Three Keys for Turning Your Dreams into Reality by Mark Cole
Modern life revolves around eating.
Do you have dreams?
I’m not talking about the garden variety dreams that you have when you drift off to sleep at night, or the kind of dreams that haunt you after you’ve eaten one too many bites of dessert. I’m not even talking about the passing daydreams that occasionally help you pass the time on a rather dull day at the office.
I mean real dreams. The kind that show you a radically different future than the world you’re presently living in. The kind of dreams that make your heart beat faster the moment you start to talk about them.
The first time I encountered the story of Dave Scott, it was within the pages of Jim Collins’ classic book, Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap and Others Don’t. Collins writes about Scott, who won the Hawaii Ironman Triathlon six times because of his fanatical dedication to his training.
You see, Scott was meticulous in his training. The Ironman is a punishing event featuring three different sports: cycling, swimming, and running. Scott was so dedicated to being the best in his field that he developed a precise plan for success: riding 75 miles, swimming 20,000 meters, and running 17 miles every single day.
Scott’s diet regimen was strict: low in fats, high in carbs, all to give him the exact level of fuel he would need to outpace his competitors. The plan was so detailed that it included rinsing his cottage cheese before eating it to ensure that he would not consume a single ounce of fat beyond what was absolutely necessary.
I’m a runner. I’ve done marathons, half-marathons, 10Ks and fun runs, and not one time in my training have I ever considered washing my cottage cheese in order to gain an edge on the course. In fact, I’ve never even considered eating cottage cheese, much less rinsing off any extra fat! I’m not as committed to my running as Dave Scott was to triathlons, so my level of passion doesn’t lead me to create the kind of plan that he did.
But there is one area where my passion fuels my plan in a way that rivals Dave Scott: personal growth.
Ever since I came to the John Maxwell Company as a salesclerk in 2000, I’ve become a student of personal growth. It’s become a passion of mine— something I simply refuse to live without. I invest heavily in my own growth in terms of time and money, and year over year, I see the returns on that investment outpace the cost. This passion for personal growth has led to the creation of my Life Plan, which I use to guide my growth and achieve my dreams.
What’s a Life Plan, you ask?
Well, for 20 years now, I spend the last couple days of each year going over my life and my growth. I have five dimensions of personal growth that I pursue, and underneath each of those dimensions are three specific subdomains that I focus on. During my review time, I look at my calendar, my checkbook, and my journal to see how well I’ve succeeded in meeting my growth goals.
Once I’ve completed my review, I look ahead to the new year and set my growth plan. I look for conferences I want to attend, people I want to spend time with, places I want to go, books I want to read…well, you get the picture. I chart the course I want to pursue in order to continue growing; and by the time I’m done, I know I’ve set myself up for the best year of growth I could possibly have.
If that seems like a lot of work, it is! But it’s smart work, good work, and it’s produced results beyond my wildest dreams. In 20 years, I’ve become CEO and owner of the company. John Maxwell has gone from my employer to my life-long friend and mentor. I’ve been able to travel the world, speak on stages, and meet with people I wouldn’t have imagined meeting 20 years ago.
And all of this has happened because I was intentional about planning my growth.
I’ve shared all of this to emphasize something that has the ability to literally change your life: you must plan your growth. You were made with a purpose, a reason for being; and if you are to ever achieve that purpose, it will require you growing into it. There’s no time to start that process like today.
I want to share three things with you that I’ve observed in the life of every successful student of personal growth. These aren’t difficult to understand, but they are challenging to master; you will have to work on each of these throughout the course of your life. Rest assured, however, that if I can do these three things, you can too.
- Make Your Growth Essential
The single biggest factor that determines your capacity to lead, influence, and achieve success is your capacity for personal growth. You must fully embrace the truth that growth is essential for success in life. No person ever stumbled their way into success; they grew into it through the choices they made daily.
John Maxwell says it this way: “The secret to your success is determined by your daily agenda.” If your agenda is shaped by your desire to grow, you’ll find that not only do you get better, but the world around you improves, as well. When I began growing, I was able to outgrow yesterday and grow into my future. I outgrew past troubles and grew into present victories. I grew beyond what was and grew into what could be.
But it only started when I decided growth must become my focus. Did you catch that? Growth is my focus, not goals. I use goals to achieve growth, but the goals are just the means to the end—they’re not the end itself. I’ve watched over the years and learned that a goal-focused mentality differs greatly from a growth-conscious mentality. Let me show you some examples of that difference;
– Goal-conscious people focus on the destination; growth-conscious people focus on the journey.
