From the September 2011 issue of Investment Advisor • Subscribe!

August 24, 2011

Using Edison’s Principles to Define Goals

Understanding how to set goals so that they will be remembered and translated into behavior is critical for personal happiness and fulfillment. Creativity coach Michael Gelb maintains that Thomas Edison’s ability to manifest his goals was based on an intuitive understanding of how the creative mind functions. You can access and apply the same principles that he did, Gelb says, with the help of a simple acronym that expresses the elements of effective goal-setting: SMART.     

  • Specific. It’s nice to want to be rich, happy and successful, but terms like these are too vague and general. For each of your goals, define precisely what you want to accomplish. For example, instead of saying, “I want to be wealthy,” determine the exact amount of money you would like to have.     
  • Measurable. Determine the criteria you’ll use to measure your progress, so you know when you’ve achieved your goal. For instance, if a client sets a goal of having $1 million by age 45, you can both look at his account statement on his 45th birthday and see if he’s there or not.     
  • Accountable. When you set a financial goal for yourself or a client, you’re responsible for achieving it. Make a commitment to accept this responsibility.     
  • Relevant. Ensure that your goals are relevant to your overall purpose and values. Why do you want a million dollars? To send your kids to the best colleges? To live well? To leave a handsome legacy?     
  • Timeline. Create a clear timeline for the achievement of your goals. Without a specific schedule you’re just fantasizing, not goal-setting.

The SMART acronym provides sound guidance for setting goals, but as neuroscientist Dr. Richard Restak has pointed out, many goals remain unfulfilled because they’re not aligned with our emotions. So how do you integrate emotional and rational elements? Gelb has devised a second acronym—EDISON—that makes SMART goal-setting come to life:     

  • Emotion and Expression. Thomas Edison was intensely passionate about his goals. His biographers referred to him as the living embodiment of the phrase: “I want what I want when I want it.” As the research of Restak and others demonstrates, it’s crucial to express your goal in terms that energize and excite you.     
  • Decision. Goals aren’t realized through wishing and hoping. Instead, like Edison, be decisive about what you intend to achieve. Make a committed decision, even if you can’t yet see how you will get to your goal.     
  • Integration. Always consider how each goal you set will work with your other goals. (Hint: Link your goals to a higher purpose beyond your own personal benefit.) Edison’s goals expressed a life philosophy that he described as “bringing out the secrets of nature and applying them for the happiness of man.”     
  • Sensory. Edison drew pictures and built three-dimensional models to represent his goals. Use all your senses to vividly imagine the manifestation of your goal.     
  • Optimistic. As Dr. Martin Seligman and other researchers have found, optimists achieve better results in life. Optimism drives success and innovation. Edison’s optimism was so powerful that it influenced everyone around him to perform beyond what they believed to be possible.   
  • Now. Express your goal in present-centered terms and begin working toward it now.

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