Oprah Winfrey has said, “Do the one thing you think you can not do. Fail at it. Try again. Do better the second time. The only people who never tumble are those who never mount the high wire. This is your moment.” Gary Ryan Blair is in the business of helping people do what it takes to achieve the goals they set in their lives.

With the philosophy ‘Everything Counts’, Gary Ryan Blair is one of the leading authorities on strategic planning and goal-setting initiatives in the world today. Gary is dedicated to helping his clients win by creating focused, goal-directed lives and businesses. He is president of The GoalsGuy, a highly focused training organization based in Tampa, Florida, and he initiated the program ‘Got Goals?’, which is now used by companies and organizations worldwide.

Gary’s philosophy is that life will not go according to plan if you do not have a plan. He has shared this belief and his unique strategies with professional sports teams, such as the New York Giants and the New York Yankees, with blue-chip firms like Apple, Federal Express and General Electric, and with many of the top media companies like DreamWorks and Disney.

His eight bestselling books, along with his training programs and coaching services, are now used by more than 80,000 organizations and five million employees worldwide.

CHRIS ATTWOOD: Gary, thank you so much for joining us this evening. It’s such a pleasure to be with you.

GARY RYAN BLAIR: It’s a pure delight. I’m looking forward to it.

CHRIS ATTWOOD: Let’s plunge right in. Gary, tell us what role your own passions, the things that you care most about, played in your life and in your success?

GARY RYAN BLAIR: I’m so delighted to be on the call because this is a subject that’s near and dear to my heart. My belief system as it relates to passion and as it relates to my own success is this. No virtue in life is safe that is not passionate. What I mean by that is this: if you think about it, whatever the virtue you espouse-whether it’s love, commitment, discipline, integrity, perseverance, honor, you name it-unless it is fueled by passion, belief, intensity and continuous enthusiasm, it’s going to die on the vine somewhere. For me, it is such a fundamental core value, not just some fluff word that you would put out there, that really fuels all outcomes and all activities.

CHRIS ATTWOOD: Give us some practical examples. Will you go back and tell us the story of how you got your start, how you came to be known as The Goals Guy? What a great name-The Goals Guy! I love that.

GARY RYAN BLAIR: I’ll be happy to. I’ll make it as short as possible, but I think it’s worthwhile to listen to. My first real dream and passion was to play professional football, so I went to school at Syracuse University with that intent in mind. At the end of my sophomore year, a lineman from Boston College decided he had a different vision for my future and took my knees out, so I couldn’t play anymore.

As luck would have it, this happened in the early ’80s. At that time AT&T had split up, so there was a big divestiture. I wrote a paper for school and it wound up being about the need for some kind of long-distance service for college students. My teacher actually thought it was a pretty good paper; I got an ‘A’ on it. I started to work for a company. Long-story short, I spent about a year working for this company on and off doing a bunch of odd jobs, but understanding the sales and marketing side of it.

I realized there really was an opportunity here, so I created the first long-distance telephone business in the country for college students: Collegiate Telephony Services. I did that at just shy of 21 years old, and by the way, Chris, this wasn’t terribly sophisticated. I was handing out flyers underneath fraternity doors, posting them on telephone poles, and all that type of stuff. I went from upstate New York downstate to the city, and I started to work out toward the eastern coast-Boston, New Hampshire and all the schools there.

Over the course of the next five years I actually had an army of guys-many of them were friends from high school and college-who went with me and actually built this long-distance phone business that we sold six years later to MCI, so that was the first hit. Then I spent a little bit of time actually traveling through Europe and just drinking wine and playing around for a bit.

CHRIS ATTWOOD: Enjoying your success.

GARY RYAN BLAIR: It was great time. Then I came across an article for Business Week. It was a fantastic article, because it talked about this train of technology called facsimile equipment. I didn’t know anything about it; but what piqued my curiosity was the growth curve and the error that was on this chart from this so-called expert, and I said, “I’m going to look into this.”

I was getting bored doing nothing, for the most part, for a while, and I wound up actually buying a dealer. I bought it with a very unique stipulation. I realized that the key to success in selling those products, even before it had started, was the sell to a niche, to focus on a specific market rather than to take a geographic approach, which is the way most people marketed it.

