etting goals is the only way to insure that you will keep moving
toward the things you wish to achieve in life. Unfortunately, many
people set goals only to be bitterly disappointed when they fail to
reach them, time and time again. What are the secrets to reaching
your goals and attaining your dreams?
Before you begin, I suggest you take this brief questionnaire. It
will help you to evaluate your present goal-setting style. Check
“never,” “sometimes,” or “always.”
Questionnaire: How Do You Approach Goal Setting?
1. I let the opinions of others influence what
goals I set and my confidence about whether
I can reach them.
2. Before setting a new goal, I thoroughly
evaluate where I am at this moment.
3. When I set goals, I know where I want to go
in the long run.
4. I have a clear picture of where I want to end
up when I set my goals.
5. I plan out my goals in incremental steps.
6. I feel relaxed and clearheaded when thinking
about my goals.
During my twenty-five years of work with thousands of profes-
sional athletes and ordinary people from all walks of life, I have dis-
covered that there are nine basic concepts behind achieving your
goals. These strategies will enable you to discover where you are now,
what you really want to achieve, how to get yourself there, and how to
stay there once you have achieved your current goal.
Strategy 1: Don’t Allow Others to Say You
Cannot Achieve Your Goal
Brett Butler’s recovery from cancer and miraculous return to base-
ball is a prime example of this. Few of us have goals as dramatic and
as crucial as his—to beat the disease that had undermined his
strength and his health and to play the game he loved again, in spite
of the fact that his doctors believed he probably never would. His
journey is one of the most inspiring in which I have ever had the
privilege to participate and is an example of what we can achieve
when we refuse to give up.
In May 1996, Brett had fifty lymph nodes removed from his neck
and throat. One of them was cancerous. Since I had worked with
him for the last eight years and was a close friend, I was one of the
first people that Brett called when he learned about his cancer. He
was well aware of the many athletes with serious injuries and health
problems whom I had helped make a comeback, such as Tulane Uni-
versity baseball player Jared Robinson, who tore up his shoulder so
badly that the doctors said he’d never throw again. Jared focused on
his recovery with unwavering determination and did everything I
told him to do. In no time at all, he was back, pitching better than
Brett’s ultimate goal was to live, but to him that meant being able
to play baseball again. He told me that he had to get back because
being out on that baseball diamond was life itself to him. I told him
I’d do everything in my power to help him.
The first thing we did was assess exactly Brett’s health and what
his doctors were saying about his prospects for making a full recov-
ery. This is tough to do with cancer because it’s impossible to get a
scouting report on it, as you can for a human opponent. But we also
knew three things right from the start: (1) Brett was a man who had
tremendous faith and a solid belief system; (2) he was a fighter; and
(3) we had two great allies—traditional medicine and alternative
medicine—and we knew we could make them work well together,
complementing each other.
We began by breaking down Brett’s goal into small steps, creat-
ing a strategic plan that would enable us to learn everything we
could about his cancer, both past and present. The first decision we
had to make was whether Brett would have chemotherapy as well as
radiation treatment. He opted not to have the chemo, since it would
increase his life expectancy by only 5 percent and would seriously
depress his immune system, which had been a weakness with him for
many years. Brett had perennially suffered from tonsil-related
viruses and Epstein-Barr, a type of chronic fatigue syndrome. Since
he had taken antibiotics for prolonged periods of time, much of the
“good” bacteria in his large intestine had regularly been killed off.
Since much of immune function is based on a healthy large intes-
tine, we didn’t want to weaken him further.
When we showed Brett’s medical report to Dr. James Carter,
emeritus chairperson of the Nutrition Section at the Tulane Univer-
sity School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine and an alterna-
tive- and preventative-medicine specialist, he said, “I don’t think this
is simply cancer of the tonsils. There is something much deeper at
work. Let’s send a sample of his biopsy to a special lab.” When the lab
report came back, there were traces of the Epstein-Barr virus in the
tumor itself, leading Dr. Carter to conclude that there was a direct
link between the cancer and Brett’s weakened immune system.
One of our first goals, then, was to do everything in our power to
strengthen Brett’s immune system. I called on Dr. Charlie Brown, a
team physician for the New Orleans Saints and a cancer specialist, to
chart Brett’s white blood cell count, monitor his progress, and do
everything for him that traditional medicine could possibly do. Brett
took the usual course of radiation treatments recommended for
someone in his condition (thirty-two in all), but at the same time he
also decided to receive care and medications from American Biolog-
ics, a medical clinic in Tijuana, Mexico, that specializes in alternative
treatments for cancer patients. Dr. Carter agreed to administer and
monitor the protocols prescribed by doctors at that clinic, which
included IV drips of amino acids, vitamin C, and other nutrients.
