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Painting the Mona Lisa and Chomping the Big Mac; What's the Similarity?


My take-away from “How to Get from Where You are to Where You Want to Be” by Jack Canfield.


Principle 8: Chunk It Down

Goal setting and action steps
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The Mona Lisa.

It’s a masterpiece. It is also the sum of strokes. From the master’s brush. It took persistent and passionate effort for Leonardo da Vinci to capture the goal he had in mind onto the board the masterpiece was painted.

Some say it took hundreds of sessions. Through scientific assessment, it was determined that 30 coats of paint, layered in a unique style was needed for the maestro to achieve that “feel and look.”

Zooming in with state-of-the-art magnification tools, art researchers claim that da Vinci used hatching and cross hatching method. Drilling down to the finest details, it is said that the “smile of the ages” was constructed by the artist with 30-40 brush strokes of translucent paint per millimetre.

Fine art.

Whether you are painting the Mona Lisa or chomping the Big Mac, you are working towards a goal. The ideal state is the feeling of personal satisfaction, validation of self-worth and the improvement of well-being. The latter is real or imagined.

Whatever the noble aim is, it takes persistent execution of connected action steps. You cannot reach your goal without first building a roadmap towards it. It is a string of action steps linked to the goal. The roadmap affords you a sense of control and attainability.

Opening Principle 8, Canfield quotes Mark Twain who said the same thing in a different way. The legendary American writer said the secret of getting started is breaking your complex, overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and then starting on the first one.

Like the first stroke of the 30 or 40 that deliver one millimetre of Mona Lisa. Or the first mouth-watering bite into the Big Mac. Canfield is right, a seemingly overwhelming goal can only be achieved by accomplishing individual action steps.

Dissecting a big goal into small tasks and then working on them has been conventional thinking for hundreds of years. The political and military have an equivalent strategy, the Machiavellian staple of “divide and conquer.”

Chunking it down is a related proposition. The purpose is different. Chunking is a science backed method to enhance your short term, working memory and to strengthen your long-term memory of something you choose to remember. Something you want to sustain focus on. Something you want to keep alive within you. Strung into a memorable construct.

Simply explained, chunking is organizing bits of information such as digits, letters, words or component ideas into meaningful wholes. Experts propose that our working memory can hold and work on only 5-9 whole items at a time. So, if we have to remember large amount of information, we have to group them into memorable chunks, enabling our working memory to hold them for the short term. Items deposited into our longer-term memory have to pass through this working memory process.

If you want to remember a phone number, it is efficient to break them into two or three meaningful groups. Especially if you are dealing with anything more than 9 digits. As an example; 60164327321, you might want to organize it as 6016 [Malaysia] 4 [Penang] 32-73-21 [unique number], thus 6106-4-32-73-21[thirty-two, seventy- three and twenty-one]. You get the idea. This is chunking.

Chunking is one way to assist in the encoding of information to be stored in the brain. Mnemonic and state-dependent learning are two other ways to do that. State-dependent learning is by way of association such as with music, smell and even the environment.

The mnemonic system is commonly used for examination by students, such as committing a formula to memory. They usually use the peg word approach, linking a component of the formula to a common word or name. You can also peg to an image. If you want to remember a name such as Stewart Lim, you may want to associate the name to these images; a pot of stew, the Mona Lisa and a person walking with a limp.

Goal Setting and Action Steps
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My favourite approach is using the acronym. When I was leading the building maintenance team for one of the largest multinational corporations, I authored several “process to excellence” initiatives. I used acronyms to make it easy for the team to commit the processes to memory such as R.E.M.O.V.E. for pest control, R.E.A.C.H. for roof maintenance and S.P.A.C.E. for cafeteria safety.

These words used for the acronyms generate relevant visual images. You want to remove all pests, reach for the roof and be as uncompromising for safety as, if you are in the space program. Acronyms reduce huge memory load. They consolidate complex constructs into simple, easy to recall words.

The combination of all these systems keeps your goals afresh and alive in your mind, sustaining your interest and focus. But, first, how do you break down the goals into action steps?

Canfield suggests several ways. The first is to ask someone who has achieved your goals. The author also recommends that you buy a [relevant] book or manual. [You may also ask Google.] These methods offer “instant experience.” They can compress your planning throughput time.

The difficulty in this is; people generally don’t like to ask unless they are compelled to. They are compelled to when the important becomes urgent.

