How To Turn Your Ideas Into Action
“If you don’t like the road you’re walking, start paving another one.” ~ Dolly Parton
What do you value?
A lot of people believe that if they have success, they will find happiness, but in reality, the opposite happens. They are trying to put the cart before the horse. In order to have true success, you have to be happy. Some seek pleasure, wealth, or honor, but they are not the ultimate purpose for life. Aristotle claimed that most would agree that happiness is the ultimate purpose of human existence. Those sentiments are no less true some 2,300 years later. In Nicomachean Ethics, he wrote, “He is happy who lives in accordance with complete virtue and is sufficiently equipped with external goods, not for some chance period but throughout a complete life.” These virtues would include not only wealth, but also health, knowledge, and relationships.
In order to find your happiness, you have to assess what your values are. What is really important to you? There are hundreds and hundreds of values. What are your key values? Here is an example of some common values:
If you have read anything about Yoga, Meditation, or even goal setting, you have probably been told to “set your intention”, but what does that mean? According to the dictionary, intention has a few meanings: 1.) an act or instance of determining mentally upon some action or result; 2.) the end or object intended; purpose; 3.) purpose or attitude toward the effect of one’s actions or conduct. Goal setting helps us to envision the future and create a plan to reach that future. Intentions allow you to focus on what your values are and invest yourself emotionally.
Setting daily intentions can guide you to achieving happiness. It makes you focus on being in the moment. What do you want from this meeting, encounter, or debate? Your day will be given purpose, and you will have the motivation to reach that purpose. Intentions can make you become more productive, because you will be putting more thought into your actions. You will not think about your limitations, but your potential. You will focus your attention on positive thoughts. Setting intentions can also allow you to observe things that you might have otherwise missed. For instance, if you are working outside today, you might set your intention to notice all of the natural beauty that surrounds you. Instead of getting lost in what you are doing, set the intention to be aware of your surroundings and show gratitude for them.
Unlike setting goals, intentions focus on the moment. It is not something to which you would attach an expectation. When setting intentions, you must ask yourself a few questions: who do you want to be, what do you want to contribute to the world, or how do you want to touch other people’s lives? One example of a specific intention would be: “I want to open my heart and my mind to be receptive to any information that will lead me to achieve my goals.” How you phrase your intention is just as important as the intention itself. The wording gives it power. For instance, instead of saying, “I hope that this is a good day today”, you should alter it to say “I intend to have a good day today.” Do you see the difference in the power of the wording? The second version has more confidence and assertiveness.
Intentions let you really think about what is important to you. They come from the heart, therefore, they help you align your heart with your mind. It is a matter of deciding what you want to build, create, be grateful for, or even let go of, like the fears that you want to release. When setting intentions, they should be positive in nature. They should focus on the short term, because they might change. If you think it, you become it. Intentions are endless. Here are some examples:
1. Find balance
2. Open the mind and heart
4. Embrace change
5. Love and to love unconditionally
6. Connect with others
7. To manifest happiness
8. To lead by example
9. Make someone smile each day
Most of us have taken a road trip at some time. Maybe we drove to Florida for vacation or maybe we wanted to visit a new city. We didn’t just jump in the car and go. We needed to make a plan. To get there directly and in a timely manner, we probably used GPS or a map. We didn’t just blindly head off in a direction. We had to know where we were going. Goal setting is that map that gets us to our destination.
First, you must decide what it is that you want to do. Second, you must determine why. You have to ask yourself: “Do I want to be ____ because ____ or ____?”
For example: “Do I want to be a comedian because of passion or money?” Doing anything just for the money may not be a strong enough motivator. You may not find yourself as invested in making the goal a reality. “Do I want to have a family because of my family’s expectations or because it is fulfilling?” Is this goal something that you really want for yourself? If you are doing something for anyone other than yourself, you may not find happiness and may end up feeling resentful. No one can want this goal more than you do. You have to be your own champion.
Once you realize what you want to do, you have to come up with a plan to achieve it. Much like when you go on a trip, you have to map out the route that you want to take. Goal setting allows you to think about what you want to do and what are the steps that you need to take to reach that destination.