Another important step toward Brett’s recovery was to build his
weight back up. At five foot nine, he normally weighed 165 pounds.
During his illness he had lost 20 pounds of muscle. He looked ema-
ciated and felt weak. I had plenty of experience helping people to
gain needed weight, since I had worked with many tall thin NBA
players who burned off the pounds during the basketball season.
With Brett, however, there was an additional problem. After his radi-
ation treatments his throat was swollen and covered with sores. How
were we going to build him back up if he couldn’t swallow enough
We found part of our answer one afternoon when we were sitting
in the doctors’ dining room at the hospital. A radiologist at our table
said, “When we have to desensitize the throat to put something down
it, such as a tube, we numb the throat with a special medication.” I
asked him if he would call the pharmacist and order some of this for
Brett. He agreed, and Brett began gargling with the medication
before meals. It worked perfectly, and he was able to swallow food
again without pain.
We also created a special drink for Brett to aid in his weight gain.
This consisted of vanilla Ensure, a high-carbohydrate powder called
Carboplex, creatine monohydrate to increase his muscle mass, and
Personal Edge soy protein powder. Brett drank this three times a day
between meals and slowly began to gain back the weight he had lost.
Once Brett became strong enough to begin exercising again, I
created a special resistance-training program for him. Since his sur-
gery had left him with impaired nerve function, I hooked up his
shoulder to a monitor to make sure that we were not overtiring his
nerves or his muscles. I also got him back into baseball-related activi-
ties. The New Orleans Zephyrs gave him permission to do batting
practice with them.
Meanwhile his family came and stayed at the Windsor Court
Hotel in New Orleans so that he could go “home” to them at the end
of the day instead of having to be far away from the people who were
most important to him during his recovery.
The results of all these factors were remarkable. Brett gained
back seventeen pounds of muscle in twenty-three days, and over a
six-week period, his immune function and all of his blood levels
improved dramatically. He was able to return to his team, open the
series in Montreal, then return back home to a standing ovation in
Dodgers’ Stadium. He scored the winning run that night. Sports
commentators referred to that season as “the amazing comeback.”
Brett eventually wrote about his recovery in a book called Field of
Hope, in which he devoted an entire chapter to the work we had
done together. As of this writing he is still cancer free.
Strategy 2: Evaluate Where You Are
at This Point
Before you set any goal it is a good idea to evaluate yourself, your tal-
ents, and your desires as thoroughly as possible. This will help you not
only to achieve your goal, but also to avoid wasting energy pursuing a
goal you are not really suited for. Sometimes people choose goals that
are not a good match for their abilities. For example, I’ve met several
men and women who decided to put themselves through the arduous
training of law school because that profession has prestige and great
financial rewards. But although they earned their degrees with hon-
ors, when they actually began to practice, they discovered that they
didn’t like being a lawyer. Lawyers have to fight, to be aggressive, to
look at negatives, and to pick everything apart. If you don’t have a
forceful personality that feels challenged by conflict and loves a good
legal battle, it’s difficult to last long in that profession.
If you believe you want to do something but are unsure whether
that is the correct goal for you, seek out the opinion of people you
trust. Get feedback from coworkers, friends, and mentors that you
respect. Others can often see your strengths and weaknesses more
clearly than you can see them yourself. Sitting down with a piece of
paper and making a list of pros and cons is always helpful in selecting
and refining your goal.
Strategy 3: Know Where You Want to Go
in the Long Run
Brett Butler’s goal was not only to survive cancer by getting the best
treatment possible, but he also wanted to get back to the game of
baseball because that was where he felt most alive. Every choice he
made, every step of the way, was focused on getting back onto the
field of his dreams.
The more clearly you can visualize your long-term goals, the
more likely you are to avoid wasting your time and energy reaching
them. For example, if your goal is to spend your life working as a
healer who eases people’s suffering, training to be a medical doctor
might be the best way to achieve that goal—or it might leave you feel-
ing frustrated and disillusioned. The pressures on doctors are
intense in the “write-and-rip” world of the modern HMO, where they
will see dozens of patients a day. Some doctors who work in that
system find ways to remain emotionally connected and caring
toward their patients. Others become so stressed by its demands that
they become emotionally disconnected or addicted to prescription
drugs to keep themselves going. There are a hundred ways to
become a healer, both traditional and nontraditional. The trick is
figuring out what kind of person you are and in what sort of world
you would feel most comfortable and fulfilled.
