If somebody says to you, “Hey, if you don’t lose 40 pounds, you’re going to lose your wife, your family, your house, and everything that matters to you.” How motivated do you think you would be? You would be really motivated. Right? A tool that I have used a lot is making movies in my head that are so powerfully negative that they drive me to take relentless action toward my goals. It’s easy to visualize what it would feel like the day Inc Magazine calls me up and says, “Hey, you’re the fastest growing consumer products company in the country.” Maybe that positive visualization is associated with what it feels like to see at million dollars put in my bank account. It’s a great visualization, but how does that feeling propel me in my dark hours to want to have that outcome and not take the easy way out and quit? Do positive feelings about a goal tell the complete story about How to Be Unstoppable?
How to Be Unstoppable – The Yin and Yang of Unstoppable Visualization
In my TED talk, How to Be Unstoppable, I describe a yin and yang of potential positive and negative outcomes; and in many of my darkest hours, it was the negative outcomes that really drove me to persist and to keep going. I would build this negative outcome up to something worse than probably would have happened, but it would make me so motivated that I did not want to ever be in that movie’s negative outcome. Let’s imagine that I quit Navy SEAL training and my local newspaper prints on the front page, “We have a quitter from our town. He’s from the Mills family.” In my visualization, I would experience the people that I cared about most – my mom and dad – having to go to a cocktail party and hearing, “Oh, so I heard your son quit training. What’s it feel like to have a quitter?” I would build up not just the emotional impact of my quitting and having to tell people who were saying, “I told you,” but I also involved the people I cared about most and how it impacted them negatively.
How to Use Outcome Accounts to Be Unstoppable
What’s worked for me is using what I call my Outcome Accounts. Whenever I dream up a new Milestone Goal, I create an Outcome Account. It’s a simple way to test how truly important this goal is to me. Some goals are just not as important as others — some are just nice-to-have goals, but not must-haves. You can use Outcome Accounts for any goal, but I find this tool especially helpful when I’m going after a Milestone Goal — something that will require months, if not years, of persistence to attain.
Here’s how an Outcome Account works:
- At the top of a sheet of paper, identify and underline your goal. Example: I want to graduate from the Naval Academy.
- Beneath your underlined goal, divide the paper into left and right halves with a vertical line down the center.
- Place a plus sign (+) at the top of the left column and a minus sign (-) at the top of the right column.
In the plus column, list every positive outcome of achieving this goal. For example, my graduation from the Naval Academy would mean:
- I would be the first person in my family to accomplish this goal;
- I would be able to serve as an officer in the Navy;
- I would have a chance of becoming a Navy SEAL platoon commander;
- I would do things few people in the country ever get to do;
- I would graduate from a place many people said I couldn’t graduate from, including a few teachers and company officers who worked there!
In the minus column, list every negative outcome of NOT achieving this goal. For example, if I were NOT to graduate from the Naval Academy:
- It would mean I would have to serve in the Navy as an enlisted man in the deck division on a ship to pay back the time I had spent at the Academy;
- It would mean that every person who said I couldn’t graduate was right. I’d have to hear their smug voices and see their smirks as they said “I told you so”;
- It would take me a lot longer to earn a commission as a naval officer and even longer to earn an opportunity to become a Navy SEAL platoon commander;
- It would mean I had failed at something I believed I could do;
- It would mean I hadn’t tried hard enough — I would have let myself down due to laziness and taking the easy way out.
Positives (+) | Negatives (-)
These pluses and minuses helped me understand why I wanted to stay at the Naval Academy and commit to graduating. There was a time at the end of my sophomore year when I considered leaving the Naval Academy, but I found my determination to stay in both columns: the positives of graduating and the negatives of failing to graduate. Both the pluses and the minuses inspired me to persevere when many people at the academy said I couldn’t do it. It didn’t help that I had already received the maximum demerits for a senior by the end of my sophomore year. To graduate, I needed to avoid getting another demerit for two entire years! No wonder my company officer said I would never make it. But I did make it, and I did so using some of the very examples I listed above as my inspiration to keep going when everyone else said “There’s NO WAY you’re gonna graduate, Midshipman Mills.” My Outcome Account kept me going. As in Freud’s Psychology of Human Behavior — Avoiding Pain and Seeking Pleasure — I had unknowingly created great inspiration from my negative outcome column, not wanting to give others the satisfaction of knowing what I could or couldn’t do better than I did. That turned into my single biggest motivating factor in sticking with it day after day for those next two years.
Over time, I have found myself creating Outcome Accounts in my head. I’ll list a whole series of pluses and minuses of the desired outcome, and when I come across a plus or a minus that hits me at gut level and gets me daydreaming about what it would feel like to accomplish a particular goal, I know I’ve discovered the “why” behind what I want to go after. At the Naval Academy, I would go to sleep thinking about those individuals who said I couldn’t graduate; I would hear their voices, I would see their faces. No detail was too small for me — I visualized every element of the day that I would graduate and what it would feel like if and when I ever saw those doubters again. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was personalizing my goal and visualizing its outcome. The more I did it, the more it inspired me to keep going. For every goal since then, I’ve used an Outcome Account to outline my reason for putting my head down, working hard, and filtering out those who will help me from those who want to see me fail. The Outcome Account is my single most important first step toward How to Be UNSTOPPABLE.