I went to the associations. I went to financial institutions. I went to oil companies, and I just focused in on different areas. I grew that pretty significantly over about another four or five-year period of time and sold it to a company in Atlanta by the name of Ikon. They’re a huge player in the office equipment industry. During this time I was actually dating a gal whose father was a VP of Dale Carnegie, and this is kind of my ‘Rich Dad, Poor Dad’ type story.

This gentleman was fantastic. He gave me a lot of books from Nightingale-Conant. He let me take the Dale Carnegie course, and I became certified. I got to know the players. I became certified in the Dale course, the sales course, the management course and a lot of other things. Mary and I broke up; but this set me on a course that I felt was something I wanted, really enjoyed doing, and was passionate about.

It came down to, where’s my spot going to be? What am I going to do? How am I going to create an ownership position in the marketplace? That brings us to The Goals Guy. I spent a lot of time sitting back and thinking, “What do I truly excel at?” I knew that strategy was something that came easily to me. I was always somebody who was able to get from A to B pretty quickly and usually could figure out the most efficient plan possible. Everyone I spoke with told me that those truly were my strengths.

Then it was, “Does anyone own this?” Everyone talked about goal-setting, but no one really owned that category. At the time-here’s the funny part about the story-Tim the Tool Man was on TV. I thought it was corny, but you remember it. I knew I needed something that was memorable. If it was corny, I was cool with that. I played with it, played with it, played with it.

There was the Gadget Guru and all these different things. I thought, “The Goals Guy does it. People may not remember me, but they will always remember The Goals Guy.” That was the genesis. It was kind of a self-proclaimed title, if you will.

CHRIS ATTWOOD: Yes, it’s great.

GARY RYAN BLAIR: Yes. I know we’re going to talk about focus, but let me share this with everybody. I have a very pragmatic approach when it comes to building a business, and I use the word ‘FOCUS’, which is an acronym that I own. It stands for ‘Follow One Course Until Successful’. What I decided I wanted was to be the Kentucky Fried Chicken of my industry.

I didn’t want to go out and do time-management workshops, negotiations workshops and be the jack-of-all-trades. I wanted people to know that when they picked up the phone and called this one company they were going to get the expert, the best possible information on the planet as it related to goal-setting and strategic planning for their companies or for their lives.

The net result of that, quite frankly, is that I’ve either doubled or tripled in size six out of 10 years. This year, even in a down economy, it looks like we may actually wind up doubling, so it’s really been a great, great run. However, it’s been a very conscious and deliberate plan that’s been fueled by a lot of passion.

CHRIS ATTWOOD: You have clearly tapped into something that is important to people. You’re right; once you’ve heard The Goals Guy, whether or not you remember Gary Ryan Blair, you do remember The Goals Guy. “Who was that Goals Guy?” It’s really very smart. Clearly your success has been built on an approach to goal-setting and planning that works for people. Would you begin by telling us why goals are so important? Why did you choose that as the focus of your training and coaching activities?

GARY RYAN BLAIR: Why are they so important? I could probably ask you another question. How important is your heartbeat?

CHRIS ATTWOOD: Pretty important, at least if I want to live.

GARY RYAN BLAIR: Exactly. Without it, essentially you’re road kill, toast, history, or whatever metaphor you want to use; the game is over. If you really take the time to think about it fundamentally, a plane can’t take off unless it has a destination. If you’re going to go on a trip you need to know your outcome is what you’re moving toward. Every day a business is responsible for driving sales, profits, productivity or decreasing costs; they’re all goal-related.

They have some type of a central component that everything revolves around. Whether it’s in school with kids who want to get their A’s or B’s, increase their SAT scores or what have you, our entire society revolves around the acquisition of a desirable outcome. It’s all about goals, and that just plays into what I want to do. My whole focus in life is conversion. It’s funny; we talk on the Internet about conversions.

You and I probably look at our conversion rates on our websites. I believe that I’m in the conversion business; but what I do is I help people to convert their dreams and their goals into outcomes, into the result they look for, and I do it in the quickest, most efficient manner possible.

CHRIS ATTWOOD: Wonderful. You know that my partner, Janet, and I talk a lot about passion. What is the difference between goals and one’s passions? Are they related? Are they the same? Are they different?