One method of goal setting is to set SMART goals.
Specific. Your goal should be as specific as possible to be able to make a detailed plan of action. This is the: who, what, when, where, and why. Saying “I want to be an author” isn’t very specific. Instead, you may want to say “I want to be an author with a self-published book on stress management. I want to combine this with speaking engagements.” This is a bit more specific and gives you some direction on how to pursue your goal.
In the Specific category, I mentioned that you must ask yourself certain questions: who, what, when, where, and why. Who is involved? What do you want to accomplish? Where will you accomplish it and when? Which requirements need to be met? I think that the most important question is WHY. Why are you doing this? Do you know what your reasons are for setting this goal? What is the purpose of the goal? What are the benefits? When people are asked why they are setting that specific goal, they may give a variety of answers. Maybe they want to make more money. Maybe they are searching for autonomy. They may be seeking recognition. Maybe this is something they are passionate about. The reason why is very telling on how committed you are to reaching your goal. If it is just for money, how invested are you really? If it is because you are so passionate about it that you can’t imagine doing anything else, you are going to be much more invested in accomplishing your goal. “I want to be an author with a self-published book on stress management, because I have an important message to put out into the world that can help a lot of people with the same issues that I have.” That is a much stronger why than “I want to be an author to make a lot of money.”
Measurable. Can you measure your progress or success with pursuing your goal? How will you hold yourself accountable? This allows you to track your progress. A good way to do this is to set smaller goals that work toward your main goal. “I want to complete my manuscript in the next three months.” You have given yourself a time table for the first leg of your journey. You will know if you have accomplished this if your manuscript is finished in the allotted time.
It is also important to be thoughtful in how you articulate your goal as well as your intention. It is not enough to say, “I want to try to finish my manuscript in three months.” You must be more definitive and concrete in your goal. As Yoda says in The Empire Strikes Back, “Try not. Do…or do not. There is no try.” If you say you are going to try to do something, you might as well just say that you aren’t going to do it. How many times have you said that you would try to do something and then didn’t? To make a measurable goal, you should rephrase this goal to say, “I will finish my manuscript in three months.”
Attainable. Is this a goal that can be attained? You want goals that push you, but not that are beyond your reach. Do you have the abilities and skills to achieve this goal? Are you financially capable to reach it? What is your attitude toward the goal? Can it be done?
Realistic. Is the goal realistic as well as the timeframe? “I want to be on Oprah’s Book Club in six months.” Well, unless you have some connections, word of mouth spreads, or you are very lucky, this goal may not come to light. Your goal should be challenging or you won’t take it seriously. If it is too challenging, it can overwhelm you.
Timely. This is your timeframe. It should help to keep you motivated and accountable. For this, you may state “I want to be a self-published author with my book on stress management being published in six months.” Now, you have given yourself a time table. You will know if you are on the right path if you can reach this goal within the allotted timeframe. A timeframe is very important, because it creates a sense of urgency. Without a timeframe, you could allow yourself to keep putting off tasks involved in achieving your goal. It also creates a focal point for you.
Remember when you were in first grade, and your teacher gave you a gold star for completing your work or doing a chore? Remember how great you felt!? You probably felt proud and very motivated to do more good so that you could get more stars. A great way to make sure you reach these goals is to give yourself small rewards after each small goal is achieved. Now, if your goal is to lose weight or start an exercise program, you may not want to reward yourself with a cheesecake. Maybe instead, a more reasonable reward would be to get a massage or to go see a movie. Pick a reward that doesn’t distract you or conflict with your goal. Rewards are a great way to stay on the path and stay focused.
Remember the movie What About Bob? In the movie, Bob was crippled with anxiety and panic. He could scarcely leave the house. In order to reach his goal of going to the doctor to seek help, he created small goals for himself. In Dr. Leo Marvin’s fictitious book “Baby Steps”, the doctor addresses the topic of taking smaller, manageable steps to reach your goal. If your goal is to go to the doctor, as Bob had done, instead of worrying about the end result, the doctor guided him to first focus on walking out the apartment door, then walking out of the building door, then getting on a bus, and so on.
