• Kathryne

Start with the End (and the Why) In Mind

I don't know about you, but I love to read what super wise people say about the world, how our mind works, why we do the things we do, and how we might be able to do things better or more effectively.

This post pays homage to three such wise individuals, combining some of what I've learned from them into something I hope is at least as wise as their individual contributions.

The first is Stephen R Covey, an amazing individual I had the honor of hearing at a Shingo Conference I attended in 2008. In his book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, now a classic 'go-to' reference for productivity, he outlines a framework for 'personal effectiveness'. While all seven habits in this framework are great and amazing, the one I'd like to focus on (if you couldn't figure it out from the post title) is: 'Start With the End in Mind'.

Why, oh why is this so important?

I learned this lesson pretty early on in my adult life. After graduating from High School, I went straight to Arizona State University. Having been a very pragmatic and practical youth, I looked at my strengths (math and science), chose a favorite subject (chemistry) and, realizing I was better at application than pure science, decided to declare my major as Chemical Engineering. I went forth, I studied, I worked, I never even second guessed my decision. In four years, I graduated with a spiffy Chemical Engineering Degree and went out into the world ready to be rewarded justly for all the hard work I had just survived.

There was only one problem. In all of that pragmatic decision making, I never actually looked at what type of jobs Chemical Engineers do. When I finally got around to looking at what the end of this journey actually looked like, there weren't ANY of the jobs I was qualified to do that I actually wanted to do. Oops.


After a year of soul searching unemployment, where I tried to find ANY job I thought I'd enjoy while still utilizing my degree, I took a job in manufacturing. I loved it, but it did not use my degree in any practical way. In fact, I would have been better equipped for that job if I had a totally different, possibly even less intense, degree.

All of that crazy pain and suffering could have been avoided if I had just found the end job FIRST and then decided what path I needed to get there and what degree would best serve me.

The same is true in pretty much every goal or project we have in life. Even if we have the best map on the market, we won't be able to get where we are going unless we actually know where it is and what we want when we get there.

Ok.. Keep that in mind..

The other two smart people I'd like to tell you about today are Chip & Dan Heath who have done some seriously interesting research and written some equally interesting books. The first book of theirs I read was Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard.

In this book they make an analogy about how we are like a rider (our rational/thinking side) riding a giant elephant (our emotional side). As we try to implement change in our lives, our giant elephant REALLY wants to keep moving down the same path it's always gone down. No matter how much our rider knows he needs to turn, or thinks he really wants to, that elephant keeps on plodding down the same road it's always gone on.

Thus, in order to truly start to make a change, you must first MOTIVATE the elephant. Without that.. your rider will just get frustrated and keep trying to move an unwilling elephant. Here's the fun part. The elephant is an emotional being and must be motivated with FEELINGS, not with LOGIC.

As we set out to make positive changes in our lives, whether that change is to be 'more' productive, feel less held back by all the 'stuff' we 'have' to do, or to clean up the piles of clutter that seem to be overtaking our spaces and our lives, we must first motivate the elephant.

Without a properly motivated elephant, nothing will ever really change. Not really. We might clean up our spaces, we might try to eat healthier or exercise more. However, all of these changes will be short lived and ultimately unsuccessful. Admittedly, motivating the elephant is only the FIRST step, but in my mind it is the most important step and the best indicator of ultimate success or failure.

So what does that have to do with starting with the end in mind?

Here is what I'm thinking. If we should always start with the end in mind, but also need to motivate our elephant, then our focus cannot be only on the WHAT that lies at the end of the path. Certainly, we should have a basic idea of where we are headed before we go down the path, which is what Mr. Covey was talking about. However, almost more important than the WHAT is the WHY. Why am I doing this? How do I want to feel at the end? How will it look? How will it feel? How will it make me feel?

Think about it.

Let's just say that I want to unclutter my kitchen. My practical mind first creates a plan and some goals. I need to clear the counters, purge the drawers and get everything so I can access it easily and put it away easily. For some of us, this whole 'plan' can be a tad overwhelming, especially if our kitchen has been in disarray for a long time. However, our rider decides to go ahead and try to get there. About 1/2 way through the 2nd drawer our elephant gets tired and convinces us to take a nap. Afterall, whose crazy idea was it to do this anyway? Apparently we've been watching too much Marie Kondo.

However, if instead of JUST creating a plan (trust me, the plan is important), we also sat down and visualized how we would FEEL once our kitchen was clean and tidy. We could FEEL how proud we would be to have friends over and how FUN it would be to host a dinner party. We could VISUALIZE how much easier it would be to cook and clean our neat and tidy kitchen. We could IMAGINE the smell of happy, healthy home cooked meals, all made possible by having access to the stove and all the implements required to create such meals. If we made the emotional destination clear, then perhaps our elephant wouldn't be so quick to complain.

Trust me, he will still complain. When he does, instead of trying to convince him with logic, we could put some of that imagery in front of him. He likes to eat, he loves to socialize and by visualizing how the end will FEEL and WHY we want to get there, he would be far more motivated to turn that corner and walk a different way to get to that exciting and inviting destination.

Trust me, my friends, this whole productivity and organizing journey is CHANGE. It is a change in how we operate, how we view ourselves and our spaces and how we make decisions about what we bring into our homes and our lives. In order to successfully navigate the change we need to not only start with the END in mind, we also need to find our WHY so we can keep our elephant moving in the direction our rider knows we need to go.

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