"Give me an example of a goal you'd like to achieve."
I should have known I didn't need a $300 goal-achievement course when I couldn't come up with a single unrealized goal. The person selling this "life-changing system" tried again. "Just tell me something you've been wanting to do and haven't."
"Uh, I want to check out the new Burnsville shopping mall." Wow, I've got a live one here, she had to be thinking. But she was determined to demonstrate how this system worked. "Okay, let's it break down into achievable steps. What's a small step you could take toward realizing this goal?"
"Uh, I could get in my car and drive there." Why did this not set off alarms in my head? Brrrrng! You don't need this!
Instead, I was attracted by the sparkly promise of a new key to success and happiness. I shelled out $300 for a colorful cardboard box containing a dozen audio tapes and a few hundred bright paper cards on which I was to write goals and intermediate steps - weekly and daily - toward achieving them. Over the next few months I listened to about half the tapes and wrote on a couple dozen of the cards. Then the box sat on a shelf in my bedroom in three successive homes over thirty-some years. Two years ago I threw it away. I would have tried to sell it on Ebay--I am evidence that there is a market for such things--but without all the little cards it just wouldn't be the same.
In the years since I put aside the "system," I have set and achieved plenty of significant goals. I did it mostly the natural way, thinking, "Here's something I'd like to do." But sometimes, when conflicted among several possible goods, I have called upon my husband's mantra: Start by knowing what you want.
Stuck in a troublesome situation you'd like to escape? Start by knowing what you want. Approaching a negotiation with someone whose service was less than satisfactory? Don't waste time complaining; tell them what will make you happy. Dissatisfied with a situation at the office? Decide how you want things to be.
And that's the issue. My problem has seldom been how to achieve something once I set my mind to it--in fact, my husband and I make a formidable pair of strategists. The problem, from time to time, has been knowing what I want. For that, you have to know yourself and be willing to make choices, even take risks.
Today, I know what I want: good health and a good life in retirement not long from now. There are some arrangements to be made. None of them involves listening to goal-setting tapes. If I find myself writing notes on colorful little cards, I promise I will not have paid $300 for them.
How about you? Driven by goals? Systematic in seeking them? If I hadn't thrown away the tapes and cards, would you have said, "Yes! Send them at once....That's exactly what I need!"
So ends another in a series of recollections of mostly-useless self-help stuff I've bought over the years. Occasionally, I learned a little something. Other times, nothing at all! Next up: assertiveness training.