left - a baseball player swings a bat; right - an explorer holds a torch in a cave

Riddle me this - what do games, goals, and stories all have in common?

Why is it that we’ll sit for multiple hours ignoring the urge to go to the bathroom while our minds are captivated by a gripping movie? What is it about a sports game that compels grown men to bare their oversized painted bellies in freezing weather? Sports and story-based entertainment largely sum up the vast entertainment industry, but have you ever stopped to ask, “why”?

Without going too far into the science, let’s look at what makes stories and games so compelling and how we can exploit the answer to achieve bigger things in life and in business.

Story and sport touch us at a primal level

Study after study confirms that sports (and many games) and stories possess a subconscious power to engage the human experience.

All you have to do is think back to one of your favorite films or sports memories to see this - you’ll experience emotions and feelings on a different plane than many of the more routine things of life. At the most fundamental level, both story and sport engage a core human drive to survive. Stories help us to relate to others and form relationships that may aid in strengthening our tribe. Games feed the drive we have for conquest, strength, and dominance in both individual and communal ways. There are three primary elements that both games and stories share in common that may help us to better understand what’s going on inside ourselves.

First, there are stakes - stories and sports both pivot around something that matters and which can be won or lost. Second, both stories and sports have a sense of urgency because of a clock that is ticking down. Third, they both need a scoreboard - stories need some way of determining whether the hero wins or loses and in sports, the scoreboard is a central element of the competition.

Take away even a single element from stories or sports and you will no longer have something that compels the human spirit in the same way.

What does that have to do with goals?

As it turns out, goals that work for life and business need the same critical ingredients to work well.

If your goals don’t have a scoreboard, you cannot measure progress. There is no sense of urgency if there isn’t a clock. And if there aren’t any stakes, if the goal doesn’t matter, then no one will care to achieve it.

Just as in sport and story, you must have all three.

Building goals that engage your spirit

If you want to build goals that will motivate you and engage you on the most foundational level, then you’ve got to bring in all three elements.

Here’s a simple formula for building goals that will drive you - “We will accomplish X by Y because of Z”. Simple, yes. But don’t underestimate the power of this framework. It’s powerful because it’s short, memorable, and incorporates a scoreboard, a clock, and stakes. Let’s break that down quickly and then give an example.

And here’s a brief example to round this out. Let’s use a pest control company.

We will increase our profits by 40%, sign up 100 new monthly customers, and have 400 leads download our homeowner’s guide by December 31 because homeowners and families deserve to live and sleep in a pest-free home.

Do you see how that engages our senses? It’s a lot more compelling than a goal that simply states, “increase our sales”. We know exactly what we’re trying to achieve (scoreboard), when we need to accomplish it by (clock), and why it matters for our customers (stakes).

How this will make you money

Far too many business owners skip the powerful step of setting goals for a new year.

If that’s you, you’re not too late! Taking this step all by itself could turn out to be a key competitive advantage for you this year - and I don’t only mean a competitive advantage over other companies in your space! I mean with yourself, too. Because if you’re not the sort who has already set some new and ambitious goals for this year, then your default will be to keep the status quo. But that’s not how the market operates!

There is no status quo in the market. If you’re not growing, then you’re falling behind. And eventually, you’ll be losing money… and maybe even your business.

If you haven’t set goals before, there’s no time like the present to start.

Your action steps

Don’t let the week end without making time to get this done!

  1. Define 3 economic objectives that matter for your company. Make them ambitious, but not insane. The idea is for the goal to feel like a challenge, but not impossible.
  2. Set a deadline. Since we’re talking about annual goals, I’ll give this one to you - just use December 31.
  3. Get clear on why the goal matters. What will be won or lost for your community or your customers because of this goal? Trust me, don’t skip this part. There will be days when you need to see this reminder.

Remember, it’s like a story or a game! If you choose scores that are too easily achieved, the effort will be boring. If the clock is too short or too long, then you won’t want to play. And if the goal simply doesn’t matter, then you’re not even going to care.

When you get this right, you’ll have a set of goals to pursue for this year that will motivate and excite you!

To thriving,