“Always begin with the end in mind”
It is classic advice in the personal development world. I first read it in the 7 Habits of Highly Successful People by Stephen Covey. In fact, that was the first personal development book I ever read. I’ve still got it of course and I still dip into it every now and then.
Since then I’ve read similar advice in many personal development books. In fact, this is advice is not just found in personal development books – it’s found in books about random topics from sport to money. Or as a friend reminded me just yesterday, Anthony Robbins says it another way:
“Know your outcome”.
It’s funny but the deeper I delve into the personal development world, sometimes it’s easy to miss the forest for the trees. No matter how much you work on yourself, no matter how much you work to eradicate fears, build your self esteem etc….very little measurable progress actually happens until you decide where you are trying to get to. Or until you have a clear picture in your mind of what the ‘result’ looks like.
Of course it may never pan out exactly as you first envisage it – it’s normal that things change over time, and this includes our idea of what a perfect outcome looks like. But it you don’t at least have an initial image in mind, then it becomes very easy to become lost, disengaged or de-motivated.
The Difficulty of Imagining the “End”
Of course, beginning with the end in mind or “knowing your outcome” sounds quite simple. Actually it can be extremely difficult and often this is where the most important internal work needs to happen.
The subconscious mind will generally find a way to bring about an outcome that we think about and imagine relentlessly. Yet for many people it’s difficult because they don’t know what they actually want – therefore it’s impossible to build a mental picture of it, let alone take action.
This is, I believe, one of the reasons why the corporate ladder is so attractive to many young to middle-aged professionals. Once you are in a company there is very often only one path to the ‘top’ and therefore the choices of where you can imagine your future are limited.
The driven person thus imagines himself or herself moving up the corporate ladder. The next job becomes the ‘end’ in the mind’s eye. Or it is the ‘outcome’ in the Tony Robbins quote.
The difficulty comes for those of us who don’t want to remain in the corporate rat-race, but want to find our own way, doing our own thing. There are some of course who know exactly what they want to do – they know what their ‘outcome’ is – they just require the courage and self belief to go for it. Or the drive to take action.
Then there are those who are driven and have a long-term envisioned outcome of success, wealth, happiness, freedom etc; but perhaps don’t quite know the ‘mechanism’ for getting there. Start a business? Change career? Re-skill? Go back to college?
I believe it’s the uncertainty around what we truly want the outcome to look like that ultimately costs a lot of people their success. Why the uncertainty? I think it is lack of commitment to one idea; saying a definite ‘yes’ to one picture of the future means saying ‘no’ to everything else.
What can we take from this?
Personally when I reflect on these ideas it seems that the whole process is circular, but that at some point a decision has to be taken.
To be successful we must know our outcome. To know our outcome we must make a decision on what we want to be or achieve. To make a decision on what we want to be or achieve we must know ourselves. That means doing the internal work required to let us see what we truly desire inside – by stripping away all the societal rules and expectations.
Once we know ourselves and what we really want, we can decide to go for it. We can build the mental picture and hold it in mind constantly….then take consistent action towards that outcome.
It all comes back to the same point though: at some point in the process we have to decide what our outcome is. We have to know what the ‘end’ looks like. If we don’t, we drift. It’s the difference between actively creating our life or having life ‘happen’ to us.
Is drifting a problem though?
It depends on the person. Some people seem quite happy to go through life just letting shit happen. However In the book Psycho Cybernetics, Maxwell Maltz emphasises that humans are a ‘goal-seeking’ species.
We are always striving for a goal, whether consciously or not. So either we decide on our outcome and go for it, or our subconscious decides based on emotional or social feedback. This outcome could be to simply get to the end of each working day so that we can sit on the couch.
Research shows that the ‘happiest’ people are those who have a balance between enjoyment and joy in the present moment, and a compelling vision which pulls them forward. My personal experience bears this out. I am generally happiest when working on something that feels like it is leading towards a biggest purpose.
When this is the case, everything else in life seems to fall into place. Knowing that the time I spend working is part of an enjoyable quest, with an end identified by me, allows me to enjoy fully those times when I am not working. I can relax.
On the contrary, when I have no clear target identified I feel uneasy. I feel like I am drifting or wasting my time making money for someone else (or making someone else’s dreams happen). It’s all perception in the end. We can choose to look at our lives any way we want.
Personally, I’d prefer to live life according to my own dreams, setting my own destination and charting my own course. I believe that having an end in mind (or a life vision) actually promotes and facilitates happiness in the present moment – and that, ultimately, is what matters.