CCA President Ellen Kleinstuber

Achieving Your Goals – The Journey from Here to There

January 5, 2022

As the clock struck midnight on December 31st and I toasted the start of 2022 with family, I was happy to have a fresh start on a new year, which is sure to bring new challenges and new goals. I was also a little sad to see another year tick by with some big things on my “to do” list that didn’t get done. Over the following weekend, I was catching up on some social media activity and saw on my Twitter feed a post from Dr. Henry Cloud (best known for his book Boundaries) that read: “If you are doing your best work on the most important things, you will reach your goals”. 

This got me thinking.  Am I focusing on the most important things?  Am I positioning myself to be successful in achieving the big goals I’ve set as the CCA President, a business leader, and an everyday person striving to live her best life?  How do I position myself to greet 2023 knowing that I have given my best to help the CCA achieve its goals?  And how do I simultaneously do these same things in my day job and personal life?

As I mused on these questions over the weekend, I remembered why I had started following Dr. Henry Cloud in the first place. Last fall, I attended a conference with my husband for members of his financial coaching network. Dr. Cloud was one of the guest speakers at the conference and his talk was called Desired Future, which examined the seemingly simple question “How do I get from here to there?”

Dr. Cloud pointed out that every problem and every goal that we have can be described as a problem of how to get from “here” (whatever state or situation you are in currently) to “there” (your desired future state or situation). Further, every problem of how to get from “here” to “there” can be solved by following a basic five-step process.

1. Define what “there” is. To achieve any goal, you need to have both a clear vision of what that future looks like and a belief that it’s possible to get there. There are lots of different techniques you can use to help clarify and define where it is you want to get to, or what it’s going to look and feel like when you do. I’m a big fan of the “peel the onion” approach of asking questions that delve into the problem one layer at a time until you finally reveal the core goal or issue. Also, don’t overlook the vitally important element of belief. If you don’t believe deep within that you can achieve the goal, you’re almost certain to fail no matter how much effort and talent you bring to the table.

2. Engage the talent you need to help you get there. Very few people achieve big goals all by themselves. If you already knew how or were able to do it, you’d have done it! We all need other people to help us get from here to there. Start by defining the different people you need to help you reach your goal. Maybe you need a coach, mentor or someone to be a sounding board.  You might need someone with a specific skill set or knowledge that you don’t have.  Maybe you need more (or different) hands to do the work that’s needed to achieve the goals you’ve set. Next, figure out how you engage that talent. This is where having a deep network of people comes in handy. It’s not just the people that you know, it’s also who those people know. 

3. Create a strategy. Having a strategy for how you are going to get from “here” to “there” not only tells you what to do, it tells you what not to do. As you develop a strategy, utilize the talent you identified in step 2 and tie that strategy to a defined plan. Map out the specific activities that need to happen, the timing associated with each of those activities and who is going to help you complete that step. As you work through the process, don’t measure yourself by whether you have met the goal or not. Instead, measure yourself by how you are doing meeting the steps in your plan. If you have a solid plan, and you meet all the steps in the plan, you are assured to get “there”.

4. Create measurement and accountability. There are various tools you can utilize to hold yourself and others on your team accountable for executing your strategy. Consider engaging a coach that can support your measurement and accountability needs, particularly for big goals. A coach serves as an externalized executive function of the brain, assisting with flexible thinking, self-monitoring, planning, prioritizing, task initiation and organization.  Dr. Cloud also discussed the importance of ensuring that accountability is future oriented. Accountability assessments are most productive when people are given the freedom to confess errors or shortcomings without blame or consequences, and just focus on working together as a team to solve a problem and get back on track. One suggested accountability tool that resonated with me was performing a root cause analysis. In this exercise, you ask questions like “If I didn’t follow the plan, why not?” and “If I followed the plan, did it work?” If it did, keep doing what you’re doing. If it didn’t, move on to the next step in the process.

5. Fix and adapt. On the path from “here” to “there” something is most likely going to go wrong. You’ll miss a deadline. A key part of the strategy won’t go as planned. You’ll find you’re missing a key member of your team or someone won’t have the skills you thought they did. When something goes wrong, quickly identify and fix the problem. For example, if you’re trying to create a new habit, missing a day is human. Missing two or more days is a pattern. Identify the unhelpful pattern and break it. Or use the outcome of your measurement/accountability assessment to determine what aspect of your plan needs to be adapted, revised and/or put into motion. This is another way of saying that the path from “here” to “there” is almost never a straight line. There will be times when you must double back and adjust the plan, and that’s OK. It’s all part of the journey.

In closing his address, Dr. Cloud identified the top two reasons people fail to achieve the goals they set for themselves. The first is a lack of vision. You need to be able to clearly see and articulate what the goal is that you are working towards. This helps you create a roadmap for how to get there and guides you in making decisions along the way as you assess your progress. 

The second reason people fail in achieving their goals is not properly prioritizing the activities that get you to your desired state. This one really hit home with me. I struggle with this ALL THE TIME. There is so much that competes for our attention daily. Too often, the squeakiest wheels are not the wheels that drive us toward our goals. If we can filter out the noise and focus our attention on doing the right things at the right time, we will all be crushing our goals in no time. Another tip I learned at this conference is to write about whatever problem you’re wrestling with in the third person. It’s a lot easier to solve someone else’s problems than it is to solve your own, so view your problem as though you’re helping a friend find the answer to their problem, then take your own advice.

Wherever “there” is for you, here’s hoping 2022 sees you progressing along the path to success.