Spiral of Life Mind Maps, there are many things that go into making a fulfilled life, but when you have to get something done, you can’t have every day or even every week balanced in every respect. You need to focus on the main thing you are achieving and the things that directly support your ability to achieve those goals. The very fact that you have those wider objectives in your purpose and intent will mean that you can come back and address those things when you are past the current crisis. The big thing is to not beat yourself up over this and think you “should” be doing something different.

As the pressure increased, I had a timer which I would set for 20 minutes. I would shut off all external communications and just work solidly for 20 minutes, and then for 10 minutes I could do whatever I wanted. Later on, when things were really going wrong even that was too much and I had to shorten the working time, but having a fixed time meant that I could muster up enough energy to complete that amount of time because it is finite and over soon.

At another stage in the process I switched my working hours so that I was working 5 hours a day. I was still working 7 days a week, but I figured that if I really put in 5 hours of solid concentrated work a day it would accomplish more than the 16-18 hours a day I had been putting in where I was not fully focussed. And that worked for a while too, and got me past a few more challenges.

One thing I really need to stress is that all of this is a menu of choices, and what works today may well not work at all for you tomorrow, and in some cases it may well get to the stage where what worked half an hour ago doesn’t work now. So if you have a big Mind Map of possible ways of dealing with different issues, then you can go to your list and pick one or even a combination of them to try. The most important thing to do is to recognize when something isn’t working and choose a different strategy to get through that particular challenge.

When you really are not coping well with the many tasks you have to do, you just have to dial it back to the absolute basics. At one stage I was right down to achieving just one small thing a day. My body was to tense from the stress that I had to use a hotpack just about all the time just to be able to move and I could only concentrate on work for 5-10 minutes at a time and then would have to lie on the floor for 20 minutes before trying again. It was very frustrating, but each day I made progress and eventually pulled myself out of it.

Sometimes alone time either to work or to relax is essential. Coping with other humans can just throw you off your purpose, even if they are not talking to you; even if they are not even in the same room. And other times you need to be with people. No matter what you are feeling at the time, when you are under heavy stress, my experience is that you need to go with it, and again, not think that it is wrong in any way. It is just a phase that you have to go through to get past the particular challenge mentally so you are ready to take the next steps forward in solving the current problems.

I’m a single father with three children who live with me, so sometimes it was difficult to get alone time when I needed it, and I tried to pretend to myself that it wasn’t important and that I would just get over it, but it would still be there nagging at the back of my mind until I actually addressed it. But what I did find is that sometimes just getting up and going outside for a few minutes would be enough to get past it for at least several hours. I would also walk up to the mailbox at the end of the driveway, about 100m away, enjoying the sunshine and sound of the birds and the trees, and then by the time I got back I was ready to get back to work for a bit longer.

When it comes to motivation, as we saw before, pain is a good instigator of action, but the anticipation of pleasure will provide a steadier long term pull. So again I had a menu of things on both sides of the equation. As you know I have big life goals, and am only too aware of my mortality, so want to live the best life I can for myself, my family, my wider circle of friends and acquaintances, my customers, and the world in general. Anything that gets in the way of that is a pain point for me, and the inability to fulfil my life goals would be terrible.

Of course I want to be able to provide the best for my children, and that is a great motivator.

I also feel a strong responsibility towards my customers. Those are the people who have put their faith in me to provide the tools for them to be effective and efficient in their lives, their business, their education, and their contributions to the world. That is something that I am keenly aware of, and every time something goes wrong which makes it harder to provide the best for them, it hurts.

And drawing me forward are the rewards of accomplishment, including being able to create the best Mind Mapping application for all platforms, being able to spend more time with my children, having more time to go latin dancing (which is one of my great passions in life), being able to travel and go on holidays, having time to socialize with my friends and rebuild old relationships and establish new ones, having the funds to be able to buy a great car. Many of these things are supported by having photos of things like the car I want to buy and the places I want to travel, watching videos about them, and I even currently have the car I plan to buy as my desktop background. And of course I’m looking forward to have the time and emotional availability to get back into dating.

Of course you’ll have your own pain points and motivators but for me I have found that when the going got really tough the things that motivated me one day were not enough to drive me to continue the next day, and at its worst I needed to switch motivators sometimes several times in a day. One thing that I didn’t realize for quite some time is that sometimes I needed to bring in a combination of motivators both from the pleasure and pain perspectives at the same time in order to get moving when I was really stuck.

One thing that I found was that as the pressure increased I tended to eat more and exercise less and I could tell that I was getting grumpier. So I started going to the gym, and now go for a 40 minute run at the gym 5 days a week, do some stretches, and spend about 10 minutes in the steam room and 10 minutes in the sauna. My routine is to exercise in the middle of the day so that I get two completely fresh starts a day. The gym is usually not busy in the middle of the day and I usually have the sauna and steam room to myself, and found that some of my best ideas and solutions to tricky problems come when relaxing in the steam room or sauna.

As you may have gathered by now I am a very keen latin dancer, and when I was under that immense pressure it was a real life-saver. You get exercise as well as physical contact, the beauty of the music and elegance of the movement as you create something beautiful and sensual out of nothing, and there is also a great social circle there, so it just covers so many different aspects of what you need to be happy. I couldn’t have made it without dancing.

When my muscles were locking up due to the stress, I started getting therapeutic massages – an hour massage once a week, and that really helped loosen me enough so that I could work for longer before needing to take a break and lie on the hotpack.

I also introduced into my daily schedule a guided meditation. I had a few different ones that I used, but most of the time I stuck with a hypnotic induction by Paul McKenna from a program called “Change your life in 7 days.” It takes about 28 minutes, and I found it to be similar to the sauna and steam room at the gym in that I could completely relax and reset, and start work again with renewed focus.

These are all things that worked for me during the accomplishment of the goals to get the new NovaMind complete. I hope that if you are ever under that level of stress and facing similar challenges that you will find this useful. And above all, go easy on yourself – if you have big goals and a direction to your life, rolling with the punches will get you a lot further than beating yourself up over your inability to achieve the impossible.

The Keys

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 tutorial 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.

Show Life Planning Mind Map Document in NovaMind Cloud

Download as NM5 file

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