Follow Your River: How to Set Goals & Achieve Them
(An excerpt from the bestseller How to Completely Change Your Life in 30 Seconds,
based on talks by Earl Nightingale)
Are you immersed in your “river of interest” or simply watching your life from the shore … afraid to get your feet wet?
There are two distinct kinds of successful people.
There are what I call the river people and the goal people. Let’s take a good look at the river people. River people are those fortunate people who find themselves born to perform a special task. Mozart and da Vinci were river people. There are thousands of river people living today. They’re the people who know from childhood what they want to do with their lives.
River people seem born to spend their lives in pursuit of their interest. And they throw themselves into their rivers 100 percent, busying themselves with whatever it happens to be. They don’t tend to think about the idea of success or the making of money; they simply spend their lives doing the best they can in their river of interest. And they’re often responsible for some of the largest achievements and institutions on earth.
We all know the stories of Alexander Graham Bell and Thomas Edison. The businesses that have grown from their inventions encircle the globe and are among the largest on the planet. Einstein was such a person, of course, but there are thousands of them that we never hear of. They are people who would be perfectly content in their fields of interest with only a modest maintenance diet and a roof over their heads. Their work is everything . But because they usually render a very valuable service in the performance of their work, be it in the arts or sports or commerce, they’re usually well rewarded for their efforts, though they may struggle for years before recognition and success come to them.
Dr. Abraham Maslow talked about such people. He said, “One could say a good match is like the perfect love affair or friendship in which it seems that people belong to each other and were meant for each other. In the best instances, the person and his job fit together and belong together perfectly, like a key in a lock, or perhaps resonate together like a sung note which sits in a sympathetic resonance, a particular string on a piano keyboard.” And Maslow said, “Simply as a matter of the strategy and tactics of living well and fully, and of choosing one’s life instead of having it determined for us, this is a help.”
It’s so easy to forget ultimates in the rush and hurry of daily life, especially for young people. So often, we’re merely responders, so to speak, simply reacting to stimuli, to rewards and punishments, to emergencies, to pains and fears, to demands of other people, to superficialities. It takes a specific, conscious effort, at least at first, to turn one’s attention to intrinsic things and values. Perhaps seeking actual physical aloneness. Perhaps exposing one’s self to great music, to good people, to natural beauty, and so forth. Only after practice do these strategies become easy and automatic so that one can be living totally immersed in his or her river.
I believe that each of us, because of the way our genetic heritage is stacked, has an area of great interest. And it’s that area that we should explore with the patience and assiduity of a paleontologist on an important dig where it’s a region of great potential. Somewhere within it, we can find that avenue of interest that so perfectly matches our natural abilities, we’ll be able to make our greatest contribution and spend our lives in work we love.
If we can find our river of interest, we need only throw ourselves into it, fully committed, and there spend our days learning and growing and finding new emerging fields of interest within its boundaries.
The River or the Goal
For some, the river may be a particular branch of science; for others, one of the arts. There are some physicians, for example, who are so wrapped up in medicine that they hate to leave; even after a 16 hour day, they can’t wait to get back to it.
These people are happiest and most alive when they’re in their river -in whatever business or career or profession it happens to be. And success comes to such people as inevitable as a sunrise. In fact, they are successes the moment they find their great field of interest; the worldly trappings of success will always come in time. Such people don’t have to ask, “What will I do with my life?” Their work is a magnet for them, and they can’t imagine doing anything else.
We all know such people, or about such people. Doing what they do is even more important to them than the rewards they earn for doing it.
The second group of successful people are those who are goal-oriented. These people have not found a particular river, necessarily, and can be quite happy doing a number of things. It’s the goals they set that are important to them, and they’re quite aware that there are many roads that can lead to their goals.
Someone once said, “Americans can have anything they seriously make up their minds to have. The trouble is that most of them never make up their minds about anything.” Goal-oriented people do make up their minds about what they want, and they keep their eyes and their enthusiasm on the goal they’ve established until it becomes a reality in their lives. Then they set a new goal, if they’re wise.
One of the problems with this latter group is that after achieving a number of goals and becoming quite successful, they can run out of goals and become listless and unhappy. But not the river people. Their interest in what they’re doing never fades.
So if you’re going to be a big success, chances are you need to be a river person or a goal-oriented person, or both -the two groups are not mutually exclusive.
Tips for Setting Goals
A clinical associate professor of psychiatry, Dr. Ari Kiev, writes, “Observing the lives of people who have mastered adversity, I have noted that they have established goals and sought with all their effort to achieve them. From the moment they decide to concentrate all their energies on a specific objective, they began to surmount the most difficult odds.”
Dr. Kiev continues, “The establishment of a goal is the key to successful living. And the most important step toward achieving an objective is first to define it. I’m sure you have at least 30 minutes a day in which to list your thoughts. At the end of that time, choose from the possible objectives you have listed, the one that seems the most important, and record it separately on a single card. Carry this card with you at all times. Think about this goal every day. Create a concrete mental image of the goal, as if you’ve already accomplished it.”
The doctor points out, “You can determine your special talents or strengths in a number of ways, ranging from psychological tests to an analysis of the unexpressed wishes in your dreams. No method works for everyone. You might start, for example, by clipping and posting newspaper articles that interest you. After 30 days, see if there isn’t some trend suggestive or a deep-seated interest of natural inclination. Keep alert to the slightest indications of any special skills or talents, even when they seem silly or unimportant.
“From this exercise, you should be able to get some sense of potential strengths. Whenever you discover a strength or talent, think of five possible ways to develop it. Write these down on a card as well, and check them periodically to keep them fresh in your mind.”
So take the good advice of psychiatrist Dr. Ari Kiev, and don’t be afraid of failure. As Herodotus wrote, “It is better by noble boldness to run the risk of being subject to half of the evils we anticipate than to remain in cowardly listlessness for fear of what may happen.”
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