Friday, 15 June 2012

What is converged vision?

Today I want to shed some light on the theme of my blog, and the direction I want to take my blog, software and life in: converged vision.

Goals often fail to materialise for a number of reasons, among these reasons are:

  • Failure to follow through 
  • Failure to take action 
  • Having so many goals we don't know what direction to go in 
  • Having goals that don't turn us on or have no compelling outcome 
  • Having goals that are unrealistic 
  • Having goals that are too easy to achieve and don't stretch us: we may achieve them, but they don't benefit us as much as they could. 
Now I have an idea which I'm sure is not new or unique about why our goals sometimes fail to become realities: we set goals that are divergent. That is, we set goals that do not support each other which divide our focus and have us running around like chickens without heads. For example, setting a goal to earn £50 000 a year and then setting a goal to buy a new Ferrari in the next year. You may find that the cost of maintaining your new car is half your targeted income. 

When it comes time to set out goals we have to get real and do some research especially when it comes to the cost of our "thing goals". If I want my company to earn £100 000 a year but set a goal to buy a £750 000 house next year, I may well achieve the first goal, but am likely to fail in the second as it is going to be based on my income which I've targeted at £100 000. The bank in very unlikely to give me a mortgage of 7.5 times my annual income. So, how do I resolve these in-congruent goals? I still want a mansion, but am not earning enough!
Simple really: your goals have to be convergent. You have to have a converged vision of your outcomes that are supported by all your goals. All your goals should work in concert to achieve the vision you have. Goals that do not work towards this vision should be discarded, reworded order erred till your vision changes. I'm not a particularly religious guy any-more but I used to be quite a serious Mormon. They have a way of expressing the single-mindedness required of church members: you must press forward steadfastly with an eye single to the glory of god.

Well, I'm not saying you should become a Mormon or have your eye focused purely the glory of god, but what I am saying is that your goals should be designed to be convergent on your vision. Note that I say designed, not randomly brain-stormed. I know many times when you set goals they are a list of things you want to have, do, go to, see or be and they are normally stated almost randomly as you think of them. In fact, a lot of goal-setting books, audio books, seminars and courses will help you think of the things that you want to achieve, have, or do by encouraging you to list a bunch of things that come to your mind, then select the top three from the list and think of ways to achieve them. I think this approach is a mistake as it often results in divergent goals that do not support the vision of the life you want to live and the person you want to be.

I believe that when you have identified the things you want to do, own or be, you should choose the ones that all focus on your vision of who and what you want to be. These goals, and the pursuit of them will shape your life for the next few years, so make sure they a the goals that will support your vision of a life well lived and your general happiness. Design your goals to support each other and your desired outcome. That way you will press forward with an eye single to your desired outcome (or vision), rather than have a bunch of divergent goals that eat your energy and are possibly counter-productive, or at least so in-congruent as to guarantee your failure.

So, looking back at our examples, if I want to earn at least £100 000 and live in £750 000 mansion in the country, I have to have a few very specific goals:

  • Save £300 000 in the next 5 years 
  • Earn £100 000 per year 
  • Buy my house in 5 years 

  •  Earn £200 000 a year and buy my house next year!
Now to figure out how to make that kind of money; but that's a subject for another post.

Sunday, 3 June 2012

Goals and risks

I've spent quit a bit of my career as a risk management software developer in the realms of enterprise risk management. You've probably heard a lot about risk management in the news as the financial crisis of the last 5 years was caused mainly by bad risk management and a lack of risk management. In enterprise risk management a lot of time is spent identifying risks and setting up controls on the risks to prevent events and to mitigate the damage of events. Additionally companies spend some time trying to analyse the impact of these risks and the likelihood: time not well spent (in my opinion) unless you have access to the mountains of actuarial data that insurance companies have.

What has this got to do with goals? Well goals are things you want to do, have, be, achieve, see, experience and so on, while risks are things you don't want to have, experience, suffer. Risks are simply anti-goals :) Anti-goals are useful because they tell us what we don't want. How many times have you told yourself "I never want to be like that...", "I never want to go through that...", "I never want to do that...". At the heart of what I call personal risk, is the desire to avoid some outcome. At the heart of risk management is the desire to avoid some event. Risk management would identify controls that can be put in place to avoid or mitigate risks.

When I identify personal risks, I also identify the positive outcome I would rather have. For a few years of my life while my marriage was breaking apart I focused on bad things and bad outcomes and they tended to become real. For about 3 years, a lot of horrible things just happened in my life. I believe that what you focus on becomes real: "As a man thinketh in his heart", so is he (Proverbs 23: 7). This has been my experience, so lately when I think "I don't want to be overweight" (just an example :)) I change my thought to what I want instead: "I want to be healthy, fit and good-looking". That way I can identify steps I can take to achieve the goal rather than just focus on what I don't want. Focusing on what you don't want is like walking backwards with your origin in sight and not being able to see your destination: you never know where you are going in life and probably end up right back where you started, at the place you wanted to avoid.

