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The Power of Planning

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By Rich Harris, Managing Principal

Abraham Lincoln once said, “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four hours sharpening the axe.” That clever aphorism might best describe how I approach each year of my own real estate practice. For all of my professional career, formal business planning has undoubtedly been the cornerstone of my approach. I have seen firsthand the impact my New Year goal-setting and planning has on the trajectory of my personal and professional development.

Every year as December closes and January rolls in, we have an opportunity to press “pause”, to take a calm, unhurried look at what our “real world” has become, and to ask ourselves what our perfect world looks like, and how we can get a little closer to that goal. The process is less of a reset than a recalibration, a subtle shift here, a tweak there, and a new goal in a certain area of my life. Of course, nothing prevents us from doing this at any point in time, but somehow the hard reboot of a new year gives many of us the sense that we, too, can have a new beginning, grow into a new role, or choose to shift our development along a slightly different path. Unfortunately, for many, the high aspirations and resolutions of January 1st fail to even make it into February. The first few weeks of the year see surges in gym membership, online course enrollment, and redoubled efforts at business development, but without a concrete plan, many of these good intentions slowly fade without ever achieving results. That’s because there is a difference between [informal] wishing and [formal] goal setting. When we have a wish for change, but don’t reinforce it with attention and persistence, the force of habit quickly pulls us back into our old way of doing things – and the science clearly backs this.

The Power of Habit

One of the most thought-provoking books I’ve encountered in my adult life was Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit. Duhigg masterfully weaves powerful life stories where psychology and physiology intersect – and we learn that force of habit can be very difficult to overcome. The book describes how, in 2006, a Duke University researcher found that more than 40% of the actions people performed weren’t actual decisions, but habits. Strong cravings force the brain into autopilot. As we associate cues with rewards, subconscious cravings emerge, and unless we deliberately or intentionally fight habit, unless we find new routines, the patterns of our lives will unfold automatically. However, if we can learn new neurological routines that overpower our old habits, we can force these self-limiting behaviors into the background. When we learn to force ourselves to go the gym or start our homework or eat a salad instead of a hamburger, part of what’s happening is that we’re changing how we think.

One of the most powerful studies the book cites was done in Scotland in 1992, and featured 60 patients that were recovering from hip or knee replacement surgery Facing a long and painful recovery, 30 patients followed normal medical protocols, while another 30 patients did the same except that they were told to write down very specific recovery goals in a personal journal and review them with their physician. The result? Patients that wrote out their goals walked almost two times as fast as those who did not, and were able to get out of their chairs unassisted three-times as fast!

The Quick Science of Goal Setting

For some additional background, in the late 1960s two psychologists, Edwin Locke and Gary Latham, discovered that goal setting was one of the easiest ways to increase motivation and enhance performance. They went on to prove through numerous studies that setting goals improved performance between 11% and 25%. Can your business benefit from a boost of 11% to 25%? How about that year over year? Locke’s research showed that the more difficult and specific a goal is, the harder people tend to work to achieve it. They also found that BIG GOALS lead to BIG OUTCOMES. Goal setting drives two intangibles to achievement: attention and persistence…from there it is about commitment. The most powerful goals align your core values with a desired outcome, and there are two indispensable keys to success: WRITE IT DOWN and MAKE YOURSELF ACCOUNTABLE.

Principals of Assessment and Goal Setting

I would offer the following suggestions as a foundation for goal setting in our personal and professional lives:

  • Start with the end in mind
  • Think without limitations – identify ‘drag’ – emotional, environmental, or individual (self-limiting thoughts)
  • Be honest about your strengths and weaknesses
  • Any themes rise to the surface?
  • Analyze your situation (environment, competition, best practices)
  • Set BIG goals, and break complex goals apart
  • Assess ideal time spend, then quantify ‘actual vs. ideal’
  • Get feedback from those you trust and engage someone outside your industry for additional ‘fresh’ insights

Whether our goal is to grow our business, further our education, or strengthen our relationships with family and friends, with intention and commitment, we can achieve as much as we can imagine. Now that the gym surge has subsided, what are your aspirations for 2016? And have any best practices helped you stay focused on achieving your goals? Happy goal setting!

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