Strategy is the second step of ESPER.

What is Strategy?

Strategy refers to a game plan which enables effective pursuit of a specific goal or result. It is a set of underlying principles which determines your action plan toward achieving your end goal. ESPER itself is a strategy for successful goal achievement. The S in ESPER refers to the specific strategies that pertain to your goal.

Strategy is like your blueprint for success. Think of it as the cross sectional map that shows you the best way to lead you to your goal. In war, generals gather together to devise strategies to secure an ensuing victory. In the world of business, companies invest millions in research to develop strategies to win in the market place. Consultancy is such a lucrative business because they identify patterns and strategies for corporations to get an edge over the competitors. In stock markets, the most successful traders spend years studying market trends of the past, identifying strategies and applying them. It is really not much different when it comes to your goal achievement.

Strategy is the one step which most people totally miss in the process of goal achievement, which then leads to their failure. Remember that for every goal, there is always a certain blueprint underlying it that guarantees its success. If you are to identify that blueprint, you pretty much have the goal in the bag.

Strategy Is Underutilized

In the systems I was brought up in, the ability to precisely follow instructions was viewed as epitome of a good student/citizen/employee. People were taught to do, not think. Back in school, we were credited if we used the exact same methodology we were taught. Any other methods, even if it led to the same output, were discouraged. Forms of thinking or behavior that did not conform to the norm were viewed as defiant. This is very commonly found in Asian societies, especially in China and Japan. As a result, many people are great in execution, but weak in strategizing.

I have seen many people around me who are unaware of the importance of strategy. They jump right into the execution of their goals, instead of studying their goals first and developing a strategy. What immediately follows is them succumbing to a cycle of self-depreciation and negativity. In the process, they waste their energy, get burnt and put themselves in a worse situation than before.

My Experience With Strategy

One of my personal success stories where strategy played a monumental role was when I switched to become a vegan in Jan, 2008 (triggered by the curiosity on how it would affect my mental clarity). Before this, I was eating the society’s average diet including animal products. I had never been a vegetarian or vegan in my life, nor have I even remotely thought about it before.

Because I wanted to succeed in my goal the first time round, I sat down to work out a strategy that would definitely secure a victory. There were many things I did in preparation of the goal, including a full research on veganism, anticipating obstacles that would prevent my successful transition and my counterplan for those obstacles. I got in touch with vegan/vegetarian communities, made a list of nutritional sources from foods so I would have adequate nutrition, bought a blender to prepare my meals at home, among many other things.

The outcome was a home run. Not only did I not feel any desire to eat meat afterward, I also did not experience any difficulty in the process. In return, I almost enjoyed the upsides of being a vegan immediately, such as the increased mental clarity, the increased vitality, improved sense of morality, among others. While I have heard of other people who try to become a vegetarian/vegan and revert back to meat within the first week, I did not experience any of such problems. I became a vegan immediately and have never looked back since.

Develop Your Strategy

As you look at your goal, think about what are your strategies to achieve this goal. What is going to be your blueprint for success? What can you do to fully bust this goal? No matter how huge your goal is, there will be an underlying set of patterns which will allow you to conquer it.

Below are 10 guides to develop your strategy:

1. Understand The Goal Thoroughly.

What do you know about the goal? What are all the information you need about the goal in order to achieve success? What does the goal constitute? What is the gap that exists between you and the goal currently? List all the information and knowledge you have that you think will play an important role in reaching your goals.

2. Pre-empt Obstacles so You Can Address Them.

Imagine that you are now pursuing your goal. What obstacles do you anticipate standing in your way of success? If you have pursued this goal in the past, what derailed you? Write all these obstacles down and rank them in order of magnitude. The bigger the obstacle is in diverting you from the goal, the higher the rank.

From here, brainstorm on ways to bust the barriers. When you do this, you will have a set of ready solutions at your disposal when you face these obstacles later on. Instead of getting distracted in the middle of your goal pursuit to troubleshoot those barriers, you can easily brush them aside with the solutions you have developed. You can use the list of 25 Brainstorming Techniques for this exercise as well to identify ways to break out of those obstacles.

For example, when I was working out my strategy to lose weight, I realized that I had a penchant for doughnuts (Homer Simpson, anyone?). If I were to start eating a doughnut, it would set off the trigger to break out within the confines of my diet; in fact this was one of the reasons why my previous weight loss efforts were futile. I addressed the issue by staying away from doughnut shops, refusing doughnut offers from friends, telling my mom to stop buying donuts home. Nowadays it is no longer a problem as my natural inclination is toward much healthier foods and I find donuts too unhealthy for me.

3. Identify your 80/20 Route.

After you have obtained all the knowledge on your goal, identify all the paths you can take on to reach there. think about all the potential paths that can be undertaken to move toward your goals. Brainstorming plays an important role here, since you want to leave no stones unturned. Go wild with your ideas; really think out of the box! Visit 25 Brainstorming Techniques for solid brainstorming techniques you can use for this exercise.