There are many ways of achieving your goals once you know
where you want to be in the long run. Looking down the road and
clearly visualizing the work, relationship, or promotion that you
really want can save you from being disappointed and wasting your
Strategy 4: Use Dreams and Visualizations
to See Yourself There
As you work toward your goal, always spend a certain amount of time
each day actually seeing your goal as an accomplished fact. Visualize
what it would feel like to be there, doing what you dream about
doing. Picture yourself with that promotion, that book deal, that
award, that degree. If you are training for the marathon, see yourself
running, passing other runners, crossing the finish line with the best
time you’ve ever achieved. If your goal is to lose weight or put on
more muscle, visualize that during your workout. Feel yourself
becoming stronger, the waistline of your pants becoming looser.
Hear those compliments from your friends and family about how
good you look. See your heart become stronger.
Daily meditation will also help you to visualize your goal. Once
you are completely relaxed, imagine yourself in your goal and watch
what happens. Often, the scene will play itself out like a movie and
you will learn valuable information about your goal. You may want to
keep a notebook handy to write down what you see.
Strategy 5: Make Incremental Steps
Toward Your Goal
The place where a lot of people go wrong is not knowing how to
break their goals down into logical, attainable steps. Any long-term
goal must be reached in smaller stages. Begin by evaluating where
you are in the present in relationship to where you want to be in the
future. Then, based on your skills, talents, emotional stability, and
level of preparation, begin exploring what, for you, would be a realis-
tic and desirable goal. Once you know where you want to go in the
long run, you can begin to plan step 1, step 2, and so forth. By tak-
ing small steps you often can go further down the road than you
ever hoped to go, achieving things that you originally felt were
A forty-seven-year-old friend of mine named Angela realized that
she had been steadily putting on weight since she turned forty.
Angela had always been physically active when she was in her twen-
ties and thirties. She had jogged regularly, taken yoga and dance
classes, and enjoyed ballroom dancing. As with so many of us, how-
ever, her activity level began to drop off as she got older. In the last
decade, she had begun writing professionally, work that forced her
to be sedentary for most of the day.
When Angela was given the opportunity to ghostwrite a book
with a nutritionist and fitness professional, she saw this as a chance to
take off her unwanted weight and get into better physical condition.
At five feet eight inches, she weighed 158 pounds. She had never
been overweight before, and she wanted to reverse this trend before
it became a problem. Her goal was to lose twenty pounds.
When the nutritionist gave her a complimentary health evalua-
tion to get a clear picture of her present overall health, Angela was
surprised by the results. Normally, a total cholesterol level of 200 is
considered borderline healthy. Angela’s was 193, although this was
balanced somewhat by her HDL (good cholesterol) of 72, almost
twice the acceptable amount. Her triglycerides were good at 98. This
was all in keeping with the new guidelines developed by the Ameri-
can College of Cardiology that state that a woman’s total cholesterol
should never be higher than 200 mg/dl, her HDL should never fall
below 50 mg/dl, and her triglycerides should never exceed 150.
But the shocker was her body fat percentage, a whopping 34.5
percent! Suddenly she realized that she was not just twenty pounds
overweight, she was technically obese, since a healthy woman her
age should have a body fat percentage between 18 and 23 percent.
She not only had to lose weight, but she also had to build back more
Like many people trying to lose weight, Angela discovered that
she was eating less food than was optimal for her, about two-thirds of
the total number of calories her body needed to maintain her
metabolism. That meant that she had to actually begin eating more
food in order to make her body efficient enough to lose fat and gain
lean muscle. Perceiving that a famine was on, her body had been
hoarding fat to protect itself.
Angela began following a food program the nutritionist
designed for her, tailored to her individual needs. She began eating
three balanced meals per day and two snacks to keep her metabo-
lism working efficiently. She also made time in her schedule to begin
exercising again. She began by walking between forty-five minutes to
an hour every day. Within a month, her total cholesterol had
dropped to 174 and her triglycerides to 60.
At this time I gave Angela a copy of my book Lose Your Love
Handles: A 3-Step Program to Streamline Your Waist in 30 Days. Even
though this book was written for men, Angela was tremendously
impressed with it and began to add exercises for the core area of the
body to her program. She was deeply gratified when her waistline
became smaller and her abdominal muscles tighter. Most important,
as she strengthened the muscles that held her spine in place, her
back stopped hurting for the first time in years. She told me that she
had resigned herself to having backaches as a part of the process of
getting older. She was happy when I assured her this wasn’t true.
