If you’ve spent much time on this blog, you know we’re on the lookout here to discover and do the things we’re meant to do.  Too many people around us are unaware and disengaged.  You and I have got to be proactive about building this life we’re living versus just letting it happen to us.  But how?  If we’re honest, most of us would admit it’s a very intimidating process.

Maybe I know where I hope to end up… but I can’t draw a map to somewhere I’ve never been.  I can’t even see what’s next, let alone what’s after that.  And after that.  And after that. How do I actually get where I’m going?  There are lots of options and many of them could easily be right or wrong.  So it’s probably best to wait a while until the road ahead is a little clearer.

Have you had that conversation with yourself?  I have, and I’ve spent my share of days living a busy life, doing “important” things, but making no real progress.  Spending my days instead of investing them.  Living without a plan because I couldn’t even see five steps ahead of me, let alone fifty or five hundred.

But then it hit me.  Maybe I was looking at it wrong.  Maybe the traceable path isn’t from here to there… maybe I should consider my situation from there to here.

When setting goals or thinking about our future, most of us tend to ask “What do I do next?  And after that?  And after that?”  That works sometimes, but what about when we’re stuck?  What about when we have no idea what to do next?  

When I’m confused, when I don’t know what to do, or when I’m making an important decision, I’ve found it to be far more useful to start at the end and work my way backwards.  Rather than asking “What do I do next?”, I start at the end and back up from there, one obvious step at a time.  I picture myself successfully accomplishing my goal, and then I ask myself:

What has to happen right before that?

It’s a simple, little question, but one that’s had a great impact on my life.  Once I have my answer, I write it down and ask again.  What action has to happen right before that can happen?  I repeat the process until I trace my way from where I hope to be… all the way back to where I am.

For the sake of sharing an easy example, let’s pretend that I need to travel to Hawaii.  (As long as we’re pretending, let’s make it good!)  But let’s say that the thought is overwhelming to me and I have no idea how to get there.  It’s my goal – it’s my purpose – but I’m lost.  I don’t know where to begin.  Let’s take a look at it – from there to here.

I deplane and head for the beach!  (What happens right before that?)
I grab my bag from the overhead compartment.  (What happens right before that?)
I unbuckle my seatbelt.  (What happens right before that?)
The plane lands and taxis.  (What happens right before that?)
We arrive after a 10 min flight. ;)  (What happens right before that?)
My plane takes off.  (What happens right before that?)
I board my plane.  (What happens right before that?)
I travel to my gate.  (What happens right before that?)
I get through security.  (What happens right before that?)
I check in with the airline.  (What happens right before that?)
I arrive and park.  (What happens right before that?)
I drive to the airport.  (What happens right before that?)
I leave my house.  (What happens right before that?)
I pack my bags.  (What happens right before that?)
I book my flight.

Now, if you read the list from bottom to top, you’ll see it’s a step by step plan.  Though I gave a straightforward example here, it works even better in complicated situations.  To be brief, I simplified the list, but I’ve found that the more detail I give on the front end, the less headache I experience on the back end.  You’ll get the most out of it if you embrace the smaller details that linger between the bigger ones.

I recognize this isn’t as touchy feely as I sometimes write.  But through your comments and emails, I’ve come to believe that many of you would step out, but you have no plan, and you don’t know how to get one.  I understand.  With everything that pulls at us, sometimes the thought of trying to predict the possibilities on the road ahead can shut us down.  It’s easier to not ask the questions.  It’s easier to adjust your hopes and expectations for your life.  For those of you who would step out if you only knew what to do, this post is for you.

It’s not enough to have a dream.  It’s not enough to know where you’re headed.  Do you know how you’ll get there?  Have you charted a course from there to here?

This Post Has 6 Comments

  1. Laura

    Thank you so much for this post. This is exactly what I am stuck on and it never occurred to me to do the planning backwards. Brilliant!

    1. Chance

      It will work for you! I’ve used it a thousand times in tough situations. YES, why don’t our brains naturally think this way? Once I considered it this way, it took away so much uncertainty and fear. You’ll see for yourself! :) :) :)

  2. Keith Branson

    Chance, this “begin with the end mind” process works great. I have used it for years in my personal life and coaching others. Having the picture of where you will be at some point in life; then plan you steps toward it. What is fresh for me is the think backwards question. Great insight!

  3. dellane

    chance, amazes and mystifies me how you seem to know just what i need to hear (read). thanks for getting this out.

  4. Nate Bailey

    Love it Chance!!

    It’s amazing how simple this process is and why we don’t allow our minds to think outside the box.

    This post got me thinking of similarities with the book: Harold and the Purple Crayon.

    Thanks again for such a great post!

  5. Anna-Emily

    Another great post that speaks to me! I really found it hard to trace my way to my goal and it did make me feel desperate and lost. It never occured to me to trace it the other way around. What came to your mind sounds like a great idea. Sure it’ll take a lot of effort and patience to consider every small detail but it’ll be worth it in the end! Thank you, Chance, for the endless inspiration your thoughts give me!

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