I have seven autographed pictures hanging on the wall next to my desk at home. Eventually there will be 12.
I was nine years old when Neil Armstrong planted that first footprint on the moon. My parents let me stay up late to watch. Nothing in my childhood grabbed my imagination more profoundly than that single event. My fascination only deepened over the next three years as a total of 12 astronauts walked on the lunar surface.
Five more photos with signatures and I’ll complete my collection.
The journey to the moon was launched in May 1961 when President Kennedy said, “We should commit to achieving the goal before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to earth”.
One of the greatest goals ever! It also shaped how I approached my own goals for years. Aim high, be specific, and set a firm deadline. That was my strategy. Sadly, my goals never ended as well as President Kennedy’s. They rarely survived more than a month. In discouragement I simply gave up goals altogether. Why bother?
Ironically, as I continued to learn about the Apollo Moon Program I realized how wrong I was about the president’s original goal. Its power wasn’t in how it was structured, but instead it was powered by the intentionality and commitment of the people who made it happen.
Without meaning to, I deconstructed my shallow approach to goals and replaced it with a deeper understanding of how that Moon Shot Goal was actually accomplished. That eventually changed the way I approach my own goals like getting 20,000 steps every day for a year.
I used to set a bunch of goals every December for the upcoming year. My process was to take a couple hours and write down everything I wanted to do over the next twelve months. If an idea popped into mind I made it bold and specific as I put it in my annual Goal Notebook.
Some of those goals included paying off all my debt, reading 50 books, running a marathon, finding 10 new friends, creating a syndicated comic strip, and making over three rooms in our house. And, these weren’t even the complete list. Sadly, none made it past January.
All my goals were fueled by emotion. That meant I was flying really high for about two weeks before the emotions faded. Then I would spend a few days gutting it out before just giving up.
Not anymore. Now, I have only a handful of goals and none of them were created in just a couple hours. My snap, emotionally fueled goals have been replaced by thoughtfully constructed intentional goals that go through a five step process. I didn’t set out to create this process, but it slowly developed after I gained a better understanding of NASA’s Moon Shot Goal.
I wrote about Step One last week. I carefully consider whether an idea is worth pursuing. What are the benefits? What are the costs? If it becomes a goal, what could knock me off course?
If an idea survives Step One, and not many do, I move forward to the next step.
I always imagined NASA focused on President Kennedy’s audacious goal and that alone drove them towards success. I’ve learned that’s not accurate. Every goal worth pursuing has a big picture end goal. But, to keep moving forward you also need a much smaller “what am I doing today?” goals. It was these smaller goals that powered the NASA engine. Over nine years thousands and thousands of these successfully completed “today goals” eventually culminated in reaching the BIG goal.
That might strike you as obvious, but it never occurred to me. I figured as long as my goals were big, bold, and time specific that’s all I needed. I was an idiot.
I also learned that President’s end goal was not walking on the moon. The actual BIG goal was beating the Russians. The president needed to swing the balance of world power away from the Soviet Union. They were winning and the world was becoming more dangerous as a result. Kennedy surmised beating them in the arena of science, which was of the highest order to the Soviets, could shift the world’s respect back to the United States. He was right.
That means Moon Shot was really a mid-term goal. It was the means to a much bigger end. That was also helpful to know as I reworked my own approach to goals.
Now, if an idea survives the question, “Is it worth pursuing?” I need to set two goals.
What’s my Big Goal?
What do I really want to accomplish? Getting 20,000 steps every day for a year might feel like a big goal, but it’s not. Just like the Moon Shot Goal it’s actually a means to an end. I’m in that season of life where “old age” is no longer an abstract concept. It’s getting closer and closer. I want to age well. I don’t want to be one of those old guys who can barely move. I don’t want my days controlled by bad health. I want my health freedom for many decades. So, here’s my Big Goal. I want to be a 95 year old man who’s best decision every day is where I’m going to do my three-mile walk.
That’s a powerful Big Goal for me. It’s highly motivating, but it’s not going to just happen. Intentionality dictates that I always have a Today Goal that keeps me on track and moving forward.
What’s my Today Goal?
I’m committed to doing something everyday that will help me reach my Big Goal. For the next year my Today Goal is walking 20,000 steps a day without taking a break. Even before I reach the finish line for this goal I will already have another one ready to go.
I am not going to age well unless I am intentionally pursuing it every day…regardless of how I feel. Truthfully, there are days when I could not care less about the 95 year-old me. I’m investing a lot of time in someone who is almost 40 years away. If I didn’t have a Today Goal I could easily convince myself that taking a break is OK.
When President Kennedy said we will land a man on the moon by the end of the decade that was still nine years away. If NASA, who was tasked with achieving the goal, didn’t immediately set Today Goals, Neil never would have made that small step. NASA had a lot to figure out to reach the moon and they never slacked off because the Big Goal was still a long time away.
I certainly don’t mean to equate my 20,000 steps with what NASA achieved, but the principle is the same. To reach a Big Goal you need lots of Today Goals.
Next week I’ll write about the Step Three. It’s the most dramatic one of the five. It’s also made the biggest difference in whether I achieve my goals or not. It puts intentionality into my Intentional Goals.