– Goal-conscious people get motivated; growth-conscious people get matured.
– Goal-conscious people are challenged; growth-conscious people are changed.
– Goal-conscious people plateau; growth-conscious people keep growing.
Here’s the thing: growth’s biggest reward isn’t what we get from it, but who we become by it. By making growth essential in your life, you’re choosing a life where every opportunity can shape you and make you better. You’re choosing a life of living up to and living out your purpose and potential.
You’re choosing to invest in the best version of you there can be.
- Define Your Personal Growth
Once you’ve chosen to make personal growth an essential part of your daily life, the next thing you need to do is choose where and how you want to grow. Growth isn’t automatic; it must be pursued, and you have an unlimited number of ways you can choose to grow!
For me, I always focus on my significant relationships, my finances, my work, my character, and my faith. Those are the areas I’ve identified as necessary for reaching my full potential. Your areas might be different—in fact, I hope they are! Because my growth plan is right for me; your growth plan will be unique to you.
Whenever I coach someone in the area of personal growth, I always challenge them with three questions they must answer:
– What does personal growth look like for you?
– How do you want to grow?
– What area(s) of growth will you focus on?
These three questions sharpen your thinking and help you identify those areas where you most want or need to grow. They can also help define the ways in which you grow. Your pathway might lend itself more to reading; or maybe it lends itself to a mentoring relationship; it might even include a regimen of podcasts or webinars to help guide your thinking.
The how will vary, but the results shouldn’t. You want to see a genuine return on your growth plan—otherwise, how will you know if it’s working? For my growth plan, I have 42 items as growth goals. During my last year-end review, I discovered that I had met and completed 82 percent of my goals! That’s a high rate of return, but I would never have known that had I not established a way of tracking my results.
Part of defining your growth will also include setting aside time to evaluate where you are in the process. I’ve mentioned that I do a year-end review; but I also touch base weekly on my growth journey. You need to keep tabs on your growth, much like a gardener keeps a steady eye on his or her flower beds. Touching base throughout the journey helps keep you on track.
I carve out time to ask myself a couple of growth questions—What am I learning? What am I applying?—to help me stay on track or adjust course if needed. Then, at the end of the year, I ask myself two results questions—What am I changing? How am I impacting?—that help me set my course for the coming year.
- Plan Your Growth
When you’ve embraced growth as essential and defined what your growth journey needs to include, the only thing left to do is create your plan. I love plans—they provide helpful guidelines for accomplishing what you want to achieve. In my work, I see a lot of different plans for businesses and products, and I always love the hope those plans represent.
But of all the plans I see, my favorite is my Life Plan. That’s because it impacts every other plan I encounter. It shapes the way I see the world, the opportunities I want to chase, and the people I want to do life with. That’s why I invest so much time in preparing it—and why I encourage you to begin working on yours.
Growth plans can be a lot like a blueprint or a map. Blueprints are highly detailed and specific plans for creating something—be it a house or a car or a piece of technology. It’s a plan for building something to a rigorous standard, and it’s meant to be followed not just closely, but exactly. If you deviate from the plan, you don’t get the intended result.
Maps, on the other hand, are plans of a different type. They show you multiple routes to your destination and allow you to pick the route that best serves you. They show you multiple possibilities while still getting you exactly where you want to go. Want to take the scenic route? No problem. Want to travel the fastest route? You’re covered. Maps are essential for any journey, be it to the corner grocery or to a faraway destination.
I would caution you to think of your growth plan like more of a map than a blueprint. Life has a way of throwing things at us that we could never expect, and it’s our responsibility to adjust.If your growth plan is a blueprint, you might have to completely change the plan to meet the new circumstances, which will cost you time. And if you’ve been frustrated with your progress, it might give you an excuse to give up on growth entirely.But if your plan is a map, you simply choose a new route around the challenge. You can adapt and adjust without losing momentum or enthusiasm—and still arrive at your planned destination!
One of the truths I’ve come to appreciate is this simple statement: “Don’t let life happen to you—make life happen for you, and for others.” Once I started making my life happen—once I started planning for my growth and living out that plan—I saw results that literally changed my life.
Are you planning to reach your potential? Or are you letting life just happen to you?
The life you want is within your reach. You just have to choose growth, set your plan, and enjoy the journey!
This article was extracted from the premier issue of Thrive Magazine (Spring 2021). Learn how to get your copy of Thrive Magazine by visiting us here.