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Begin at the End

November 15th, 2009 9:57 AM by Lehel Szucs

Begin at the End - By Tom Hess

One of the most valuable lessons to be learned, in terms of achieving goals, is to begin at the end. When working towards any goal, most people begin at the beginning (sounds logical doesn't it?). The problem with starting at the beginning is most of us are focused on where we are right now. It is natural to begin from where our current strengths and weaknesses are, where our preferences lie or based on what our present circumstances are. Then what we normally do is put one foot forward (take action) based on those things. For many of us, the direction of that step (and the rest that will follow) is typically on the path of least resistance.

A common mistake in planning to achieve any "multi step goal" occurs when we begin planning from where we are in the present moment (from the beginning). This is the "bottom up" approach. Contrary to popular belief, the key to effective planning is to design your strategies from the "top down." After you have established clearly defined and specific goals, develop your plans in reverse order (also known as "backwards" or "top down"). To do this we need to know the final step to reach that goal (notice I did not say "the first step", I said, "the final step"). Once we have that answer, we need to know the step just before the final step. We repeat the process until we get down to the level we are at now.

Why should it matter if you make plans from the top down versus the bottom up? Is there really a difference between top downand bottom up? Won't all the steps be exactly the same? NO! Why? Well there are many reasons, the main one is this: When you plan from the top down, you must take action IN ADVANCE to gain the knowledge needed to create the plan. This means you need to actually know (or be committed to learn) what the final steps are. Most people do not know what they are (which is perfectly normal), and/or don't invest the time to find out. What typically happens is people begin from the beginning with an attempt to do things from the bottom up. Figuring out the first step to take from where they are now is usually easy to plan. And maybe the next 3 or 4 steps are also pretty easy to see how those things point in the general direction of their goals. Then they get stuck on what the rest of the steps might be and instead of really finding out, they usually begin to take action without a completed plan. They tell themselves things like this:

"I don't know exactly what to do, but I have a general idea of the obvious stuff that I should be doing now, so I'll do those things and then I'll try to figure out what to do after that".


"I can't plan that far ahead so I'll just get started now and see where that leads me."

Imagine if a corporation developed strategies in this way. They would waste a lot of time and money not really knowing what all the steps are and their competitors would put them out of business.

The other problem with building plans from the beginning (bottom up) is that it is very likely that the steps will take you in a direction that is off course from the outcome you want. Sure, strategies may evolve over time, but the chances of staying on course are greatly increased when you know what the final 5-10 steps need to be and plan the earlier steps around getting to the later steps.

What's next?
We all know to search for answers to our questions. Most people spend their time finding answers to the questions in the middle circle. But how can we succeed if we don't even know what it is that we don't know? Finding the answers, the solutions, the guidance, and your own path to achieve what you want will be so much harder if you don't know what the right questions are.

Since I am a guitar teacher and a music career coach, when I explain these concepts to my students, I tell them the following: "Think back to when you were a beginning guitar player and had no clue what was involved in becoming a good musician. You probably knew there would be a lot to learn, but didn't know, at that time, how much there is to be learned. In other words, you didn't know what you didn't know. As time went by, you gained more experience and now understand more about music than you did before. The more one learns, the easier it becomes to see how much more there is to know."

Imagine you are seeking solutions to an important problem or challenge in your life. You go to a huge library searching for solutions. Lets assume that somewhere in that library is a book (or set of books) that contains the answers you need. Now imagine that for some strange reason you don't want to ask the librarian to help you locate the book(s) that have the solutions/answers you seek. How easy will it be to "get lucky" and stumble upon the right resource you need?

It seems obvious that the fastest way to acquire the knowledge is to go straight to the librarian and tell him/her exactly what you are looking for, or look it up on the library's data base. It's not very effective to read every book in the library to find the specific answers you are searching for. Yet, this is exactly what some people try to do in order to reach their goals. Other people look at the massive size of the information out there and become intimidated by it. These people give up on their goals because it seems to "unrealistic" or "impossible".

Many people spend years chasing things that don't matter and ignoring the things that do matter either because of ignorance or unwillingness to commit to finding a better way. (I can relate. I used to be exactly like this.) Those that have the greatest chances of finding the solutions to their problems or challengesare the people who seek first to discover what it is that they do not know. To have the right answers, you need to possess the right questions. Many of those answers may lie beyond what you are even aware exists right now.

To begin at the end you must:
1. Be specific about what the end actually is.
2. Build your plans from the top down (not the bottom up).
3. If you don't know how to build from the top down, find someone who does know.
Every person, situation and goal is different. Outlining a complete hypothetical plan that is specific and detailed would be overly cumbersome in this format. The purpose of this article is to shed light onto the principal of beginning at the end, not to engross you into a plan that may not be relevant to you, your goals, and your present circumstances.
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Posted in:General
Posted by Lehel Szucs on November 15th, 2009 9:57 AM



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