Accentuate the Positive! · Introspection · me · Toastmasters

Begin with the end in mind

This post is the text of a speech I’ll give to the Two Notch Toastmasters Friday morning. It’s part of a series I’m doing on the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.

“Begin with the end in mind” — it’s the habit of vision.

All behaviors stem from a thought pattern, a paradigm – a way of seeing the world.  The paradigm for this habit is: I live by design. To be ineffective all you have to do is adopt the opposite paradigm – I live by default.  The principle behind this habit is that mental creation precedes physical creation.

When I was in college, in my first journalism lab class, our professor assigned us to write our own obituaries. Now, that’s beginning with the end in mind! I’ve learned this is a technique sometimes used in therapy. The object is to get you thinking about how you’d like others to remember you. It’s also a goal-setting technique – what do you want to have accomplished in life?

Sadly, I can’t remember much of what I wrote then, twenty-something years ago, except that it was all fanciful. Even as I was writing it, I thought at the time the exercise was nothing but fantasy. I even re-wrote my beginnings to state I’d been born in Paris, which I thought sounded romantic. I wasn’t too goal-oriented then, because I really can’t remember anything else I wrote.

But over the years I learned more about writing your goals down, and then working to achieve them. Some have been achieved, some not. I remember writing three goals – three ends I want to achieve – down on a notecard about seven years ago. These are three goals I still want to achieve – and am still working toward.

The first is: Weigh 127 1/2 pounds. Not 135 pounds, a goal which I’ve actually achieved once before in my adult life, nor 145 pounds, which is the top end of my healthy weight range. Or even a flat 127 pounds, which is obviously too low. But 127 1/2. I’m a member of Weight Watchers. It’s not going so well. But I made a commitment last year to join and never quit again, so I’m still a member. And, once again this week, I started over. What is a diet but the triumph of hope over experience?

Second: Write a novel. Like I said last week at Toastmasters, there are two great groups of people in this world: those who were going to go to law school, and those who were going to write a novel. I’m not going to law school.

But I haven’t yet written a novel. I’ve written newspaper articles, blog posts and long, overwrought letters to friends. But no novel. And I have not the foggiest idea how to get there. That’s what I was mulling over the idea last week, toying with it, of taking an online class called “Beginning Writers Workshop.” It’s a six-week program in creative writing. It’s more like a writing lab with lots of practice. Just reading the demo lesson got me excited about it … a stepping stone to fulfilling my goal, and my dream.

And yet – the first thing my inner critic asked is when will you have time to do this? I’m already signed up for another class for work. That’s on Database Development. I have to do that one, and it’s going to be hard. Plus, I’m an area governor in Toastmasters, and that’s turned out to be a little more involved than I first thought, what with organizing contests, District Executive Committee meetings and club visits. My appointment lasts through June 30, 2012. And then, of course, there’s my job.

But isn’t this the type of thinking that keeps us from “moving confidently in the direction of our dreams?” If I’m too busy to take a step toward my goals, then I’m just too busy.

Remember – begin with the end in mind. Do I want to come to the end of my days knowing I spent 40, 50+ years in the workforce, then came home and watched TV? No! That’s one of the reasons I got so involved in Toastmasters. But, I also can’t fritter away my time with activities – no matter how individually meaningful – that don’t move me forward in achieving my long-held goals.

So I signed up for that class. And I’m going to squeeze it in – because it is that important to me.

Ah yes – what was that third goal I wrote down in 2005?

It’s even more spectacular than the first two. (Although some would say I have a better chance of reaching this one than hitting 127 1/2 pounds again.)

Eat dinner at the White House

Actually, I’d settle for a casual lunch in the Residence – or maybe Movie Night at the White House theatre.

What prompted this outlandish goal? I remember reading about how Lou Holtz coped during a down moment in his life when his coaching career wasn’t going so well. He was sitting at home and decided to write down a list of goals he wanted to achieve in life. He wrote down over 100 goals and achieved them all. One was eating dinner at the White House.

Now, I have no idea how I’m going to achieve my goal. I can’t imagine why any President would invite me over – I’m certainly not handing out $250,000 donations. I know just writing it down won’t make it happen. I may have to write a Pulitzer-prize winning book. That’s also a stretch. But it’s a goal, it’s on my card, and it certainly would be something to talk about at the ol’ nursing home, wouldn’t it?

Begin with the end in mind … it’s a way to bring design to our days.

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