Most People Aim at Nothing in Life – and Hit it with Amazing Accuracy

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There's an old say­ing: "Most peo­ple aim at noth­ing in life … and hit it with amaz­ing accu­ra­cy." It's a sad com­men­tary about peo­ple, but it's true. It is the striv­ing for and the attain­ment of goals that makes life mean­ing­ful. Lewis Car­roll stat­ed this point beau­ti­ful­ly in Alice in Won­der­land:

ALICE: Mr. Cat, which of these paths shall I take?
CHESHlRE CAT: Well, my dear, where do you want to go?
ALICE: I don't sup­pose it real­ly mat­ters.
CHESHlRE CAT: Then, my dear, any path will do!

No mat­ter what kind of trav­el­ing you're doing, whether it's through life or across the coun­try by car, if you don't know where you're going, you'll nev­er know if you've arrived. Tak­ing just any road will leave your ful­fill­ment to chance. That's not good enough.

Peo­ple who have no goals feel emo­tion­al­ly, social­ly, spir­i­tu­al­ly, phys­i­cal­ly, and pro­fes­sion­al­ly unbal­anced. This can only cause anx­i­ety. Peo­ple who have goals are respect­ed by their peers; they are tak­en seri­ous­ly. Mak­ing deci­sions that affect the direc­tion of your life pos­i­tive­ly is a sign of strength. Goals cre­ate dri­ve and pos­i­tive­ly affect your per­son­al­i­ty.

The 3‑Percent Solu­tion

Time mag­a­zine report­ed on a nation­al sur­vey sev­er­al years ago that only 3 per­cent of those sur­veyed had writ­ten per­son­al goals; 97 per­cent of the peo­ple had no goals at all or had only thought about them. They had not com­mit­ted their goals to writ­ing. Inter­est­ing­ly the 3 per­cent who had writ­ten goals were found to have accom­plished much more than any of the 97 per­cent.

Step­ping-stones to Great­ness

Achieve­ments come from aware­ness, which starts with eval­u­at­ing your strengths and weak­ness­es in the light of your cur­rent sit­u­a­tion. You then expand your beliefs (assump­tions) to accept more goals for your­self. This leads you to set plans and expand your actions to even­tu­al­ly achieve your goals. The mod­el for this process is:


One step leads to anoth­er. After an achieve­ment, you reeval­u­ate your­self and find that each new feath­er in your cap makes you feel capa­ble of accom­plish­ing more and more. Your beliefs (assump­tions) then expand, mak­ing more goals pos­si­ble. The effect gains momen­tum and grows like a snow­ball rolling down­hill. In this way, great­ness is achieved through small step­ping­stones.

Rules Of Goal Set­ting

Most peo­ple, when asked, "What are your goals in life?" say some­thing like, "To be hap­py, healthy, and have plen­ty of mon­ey." On the sur­face this may seem fine. As goals lead­ing to actions, how­ev­er, they just don't make it. They don't have the key ingre­di­ents nec­es­sary to make them effec­tive, work­able goals.

Your goal must be per­son­al. This means your goals must be uttered with sin­cer­i­ty. It must be some­thing you want to do rather than some­thing you think you should do. Know your rea­sons for hav­ing the goal. Whether you want to achieve some­thing for sta­tus, mon­ey, or good health is sec­ondary as long as you want it bad­ly enough to work hard for it.

Your goal must be pos­i­tive. Try not to think of green ele­phants! You can't do it. It's an auto­mat­ic response to think of the thing you're told not to think about. This is because the mind can­not not think of some­thing when told to. We tend to focus on ideas and actions from a pos­i­tive frame­work. When you think a neg­a­tive thought such as, " I will not smoke today," your mind per­ceives it as "I will smoke today." You end up think­ing more about smok­ing than if you phrased it dif­fer­ent­ly. "I will breathe only clean air today" is a state­ment that serves the same pur­pose and is more effec­tive.

Your goal must be writ­ten. Writ­ing a goal down caus­es effects that are a bit dif­fi­cult to explain. It does, nonethe­less, prove effec­tive. Writ­ten goals take a jump in sta­tus from being neb­u­lous thoughts (which you didn't care enough about to bona fide enti­ties on paper.) Per­haps their being writ­ten serves as a visu­al reminder and thus con­tin­u­al­ly recon­firms their impor­tance. Anoth­er pos­si­bil­i­ty is that they can be seen in the state­ment from the movie, "The Ten Com­mand­ments": "So let it be writ­ten, so let it be done." When things are "put in writ­ing" they become offi­cial in our minds. A writ­ten goal strength­ens our com­mit­ment to accom­plish it.