It is believed that the fear of rejection stops people from asking. True but the fear arises from unreasonable expectation. For the inexperienced, it is a common expectation that the first person you ask will buy or the first person you ask will give you the answer you seek. For seasoned pros, they know their “closing ratio.” They know the minimum number of people they have to ask before they get a favourable response. The key is to keep plugging until you get what you want.

By not asking, you are making a crucial rejection. You are rejecting success. Everyone more successful and bigger than you are asking. The retail giants are asking. The banks are asking. The digital monopolists are asking. They are asking through advertisements, TV commercials, web content, email marketing and everything that connect you. To them.

They are not begging. They are asking. You have to study how they ask. They are asking by offering you perceived benefits. They engineer ways to grab your attention and design approaches to quickly engage you.

Yet, they fail most of the time. They are successful enough to meet their goals. I learned from Seth Godin. You don’t have to convert everyone. You just need to reach the minimum viable number. So, go ask and be successful.

The other way to learn how to break your goal into manageable tasks, the author teaches, is to use the Stephen Covey method, “begin with the end in mind.” Reverse engineering. Decide what you want and work backwards. You can stimulate your mind to think through by asking “what” until you reach the actionable task. “What must I do to achieve that?” Put a date to the task. You’ve done it!

The more “technical” method that Jack Canfield recommends to draw the action steps out of your goal is mind mapping. Mind mapping, used to figure things out, has been around since the 1970s, thanks to its most famous evangelizer, Tony Buzan. Some say, there is evidence that the polymath, Leonardo da Vinci had used it in his days. Da Vinci had often lived the 20th century in the 16th century. Parachute and flying machines.

According to Buzan, a mind map mimics the way our brain organizes and store information. It forces structure to the way we design the action plan for our goal. In Principle 8, Jack Canfield shares the actual example on how he mind-mapped the creation of a best-selling audio program. You can get tons of examples from Googling.

It is just a simple web like structure with a big circle in the centre where you write your goal. Emanating from the centre circle are the sub-goals or supporting structural components, for Jack Canfield’s audio program, things such as money, studio, graphics, rehearsal, packaging, audience, props, music, title and quotes. From the sub-goal circles are spokes which list the action steps enabling realization of the goal.

Extract the action steps from the mind map and transplant them into your daily to-do list with the right priority and, the start and end dates. Canfield refers to Brian Tracy’s prescription from the book, “Eat That Frog! 21 Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time.” Tracy advises to identify the one to five things you must accomplish each day. Zoom in on the one you must absolutely get done and do it first. Eat that frog. Feel energized for the rest of the day. I like this observation from Canfield, “However, when you accomplish your toughest task early in the day, it sets the tone for the rest of your day. It creates momentum and builds your confidence, both of which move you farther and faster toward your goal.”

The closing tip for Principle 8 is one that activates your goal seeking power, “Plan Your Day the Night Before.” Canfield notes, “If you plan your day the night before-making a to-do list and spending a few minutes visualizing exactly how you want the day to go-your subconscious mind will work on these tasks all night long. It will think of creative ways to solve any problem, overcome any obstacle, and achieve your desired outcome.”

Goal Setting and Action Steps
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True. Scientists discovered that our brain actually works when we sleep. A good sound sleep is crucial for the brain to conduct internal transactions such as transferring from short-term to long-term memory. As we sleep, it is actively consolidating, analysing and categorising our memory. There is a whole lot of communications, path strengthening and rewiring activities going on in your brain as you sleep.

Further, to achieve your goals, you need the energy from a well-rested brain and body. In essence, it is not wrong to claim that you can sleep your way to success.

Every masterpiece starts with the first stroke. Every grease filled life starts with the first bite. Whatever your goal is, make sure it is specific, has a deadline and is backed by action steps that lead to its achievement. The way you brainstorm the action steps and the method you use to chunk them down are choices you make. The common denominator for success, as Steven Pressfield, the best-selling author of “Turning Pro” and a host of other life changing books teaches; you must do the work. From Pressfield to you, chunk this down into your long- term memory, “Put Your Ass Where Your Heart Wants to Be.” Peg this with the images of a butt, the heart icon and a big smile. Maybe.

Goal Setting and Action Steps
Jakob Owens on Unsplash

Asking. If you enjoy reading this article and you think it is of value to your friends, please send it along. My goal is to write for as many people as possible.


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