Bob got very overwhelmed at the notion of all that was involved in reaching his goal of getting to the doctor’s office. It created much panic and stress in his mind and body. So instead, he focused on walking out of the office door. Success! That motivated him to walk back in. Another success! Baby steps around the office…success! This illustrated to him that he was capable of reaching his goal. This also creates a snowball effect. The more action that you take, the more success you can achieve. When one small goal is reached, you are motivated to take on another small goal without the stress of becoming overwhelmed. You feel good about your accomplishment and it creates a drive in you to want to do more. Give yourself a pat on the back and a little hurray.
Conversely, do not beat yourself up if you do not achieve your goal or if you procrastinate. The more negatively that you reinforce your actions, the fewer actions you will want to take. Like with intentions, you must keep your goals positive. Encourage yourself with positive self-talk. Keep giving yourself gold stars for the work that you accomplish. Pat yourself on the back even if no one else does.
Nashville is a tourist town. There are tons of bars with music cascading out of them from the moment the doors open until the bars close. I had the idea of starting a bar crawl. No one else was doing one at the time. I felt that I was qualified, because I knew a lot of the downtown history already. I knew what bars I felt would be good for people to visit that they may not have known about. I felt that with my background as a stand-up comedian that I could be an entertaining guide. I felt that I had developed a product that was very different than anything else that was currently being offered. I found my niche. I was very excited and anxious about the idea of starting my own business, but I just knew that this could be successful. There were already several tours on the market, but nothing like what I wanted to offer.
I approached my friend about my idea, and she quickly shot me down. “No one is going to pay you to take them to bars.” The words stabbed me in the heart. Maybe she was right. Maybe that was an outrageous idea, after all, would I have paid for something like that? But I did not listen to her, and I went forward with my marketing plan. Seven years later, and I am still successful. Even now, she admits how wrong she was. If I had listened to her criticism and pessimism, I would not have started my own business and would not have made my living for seven years doing what I love.
Listening to criticism is fine. It may force you to look at different angles that you had not thought of. BUT letting criticism stop you is not fine. Use criticism as a learning tool, not a stopping point. Take into consideration those cautious points, but if you still feel like you have a worthy product, don’t let a Negative Nancy hold you back. Also, don’t let your own negative self-talk prevent you from taking the first steps toward your goal or dream. No risk, no reward.
Some people spend too much time in the goal-setting phase. Do not spend so much time in the goal-setting or the planning phase that you avoid or get distracted from taking action. Some people say that they must wait for the right or perfect time. There is no such thing as perfect. There is no perfect person, no perfect time, or no perfect situation. If you wait for perfect, chances are that it will never come.
What is your passion?
You will be more successful in reaching your goal if it is something that you are passionate about and that you really enjoy doing. If your goal is to be an author, but you hate writing, is that really an appropriate goal for you? How many of us are doing things because we feel that we are supposed to do them and not because we want to do them? Are these expectations our own or someone else’s? When I was young, it was typical, if not expected, that you graduate high school, get married, and have children. That is what everyone did. But I did not feel like that was my path. Instead, I decided to go to college. That was unheard of in my family at the time. I was the first one to graduate college. Did I have kids? Yes. Did I get married? No. I did not feel that marriage was a priority to me. When thinking about your passion, you have to take into consideration what is a priority to you.
Katharine Hepburn began acting while studying at Bryn Mawr College. She had decided that acting was her passion. Because of this, she made the conscious choice to not have children. She felt that if she wanted to seriously pursue acting as a profession that she would not be able to adequately give the attention to children that they would need. She realized that to be a professional actor to the caliber that she desired that she would have to make acting a priority over having a family. She was married in her twenties, but was not fully committed to the marriage as she was to acting, so they divorced. She knew who she was as a person. She had said after she divorced that “I liked the idea of being my own single self”. She made the decision to never remarry.
When you realize your passion and want to pursue it, you sometimes may have to make some sacrifices in your life. Maybe you have to put off buying a house or having children. Maybe you have to cut back on finances to afford your dream. You have to ask yourself how badly do you really want this thing, and where does it fall on your list of priorities? Nothing ventured, nothing gained.