After three months, Angela’s weight had dropped to 140 pounds
and her body fat to 25 percent. Since fat is three times the size of
lean muscle, she looked much slimmer and more compact. In every
sense, she had successfully achieved her goal of losing weight, gain-
ing lean muscle, and becoming healthier. Her cholesterol was an
amazing 137, with an HDL of 68; her triglycerides were a supereffi-
cient 52; and she had tons of energy. All her friends remarked about
how good she looked.
At this point, Angela asked herself, If I can achieve this goal, why
can’t I do more? She had been somewhat sporadic about going to the
gym, even though she had been faithful to her cardiovascular pro-
gram of walking. Now she set a further goal of seeing if she could get
her weight down to 135 pounds and decrease her body fat percentage
even more. To accomplish this, she added faithful workouts in the
gym three times a week to her program and asked me questions
about supplements and improving her exercise program, which I
gladly answered. As of this writing, Angela weighs 136 pounds and has
dropped her body fat percentage to 20 percent. Her new goal is to
weigh 125 pounds and have a body fat percentage of 16 percent. With
the knowledge she has gained about exercise, nutrition, and weight
loss, I have no doubt at all that she will get there.
Angela has realized something that I often tell my clients: your
health age does not have to be the same as your chronological age.
She is currently healthier, stronger, and more youthful than most
women in their late forties, and she is eager to see where she can go
next. Most important, she was able to achieve her goal because she
took small realistic steps. If her goal had been to lose ten pounds in a
week, she would have failed. Her clear vision of where she wanted to
be at each stage, her careful research and planning about how to
achieve each stage, and her incremental successes along the way sus-
tained her motivation and kept her goal for greater health and fit-
ness burning bright.
Strategy 6: Anticipate the Competition and
Your Opponent’s Strategy
In the world of sports, this is called getting a scouting report, finding
out all you can about the team or other player you will be competing
against. For example, in the NFL every Monday the team members
watch films of the team they’re going to play. These films are broken
down into “positions” so that each man gets to watch the specific
players he will be up against, learning their tendencies, studying
every move they make.
Whatever your goal, it is necessary to learn everything you can
about your opponent. Research his habits and strategies. Ask your-
self how you can use your own strengths and abilities to remove any
obstacles he may put in front of you. Be able to see two moves ahead.
If you truly understand your opponent, you will be able to use that
knowledge against him, leading him down the garden path of his
expectations while actually lining him up so that you can knock him
down with an unexpected move.
Strategy 7: Develop a Strategy for Distracting
the Competition Long Enough to Give You an
Opening or Advantage
One of the greatest strengths any person has is his or her instinct. A
person who works from experience and instinct will invariably make
the appropriate move. So if you can distract your opponents, forcing
them to stop moving forward and start second-guessing themselves
right in the middle of a negotiation or an important meeting, you
will have put them at a distinct disadvantage.
A heavyweight champion I trained made this work for him in the
boxing ring. His objective was to learn everything he could about his
opponents’ strategies so that he could lull them into feeling com-
fortable in the ring. He knew that once they became comfortable
enough to think they were winning, they would lose their edge and
begin to let down their guard. When he saw his opening, he would
suddenly switch strategies and take them down.
We used this tactic when my client was getting ready to defend
his heavyweight title against an opponent. His opponent was a big
man who liked to intimidate people with his size—he was six feet five
inches and 260 pounds to my client’s six feet three inches and 205
pounds. The opponent also liked to talk about his strength and to be
photographed lifting 300-pound barbells and doing neck exercises
with excessively heavy weights, bragging that he was too tough to be
My client was more worried about this fight than he had been
about his first heavyweight fight. Since my client was really a “manu-
factured heavyweight,” someone who’d moved up from the light
heavyweight division, he was worried that he was about to lose it all to
a guy who outweighed him by fifty-five pounds. We had to find a way
to distract his opponent and give my client the opening he needed
to defeat him.
I began by telling my fighter the story of the Trojan horse, how
the Greeks had lulled the Trojans into thinking they were winning by
seeming to stand down from the fight and wheel in a peace offering.
In this way they deceived the Trojans into lowering their defenses.
I told him that the secret to winning this fight was to wheel in his
own Trojan horse by manipulating his opponent’s perception both
before and during the fight. We began by playing to his opponent’s
ego, having my client act as if he were awed by his opponent’s great
size. In all of his prefight interviews, my client made sure he talked
about how strong and powerful his opponent was. We wanted to
plant the idea in the other fighter’s mind that he could tire out my
client by coming on strong in his attack.
At the same time I worked on my client’s stamina, giving him a
competitive advantage by preparing him to deliver a barrage of fast
and hard punches whenever he had his opening and then to move
out of the way quickly to avoid getting hit when his opponent came
back at him. By giving him greater stamina, we also gave him an
enhanced ability to recover during the fight.