So personal risks, or anti-goals should be identified, but then overridden with more positive statements about what you want. In fact, emotionally it may be well to keep both your goal and anti-goal in mind as this will help you to strive for your goal while avoiding the risk. Keeping both in mind will help you leverage off your emotions to get what you desire while avoiding what you don't. It's much like asking yourself "how will I feel if I achieve this goal?" and "how will I feel if this risk takes place?" Let those feelings drive you to create a goal that motivates you to succeed.

Goals stated in this way should create a compelling force that will drive you to achieve them, and give you a fantastic reason to celebrate when you do.

Saturday, 12 May 2012

When life gets in the way

I suspect it happens to everyone: we mean to do something but just never get around to it because we are too busy working, taking care of kids, or if you're like me, sick in bed with flu: yuck. The bottom line is that the important things we really want become secondary to the stuff we have to do on a day to day basis. It becomes really difficult to focus on our goals because we're too busy living. Actually, when this happens to me, I'm too busy surviving and my happiness levels plummet.

I am admittedly, a prime example of this as I've not posted an article or two that I've meant to write and have wanted to since I got a short term contract at Balfour Beatty that paid my bills for a couple of months, then got this flu the day after my contract ended. First I was too busy, then I was too sick. In the words of Eric Cartman: "laaaaame". Seriously, most of the reasons we fail to achieve our goals and stated ambitions are lame! I could've written these posts on my iPad on the train. Easily.

In fact, I'm in a nice relaxing bath doing just that right now! I guess at the heart of it there are some simple reasons why we let life get in the way:

  1. Laziness allows us to claim to be too busy/sick etc.. 
  2. We are overwhelmed by the stuff we have to get done.
  3. We don't focus on our goals enough. 
I believe that resolving the third problem will greatly help us resolve the others. I find a daily review of my goals and asking "what can I do today to work towards this" helps me to be creative and think of things that I can do, even if sick in bed or commuting to work. In fact, I think when you get creative, many opportunities arise that normally would just not occur to you.

One way of remaining focused is to list all those small and annoying tasks that must get done and prioritising them so we can do a few each day. This way we remain aware of these outstanding tasks and exercise the art of fulfilling promises to ourselves by getting this stuff out of our way. When I leave little things undone I find myself feeling on edge: my sub-conscience is constantly reminding me that I've forgotten something. So consciously listing stuff in a little to-do list and deciding when to do them instead of doing them ad-hoc let's my subconscious relax and allows me to focus on what's important.

So I promise now not to let life get in the way, to always review my goals and to keep the mountain of stuff small by always keeping the stuff written in a to-do list and committing to get a few done each day.

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Quick Achievements to boost confidence

Sometimes our goal-setting muscles are so out of use we lose faith in our own ability to achieve them. If you've pursued a goal such as "learn to play the guitar", "get a science degree in maths" or "Learn to program a new (but very boring) computer language" you may find that two hours of slog a day for 6 months to a couple of years mad achieving the goal really tough.

Often we fall by the wayside when pursuing these types of goals when the effort of pursuing the goal becomes clear and the perceived reward of achieving the goal diminishes in the far distance. One thing I like to do to remind myself of the effectiveness of setting goals, is to look at a couple of things that I really don't want to do but should; things that are quick and easy like a phone-call to HMRC or a utilities company; and set a goal to do it on the same day. Then during the day, just do it. It's a nice easy way of flexing my goal-setting muscles and getting a quick win. A reminder that I can achieve things easily.

Some goals take a long time to achieve, like learning to play a new instrument. I find it is far more effective to look at these long term goals and break them down into sub-goals. Achieving sub-goals should be rewarded: we should celebrate out achievements to remind ourselves that we are on the right path and will, in time, achieve our main goal.

When you first start learning something new, you often don't know what you don't know, so setting sub-goals may be difficult when you set out to achieve something new. This should not be a deterrent: rather once you know more about the subject, you are better positioned to break down the main goal into smaller goals that you can achieve on a daily or weekly basis (depending on how often you need to celebrate :) )then go for those sub goals.

Be flexible: I have found that setting goals like "spend 2 hours learning to program the android, 2 hours playing my bass, 2 hours studying core java, 2 hours at gym and 2 hours learning WPF" leaves no time in my day for social life, emergencies, contingencies or children. Sometimes I need to make choices about which goals are more important (though this can change with time and circumstance) and focus on them. Learning to program the android is not a life-long endeavour and can be set as a goal, worked on and completed. During this time I'm spending less time playing my bass. Being an uber-bassist is a life-time goal so I can do less every day as long as I do some every day, and all is good.

