What Drug Addicts Can Teach Us About Goal Setting

Every so often I get challenged to prove that goal setting actually works. This often happens when an individual has tried a certain process or step of steps regarding goal setting and ultimately did not achieve their goals, so they doubt goal setting really is a sustainable way to achieve success. Goal setting is actually very easy to prove that it works in helping us achieve our goals and you can find many examples of success and great achievement from a simple Google search, but I like to use an example from a more negative light to really help drive home how goal setting actually works.

I ask the skeptic to imagine someone who has hit rock bottom in their life.  They have no home; they have no money, no car and no family.  Yet with all of this working against them, they can and will get a drug they are addicted to.

We all know drugs are not cheap, so how is it even possible to obtain them? Drug dealers are not apt to give them on loan.  Yet, a drug addict will somehow, someway always find a way to get their fix.

You might be thinking they’ll just use crime to get it and I would agree with you, usually they will use crime.  But I argue the reason for the crime is they are obsessed with the specific goal to get drugs.  You see, without a strong driving passion for getting drugs, the addict would probably never commit the crime.

Since the passion is so intense for drugs, addicts become great goal setters.   They go through a specific goal setting and action plans to get the drugs.  If you were to analyze it, what you would discover would probably amount to a structurally good (although illegal) plan.

1.   The addict will visualize exactly what he or she wants.  They can picture clearly their drug.  They can taste, smell, feel and see it without having it.

2.   They will attach great emotional significance to getting the drug.  If I don’t get the drug, I will die, get sick, or be miserable.

3.  They decide on a specific amount they need to get through.  Those of you who have interacted with addicts in the past may recognize statements like I need at least 2 doses to get me through till tomorrow.  Or, If I can get 7 I wont have to worry about it until payday.  They leave nothing to chance; they decide exactly what they want.

4.  They brainstorm long and hard about ways they can get the drug.  They think of little else.

5.  They make a specific plan for how they are going to get the drug

6.  They act on the plan until they are successful.

Yes, homeless and desperate people may commit some terrible crimes.  But by giving an extreme example of goal setting, usually I can make some progress at convincing the skeptic it works.

But if that example doesn’t convince him, we only need to look at our tallest skyscrapers, airplanes, light bulbs or anything else created by humans.  How is it a woodworker can build a chair?  How is it a new company can start from nothing and grow to millions of dollars in profit?  The answer, in a nutshell is they use the same goal setting strategy as our drug addict above.

1.  They start out picturing what they want.  The woodworker imagines the chair in his mind and the entrepreneur visualizes her idea of running her own business.

2.  They attach emotional significance to the outcome.  The woodworker thinks this will make my house so much nicer, will love sitting in that chair when its in the living room.  The entrepreneur thinks, I’ll love working for myself, I am going to be so happy working in my own shop.

3.  They decide specifically what they need to do to get where they are going.  The woodworker draws up plans and lists out the wood, nails and screws he’ll need.  The entrepreneur draws up a business plan and secures financing.

4.  They brainstorm and think through specifics.  The woodworker thinks through the different woods and what types of cuts and designs to use during construction.  The entrepreneur brainstorms how she will make money short-term and long-term, how she will advertise, how she will grow the business.

5.  They act on the plan until they are successful.  The woodworker builds until the pieces of wood all form into a chair.  The entrepreneur acts until her store opens and dream realized (and then she will work more obviously to keep it running).

By now our skeptic is usually feeling that I have a strong argument.   But if not, I will simply point out his own career to him.  I will ask, “how did you become a lawyer, doctor or restaurant owner? Did you simply luck into it like you are implying?  I mean were you sweeping floors when a boss said” Hey Craig, you would make a good doctor, here you go!”  Here is  your medical degree now get out there and remove someone’s spleen!  No, of course not.  You probably decided as a young student you wanted to help people, you made a specific plan for your education and you acted on the plan.”

Yes, goals work in your life even if you are skeptical.

So if you find yourself questioning whether goal setting works, go ahead and question it. However, take serious time to consider the answers.  When we look at all the good in our lives, isn’t it a result of careful goal setting, planning and action?  That car you are driving probably wasn’t abandoned in your driveway and you just started using it, was it?  No instead, you probably looked around decided what you wanted (set a goal) and made a plan to get it.

Imagine if you were to muster up the same passion for your goal as the addict has for getting drugs.  How would spending more time visualizing what you wanted affect your ability to get it?  How would quick and decisive planning help you get further?  And how would an attitude of absolute determination in succeeding in your goal ensure its achievement?

I recommend we recognize we are already setting goals.  And since we are already doing it, we can assess how well our goal setting has paid off so far.  Has it brought us what we want?  Or have we been a little less successful with them?  Goal setting is how we get almost everything in our lives, so by working to become better goal setters, we can attract more of what we want.

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