Your goal must be spe­cif­ic. If you set your goal by say­ing "I will increase my sales next year," chances are you won't do it. You need to be spe­cif­ic to avoid the lack of com­mit­ment that comes with being vague. A more work­able and moti­vat­ing goal would be, "I will increase my sales next year by 10 to 15 per­cent. This revised state­ment has sev­er­al advan­tages. It defines the increase that you are striv­ing for as well as the range of the desired increase. Giv­ing your­self some lee­way is more real­is­tic than expect­ing to hit your goal at exact­ly 15 per­cent.

Your goal must be a chal­lenge. A goal must moti­vate you to work hard­er than you have in the past. It must move you for­ward. Set your goals just beyond your reach so that you'll have to stretch a bit. The more you stretch, the more lim­ber your goal achiev­ing abil­i­ties will become.

Your goal must be real­is­tic. Every­thing is rel­a­tive to time and space. What is unre­al­is­tic today may be total­ly with­in rea­son five years from now. For years it was believed that the fastest a man could run a mile was in four min­utes. It was unre­al­is­tic to aspire to run­ning any faster until Dr. Roger Ban­nis­ter broke the four-minute mile in 1954. Since then hun­dreds of run­ners have done the same. In any field, we nev­er real­ly know what the upper lim­its are. How, then, do we define real­is­tic?

For our pur­pos­es, the best def­i­n­i­tion must come from you and your val­ues. You must ask your­self, "What price am I will­ing to pay to accom­plish this goal?" You should always weigh the pay­offs and the sac­ri­fices involved before com­ing to a con­clu­sion. Real­is­tic is ulti­mate­ly your deci­sion.

Work­ing Toward Your Goals

Now that you know the rules for set­ting goals, you can apply them to the goals you set for your­self. Here's an expla­na­tion of each of the areas you need to com­plete while Work­ing Toward Your Goals…

Define your goal. Your first task is to deter­mine whether your goal meets all the require­ments of the rules list­ed above. If it does, then write it as clear­ly as pos­si­ble at the top of the work­sheet.

Exam­ine obsta­cles that stand in your way. This is a time to guard against neg­a­tive assump­tions and oth­er self-defeat­ing thoughts. Remem­ber the def­i­n­i­tion of real­is­tic. An obsta­cle blocks you only if you let it. You should also write down your inno­v­a­tive ways of over­com­ing obsta­cles.

W.I.I.F.M.-What's in it for me? Why do you want to achieve the goal? What kind of pay­off is moti­vat­ing you?

Plan your action. You need to care­ful­ly list the steps you will take which will bring you clos­er to your goal. The small­er the incre­ments the eas­i­er they will be to accom­plish. There is a Ger­man proverb that says, " He who begins too much accom­plish­es lit­tle." As the Amer­i­can Den­tal Asso­ci­a­tion is fond of say­ing, "Don't bite off more than you can chew."

Project a tar­get date for your goal. State your dead­line range, such as, "between March 15 and April 1st." Think care­ful­ly about the amount of time you need. Too lit­tle time will increase the pres­sure and frus­trate you. Too much time may reduce your dri­ve.

Know how you'll mea­sure your suc­cess. Goals should be described in terms of the final out­come of an activ­i­ty rather than as the activ­i­ty. This is part of being spe­cif­ic. Instead of say­ing "I will be run­ning more in four to six months," you could say "I'll be run­ning three miles instead of two miles in four to six months." How will you mea­sure this? Prob­a­bly by hav­ing one-third more blis­ters on your feet.


Visu­al­iza­tion is an indis­pens­able tool in help­ing peo­ple attain their goals. Olympic ath­letes have proven that visu­al­iza­tion is an effec­tive sub­sti­tute for real prac­tice. In visu­al­iz­ing your goals, you will live your accom­plish­ments in your mind's eye. The more of the five sens­es you can involve in this exer­cise the greater your chances are of accom­plish­ment.

Let's say, for exam­ple, that you want to be the Sales­per­son of the Year in your com­pa­ny. You know that each year an awards ban­quet is giv­en dur­ing which a plaque is pre­sent­ed to the year's sales leader. You may choose to focus on this ban­quet for your visu­al­iza­tion exer­cise. Here's what you do:

Make your­self com­fort­able, close your eyes, and relax. Slow­ly and sys­tem­at­i­cal­ly go through all of the five sens­es. Imag­ine what you would be expe­ri­enc­ing at the ban­quet.

