Nike creator and founder Phil Knight knew, early on, the power of an overriding goal . His overriding goal - to get more people into running while wearing his shoes - led directly and inevitably to the creation of Nike. (Photo by Ray Piedra from Pexels)

I believed in running. I believed that if people got out and ran a few miles every day, the world would be a better place, and I believed (my) shoes were better to run in. People sensing my belief, wanted some of that belief for themselves.

Belief, I decided. Belief is irresistible.

– Phil Knight, founder and creator of Nike

In my previous blog post, I wrote about “overriding” goals and why it is important that we choose one if we truly want to realize our dream lives.

To make your dream life your living reality, you must start by choosing the one most important and indispensable unit of that life and commit to achieving that one. This is your overriding goal – the one goal that overrides all others and that you must accomplish before all other goals can be accomplished; it’s the one goal that must be in your dream life for it to be complete.

This is by no means a new concept. American author and new thought minister Catherine Ponder wrote about the importance of the overriding goal almost 60 years ago. In her landmark bestselling book, The Dynamic Laws of Prosperity, which was first published in 1962, she wrote that each one of us, in our core, possesses deep-seated desires for increase, abundance, prosperity and success. She taught that the first step to achieve these deep-seated desires is to first release them. And how exactly do you release your deep-seated desires for increase, abundance, prosperity and success? Ponder explains exactly how:

By centering your attention on one big goal at a time. One big goal always includes a small number of small desires that are automatically fulfilled when the big one is achieved.

She went on to explain that psychologists agree that we influence people and events by having great desires and great goals. “It is as though everything and everybody subconsciously tunes in on our big desires and goals, and gets busy helping us to achieve them,” Ponder wrote.

This is exactly what happened to Phil Knight, legendary founder of Nike, when he first dreamt, in his words, the “crazy idea” to sell low-cost Japanese running shoes in America. Prior to starting his company, which would later become Nike, he worked several jobs, including door-to-door encyclopedia salesman, securities broker, accountant, and college professor.  As Knight recalled in his bestselling memoir Shoe Dog, he wasn’t very successful in any of these jobs. But he especially sucked at selling encyclopedias. He never sold any and he despised selling them. While he was slightly better at selling mutual funds for his stock brokerage firm, he had felt dead selling them.

Then suddenly, around 1964, after he started doing his own thing – selling imported Japanese shoes – to anyone and everyone in track meets all over the Pacific Northwest, he couldn’t sell the shoes fast enough. Everybody wanted what he was selling.

So why was Phil Knight so successful in selling his shoes when he was so bad selling other stuff? Here’s his answer:

Because, I realized, it wasn’t selling. I believed in running. I believed that if people got out and ran a few miles every day, the world would be a better place, and I believed (my) shoes were better to run in. People sensing my belief, wanted some of that belief for themselves.

Belief, I decided. Belief is irresistible.

Phil Knight’s first overriding goal then was exactly as he described above: to get as many people as possible to take up running and for them to wear his shoes.

That’s it. Simple as it sounds, this goal would fuel and drive Knight’s life and directly lead, many years later, to the creation of Nike. Along the way, his strong belief in his goal would attract the help of people, without whom Nike would never have been possible.

That is the power of an overriding goal. And that is why you must have one if you want to achieve your dream life.

So now you know what an overriding goal is and why it’s so important to have one, let’s review the 5 important criteria of an overriding goal. A true overriding goal meets several important criteria:

One: a goal is specific and concrete

Whether you’ve achieved a goal or not is a question of fact. When you’ve set a goal, you will know that you’ve achieved it if you can see it, touch it, and show it to others. If your goal is to “one day run a business or be a business owner”, that’s still a dream. An actual goal will be: “to open my own restaurant or launch my online retail store in six months”. There’s nothing ambiguous about it. In six months, you will either have opened that restaurant or launched that online store or not; that’s how you know you’ve achieved that goal. 

Two: a goal is time-stamped

Your overriding goal has to be a specific and concrete event, thing or experience. You also need to set a date or a period when that goal will be achieved so that you’ll know for certain when you’ve achieved it. By choosing a date, you’re also setting yourself up to succeed and meet it in advance. Choosing a date is the start of all effective project planning. It is the number one cure for procrastination and frustration. By putting a date, you can set separate tasks that you need to achieve to get the goal by your due date. Each time you tick off a task, then you have a sense of accomplishment and feel good because you’ve moved a step closer to your goal. 

It’s not a requirement that you time-stamp a specific date to your goal. You can put a period or a season. Australian public speaker, trainer and founder of Authentic Education, Ben Harvey, said that the timing of goals can be cyclical; he explains that while men work better when they link goals to specific dates (for example by April 1 of some future year), women achieve goals better when they are linked to cycles (for example, “by the end of summer”). This makes sense in my experience. But it’s by no means a hard and fast rule. See what works for you.