By the day of the fight, we had already wheeled our Trojan horse,
my client’s hypothetical awe of his opponent’s size, into the ring. We
hoped we had succeeded in making his opponent feel comfortable
enough and sure enough of his victory that he would not ration his
strength to last ten rounds, but would squander it, believing he
could win early on in the fight. Sure enough, the opposition came
on hard, wasting his strength and his punches, but I had trained my
client to avoid most of them. Then in the sixth round the other
fighter tried to get my client against the ropes, believing he now had
him cornered and could finish him off, since he thought my client
was intimidated by his great strength.
At that moment my boxer saw his opening and made his move by
playing off the ropes. When his opponent came in to finish the fight,
my client pivoted on him and hit him with a crashing blow to the
right side of the head. If the referee hadn’t stopped the fight, my
client might have seriously injured the other fighter because I had
conditioned him to keep going and fight until the end once he saw
When you can lull your opponent into his comfort zone by
understanding his character and motivation and by manipulating
his impression of you and your intentions, you can make the unex-
pected move when he lets down his offenses.
Strategy 8: Develop the Instinct to Make the
Lateral Move When the Punch Is Coming So
That You Don’t Get Hurt
No one can ever control all of the variables of life and business.
There are times when life delivers an unexpected disappointment,
no matter how much you have studied and planned. At such times
you must act with dignity and be coolheaded, learning your lessons,
letting go of defeat, and turning your energy and attention toward
new goals and possibilities. You must also learn how to cut your losses
and minimize the damage so you can protect yourself and your col-
One of the most effective ways I have found to make a lateral
move is to go against type, to act in a different manner than your
opponent expects you to. This behavior will also stop your oppo-
nents in their tracks, making them wonder, “What in the world is
he/she doing? I thought I knew what was going to happen today.
Now I’m not so sure.” Building an unexpected move into your strat-
egy throws an opponent off balance, buying you valuable time to
make your move.
People relate to you based on what they believe about you—their
perception of you—and they always expect you to act predictably,
because that is human nature. “She’s a thinker, so she’s going to take
the intellectual approach to this problem.” “He’s outgoing, ener-
getic, and easily excitable. I can throw him off balance if I get him
worked up.” “She’s more of a risk taker than any man in the office—
jumps in where others fear to tread. If I can get her to go too far out
on a limb, I’ve got her.” “He moves slowly and carefully—never
makes a decision until he’s analyzed the situation from every angle. I
can throw him off balance if I force him to move more quickly than
he feels comfortable doing.”
Making a lateral move involves developing strategies and ways of
operating that run contrary to the way the world perceives you. You
will also develop ways to think on your feet when someone throws
you a curve and intuitively choose an effective course of action.
Strategy 9: Learn to Relax
One of the most important things you can do in life and in business
is to learn how to relax, especially in situations when the proverbial
heat is on. You need peace of mind to be creative and productive.
When you try to create under duress, that’s really reaction, not cre-
ation. The first thing I did when I had a crisis situation in a meeting
with an oil company, to which I had proposed a corporate health
program, was to put my hand down under the table, squeeze my fist
five times, and repeat to myself, Control, control, control. Next, I
separated myself from the situation and focused on putting things
into perspective. This meeting occurred shortly after the terrorist
attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Even though
things at the meeting had not turned out the way I wanted them to, I
realized that my disappointment was small compared to the prob-
lems that many other people were facing that week. I thought to
myself, There are a lot of people out there who just lost their lives
and there are policemen, fire fighters, and rescue workers out there
trying to save people. In the scope of things, this one disappoint-
ment doesn’t amount to a hill of beans. Then I let it all go. Instead of
reacting in anger and frustration and giving those people a piece of
my mind, I left the meeting thinking about how to create closure
with as much integrity and dignity as I could. In the days to come, I
did not sit around brooding and feeling angry. I focused my creative
energy on the other projects I was developing.
Learning to relax in the face of stress, conflict, or defeat is all
about perspective. When you know that the situation has changed
and the battle is lost, don’t waste energy fighting for a lost cause. If
you can, shift the battle to your own territory, as I did with the oil
company, forcing them to come onto my own turf and pay full price
for the program if they still wanted it. But if you can’t do that, cut
your losses. Move on to the next project.
When you make your goals as clear as possible by breaking them
down into manageable steps, and understand the competition so
you know how to get out of the way when you see the hard punches
coming, you will always come away from your public and personal
battles with a sense of accomplishment and the knowledge that you
have learned and achieved something valuable.