We’re firm believers in starting with the end in mind. But if you start with the end…where do you go from there?
Back to the beginning.
Once you’ve identified what “the end” looks like for you, it’s time to connect the dots, drawing backwards, until you get to where you are right now.
Our company, Drawbackwards, has quite a bit of experience with this (as you might imagine). This is the process we follow with our clients, and it’s the process we follow internally as well.
Let’s say we set a big goal for our company—a revenue target or number of key clients that we want to hit within five years. That’s “the end.”
So how do we get there?
We shorten the timeline. If we want to be at the end in five years, what will we have to do in one year? And to get to that one year goal, what will we have to do in six months? You get the idea. We keep working backwards, drawing backwards, creating, shortening the timeline until we get to a step we can take today, right now.
Here’s a hypothetical example:
- We want to make $X of revenue within five years.
- We’ll need to have Y number of clients within one year.
- We need to spend $Z on team talent to deliver for those new clients.
- We need to hire someone to oversee our team efforts and budget.
- We’ll need to write a job description for that new hire.
- We need to have a meeting to discuss what that job description needs to include.
- We need to schedule the meeting.
- I need to set a reminder on my phone to check my calendar and attend the meeting.
Using this generalized example, if we’re going to hit our five-year revenue goal, it’s going to start with us setting a reminder on a phone.
Now, what if we had tried to draw forwards in this example?
We would know that we want to hit that revenue goal. But it’s highly unlikely (or maybe even impossible) that we would know that the first step would be to set a reminder on a phone to schedule a meeting. And even if, by some miracle, I did come up with that first step, I wouldn’t know what the meeting was about. I would have no idea how to connect that action to my ultimate goal.
Connect the dots with the right steps
Malcolm Gladwell is famously quoted as saying that you have to do something for 10,000 hours before you become an expert at it.
It’s an idea that many people have latched on to. It stresses the importance of practice over inborn talent, giving people hope at becoming truly good at the things they love.
The problem is, the idea is often grossly misrepresented.
As Malcolm Gladwell will tell you, 10,000 hours actually won’t do you any good at all…unless you spend those hours practicing the right way, doing the right things, and taking the right steps. Quality is as important as quantity.
Let’s say you want to get really good at tennis, and play at Wimbledon. You commit to spending 10,000 hours practicing. When you practice, you do everything right…except you completely ignore the lines on the court.
I hate to break it to you, but if you practice that way for 10,000 hours, you’re going to get laughed off the court at Wimbledon. (Okay, you probably won’t even get to Wimbledon.)
It’s an extreme example, but you can see what I mean.
Drawing backwards helps you uncover the right steps—the ones that will actually take you where you want to go.
If you plow forward without the end in mind, you probably won’t get to the end you want.
It’s like the famous exchange between Alice and the Cheshire Cat in Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland:
“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”
“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.
“I don’t much care where—” said Alice.
“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat.
This is why visualization is so important when you’re connecting the dots from the end to the beginning: because having a new vision of what your new life could look like will start you down the right path.
For the past few months, I’ve been working on losing a significant amount of weight. After a powerful lightning bolt moment, I realized that my weight was holding me back from living the life I really wanted, and even, you could say, from being the kind of person I wanted to be.
The lightning bolt got me going, but if I was going to keep that momentum up, I needed some powerful motivation.
Visualize the end
I needed to visualize what my life would look like if I wasn’t carrying around 50 pounds of extra weight.
How would I feel, energy-wise? Would my clothes fit better? (Or would I need new clothes altogether?) How would my appetite change? What would it feel like to take a hike, or even just to walk around my neighborhood?
Things like that helped me visualize where I wanted to go, and why. But it was also helpful to visualize the kind of person I would need to be in order to get there.
Visualize new habits
At the time, I was drinking three Cokes a day and regularly consuming 2,000 calorie lunches (not good). I was eating out often, not watching my portions, not exercising regularly, etc. When I realized I needed to lose the weight, I realized that these bad habits were going to have to go. I could see the kind of person I wanted to be, and it wasn’t the kind of person that treated french fries like a major food group.
These visualizations made it a lot easier for me to stay strong on the path toward my goal. When I went on a trip to Mexico with some friends, our rental house was basically overflowing with snacks, I had to ask myself: “Would someone 50 pounds lighter than me eat half a Costco container of M&Ms in one sitting?” The answer was clearly no, so I limited myself to a handful.
When we went out to eat, I had two tacos, not six. While most of the group drank soda all weekend long, I mostly stuck to water bottles. And so on.
Here’s the thing: because I had that vision in my head of what my life could be, and the kind of person I needed to be in order to live that life, those healthier choices weren’t even that hard to make. Visualization helped me stay the course.
Visualizing how to connect the dots for yourself
Sometimes, it can be tricky to paint a really clear picture of what a “new you” and a “new life” would really look like. Tools like the five whys, the obituary exercise, and celebration questions can help you get started. We outline those techniques, along with more helpful tips, in this post.
Want to move forwards? Then you’ve got to work backwards. Start with the end in mind, connect the dots, and get ready for some progress.
Want help narrowing your focus so you can discover what “the end” looks like for you? Take our free assessment. It will help you begin to visualize your future and define your goals.