Creating a clear mental image of your ultimate goal allows you to map all the steps you need to take.
The night before I started writing my first book, I was on a call with a mentor I’ve turned to for advice and guidance. He asked me about my ultimate goal, which I told him about. He said, “OK, that’s the last step. Now work backward, step-by-step, until you get to today. Then you know exactly what you need to do to get there. It’s like lining up dominoes in reverse.”
See your goal as the last Domino.
The image struck me so clearly–the ultimate thing you are trying to achieve is that final domino you need to knock over. Then you line up each thing you need to do in reverse order all the way back to this moment.
The thing about knocking over dominoes is that any of them that are slightly out of line, going the wrong way, or the wrong distance from the ones before or after will mean the whole chain stops. It is no different with actions you need to take to achieve your goal–anything that is not aligned to your goal should not be in the plan. And if you find yourself doing something that does not lead to the final domino, stop and get back on track.
For me, it was about getting my message out into the world and having it impact people’s lives at a broad scale. He asked me how I would know I got there. That is, what is a way to show that the last domino has fallen. I said a good measure would be to get on stage and present my idea at a TED talk, which I will be doing two of this year. I also said sitting across from Oprah on a couch in the woods for an episode of Super Soul Sunday would also be a good measure, but that just made him laugh, so let’s focus on TED.
Work backwards to plot your path to success.
In that conversation, it was not clear how I could get there from where I was at that moment to being on that stage sharing my ideas. I was doing some life coaching work as a side-hustle, but the scale was not big enough to get me to my ultimate goal, or at least not for a very long time. So I worked backward.
I needed to pitch TED organizers with my idea if I wanted to present to their audience. The domino before that is to have an idea worthy of pitching. The dominoes just kept aligning one by one, closer and closer to my starting moment. And when I got there, it was clear to me that I needed to turn the philosophy I had been using in my coaching work into a book. That would begin the journey of dominos knocking each other over to end up at the final goal of having a meaningful impact on as many people as possible.
And now I have two TED talks lined up for this year.
The Domino idea applies broadly, but especially to business.
In business, it is no different. I’m an advisor to a safety technology start-up. In the early days, we had an ultimate goal of the product achieving a certain level of penetration into the market–our last domino.
To get there, we had to successfully sell at least a certain number of units to customers. To do that, we needed to have a revolutionary product that would compel enough customers to want to adopt it. To do that, we had to have a clear understanding of what would be compelling so we could design a product that resonates with the market. To do that, we needed to interview customers, do market research and more.
I’m simplifying the steps (there was a lot of white board space dedicated to all of the dominoes), but you get the point. Regardless of the specifics of these two examples, the exercise applies universally in personal and business settings of all kinds.
Now it’s your turn: Line up your dominoes in reverse order
So ask yourself, what is it you are ultimately trying to achieve. Visualize that domino clearly. Then ask yourself what comes before it, step-by-step. Write each domino out–that becomes your plan of action.
You may find you missed some things along the way, and you may find that you included some things that were not crucial or would lead you astray. That’s ok. As long as you keep your focus on the final domino, and dynamically evaluate whether each particular action leads to that domino, you will get there.
This post is inspired by my best-selling book, “Do a Day: How to Live a Better Life Every Day” available in print, eBook and audio book formats. It originally appeared in my Inc.com column on February 7th, 2018.