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Plan backwards!

One of the most effective ways of planning is to imagine yourself in the future as having achieved the goal. Then, looking back, describe how you got there. Imagining yourself in the future looking back is far more effective than the way we usually plan, which is to look at the goal from the present and try to work out what steps we could take. This is treating the goal as a problem to be solved. While looking back at it from the standpoint of the future treats it as an achievement that we can describe.

Something you may not know is that many authors write the back cover of their book first. Once they’ve written out what the book is about and described why someone would want to buy it, all they’ve got to do is fill the gap between the covers with words!

A similar method is often used by software developers. The first thing they do is write the advertisement describing all the wonderful new features of the software and why it is better than anything anyone else has to offer. Then they have a clear picture of the software and can start writing the program to provide those features.

To achieve a major goal, first write a rough description of 1) what it will be like when you’ve reached your goal 2) how you reached it and 3) where you are now in relation to it.

Then at regular intervals (at least daily to start off with) come back to it and revise it. Flesh it out more and more each time. As you start to develop the goal, the plan and your present progress, your mind engages fully with the process. You may well amaze yourself with the insights that you start to get and the progress you are making towards the goal.

The process of continous revision which I am describing here is a very powerful one. It takes full advantage of the psychological effect known as maturation. This basically states that when you come back to something at regular intervals, you will be further advanced after the interval than you were before it. In other words your mind continues to process the information after you have ceased to work on it consciously. Most of us have experienced this effect by following the advice of our music or language teachers that the way to success is “little and often” rather than huge efforts just before the next lesson. If you’ve ever tried to write a report or an essay the day before the deadline, you’ll know it’s a much harder task than writing it bit by bit over a number of days or weeks.

Applying this to goal setting and planning, we can actually begin to live the process on paper. The wordprocessor is a great invention and makes this type of continuous revision extremely easy.

Reader Comments (6)

Hi, Mark

This sounds like great fun to experiment with! I'll bet this would be a great starting point for mindmapping, journaling, sketching, etc...I'm quite enthused! For the umpteenth time....thank you!
April 3, 2007 at 1:57 | Unregistered Commenterlearning as I go
Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, is apparently a proficent user of this technique.
April 3, 2007 at 21:19 | Unregistered CommenterFergus O´Rourke
Hi, Mark....funny story (actually quite pathetic) After playing with this idea, I intuitively surmised that maybe if I reorganized my filing system using this method, it might aide me in dealing with my cognitive malfunctions. Alas, as I was doing it, I found a check issued last August for $1,163.43!!!!! I didn't plan on such a hefty reward for revamping my cataloging system. Maybe this system could help others with brain injuries as well. A heartfelt thank you once again!
April 4, 2007 at 11:19 | Unregistered Commenterlearning as I go
p.s. My NEW current initiative is finding out how to get this check reissued as it has expired.LOL!
April 4, 2007 at 11:27 | Unregistered Commenterlearning as I go
Now that I've put this common sense method in my AF list maybe I won't forget it. Again.
June 8, 2009 at 18:34 | Unregistered CommenterZane
“A person will never outperform the image he has of himself.” - Maxwell Maltz

Any time you use willpower to make a change in your life, whether it's losing weight or earning more money, it will stir up resistance inside you because you’re attempting to move beyond the safe, familiar and comfortable. You are fighting the survival instinct. The problem is, your behavior is NOT controlled by your conscious mind; your behavior is controlled on a deeper level - from your subconscious mind where your self-concept is located. Most people stay inside a comfort zone that's consistent with the concept and image they hold of themselves. They rarely rise above it or allow themselves to fall below it.

The first step is to choose a new self-image. You could say this is goal setting, but your self-image is not as much a “goal” as it is a PICTURE IN YOUR MIND. Personally I believe that if the goal you are setting lies outside the self-image it will be self-sabotaged.

1. Create the picture in your mind BEFORE you take action on the goals


Put a description of your new image in writing. The act of writing what you want on paper is an intermediary step in going from the ethereal, untouchable state of thought (imagination & dreams) to the concrete, tangible state of form. A crystallisation process. Once on paper (or a “goal card” you carry with you), your image has in essence, begun the transformation from mental to physical.


Be an actor or actress and step into your new role. Take actions that are consistent with the new image you’ve created. Act the part. “What would a person with the self-concept I want do in this situation?” Then do it.


Change your thinking patterns to match your new self-image. You become what you think about all day long. Installing your new self-image is achieved by visualizing, reading, thinking and writing your written description over and over again, day after day, until the new image becomes reality.
November 9, 2013 at 15:34 | Unregistered Commentermichael

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