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Roadmap To Success (Now With Course Correction!)

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While in college, my friends and I embarked on a spring break road trip from Laramie, Wyoming to the Gulf Coast. Our destination was Corpus Christi, Texas. Naturally we were enamored with the stereotypical ideas of a sunny beach filled with well-tanned, scantily clad, boozed-up coeds. This would be a stark and welcomed difference from the cold winter we had just endured.

Preoccupied with the imagined spring break event, we failed to address the journey. The first problem we had was the destination itself. The beach town we were driving to was notorious for its wild parties. However, unbeknownst to us, it had been hit by a hurricane the year before.

Hurricane Emily put a stop to all the beer pong and bikinis. The town needed another season to clean up the mess she left behind. We chose that season to drive 1,200 miles for a visit – to a dirty, empty beach.

Another factor we hadn’t considered was the fact we were not 21 years of age and Texas police like to pull over young kids with out of state license plates. We were sober when pulled over, but that didn’t mean the surplus of beer, fireworks and other illicit material in our possession were going to be overlooked. Lastly, a few would be partiers didn’t account for their dwindling bank accounts. By the end of the week, the most broke students didn’t have the funds to chip in for gas or food.

Everyone knew the desired event. White, clean, sandy beaches, alcoholic beverages and sunny days. But we had disregarded the process. Without the process, there is no event.

For example, when you read a story about a 20 year old who sells his internet company for millions, you read about the event. You didn’t hear about the process. The hours of coding. Living at home or relying on credit cards with 23% interest rates. Forgoing the nightlife or travel their friends were experiencing.

Or you see an athlete who signed a multimillion dollar contract on ESPN. You see the event, but are missing all of the hours in the gym and on the field. The soreness. The struggle to keep up with school and traveling for games. The rejection of being cut from the junior varsity team. All of those steps create the journey that forms the process.

Even a loving marriage that lasts 50 years can seem like a big event. It will elude most people, so the couple must have just been lucky. Nobody looks at the process it took to maintain the relationships. The daily kisses goodnight. Little notes of appreciation left in the car. Planning their future together on a Sunday afternoon. Communicating clearly and occasionally compromising to meet each others needs.

The entrepreneur, the athlete, the couple weren’t lucky. They consistently made the right choices and took the right actions.

The following is a system that has significantly improved my life over the past eight months. The system keeps my personal goals and the process needed to attain them top of mind.

The concept is simple and mechanical. It’ll work when your habits start to stray and your motivation is low.

Before we start I want to let you know the benefits of this system. The benefits are:

all the things

All of the things!

Every ambition or desire you have with your career, your family, your romance, your health, your money, your recreation, your personal growth, your physical environment or your contribution can be achieved with this method. In the last year I have:

  • traveled over 40,000 miles, camping across 12 states in the US and vacationing in Thailand
  • grew myself by reading 27 books and attending 3 major seminars
  • met major fitness goals including 25 strict pull ups and learning to walk on my hands
  • gone from being $7,000 in debt to having over $10,000 is savings and investments
  • increased my monthly cash flow by 30%
  • created a podcast that is on track to have over a million downloads in its first year
  • grew my relationship and moved to a new city with my girlfriend
  • donated $1,000 to a cause I believe in

How did I do this? Repetitive, concerted action toward a specified purpose. My purpose was written down and reviewed daily.

If you exercise and eat lots of vegetables repeatedly, you will become a bastion of health.

If you focus on ways to make your significant other feel loved, you will have a better relationship.

If you look for ways to make passive income, you will find them.

If you take any part of your life and give it your time, energy and attention, it will grow. This is true for both the circumstances you desire and the outcomes you dread.

Picture yourself waking up every morning feeling in complete control of the direction of your life.[1] You’re inspired at work. You’re fulfilled in your relationships. You’re health is on point. You have plenty of time and energy for fun, adventure, growth and contribution.

What does that ideal life look like? Is it a certain income level? Is it getting enough sleep and hitting the gym three times a week? Is it traveling or spending more time with your friends?

Your perfect day, week, month, year and the legacy you’d like to leave when you’re gone will be completely unique. It will be based off of your unique skills, abilities and the experiences you’ve had up to this point. Nature and nurture.

