The Surprising Truth about Goal-Setting : Start with the End in Mind

Start with the end in mind. This has long been many people’s mantra ever since Stephen Covey first coined the phrase in his mega-seller ‘The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People’. Recently, I came across a surprising validation of this approach when listening to the inspirational speaker, Marcus Child, on the topic of ‘Personal Power’. Marcus showed the following word puzzle as a way of explaining how the brain works.

According to Research at Cambridge University

Now, I had seen this before and found it quite amusing though not given it a lot more thought. However, in explaining the puzzle in more detail, Marcus highlighted that it reveals a great deal about how the brain works. ‘Your brain needs to know the ending and the beginning and then it can work about the bit in-between’ he concluded. As he said this a light bulb lit up in my head on the subject of goal-setting and, in particular, the ‘Dream! Share! Start!’ sequence that Ian and I promote as part of our approach to courageous goal-setting in ‘Challenging Coaching’.

Mapping the word puzzle to goal-setting, it reinforces the idea that if we visualise our goal clearly then we are communicating to our brains the ‘end’ of the journey on which we are embarking. This is the dream. If we then focus upon identifying the first step towards our courageous goal then we are communicating to our brains the ’beginning’ of the journey. This is the start. Once the brain knows the end and the beginning then, just as in the word puzzle, it quickly works out the missing pieces in-between. The brain does not need to know the analytical detail of how we will navigate from A to B, it simply needs to know ‘A’ and ‘B’ and then it intuits the space in-between to make sense of the journey. Dream! Share! Start!

As an example, when an Olympic athlete says ‘I want to win a medal at the Olympics’ then the brain grabs that picture and says ‘Great, I’ve got that. I’ve got the end.’ When the same athlete says ‘….and tomorrow my next step is that I will spend two hours in the gym working on my upper body strength’ the brain grabs that experience and says ‘Great, I’ve got that. I’ve got the beginning.’ Magically, it will then get to work to intuit the steps in-between. How does this happen? Quite frankly, I don’t know and neither do I need to know in order to have faith in this possibility and believe in its effectiveness. I am sure a clever neuro-scientist will explain the chemical soup behind this one day but, in the meantime, we need to decide if we are willing to experiment with this approach.

Marcus Child concluded with one further interesting point on this topic. The sub-conscious mind does not know the difference between reality and imagination. Hence, if the visualised end point of the journey, the achievement of the goal, is created in sufficiently vivid imagination and is recalled sufficiently often then the sub-conscious mind starts to think the event has already happened in reality. Then all it has to do is work out the bit in-between the beginning and the end. As with the words in the puzzle the brain does this in a flash. Maybe now we understand why Covey so wisely said ‘Srtat wtih the end in mnid’.

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