“What forgotten 4-letter word is the most important element of goal setting?”

by Daniel Batten on March 1, 2010

After mentoring many entrepreneurs I noticed a pattern: entrepreneurs were generally not great at goal-setting. So I did what most mentors did to remedy this: I taught them SMART goal-setting techniques. But unless I was there holding them to account, they did not apply these principles for themselves.

And then it struck me why SMART wasn’t working for them. SMART is a great tool for people who already like task-orientied lives. But most people aren’t like this. In fact, I estimate that 90% of even the entrepreneurs I see do not have what I’d call the “project manager gene”.

One day, I picked up a book from a well-known motivational coach on my bookshelf and turned to a page at random. The page had a great process of how the do goal setting. I showed it to my wife and asked for her opinion.

She said “good”.

I said “Would you do it?”


Now, I’m fascinated. “Why wouldn’t you do it?”

Her reply is forever engraved in my subconscious mind. “because its boring.”

Most of the latter half of the last century, motivational experts noted how fear stops us taking action. So does boredom however. Isn’t it about time we address the second cause of inertia?

Imagine this scenario which illustrates how goal-setting and boredom work hand-in-hand to lead you in a big circle.

Step 1. Goal-setter articulates Goal A: to start a company

Step 2: You read that “A person without a goal is like a rudderless ship” or “If you have no goal, any road will take you there” and you get motivated to take action, so you buy a book on goal setting/ listen to a motivational speaker/ buy an audio program.

Step 3: You listen to that speaker/author/book, then you realise you have to do some work.

Step 4: You get bored

Step 5: You rationalize “hey isn’t it more important to have fun?”

Step 6: You abandon your goal-setting.

Step 7: You are back where you are started.

So how do you avoid the twin evils of boredom or non-achievement and get excited achievement. I can answer that in 4 letter.


Play is the most effective, accelerated and immediate tool for manifestation that the human nervous system could devise. I’m not talking about drama games or playing Drs and Nurses, although that might be fun. What I mean is “intentional creativity” and “structured play”.

I’ll look at examples of these terms in a minute. But first lets look at the three biggest benefits of play.

Benefit 1. Play avoids ever boring us into abandoning a strategy because it utilises the existing ways that humans are hard-wired to learn.

Benefit 2: Play is in our DNA, and a couple of hundred years sitting at desks being serious and stressed cannot change millions of years of evolution.

Benefit 3: Play is the way that all children learn, and it is also the way adults learn effectively. That doesn’t have to mean “physical play”, it can mean “cognitive play” too.

So what might “intentional creativity” or “structured play”  look like to you.

It might mean

  1. Deciding that you will only set goals in line with your passion, then asking a question that is designed to invoke “intentional creativity” in the answer such as “how can I have fun and achive my goal at the same time?” Great question.
  2. Asking a playful question. It worked for Einstein. Before he discovered relativity he asked himself the famous question “What would the world look like if I travelled on a beam of light?”
  3. Using what a professional actor uses to create an authentic powerful character. It is possible for anyone to take borrow those acting rehearsal methods to create a “more powerful version of you”.  For example,
    1. Use your imagination to envision yourself as having already realised your goals.
    2. Envision all the great feelings you will feel
    3. Start performing actions today imagining not only that you have already achieved your goals, but that you have become the person who has achieved them: the slightly more confident, slightly more centred person you will need to become. This is the same process an actor uses to create a character. The only difference is, you don’t have to stretch the imagination quite as far because the character is “the future version of you”.

Play creates fun, and fun is what sustains you when you would otherwise give up.

Play is what guides you to choosing the right goal for you in the first place. It stops you going down the wrong path: a path that doesn’t promise the combination of achievement and enjoyment.

Play is what gets you in a state-of-mind where creative ideas ‘just come’:  Ideas that move you ever-closer, ever-faster to your goals.

Play is the forgotten 4-letter word that moves you towards your goals faster than perhaps any other single factor.

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