Quite honestly, my last year is chump change. It was great for me. Heads above the 28 years I did not have any written or reviewed purpose. But I just met a 23 year old who has made over $100,000 this year as a world-traveling, adventure-seeking, 10-day-silent-meditation-retreat-having copy writer.

You want to make Jon (the writer I met) look like a do-nothing? Take a look at Elon Musk.

As a sci-fi reading South African kid, Elon dreamed of space colonization and solving the energy problems we face here on planet earth. Techno-utopian? Maybe. But it is hard to deny his dream is rapidly turning to reality. His companies Tesla, Space-X and SolarCity are having astronomical success (pun intended) after years of struggle and process. Elon’s vision of dying on Mars, but “not on impact” seems to be a very real possibility. He had clear vision and he executed the process. In fact, he is still executing it (and it is grueling), but we don’t see that struggle on the cover of Time magazine.

The image of the perfect career, body, lifestyle, house or spaceship that can be conjured inside your mind’s eye is what Stephen Covey would call the first creation. Everything starts as an idea that pops into your head. From that initial spark, you can choose what to do with it. You can leave it in your head, scribble it down on a loose piece of paper, mark up a whiteboard or create a digital description drafted in a text file, Evernote, OmniGraffle, blog post, or MindMap.

Your imagination is the creation you get to see. What everyone else gets to see is the second creation – the bringing of your ideas into reality. However, the second creation doesn’t happen for everyone. In fact, it’s quite rare.

Why?

Simple: Life is distracting.

Other people’s urgent needs have a way of pulling your time, energy and attention away from an ideal version of your life.

The most successful people recognize the importance of written goals. They intuitively know that the mind aligns itself into a more coherent state when it seeks to transmit knowledge on paper [2] than when it is merely processing for its own needs. If you can’t write your ideas down clearly, you are not being clear to yourself. You don’t know the next action so you’ll never move your goal toward reality. Perhaps you don’t want it or (worse) you are afraid you don’t have what it takes to attain your goals.

The more specific your goals, the easier they will be to bring into reality. Writing is the only way to gain second creation levels of specificity. Very few brains are wired to hold that kind of detail, nor can they handle the many moving parts needed to make progress on big goals.

As a former math teacher, the example I like to give is simple a algebra problem. With a bit of refreshing (hint: a negative times a negative equals a positive) you could easily find x in the equation below.

12 = −4(−6x − 3)

However, most will find it difficult to solve in their head. Doing your thinking on paper allows your brain to work on one step at a time, rather than trying to hold all of the numbers in your mind at once.

The above equation has one variable and takes only three steps to solve. How many steps will some of your bigger goals to take? How many variables do they have? How much action will you take on your goals if you have to run a difficult mental equation before every step you take?

In addition to clarity, writing goals allows you to:

  • keep track of what you want
  • have a reference point to pivot from
  • consider the short and long term benefits of your daily actions

The system I am going to share with you assumes you are already in the elite group of people that does have a set of written goals. If you are not in that group yet, this is your chance. Asian Efficiency has a number of articles on goal writing you can find here:

http://www.asianefficiency.com/goals/

It doesn’t take long. My favorite method of writing annual goals takes about thirty minutes. It’s as simple as writing a journal entry. Since goals are accomplished in the future, this journal entry is written as if it were one year from today.

Here’s the template:

MM-DD-YYYY

I am so grateful for the last year. This year I have been able to make a living doing work that I am passionate about, helps other people, and aligns with my values and strengths. Oh yeah. I’m also having a hell of a good time!

My health…

My family…

My friends…

My partner…

My contributions…

My personal and professional development…

My community…

My personal cashflow…

My assets…

My upcoming year will bring even more abundance, adventure, love, knowledge, happiness, helping and mastery to my life and the world.

Writing your goals down is one thing. Less than 3% of Americans have written goals. If you want to join the 1% club, you’ll need to review your goals on a daily basis.

Why daily?

I’ll repeat myself. Life is distracting.

Email, Facebook, Twitter, kids, parents, bosses, spouses, insurance agents, ads on TV, messy office, dirty clothes, video games, Netflix and Voodoo Donuts in Portland, OR are all there to distract you from your goals. If your intentions are not top of mind, you’ll have no reason to not indulge in every distraction that comes your way.