GARY RYAN BLAIR: Yes, they’re very much related, because they need one another. They thrive off one another, but they’re very different. The goals are the outcomes, the pragmatic end result that you are looking for. Let’s just call a spade a spade, what it is. Passion, essentially, is the fuel, it is the carrier, and it is the delivery vehicle in order to achieve that outcome. They’re definitely connected to one another.

CHRIS ATTWOOD: This leads me to the question: Can one have success without goals if you have lots of passion? The other way around is this: Can you have success without passion even if you have really great goals?

GARY RYAN BLAIR: It’s a loaded question, but it’s a great one. When we talk about goals and if you can be successful without them, I think it’s an impossibility. If you’re raising kids, you have to have some type of an outcome. You want to raise healthy, happy, self-confident kids, for instance. If you don’t go into it with that mindset, by default you’re going to have some type of a different outcome.

I do believe that no matter who you are, where you are, or what it is you do that we all need to give purpose, meaning and direction to our lives. The most stressful events in your life, the times when you are the most concerned and stressed out, are really when you have no meaning, when you have no purpose and you have no direction. Chris, I get thousands of emails on a weekly basis from people all over the world, from the ages of 15 to 40 to 50, but I’ve been noticing something really interesting the last two or three years.

I’ve been asked to create products for people who are seniors, over 50. “Why don’t you have products for this marketplace?” The fact that I’m 44 years old is the primary answer for it, and the other is this. A lot of the questions that come in are “I’m 50 years old. I have no idea. I feel like I’ve wasted so many years of my life.” I always tell people, and this is interesting from a numerical standpoint, that from an actuarial standpoint the insurance companies make a decision, and then they get a pretty good estimation as to how long you and I are going to live.

Most people think they’re going to live a good long time, but the fact of the matter is that the lifespan of an average American male is 72 years old, and the average lifespan for an average American woman is 74. That’s the way the insurance companies work, and those are the numbers. That’s the reason term life insurance policies run a certain way. Here’s what it means, though, the bottom line to you and I.

Middle-aged is 36 years old. Now there are a lot of people who are asleep at the switch and who think they have all the time in the world to achieve their goals, dreams and ambitions. However, the fact of the matter is that time is such an unrecoverable asset, and unless you’re on fire for what it is you want to achieve, quite frankly, you’re wasting your life. That’s a strong statement, but I think once you have strong opinions and you know something to be true, you should feel confident in stating those, and I do.

CHRIS ATTWOOD: Yes, absolutely. The other question is what if you have lots of passion but you don’t have clear goals?

GARY RYAN BLAIR: Yes. It’s like running through a dynamite factory with a match. You could be awfully enthusiastic, but get yourself in a lot of trouble. Some people are doing that. There are a lot of people who are zealous. They get excited about something, whether it’s a new business, a new idea, a new concept. All that stuff is great, but you really need to think through it for these reasons.

Every decision that you make and every goal that you decide to go after-and this is an undesirable reality that people don’t want to embrace-involves risk, involves sacrifice, and involves some type of cost that is associated with it. For you to go off half-cocked and enthusiastic without thinking through all the steps or things that are involved with it, again, is not only wasting your time; it’s not really a smart move in my opinion.

CHRIS ATTWOOD: Absolutely. That makes complete sense; but what about those people you mentioned who are 50, 60, or even 65 or 70 years old on one end of the spectrum, and then the people who are 20 to 30 who are also saying, “I just don’t have a clue as to what it is that I really want to achieve in my life. I don’t know.” The older ones will often say, “I’ve gone down this one path for a long time because I was told that’s what I should do, but it’s not fulfilling for me. It’s not getting me where I want to go.”

The younger ones are saying, “There are so many opportunities out there. I don’t know which direction I should go.” How do people get clear about what goals are appropriate for them?

GARY RYAN BLAIR: That’s another great question. Let me take a couple of stabs at it. Number one, I teach a process. It’s really kind of funny because I try to shock people to stretch the paradigm and see things from a different perspective, so let’s do that now. If you think about Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s or something like that, those are considered, in layman’s terms, to be a long, slow goodbye to your muscle control system. Let’s just call it what it is; that’s where people die slowly.

