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Begin with the End in Mind

Updated on March 3, 2016

Where to Begin? Begin with the End in Mind

Begin with the End in Mind

In Stephen Covey's The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, it is recommended to all people, whether they be blue-collar workers, unemployed people, mothers, fathers, high power executives, or students, that they spend some time figuring out their ends. The word "ends" is a philosophical term, to be distinguished from "means" -- it means, simply, goals, aims, objectives, projective end-points. "Means" by contrast are the methods, techniques etc required or possibly or use to achieve your ends.


Covey's point is very simple. The chance of achieving your goal are usually a function of your ability to know what your goal is. And this means, specifically. To begin with the end in mind means to have in your mind the ends which you want to achieve.

Why do you have that end?

The bottom line is that in order to work out your goals, your "ends", you need to have a firm grasp on the question "why". Aristotle is meant to have said, The question "what is something?" really asks "Why is it that thing?" If you say "That is a table," the fuller inquiry into that object (the table) entails saying "Why" it is a "table," (What makes it so? What are our criteria for calling something a table?")

Whether Aristotle (or my view of Aristotle) is right or not, it IS a useful way to think about goals.

The Key Question: "WHY"

It is fashionable in the self-help world for you to "look into your heart", or some such similar suggestion, when figuring out your goals. But this, I think, is poor advice.

Your "hear", almost by definition, is whimsical. Your desires are not always a good guide for your goals. If you have a burning desire to become an accountant, and another burning desire to live in a certain city, but that city is saturated with accountants, then your "burning desire" is going to lead you down a path of frustration.

How to use "Why" to decide your ends

Ultimately, if you ask the question "why" of each suggested goal, or end, (whether suggested by your own mind, or suggested by someone else), will guide you in a direction that is more useful.

So, "Why do you want to be an accountant?" (a) I want to make lots of money; (b) I want to work with mathematics. "Why do you want to live in city x?" (a) It is close to my parents, who are getting older. (b) It is a small, sleepy town, just my kind of speed."

Now you have some statements you can analyze in and of themselves. For example, are there other professions which involve mathematics and which can be lucrative? Are there towns nearby, which are similar in character and not too far from the town your parents live in?

In the End, you must choose you ends carefully

This, as you can see, is a much more effective way to go about choosing your ends, rather than relying simply on whim. But the final point remains the same: If you have no idea what your ends are in the first place, you are much less likely to achieve those ends.

Once, however, you have been able to come up with some of your "heartfelt" desires, you can analyze them with the question "why"...

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