Most people struggle to achieve goals because they are working on several ambitions at the same time without precisely defining them. In terms of energy and resources, their efforts in life are headed in different — often contradictory — directions. It looks a little like this:

It’s not uncommon to find people making some progress in each of several areas, but not being able to cross the finish line in any race or be competitive in any meaningful sense. Usually, they backslide as they eventually give up and move their focus elsewhere. This is an illustrative and fairly typical answer to a coach’s question about what a client wants to achieve:

“I have a number of things I want to achieve. I want to lose weight so that I look better. I want to become much more popular with my bosses and clients. And, I want to have a better work-life balance.”

Any one of these goal statements is flawed because we don’t really have a precise, quantitative understanding of where the finish line is. And, most coaches will use some framework — like SMART goals — to try to narrow things down a bit.

But, the real problem is in the diversion of focus. There’s evidence that it is very difficult for most people to multitask, but driving hard towards multiple goals seems to be even more difficult. If the situation is competitive as it often is in the context of business or professional development, it’s like competing with only a fraction of your resources against people who may be dedicating almost everything they have to succeeding. You have to be a lot stronger than the other person to win a shoving match when you are the only one with one hand tied behind your back.

This is one way in which our effort to coach clients within an analogy to political campaigning really pays off. In political campaigns, the goal is to achieve a very simple, mathematically-precise result within a very hard deadline. Typically, the goal is to get 50% + 1 of the votes cast in the election by close of the polling places on election night. That goal underlies and drives every decision that is made and every resource spent in the effort. And, it is not uncommon for even local candidates in smaller races to take a leave of absence from their job to focus entirely on being a candidate. Whether they do or not, in a close race, there is simply and quite obviously never enough time or money to spend on any other goal, so the focus is intense and forced.

The secret sauce in defining our work together is to, within the constraints of a person’s lifestyle, borrow some of that that focus we see from candidate work and help someone find it and put it to use in achieving their non-candidate goals. It’s possible for someone to fail even thought they approach a target with the same drive and focus as a political candidate while the rest of the world around them is too afraid to go so hard and put themselves out there so much, but that failure is rare, indeed.