Before I show you my system for reviewing my goals daily, you’ll have to know how to review your goals effectively.

The first step to effect goal review is focus. It’s best to focus on one thing at a time. This allows you to make progress more rapidly than if you’ve diffused your efforts. Rapid progress is more motivating which leads to more sustainable action.

You’ll want to focus on the area of your life that is lagging. You can do this by rating all of the major areas in your life on a scale that goes from 1 to 10.wheel of lifeStart on the lowest and work up from there. You’ll often find that one area will have cascading positive effects in other areas. For example, health is often a high leverage area of focus because it can be a form of recreation and allows for more energy to give your friends, family, career and relationships.

I needed to work on money.

Zack's WheelMy first objective was to get rid of my student loans. I did this as rapidly as I could. I did not go out to eat, spend money at the movies, buy drinks at the bar, or get new clothes. I canceled my gym membership for a time and worked out from home. Every dollar I didn’t spend elsewhere got me closer to my goal of being debt free. Near the end, I would devote over half of my paycheck toward my student loans and spend the rest of the month stretching every penny.

I didn’t feel deprived during this time. I felt proud. I had a goal and I was quickly attaining it. The purpose I had was incredibly motivating. Once I had gotten out of debt, I became less maniacal about saving every single cent. I set automatic payments to send 20% of my income into savings and investments (or my financial freedom fund as Tony Robbins likes to call it). At that point, my money had moved up a couple of notches so I could shift my hyper-focus to health.

When reviewing your goals you need one area of hyper-focus. Write that hyper-focus at the top. For example mine was, “Go form $16,000 in student loans to $15,000 in savings and investments.”

I looked at that sentence every day. I did that by setting up a daily text message that automatically sent the written goal to my phone. I used that top of mind awareness to guide the rest of the day’s actions.

Focus is the first key. When reviewing your goals daily, instead of looking at all of your huge goals and ambitions, just look at one that you are currently focused on accomplishing.

For example, later that year I was hyper-focusing on my career. I was working on the Rituals course and started falling into the bad habit of working on less important tasks in the morning.

To break this pattern, I send an automated text to my phone at 10am in the morning that said, “Stop. What are the last 5 things you did? How did they align with your goal of completing the Rituals course this month?” 

I would then text myself back the last 5 things I did. It was bad.

  • checked email
  • looked at Twitter
  • listened to a podcast

After just one day of text reminders, I got back on track. Typically 3/5 or 4/5 tasks were related to my one goal. I even had a few 5/5 days. The course was completed two weeks later.

Quick recap.

Preoccupation with the destination leads to buying a shake weight on late night TV because you are too focused on those tight abs and not thinking about how many hours you’ll have to swing that ridiculous thing around to look like the models on the infomercial. Writing your intentions down gives you clarity. It’s the bridge from the first to the second creation. Focusing on daily action in a specific area leads to rapid results. Rapid results are more motivating and sustainable.

Now I just revealed my system for taking daily action in a specific area. I text myself.

Most people I’ve talked to who’ve tried setting alarms, sticky notes or calendar reminders to remember their goals quickly become numb to the cues. The triggers to act become background noise. They stop seeing or hearing the reminders right in front of them. For some reason, text (or SMS) seems to be different. My theory is that text messages are so often associated with good news or a fun distraction that our brain has become wired to look at every text with glee. Much like Pavlov’s dog, our mouths water at that chance to look at a shinny new text message.

The way I send myself text messages is with a tool called If This Then That (IFTTT for short) that allows you to easily set up programs to automatically trigger other programs.

Here’s a quick tutorial on how to use IFTTT to automate simple processes.

Once you’ve created an account (and wasted 45 minutes playing around with all of the pre-built recipes), go to the upper right hand conner to create a new recipe.

Create RecipeYou then come to a screen that looks like this:

Create Recipe 2When This Happens….

It starts with a simple formula, you click on the blue this, then you are taken to a screen where you can choose between a variety of services, tools or programs.

