From “If” to “How”

One of the things that we like to do is human beings is to fantasize about how our lives would be different if something were different.  It turns out that this mode of thinking produces two distinctive outputs.  The first is that it allows our minds to drift into a world where events unfold exactly as we would like.  The second is that by using the word if, it absolves our minds of any responsibility for making our dreams a reality.

The effect is very subtle, but it is still very powerful.  By thinking about our life if our dreams became reality, it sub-consciously reinforces the belief that our dreams will stay dreams.  A much more productive mode of thought is to consider how we can traverse the distance from where our current mode in life to where we want to be.  This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t dream about what life could be like, and use that as a vision to inspire our actions.  It simply means that we should not give ourselves an easy way out of failing to achieve our dreams.

Shifting from “If”

By shifting our mental efforts to considering how to accomplish our goals, it triggers a very important shift in our consciousness.  It changes the context of our ambitions.  We transition from something that we would like to something that we are creating a plan to go out and attain.  It may be that our first plan doesn’t work.  It may be that our plans need to change.  However, it is always true that nothing will happen unless we take action.

Another important piece of asking how to reach our goals is that it broadens our perspective.  It forces us to consider the causal chain that spans the distance and traverses the obstacles between where we currently are, and where we want to be.  Allowing ourselves to escape this analysis can bring our progress toward the goals and ambitions of life to a screeching halt.  It is almost always true that achieving our ambitions requires many thing to come into place.  It is also true that most of these things will not fall into place by themselves.  Unfortunately, when we think in terms of if, it robs us of the opportunity to organize the events of our life in a way that builds a bridge to our ambitions.  In order to make sure that we construct this bridge, it is critically important to think in the context of how.

Turning How into When

Once we have mentally constructed the map of how our goals can be achieved, it is important to shift our attention to thinking of when this will all happen.  The reason for this is because time is a finite resource.  Of all the resources that are available to us, time is the only one that we cannot produce more of.  Each day contains only 24 hours, each week contains only 7 days and each year only contains 12 months.  There is a practical limit to how much we can do (well) at any given time, so we must prioritize our activities to ensure that the things we hold most important are addressed first.


The notion of priorities is critically important when we traverse the distance between thinking of how to accomplish our goals and figuring when it will happen.  Everybody can create a list of things they would like to do and accomplish that is many miles long.  However, very few people have created a list of priorities that is reflected in their actions.  Most of us act on whatever happens to be the most urgent item of the moment and allow our priorities that are not immediately urgent to slip into the back of our mind until they are all but forgotten.

Ultimately, the factor that will most strongly influence when our goals become reality is where they land in our personal, professional, and financial priorities.  Each decision that we make is an implicit decision not to do something different.  Similarly, pursuing one set of goals is an implicit decision to ignore or delay another set of goals.  Because of this, we must be very mindful of what we prioritize and what we pursue so that we do not ignore things that are of greater importance for the sake of something with greater urgency.

Thinking of Possibilities

One of the buzzwords that has emerged in the popular vernacular over the past decade is “possibility thinking.”A  In simple terms, this is a method of thinking how things ‘could’ be organized to create better outcomes.  The basis of the thought process is to avoid anchoring on the way that things work today and think in an unconstrained fashion to discover new solutions.  This mode of thinking can be very helpful in the context of our personal, professional, and financial goals.  Instead of starting with where we are in life, start with where we want to be.  Instead of attempting to trace steps forward from our current position into the future, trace steps from the future back to the present.

By changing the context of our thoughts, we can change the direction of our lives.  By changing the way we think about the world around us, we will change the way we interact with the world around us.  In this way, the way we think creates ripples that affect the way we act, which influences what we achieve.  Thus, the first step toward achieving your goals is to carefully craft the way that you think about your goals.

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