Sight. Imag­ine what you would see there. You'd see oth­er sales­peo­ple and their spous­es. Imag­ine what they are wear­ing. You'd see tables dec­o­rat­ed and wait­ers scur­ry­ing about. You'd see the bar and peo­ple stand­ing around talk­ing. Keep going for sev­er­al min­utes.
Sound. What would you hear? You'd hear the chat­ter of peo­ple. You would hear laugh­ter, the tin­kling of glass­es, and music from a band, peo­ple talk­ing. You would also con­tin­u­al­ly hear peo­ple com­ing up to con­grat­u­late you. Imag­ine that.
Smell. Imag­ine all the smells you'd expe­ri­ence. Women's per­fume, food, alco­hol, men's cologne, the smell of poly­ester suits (not yours, of course).
Feel. What would your tac­tile sen­sa­tions be? You'd feel peo­ple rub­bing up against you in the crowd­ed room. You'd feel oth­ers shak­ing your hand.
Taste. Taste in your mind the cham­pagne you'll be drink­ing. Taste the food you'll be eat­ing. Expe­ri­ence the sweet taste of suc­cess! In advance!

Most impor­tant­ly, imag­ine the exhil­a­ra­tion you'll feel when your name is called to receive the award! Take your time dur­ing this exer­cise and enjoy it. The more you can "visu­al­ly" attend this ban­quet the more moti­vat­ed you will become. (You might even learn some­thing about the cater­ing busi­ness!)

The Visu­al­iza­tion File

To aid in your visu­al­iza­tion exer­cise, you might want to start a visu­al­iza­tion file. This is an enve­lope or file into which you put pic­tures, clip­pings, let­ters, and oth­er reminders of what it will be like to suc­ceed. Your file should also con­tain let­ters or awards that you have received in the past. Any­thing that makes you feel good about your­self can be includ­ed in the file. It can then be used as a source of moti­va­tion and inspi­ra­tion, espe­cial­ly if you begin to feel a lit­tle down or demo­ti­vat­ed. We all need to be remind­ed of our past accom­plish­ments once in a while. Be your own best friend- remind your­self!


Many peo­ple con­cen­trate only on the goal they wish to attain. There's more to the pic­ture. Suc­cess­ful peo­ple in every field have cer­tain char­ac­ter traits in com­mon. These com­mon traits do not occur by chance, they are an inte­gral part of goal attain­ment. It is worth your time to ana­lyze the con­struc­tive char­ac­ter­is­tics of peo­ple who are now where you'd like to be.

One effec­tive method is to choose role mod­els. These are peo­ple to look up to and emu­late. Your choic­es can include peo­ple who are dead or liv­ing as long as you are famil­iar with their per­son­al­i­ties and accom­plish­ments.

Har­ry Tru­man knew the val­ue of role mod­els. When he was in the White House he report­ed­ly went into the Lin­coln bed­room, looked at the late president's pic­ture and asked, "What would Lin­coln have done if he were in my sit­u­a­tion?" The answers to this ques­tion gave Tru­man the insight and direc­tion he was seek­ing. It worked because Tru­man felt Lin­coln was a man worth emu­lat­ing.

In choos­ing a role mod­el, sev­er­al things must be kept in mind:

1. Keep them off the pedestal. There is no doubt that you will choose peo­ple whom you see as being "above" you because of what they have accom­plished. That's good. What isn't good is to put them on a pedestal, there­by mak­ing them larg­er than life. We are all human. We all have strengths and weak­ness­es. You must not lose this per­spec­tive on peo­ple. Putting them on pedestals only fur­ther sep­a­rates you from them.
2. Iso­late their strong points. You need to look at the per­son you wish to emu­late and ana­lyze the pre­cise qual­i­ties he or she pos­sess­es which you need to acquire. Sit down and write out the char­ac­ter­is­tics that seem to encour­age their suc­cess. Use con­crete exam­ples of their behav­iors that you can adapt to our own sit­u­a­tion. For exam­ple, if you admire a cor­po­rate exec­u­tive, one of the many traits you might iso­late is her pol­i­cy of "ear­ly to bed, ear­ly to rise." Write out approx­i­mate­ly when she does each and why. You can then do the same and know the rea­son why you're doing it.
3. Remain your­self. Quite often the ten­den­cy when admir­ing some­one is to try to become his clone. Peo­ple who seem to "have it all togeth­er" have done all the "work" for you. All you have to do is imi­tate them. This is a dan­ger­ous way to think because you are not work­ing on your own per­son­al­i­ty.

In the final analy­sis, you are you. It is impos­si­ble to become exact­ly like some­one else. And why should you want to? So remain your­self while you acquire new traits to help you achieve your goals.