These include popular tools like:

  • Dropbox
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Youtube
  • Google Drive
  • Evernote
  • Gmail
  • IOS location
  • Android Location
  • SMS
  • Date & Time

For this tutorial we want to set the recipe up to send a text message at a certain time, so we’ll choose Date & Time as the If This trigger:

Create Recipe 3Choose a daily trigger.

Create Recipe 4Decide what time you’d like to receive the text. Sometime in the morning is preferable. That way you can still turn your day around if you’ve had a distracting start.

Create Recipe 5Then That Happens….

Search for and select SMS. At this point you are going to have to take a few steps that give IFTTT permission to text you as well as prove that it is your number by responding to a text sent to your cell phone.

Create Recipe 6Once integrated, you can choose what you’d like the message to say. Here is what I chose.

“It’s 7am, time to check-in with your goals [Evernote link]”

Create Recipe 7The url you see is a classic note link from Evernote. The url is hyperlinked in the text so I can simply click on the link to open the exact note in Evernote where my goals are written.

How To Access The Classic Note Link in Evernote

  1. Right click on the desired Evernote Note you wish to link to
  2. Hold down Option on a Mac or Ctrl on a Windows machine. You will see the “Copy Note Link” change to “Copy Classic Note Link.”
  3. Select “Copy Classic Note Link.”
  4. Paste the Classic Note Link to the desired location.

EvernoteAnd that’s it!

My Evernote contains all of the goals I want in the various areas of my life. I always make sure I have one hyper-focus that clearly written on the top of the note.

If that extra Evernote step seems like too much, stick with a basic goal focusing text:

“It’s [time], text me the last 5 things you’ve done. Do they align with your goal of x?”

Create Recipe 8In Closing

There are two creations, the idea and the idea that is brought into reality. Most of us also have two lives – the lives we live and the unlived life.

The more we are able to take the consistent, focused action needed to bring our ideas into reality, the more second creations will appear. More life will have been lived.

The process is what gets you there. Texting yourself is just one way to block out the noise and focus on what’s really important:

  • your career
  • your family
  • your romance
  • your health
  • your money
  • your recreation
  • your personal growth
  • your physical environment
  • your contribution

Most people spend more time planning their next vacation than planning their lives. Most people stay more focused on the latest drama in the world than their own ambitions. Stay focused. Bombard the world with your efforts. That will lead to the events you truly desire.

Have any thoughts on how to stay laser focused in a distracting world? Help others by sharing your tips or techniques in the comments below.

[1] You’re not in control, of course, but when things don’t go as expected you have confidence that you’ll be able to course correct quickly and get back on track.
[2] Including digtal “paper.”

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7 Comments

Posted by Fatos  | September 26, 2015 at 6:34AM | Reply

Hi Scott,

Thank you for this great post.

One thing though: I have started to use these daily reminders from the resource that you have provided, but the Evernote classic link that is included in the SMS message is not sending me to the Note page in the Evernote.

Can you please help?

Thank you.

Posted by Zachary Sexton  | September 30, 2015 at 8:15PM

Hey Fatos. I made a quick video addressing a few technical issues you might run into on the Asian Efficiency Dojo (our productivity community). I thought I’d also share it here: http://quick.as/wp3oh3mna

Posted by Patrick  | September 19, 2015 at 4:02PM | Reply

Amazing content, been a listener of the podcast since day one, and the episode where you read this article really blew me away so much so that I had to come read it again for myself. Please keep it up Zach!

Posted by Kathleen  | August 24, 2015 at 12:20AM | Reply

zach, this post was just what the doctor ordered. I’ve been struggling to stay on track with all my goals and using too many systems to try to track them all differently. I’m going to give your system a try! I love the assessment chart. Congrats on you recent accomplishments, you’re an inspiration.

Posted by Zachary Sexton  | September 30, 2015 at 8:11PM

Thanks Kathleen. I hope the system helps you take more consistent action on your goals.

Posted by David Humphrey  | August 20, 2015 at 5:56PM | Reply

Outstanding post Zach! You just motivated me to continue to stay focus…because that is truly what is most important.

David,

Posted by Zachary Sexton  | September 30, 2015 at 8:11PM

Thanks David. Couldn’t agree more.

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