In finding your passion, another exercise that you can consider is to ask yourself “what would you like to do if money wasn’t an obstacle or a factor?” This will call for some serious reflection and contemplation. If you did not have to worry about bills or mortgages, what would you like to pursue? Our need for financial stability is important for our physical and mental well-being, but it can also create a barrier to keep us from reaching our goals. If it is possible to put these fears to the side for a moment, we can get an idea of what we really want.
That is not to say that you should quit your job, stop paying your bills, and let your house go into foreclosure, but this exercise should act as a motivator to really get you thinking about what it is that you want to do with your life. It can also give you a glimpse of a potential plan outline. If you can visualize what you want to do, that is the first step toward making it a reality. Maybe you can put your plan into action on the weekends or work at it on your lunch breaks. You can make it happen if you want it badly enough and are passionate about it. You have to find the time.
Visualization Into Realization
Look around your home or office. Everything you see there was once in someone else’s imagination. Before you create anything, you first imagine it. That table was once a doodle on someone’s notepad. Your television was someone else’s daydream. Every book on your bookshelf or every movie in your collection started out as someone’s idea. It all starts with a thought.
If you say it, you become it. Also, if you see it, you can be it. This may sound cliché, but it is very true. You may not be aware of how powerful visualization can be, but you probably do it every day. If you are bowling, before you roll the ball, do you ever envision the pins all falling down? If you are baking a cake, do you imagine how the finished product will look? If so, you were using visualization. Visualization is basically a mental rehearsal or practice. Conversely, have you ever worried about a problem and anticipated it ending badly? Do you picture the worst? That is also visualization, but in this case, you are focusing on what you do not want. You may have worried so much about something that it actually happened. You just created something that you did not want. It became a self-fulfilling prophecy.
With visualization, you want to anticipate a positive outcome. You are seeing your goal as if it is already completed. If you want a new house, see yourself sitting on the front porch swing. If you are up for a promotion, you want to use imagery that has you already in the position for which you are vying. See yourself in your new office sitting behind your new desk with your new nameplate sitting on it. You want to see yourself already doing it, already a success! If you want to be a photographer, visualize yourself on the savannah photographing majestic lions. If your dream is to be a singer, picture yourself on a stage in front of thousands of adoring fans. And if you are dreaming, why not dream big!
Research has shown that people improve their performance when they imagine themselves performing a task beforehand. The most successful people use visualization to make their dreams into reality. Athletes, the rich, and the super successful all use this skill. It is a skill just like any other and takes practice to make it work effectively. It is a great tool to help program your brain, specifically your subconscious. It activates neural pathways and stimulates the sympathetic nervous system. Our heart rate, breathing, and blood pressure increase, much like in a fight-flight-freeze response. It tricks our bodies into thinking that we are physically executing the same actions that we are envisioning. When you repeatedly imagine yourself performing a task, it conditions your neural pathways. It does this in such a way that when you go to actually perform it, the action feels familiar. This enhances your motivation as well as your confidence.
Visualization, also known as mental imagery, can help you to manifest the life that you want. First, you need to know what it is that you want. To do this, we must understand what we value.
Next, you want to create a very clear vision of what you want. Some people may do this by writing it down in a journal or on index cards or creating a vision board. Post the cards on your refrigerator, on your bathroom mirror, or next to your bed. A vision board, or dream board, is a collage of images and affirmations of your dreams. It serves the purpose of inspiring and motivating you. This is a popular technique used in the law of attraction. It helps you concentrate and maintain focus on your goals. When Jack Canfield was writing Chicken Soup for the Soul, he made a mock-up copy of the New York Times bestseller list with Chicken Soup for the Soul in the number one spot in his desired category. He placed these prints all over his office, and in less than two years, the book was number one in that category, staying there for over a year!
Affirmations are a great tool, too. Repeatedly saying something cements it into your psyche. When you say something often enough, your brain believes it to be the truth. It cannot distinguish the difference. The same goes for visualizations, especially if your visions and affirmations are in the present tense. Instead of saying “I want to be an artist,” say “I am a successful, talented artist.” You are putting it in the current tense. If you run your visualization exercises often enough in your mind, your mind is incapable of determining whether it has really happened or not. As far as your brain is concerned, it happened. This is the concept of neuroplasticity.