On the other side of the coin I look at success this way. There are a few ways with which people find their passion and calling in life. Number one, it’s a Freudian term called SEE and it stands for Significant Emotional Experience. This could be the death of a loved one, it could be the birth of child, it could be winning the lottery, or it could be going bankrupt. Whatever it is, it is a significant sudden emotional experience that comes, in some cases, right out of left field.

It’s one of life’s massive wakeup calls, and it’s kind of what Christopher Reeve had. He was a successful actor, quite wealthy, with a happy family. After his significant emotional experience, his purpose in life had nothing to do with making movies; it was all about finding a cure for spinal cord injuries and being able to walk again. Then we have some people, the small minority of people, who just know what they want.

These are the kids who, at five or six years old, just know they want to be a doctor, a physicist or a performer. They’re freaks of nature, and it’s delightful when you see it, because they truly are talented. Now we get to the majority of life.

CHRIS ATTWOOD: All the rest of us, right?

GARY RYAN BLAIR: Exactly, but do you know what it is? It’s just the opposite; it’s a long, slow hello. That’s the great way to look at it. That’s the way most people find their purposes, their passions and their meanings in life. It’s a long, slow hello. Some people get it at 20, some at 25, some at 35, some at 85, and some never get it. The reality is that the vast majority of us have to make a bunch of decisions, we have to learn good judgment from bad judgment, we sometimes have to learn right from wrong, what we like, what we don’t like, what our boundaries should be, sacrifices.

Eventually, we come to a certain point in time when we have our own philosophical puberty and wake up and say, “This is what I’m supposed to do with my life.” That’s one way. The other is this. My kids take Suzuki violin and piano. They’re young. I have a four, six, and seven-year-old. One thing I love about Suzuki is he teaches what are called small consistent wins.

The first lesson that the kids learn is just to learn how to hold the case. The second lesson is they learn the name of the instrument. Then they learn how to hold the instrument. These are individual lessons, and the beautiful part about it is that the child masters each lesson at each lesson, so they’re considered an expert by the time they move on to the next lesson.

When I teach people who are really unsure, I teach a process of small incremental wins. Very often, what happens to people, especially when they’re lost or confused, is they sometimes get intimidated by even the smallest of goals, and the large ones are overwhelming. My advice is always to pick something that you can break down into a two or three-hour increment so you can see the relationship between cause and effect, between start to victory, and work toward it.

When you achieve something, those endorphins flow. You feel good about yourself. You then take that small activity and you go on to the next one. You can layer them so they get bigger, bolder, grander, and more ambitious. That’s the approach you need to take.

CHRIS ATTWOOD: That makes a lot of sense. You’ve written a book called The Ten Commandments of Goal Setting. Would you share with us some of those commandments and why they’re so important?

GARY RYAN BLAIR: Absolutely. By the way, this is kind of a funny Zig Ziglar-type thing. He always talked about how the 10 Commandments aren’t called the 10 Suggestions! The reason I like that is because I actually wrote the book with the same exact mindset. These are commandments; these are must-dos. You will not be able to achieve success and the outcomes you’re looking for unless you follow this specific approach.

As silly as this is, the first one is ‘Thou Shall Be Decisive’. The reason I put that first, Chris, is because you can’t do anything until you make a decision. You can’t watch a movie, you can’t have a bowl of cereal, you can’t drive down the block, and you can’t go left or right until you make a decision. Put aside integrity and everything else. From a pragmatic standpoint, that is the number one leadership skill. Leaders are very decisive.

We’ve got to do that; we’ve got to understand the importance of decisiveness. People might say this old saying, “You’ve got to play the hand that life deals you.” I don’t know where that silly stuff comes from. It’s a bunch of boloney. The reality people need to understand-anyone listening right now-is that the hand that you are holding right now is the hand you’ve dealt yourself through all the choices and all the decisions you’ve made up until this point in your life.

You are exactly where you are right now because it’s where you planned to be. You are a summation right now of all of your choices and all the decisions that you’ve made. You can not argue that; that’s it. What people have to understand is that if they want to get better outcomes, they need to make better decisions. Fundamentally, that’s the first commandment in the 10 Commandments.

CHRIS ATTWOOD: I have a quick question on that. One of the biggest challenges that people who have not been doing that will often say have is, “What do I do when I don’t know what the right decision is?”

