15 March 2015

Reflecting on National Apprenticeship Week, it’s hard not to think about the energy and passion the apprentices at UKFast not only possess, but also spread throughout the business. It’s the same with any positive person; their attitude ripples outwards, influencing everyone in its wake.

But why is it that, as we get older, so many people seem to lose this spark? Why – if you followed one hundred people from youth to middle age – would you likely discover that only a handful of them became hugely successful?

It’s a question that radio legend and motivational speaker Earl Nightingale endeavoured to answer from a young age, pondering how a boy from a background with no notable advantages over anyone else could achieve the things he felt passionately about.

He lived an extraordinary life, surviving the attack on Pearl Harbour, and years later, went on to unveil some of the answers to this question in his audio work ‘The Strangest Secret’.

So, what is success?

Nightingale’s view was that, “A success is anyone who is realising a worthy predetermined ideal because that’s what he or she decided to do… deliberately.”

Whilst it sounds simple, only a handful of people really achieve success. Consider this: It takes the same amount of energy treading water as it does to swim in a specific direction. You can be working tremendously hard to keep your head above water yet not actually accomplish anything in the process. (Which reminds me of my first 10 years in business) Compare that to a swimmer standing on the diving board, focussed on reaching the other end of the pool and the difference is clear: you have to know exactly where you’re going in order to succeed.

I’ve found myself talking a lot about goal-setting during the last couple of weeks, whether to the team at UKFast or the great class of students at Manchester Business School. My mind has been flooded with memories, many of me and Gail and the times we’ve sat down together – in front of a log fire with the snow coming down heavily outside, or basking in the heat of the Maldives – and getting our goals down on paper.

The Maldives, where Gail and I often set goals for the year

The Maldives, where Gail and I often set goals for the year

I can’t stress how important this process is. Earl Nightingale captured this in essence when he said, “We become what we think about” – the strange secret that seems so elusive to so many. Nightingale used a great metaphor for this, looking at the human mind as if it were a farmer’s field:

“The land gives the farmer a choice. He may plant in that land whatever he chooses. The mind, like the land, will return what you plant, but it doesn’t care what you plant.

“If the farmer plants two seeds, one a seed of corn, the other nightshade – a deadly poison – waters and takes care of the land, what will happen?

“It will return poison in just as wonderful abundance as it will corn. The human mind is far more fertile, far more incredible and mysterious than the land, but it works the same way. What we plant, it must return to us.”

It’s a great reminder to be mindful of your thoughts and make sure that you know what your goals are. What do you want? Is the image of that goal clear in your mind or is it vague and uncertain?

When you have a clearly defined goal, one that you can imagine in detail, you’re already on the right track. There’s a reason why many highly successful people are often described as obsessive. Once they have an idea in their mind, they focus on it, talk about it and eat, sleep and dream about it until one day it materialises before their very eyes.

Whilst this level of obsession isn’t necessary for hitting your goals, it does illustrate the power of Nightingale’s words: “We become what we think about”.

If you haven’t tried goal-setting before, why not take a chance and start now? Get yourself a notebook and a pen, sit somewhere comfortable and get scribbling. Ask yourself what you want and turn your mind to achieving it.

As Earl Nightingale put it, “You have nothing to lose, but you have your whole life to win.”

Let me know how you get on.

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