But you must time-stamp your goal; when you do, time suddenly becomes your ally, as well as an element that you can work with. Since you’ve set a date to your goal, you wouldn’t want to miss that deadline.

Three: a goal needs no justification

A goal must be 100% true to who you are. If you say you want to produce your own movie that you’ve written, launch your own quirky clothing brand, author a best-selling weight loss book, or achieve financial independence in 36 months (all goals set by my seminar students), you’re not kidding. What you desire is what you want. You don’t need to justify or explain the reasons to anyone but yourself, and you certainly shouldn’t apologize or explain to anyone why you want it. 

And because your goal is true to you, it is extremely personal. Only you can decide when you’ve achieved it and what it means to you. The only person who has to be happy when the goal is achieved is you. 

How do you know if you truly want that goal? Well, it’s like the Oracle said to Neo in the movie The Matrix: “You know because you feel it in your bones”.

Yes, you must have what you want, no explanations required. But you must actually like that goal and not merely think that it would be nice to have it. This makes going after it so much easier and fun.

Four: a goal is meant to stretch you

Remember that one of the early roots of the word ‘goal’ is ‘gol’, which means a boundary or limit. By its very nature, a goal is meant to stretch you and test your limits, and extend you beyond your comfort zone. I’m not dismissing small goals; certainly, any worthwhile goal that we set for ourselves, whether small or big, deserves our sincere effort and commitment. 

But I’m referring to goals that excite and terrify you at the same time; goals that send your pulse racing, make your heart skip several beats, fill your stomach with a thousand butterflies…you get the point. Goals that make you want to jump out of bed every morning and look with anticipation toward their achievement. A goal which, when you think of accomplishing it, fills you with passion. A goal the very thought of which fills you with a deep sense of peace, because it resonates with something deep in the core of you. A goal that challenges and tests you, that might even make you doubt your own abilities, but which you know deep inside, is achievable, somehow, someway.

A mentor once told me that with truly grand goals, if you start off having an idea of how to achieve them, then they are not grand enough. These goals are never easy to achieve; getting them will require lots of commitment, persistence, hard work, creative thinking, external help and, sometimes, even a shovelful of luck. In a word, the kind of goal I’m talking about is a grand goal. And what’s grand is relative to the person setting them; setting a goal of making a million dollars this financial year may be small to someone who has done it many times before, but it will be a mountain for anyone who has never even earned more than a hundred thousand dollars a year.

Also, if you find that you’re achieving every single big goal you’ve set for yourself in the last five years, it could be that you’re an amazing specimen of a human being, in which case, you should go for even bigger goals. Or it could be because the size of your goals is not grand enough, and that you’re not being stretched enough. Conversely, when you’re finding that you’re not achieving any goal at all, it could either be a commitment or self-discipline issue or you’re setting goals that are too big for you, at least given your present situation and resources. Only you can decide which goals are grand enough and truly worthy of your one hundred percent commitment and effort to pursue.

Five: a goal is a touchstone

According to the dictionary, a touchstone is “a black siliceous stone formerly used to test the purity of gold and silver by the color of the streak produced on it by rubbing it with either metal.

You use a touchstone by getting a stone of known purity, for example gold or silver, then rubbing that on your touchstone, and observing the color or brightness of the streak that it leaves on the stone. And when you want to compare another stone with the pure one you have, you do the same thing and compare the quality of the streak it leaves, whether it’s the same or duller than the original streak. In the hands of an expert, a touchstone can reveal whether a precious stone is pure or not.

A goal acts in much the same way; it can act as a touchstone to what you value most or hold dearest in your heart. I believe that it’s the goals that are tied to the things that you value or consider most precious in your life that stick; these are the ones that you must achieve come hell or high water, the ones that will not stay quiet or give you peace until you go after them and achieve them. 

For example, if your goal is to be a famous actor, you can already experience that touchstone of that goal right now by acting in your local theater or starting your own YouTube channel and building a base of admiring fans. Think of these as preparation, as the dress rehearsal for the grand performance that will one day come. By doing these preparatory acts, you generate the state that the grand goal will create (excitement, pride, passion, etc.), not in the future, but right now.

If you prioritize living your touchstone goal every day, then it would make the way to reaching your big goal of becoming a famous actor more fun. Imagine the countless moments of pleasure you’ll experience every time you live your touchstone goal of feeling good when someone praises your acting. Even if ultimately, you don’t even end up being a Hollywood A-lister, you wouldn’t really care because you’ve been basking in the adoration and praise of your admirers for years—and that’s what you truly wanted anyway. 

The touchstone goal is something reliable that you can always fall back on when things get difficult on the way to your grand goal. If trials and adversity come along the way, you will not feel discouraged, because all the while, you’ve been enjoying the experience of living your touchstone goal. All along, living your touchstone goal has been making you happy. And ultimately, isn’t being happy what we all truly want to be? 

When you get to the essence of a grand goal, and endeavor to live that essence every day, then any grand goal, even if it looks impossible, becomes possible.