After you are done brainstorming, assess all those options based on the information you have. Out of all those paths, which is your More with Less or 80/20 route? The More with Less or 80/20 route refers to the path which gives you the most reward for the least effort, as opposed to other paths which may give you low reward for low effort, high reward for high effort, or low reward for high effort.

4. Identify Key Pillars of Success, or 80/20 Actions.

After you have identified your 80/20 route, identify your key pillars of success. Key pillars of success are the few action steps which give you the bulk of the results; they absolutely need to be executed for your goal to be a success. Another name for them will be the 80/20 Actions; the 20% of actions you undertake which give you 80% of results. Again, do not be caught up in the number 80/20; it is just a metaphor for the disproportionate relationship between cause and effect.

Rank your key pillars of succes pillars in order of importance; this prioritization will guide you as you move to Planning/Execution. To be able to identify these pillars, you need to obtain a thorough knowledge on the subject matter and goal itself (see point 1 above).

For all the other action steps that are not your key pillars of success, they fall under your 20/80 actions. These are 80% of your actions which give you only 20% of the results for your goal. There is no need to discard them per se; when the need comes, you just need to prioritize your 80/20 Actions over your 20/80 Actions. We will talk more about this in Planning.

5. Bust Your Goals with Overwhelming Force.

This is a tactic used in military to overkill the opposition. The concept of overwhelming force means over-committing all your resources, time and energy so that there is absolutely zero possibility of you failing. While it is possible for you to achieve your goals with lesser resources, you are also eliminating any chances of failure. Isn’t it more effective to get the job done once and for all, rather than dragging it around? Within the More With Less route and key pillars of success you have defined, what are all the things you can do to absolutely overkill you or goals, without any question of doubt?

6. Something Different, Something Extra

If this is not the first time you’re pursuing this goal (meaning you’ve tried to achieve it before, even if it’s just setting the intention), a question to ask yourself is what you’re doing differently that will help you achieve the goal. After all, if you’re just taking the same actions, you’re going to get the same results. Same input = Same output. If you want to get different results, that means you need to do something different. Doing more of something can be a different action too.

Further reading: Not Getting What You Want? Time To Change Your Actions

7. Make Use of Existing Resources.

Think about the existing resources you leverage on in your goal pursuit. There is an amazing wealth of knowledge and experience around you which you can utilize. One of the ways will be reaching out to people who have tried to achieve the goals or even achieved the goals before. If possible, look for mentors or coaches to help. Other sources include the websites, books, podcasts, online communities, friends, just to name a few.

8. Leverage on Your Environment.

Your environment guides your actions and behaviors and can be leveraged on to aid you in your goal pursuit. When you are in a building, notice how its structure alters your decisions and actions inside accordingly, whether it’s walking in a certain direction to get to a room, the use of elevator or stairs to get to a different level, and so on.

Ask yourself this – How can you use your surroundings to support you in your goal? How can you modify your surroundings in a way such that it aids you in achieving your goal? What kind of environments can you immerse in that will set you on sail toward your goals? As you start observing your environment, you will find there are actually many ways you can make use of it.

For example, you may want to become fit. You can put up pictures of athletes around your room to remind yourself of your goal. You can start throwing out your larger clothes and buy fitting or smaller clothes in preparation for your new body. You can hire a trainer to get you up to speed. You can remove all the junk food in your house so that you will not have the opportunity to eat them. You can join both online and offline communities where fit people will amass, such as sports clubs, marathon groups, etc.

Further reading: Using Your Environment To Achieve Your Goals

9. Develop Your Skills.

With the achievement of every goal, there are different skills which you need to learn. The core skills are the ones which are critical to the success of the goal. The secondary skills are nice-to-haves and not need-to-haves to achieve your desired output. Which are the core skills and secondary skills for your goal? How can you develop these core skills to ramp up your chances of success?

Further reading:

10. Create Accountability.

Create accountability via two levels. The first level is accountability toward yourself, which we will discuss in the last step of ESPER, Review.

The second level is extending accountability beyond yourself. Who are the people you can get to hold you accountable for your results? You can get together with a friend who is sharing the same goal, share your plans and targets with each other and start holding each other accountable. Join support groups or communities which are related to your goals, such as weight loss groups, Alcoholic Anonymous, entrepreneur societies, Toastmasters, etc. Around you, start telling everyone about your goal and your desired outcome. They will start associating you with your goal and ask you for updates the next time they meet you.

At the end of the day though, remember your goal is your responsibility solely and its success depends on you. People around you can only serve as an aid.

The strategies you develop will form the foundation which your goal plan will be built upon. We will be discussing about Planning in the next part.

This is part 4 of a 7-part series on what it takes to successfully achieve goals.

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