Some­times it is help­ful to have a sym­bol or anoth­er person's virtues. This sym­bol will actu­al­ly remind you of that per­son and his or her qual­i­ties. It can take the form of a pic­ture, a pos­ses­sion (e.g., your father's pock­et watch), or some abstract thing such as a rock. It will be use­ful as long as it makes the asso­ci­a­tion in your mind.


A men­tor is some­one you admire under whom you can study. Through­out his­to­ry the mentor‑protégé rela­tion­ship has proven quite fruit­ful. Socrates was one of the ear­ly men­tors. Pla­to and Aris­to­tle stud­ied under him and lat­er emerged as great philoso­phers in their own right. Men­tors are worth cul­ti­vat­ing if you can find one.

The same cau­tions hold true here as for any role mod­el. It is bet­ter to adapt their philoso­phies to your life than to adopt them. Be sus­pi­cious of any men­tor who seeks to make you depen­dent on him. It's bet­ter to have him teach you how to fish than to have him catch the fish for you. That way you'll nev­er starve.

Under the right cir­cum­stances men­tors make excel­lent role mod­els. The one-to-one set­ting is high­ly con­ducive to learn­ing as well as to friend­ship.


The thought diet, devel­oped by my friend and col­league Jim Cath­cart, is a tool that you can use on a dai­ly basis to help you become the per­son who will achieve your goals. It breaks down goals into dai­ly actions that are bite-size and easy to do. By show­ing you the steps along the way, the thought diet will keep you from being over­whelmed by your lofty goals.

Thought Diet Action Plan

On your though diet card, write out the "min­i­mum dai­ly stan­dards" which you will per­form every day to move you clos­er to your goal. Be spe­cif­ic.

The fol­low­ing are some exam­ples of min­i­mum dai­ly stan­dards:

o Men­tal: I will spend 15 min­utes every evening doing visu­al­iza­tion exer­cis­es.
o Phys­i­cal: I will do at least five push-ups and ten sit-ups every morn­ing.
o Pro­fes­sion­al: I will read some­thing relat­ed to my career for at least 15 min­utes before going to bed.
o Finan­cial: I will keep a com­plete record of every expense and finan­cial trans­ac­tion.
o Spir­i­tu­al: Each day I will do a good deed to help some­one less for­tu­nate than I.
o Fam­i­ly: I will relax over din­ner and enjoy a mean­ing­ful unin­ter­rupt­ed con­ver­sa­tion with my fam­i­ly.
o Social: I will take time dur­ing my cof­fee breaks in the office to chat with co-work­ers.

Inspi­ra­tion and Moti­va­tion

Read the thought diet card twice a day until every­thing becomes a habit. Once you've devel­oped con­struc­tive habits, you can move on to new goals and behav­iors. Fill out a new card and prac­tice the new chal­lenges every day until they become habits. In this way, you will pain­less­ly move clos­er and clos­er to your goals.

The div­i­dends reaped by invest­ing in your­self are unlike any oth­er found in the finan­cial world. When you clar­i­fy your val­ues and set goals in all the major areas of your life–mental, phys­i­cal, fam­i­ly, social, spir­i­tu­al, pro­fes­sion­al, and finan­cial– the right roads appear in front of you like mirages in the desert, yet they are real. Choic­es become infi­nite­ly eas­i­er to make because you are aim­ing at some­thing spe­cif­ic, and you've tak­en a giant step toward hit­ting your goals – with amaz­ing accu­ra­cy.

Tony Alessandra
Dr. Tony Alessan­dra has a street-wise, col­lege-smart per­spec­tive on busi­ness, hav­ing been raised in the hous­ing projects of NYC to even­tu­al­ly real­iz­ing suc­cess as a grad­u­ate pro­fes­sor of mar­ket­ing, inter­net entre­pre­neur, busi­ness author, and hall-of-fame keynote speak­er. He earned a BBA from Notre Dame, a MBA from the Univ. of Con­necti­cut and his PhD in mar­ket­ing from Geor­gia State Uni­ver­si­ty (1976). Known as “Dr. Tony” he’s authored 30+ books and 100+ audio/video pro­grams. He was induct­ed into the NSA Speak­ers Hall of Fame (1985) and Top Sales World’s Hall of Fame (2010). Meet­ings & Con­ven­tions Mag­a­zine has called him “one of America’s most elec­tri­fy­ing speak­ers”. Dr. Tony is also the Founder/CVO of Assess­ments 24×7. Assess­ments 24×7 is a glob­al leader of online DISC assess­ments, deliv­ered from easy-to-use online accounts pop­u­lar with busi­ness coach­es and For­tune 500 train­ers around the world.
Tony Alessandra

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