“Continuous effort—not strength or intelligence—is the key to unlocking our potential.”
— Winston Churchill
I haven’t always been as intentional about the life I want to live as I am now. And I haven’t always been as successful at getting what I want.
Now I know that simple old-fashioned formal planning about my life makes getting what I want much more of a sure thing.
Earlier in my life I probably could not have easily identified what I wanted. For instance when I had been married 17 years the first time, and I had three teen-age children, I was depressed, confused, and adrift with no vision or strategies for my life.
I remember toward the end of the marriage trying to gain perspective, aghast that we seemed like characters in a madhouse drama. We were all suffering, but no one had a clue about how we could create a happy future for our family.
We had no formal plan for our lives.
I learn about formal planning
In a new job a couple of years later, my boss told me that all of his employees were required to develop what he called “goals and objectives.” I knew about management by objectives, but I had never been required by an employer to write down my work goals and objectives and then negotiate them with my boss each quarter.
The final written product of our individual planning—g’s and o’s—as we all called them was only a page or two, but we all knew exactly what was expected of us.
I liked the thoughtfulness of the process, and I liked the personal attention. My boss sat down with me each quarter and talked to me about my job in detail, something I had not experienced before. Our office was a highly focused and productive workplace.
As the boss myself, I add personal development to planning
I was the boss in my next job as CEO of a low performing organization of 35 employees. I took the formal planning process with individual employees into my new workplace.
My employees found it difficult and frightening. They were not skilled in planning of this sort, and they were intimidated by the accountability of the process. Many of them left the organization in the next few months.
I added what I called Personal Development to the usual categories of work, so that each quarter employees got to set personal development goals for the quarter with the help of their supervisor. Personal development goals might be around further education, health, relationships with colleagues, skill development for promotions, or even intimate issues around marriage and family.
With all of our employees growing and developing intentionally, we evolved into an innovative dynamo. We became a recognized leader in our field and ultimately trained thousands of leaders all over the country in our organizational processes.
The key to our success was not mystical: the key to our success was unlocking the potential of each individual employee through a highly formal planning process that involves these steps:
1. Identify the outcomes you want in your life
I pulled from my files quarterly plans from 18 years ago to see what priorities my plan focused on back then.. I saw that the Personal Development section of my quarterly plans focused on building a closer relationship with my children, who by then were adults, living in other states with their own children. Here’s part of my quarterly plan 18 years ago:
This kind of planning helped me stay focused on a top priority for my life: learning how to love and demonstrating that love to my children.
I kept this outcome in my quarterly planning for years because convincing my children that I loved them turned out to be more difficult than I had supposed. I needed to provide deep proof that I could be counted on to overcome their caution and reserve in our relationship.
My formal planning paid off, keeping my top priority for growth in front of me. Finally, I didn’t have to work so hard at being loving. It just comes naturally now.
In the last two years, a new outcome has emerged as I listen to what wants to emerge in my life. Here’s part of my current quarterly plan
I have been drawn to understanding my own self-pity and victimhood. My greatest desire is to remain balanced and composed—in a constant state of equanimity.
I plan formally to get what I want most—a sustained poise that allows me to live a vibrant life of joy and practical advantage.
2. Identify strategies to move you toward the outcomes you want
Once we know the outcomes we want to achieve in our lives right now, we need strategies to move us toward the outcomes.
Strategies are our approach to getting what we want. In my current plan above, I want to achieve mastery of poise, the state of consciousness that allows me to have access to my love and my full powers.
The two strategies in my plan above have focused my life on expanding my consciousness in very deliberate ways.
First, I am examining the issues of poise at the deepest levels I can. Second, I capture my learning in my writing and share it with others. These strategies now absorb my entire work life, and allow me to practice sustaining my poise in my personal life every day.
Sometimes we need to change our strategies, but these two are working for me now.
3. Build accountability for growth with specific measures of progress
Conscious planning must include accountability. To build accountability into our plans, we need to identify specific indicators that will measure if our strategies are working.
I’m careful in setting these measurements. I like to succeed, and when I see at the end of each quarter that I did everything I committed to, I know that I have given my best and can step back in peace.
Asking and receiving
I see that, yes, it is true: ask and you shall receive—if we are in a certain state of consciousness.
But knowing what to ask for requires some planning. Then, armed with a careful plan, we make sure that we will receive.