Next, bring your senses into the visualization. Imagine the sights, sounds, smells, and even tastes of what it will be like to be in the life that you want. If you want a brand new car, smell that new car scent. Feel the leather seats and steering wheel. See yourself in the driver’s seat. As for taste, don’t lick anything. That’s gross. The more detailed that you can get, the more effective the visualization will be. This will make an emotional investment in your visualization. Imagine that you are in a movie theater, and your dreams are playing out on the big screen. If you can see it, you can be it!
Take five to ten minutes each day to focus on your visualizations. Done daily, just a few minutes will accomplish so much, but don’t spend so much time daydreaming that you don’t actually put your goals into action. If you are incorporating meditation into your daily routine, try doing your visualizations after you finish meditating. If you are using affirmations, don’t just read them to yourself. Saying them out loud with feeling will have a greater impact.
Now, it’s time to take action! You can see what you want, so now take the steps to make it a reality. Just do it. You may start to feel overwhelmed that your dream is too big. How can you take steps to achieve something so great? Don’t concern yourself with how far away the endpoint is. Instead, stay focused on the present moment. What can you do today to get closer to your goal? Don’t worry about tomorrow. After all, tomorrow never comes. What can you do now to make yourself better than you were yesterday?
JUST DO IT!
The law of attraction basically means that positive begets positive and negative begets negative. You put out into the world what you want to bring back. This is true in most cultures. For instance, the Golden Rule: do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Other cultures and religions have similar philosophies. Some call it threefold: whatever you put out into the world comes back to you threefold. If you put out negative thoughts and actions, do not be surprised if negativity is all that you experience. Likewise, if you put out positivity, you will notice increased positivity in your life. Will you still hit some road bumps and potholes? Of course, but the more positively you live, the better equipped you will be to deal with these annoyances. In fact, when you do hit these potholes, visualize yourself overcoming them.
Create a vision board. A vision board is a tool that you can use to put your goals into focus. They allow you to clarify what you want by giving it a tangible image that you can concentrate on. You can use a corkboard or just copy images to a piece of paper or poster board to make your collage. I make my vision boards in a Word document on my computer with clips of various pictures and words.
Take it a step further. Imagine your goal as if it has already happened. Carry yourself as you would if you had already achieved what you desired. Hold your head up and walk with confidence. Imagine that your business is already off the ground and successful. Envision your new house totally furnished as you sit on the couch with the fireplace roaring. See yourself in the new body after you have put in so much work with diet and exercise. Really feel good about these changes as if they already exist.
A Personal Mission Statement
When you start a business, one of the first things that you do is to create a mission statement. It identifies what your organization does and gives the organization structure. It is the Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How of your organization. A personal mission statement is similar in that it identifies your core values and beliefs. It articulates what you are all about. It paints a picture of what success looks like to you.
When writing your own personal mission statement, you will reflect on your past successes. What worked for you? Identify your personal values and goals. Your personal mission statement will allow you to dream, but also keep you grounded in reality. It is not set in stone; your personal mission statement may change over time. Like you, your mission statement may evolve. It will create boundaries for you to work within. You will evaluate all the aspects of your life as it pertains to your goal, and thus, your mission statement. It will help you maintain focus and avoid distractions. This will also come in handy with future decision making.
To write your own personal mission statement, you must answer these questions:
· WHO? Who is your best you? Who are you creating this goal for? Who is your customer or audience?
· WHAT? What is important to you? What do you want to do? What do you want to leave as your legacy? What are your skills, values, passions, or dreams?
· WHEN? Do you have a timeframe you are working within? Where do you see yourself in one, five, or ten years?
· WHERE? Where will this take place? Where do you want to go?
· WHY? What is the purpose of your plan? Why do you want to do this?
It does not have to be very long. Just a line or two should sum up what you are in a clear and concise manner. An example would be: “To inspire change and to positively impact the lives of everyone that I meet.”
Oprah Winfrey’s personal mission statement looks like this: “To be a teacher. And to be known for inspiring my students to be more than they thought they could be.”