When I've set goals that are demanding in time and require most of my day to be spent on doing something, I've failed miserably. Life just gets in the way. Try to avoid scheduling too much time in your week to a set of activities and be flexible in when you spend time doing things and what your goals are: i.e. Learn to play the bass part to Enter sandman rather than spend two hours practising every day. One of the major drawbacks to "spend this much time a day on something" type goals is that you never really celebrate them as they often do not engender a sense of achievement. While "learn to do this" or "finish that" type of goals can be celebrated as they come along with something having being done.

I guess the bottom-line of this post is: "Don't mistake time-management for goal setting." So get out there and set some achievement-style goals.

Friday, 2 March 2012

The value of goals

One of the luxuries I have at the moment is a lot of time to think about goals by virtue of being engaged in the development of my own goal management software. I've read many books, been to seminars and done several courses on goal setting, time management, personal power and so forth and what I've noticed is that most goal-setting courses focus on an aspect of goal management and have a system for setting and managing goals that is somewhat rigid.

That is, goals may be qualified in terms of how they relate to your vision, how one should focus ones time on the important rather than the trivial, how goals are related to who you want to be and so forth. As my life circumstances have changed from bad to good and back again, I've grown to believe that there are different reasons for setting goals at different times in our lives, and that the manner in which we approach goal-setting and management should be guided in a way that is sympathetic with where we are in our lives.

For example, when a person finds themselves at the peak of their career, all their personal goals achieved, but for some reason feels hollow, empty and wonders what it's all about; an approach that involves some analysis of what you want your life to mean, and what your vision for your life is would be appropriate.

When that same person is on the ropes, down and out and hanging to their sanity by a thread, an approach that allows them to foster some hope based on the goals that can be achieved would be appropriate. I'be been on the ropes before and goals gave me something to look forward to, to focus on and to drive me forward in such a way that I was able to get myself out of the problems that I was in. I've also been in a place where I had achieved many of my goals and was still not happy: the achievement of goals does not make you happy if you have the wrong goals. Setting goals can have great value to get our minds into a more positive frame of mind. When our needs are already met and we are moderately successful, goals should have meaning attached to them so that the achievement of the goals can be truly celebrated.

Books don't generally offer this type of flexibility of guidance: they tend to be algorithmic in their approach. Indeed, even most religions seem somewhat algorithmic: "keep this commandment and God will bless you with this blessing" as if God was some sort of genie who blesses on command. Perhaps books are not the best way to get the inspiration that you need depending on your circumstances. I hope to address this problem with my goal-setting software.

Sunday, 26 February 2012

Thinking about goals

I've decided to learn how to program Android devices and then brush up on my WPF programming and finally to learn programming for the iOS (iPhone and iPad). The vehicle I'm going to use is the development of a goal-management application that will run on all these platforms: not a single code-base, but one for each platform with some common interfaces.

Apart from learning how to program for these platforms, I want to return to the methods of goal-setting and planning that I used when I was younger; methods that resulted in success. But I want to do more than just automate these methods or make them easier to access, I want to know more about what makes me tick: what makes goals work; what makes goals effective; and why sometimes when we are achieving all our goals, we still feel unsatisfied and unfulfilled.

There seem to be a lot of quick-fix solutions in terms of time-management and goal management systems with promises to change your life in 7 days. I have utmost respect for many of the authors of these systems and have seen results in my life from programs such as "Unleash the power within". However, I've also experienced that some things in life take time: learning to play a musical instrument with a degree of mastery; learning to paint; mastering just about any craft. These things take time and the "change your life in a week" solutions sell folks the idea that they really can master their destiny in a week. I think there is a big difference to taking charge of your life and time (which these systems can help with) and reaching goals that require consistent effort over long durations of time. Others might disagree, so I'll leave the blog open to comments as I develop my product.

The last few years have seen my life go down a path that I never foresaw, that some would describe as failure. I believe that too much focus on goals and achieving these goals lead me to a place where I had all the things I wanted, had reached all the goals I set for myself and was bored.

I've realised a couple of things:
  1. my dreams that I had strived so hard to achieve were small dreams and I should have dreamed bigger.
  2. achieving goals without having a solid reason for the goals will put you in a position where you don't celebrate your accomplishments as they have little meaning to you.
So I've been thinking about these questions:
  • What is a goal?
  • Why do we set goals?
  • What makes goals important (caring about the outcome)?
  • Why do we just give up on some goals?
  • How are goals related to vision?
  • How are goals related to how I define myself?
  • How are goals related to relationships?
This blog is going to be quite central to my life for the next few weeks while I work on this project and as the application develops I'll be posting downloadable links to the software. This blog is part of the project.