Born in Nebraska in 1930, Warren Buffett began his journey towards entrepreneurial stardom at a young age, purchasing his first stock at just eleven years old. Of all businessmen in the 20th century, Buffett was by far the most successful and well-respected.
What was his secret? How did Buffett soar far above all of the other investors climbing the ranks at the same time as him?
It all starts with working towards only the right goals.
Reimagine Your Goals
When setting goals, Buffett advocates what he refers to as the two-list method. Speaking with his long-time personal pilot, Mike Flint, Buffett told Flint to split his aspirations into two separate lists.
- List one would contain the top 25 goals that would move him forward in his career.
- List two was created by circling the 5 most important goals from the first list.
Upon completing the second list, Buffett asked Flint what his plan was for the goals that were not in his top five. He replied by saying that he planned to work on those in his spare time.
Buffett’s response is crucial.
“No. You’ve got it wrong, Mike. Everything you didn’t circle just became your avoid-at-all-cost list. No matter what, these things get no attention from you until you’ve succeeded with your top 5.”
The problem with goal-setting is not in setting goals — it’s in setting the right goals, exactly the right goals, and only those goals.
You have things that we want to achieve.
You want to get in better shape, earn more money, improve your relationships — and every one of these is a reasonable goal. But unless they’re in your top five, you’re probably not going to make time to complete them.
The trick is to focus on setting the best goals for yourself and avoid all other goals completely. These are the kinds of goals, that, if set right, will render all others unnecessary.
But Buffett and Flint’s brief conversation only refers to career-centered aspirations. Goals, however, extend further than just our careers.
The Four Pillars of Life
Each of our goals fits within four distinct pillars, or the four pillars of life: spirit, heart, mind, and body.
- Spirit: Spirit-based goals are those that drive us towards improving ourselves, such as overcoming personal struggles, refining our character and finding inner happiness.
- Heart: Heart-based goals represent those relating to love and relationships — interpersonal connections with other people. As Australian nurse Bronnie Ware observed of her patients in the last days of their lives, among their greatest regrets was not spending more time with loved ones.
It should be noted, before discussing the remaining categories, that spirit and heart-based goals are the most important as they provide us with purpose.
Above money, health, and anything else, it is the goals that fall into these two categories that push us forward and give our lives meaning — even if everything else is taken from us.
The remaining two are maintenance goals that allow us the opportunity to experience the purpose and meaning the others create.
When people become miserable, it is often because they’re confusing their maintenance goals like wealth and status with essential goals like spirituality and relationships.
- Mind: Next is mind, which represents not only our mental health but also our career and the financial aspects of our lives. Money in itself will not lead to happiness, though it does provide the freedom to spend more time on goals of the first two categories.
- Body: Last, but certainly not least, is the body. A healthy body consists of three aspects: sleep, diet, and exercise. These are like the legs of a stool. Take one out, and the stool falls. Neglect any one of the three, and you will fall.
In all of these goals, the most important question to answer when setting them is the following:
What goal, if set, would render all other goals I could possibly set completely unnecessary?
Which one matters more to you than anything else?
Setting Fewer Goals That Mean More
Now that we’ve clarified which types of goals fall into which category, it’s time to create your own list based upon Buffett’s two-list methodology.
- Begin by writing down a list of around twenty aspirations that you currently wish to achieve. Aim to include goals from each of the above categories: spirit, heart, mind, and body.
- Then, select one goal in each of the four pillars of life that would allow you to progress the furthest — those goals that, if completed, would make all others unnecessary. You will be grateful that you spent the time and effort to find the one, most important goal.
There is much value in tackling our aspirations using Buffett’s two-list approach, and in doing so, we give ourselves more room to achieve those things that matter to us most.
And that, in essence, is one of the fundamental principles of success.