GARY RYAN BLAIR: Again, there is only one simple answer. You just have to make a decision, and here’s why. If you take two things into consideration-one is decisiveness and one is being right-you have to ask yourself, “Which one, from a pragmatic standpoint, makes more sense?” I know emotionally we want to be right. We want a guarantee. We want the outcome that we’re looking for.

However, the fact remains that you will never know if it’s right until you make a decision and support it by action. Once you take action on a decision, you will receive feedback: yes or no, good or bad, right or wrong, left or right. Based on the feedback, you make your next decision. Fundamentally, decisiveness is more important than being right, because you’ll never know if you’re right until you make a decision. That’s just the way it works.

CHRIS ATTWOOD: That’s so powerful, Gary, because what you’re basically telling us is that even when you don’t know what the right decision is, make a decision. You’ll get feedback and, if necessary, you can then correct your course. Is that right?

GARY RYAN BLAIR: That’s exactly it. Life is a constant feedback loop. Look at it this way. Trying to live your life without failure is like, I suppose, driving an automobile without a steering wheel. It’s not going to happen.

CHRIS ATTWOOD: What’s another commandment for goal-setting?

GARY RYAN BLAIR: We talked about focus, and that’s the second one. The best way to look at focus is this. We used the acronym before of Follow One Course Until Successful, but let’s go a little bit further. Let’s say you have a decision to achieve a goal. It might be to lose 15 or 20 pounds or maybe even to pay off $20,000 in debt. It’s irrelevant what the goal is. The decision to achieve that type of a weight-loss goal is never made once.

It is made every time the dessert tray comes, every time the stairs versus the elevator comes, every time you feel a temptation or an urge late in the night. Focus is a reinforcement of a decision. That’s what focus is all about. Focus is the glue that holds the decision in place.

CHRIS ATTWOOD: Wonderful. That’s very powerful. These are great. Will you share another one with us?

GARY RYAN BLAIR: Sure. You need to write them down. You need to put them down on paper. This next one is a funny one for people, and here’s another ridiculous lie we say to ourselves; and they are lies because they’re convenient. Many people move toward convenience rather than the things that are hard, necessary and inconvenient. Fundamentally, your mind is blessed with permanent memory but it’s cursed with lousy recall, and I’ll prove that point.

You go to the supermarket tonight with a mental list in your head of about 15 to 20 items you want to get, and I promise you that somewhere between the green peas and the apples your brain is going to take a vacation. You’re going to be scratching your head thinking, “My gosh! What was I supposed to get?” Here is the funny part. As you get home and you unpack the bag in the kitchen, all of a sudden, that’s when memory strikes, “Oh! I forgot this. I forgot that. I forgot the milk.”

The perfect solution to going to the store is just to make a list, follow it and check it off. It’s really simple, and it provides you with a navigational tool. Your mind is a thinking instrument. You think best on paper because you can get the emotions away, and it allows you to put on paper all the individual steps you need to take. The reason people don’t do it is because they’re lazy and they come up with the convenient alibi, “It’s no big deal.”

I promise you that there’s never been a builder who’s built a house without blueprints. I’ve never given a speech without having an outline, an introduction and a wrap-up. I’ve never done a product launch without having a day-by-day, step-by-step activity plan of what I was going to do. I don’t know anyone who has achieved a level of success who has not taken the time to put pen to paper.

By the way, if you want to go through the process, here’s the way it goes. It’s kind of like a genesis process, but you give birth to a goal a few times. Number one, you give birth to it visually; you see it in your mind. Everything is almost like the speed of light or sound. You see the outcome in advance, which sometimes comes in an instant. That’s number one. The second place you give birth or bring it to life is on paper.

When you take that visual in your mind and you start writing it out, you give it shape, you give it depth, you give it dimension. Then, the third place it finally gets to the outcome is when you take action. It always goes from a vision to a sketch to action in real time. That’s the way you make it work.

CHRIS ATTWOOD: That makes a lot of sense. It’s like building a house, it sounds like. If you’re going to build a building, you go through that same process in one way or another. Some people have set goals in the past, but for one reason or another they were disappointed. They didn’t achieve the goal that they thought they wanted, and now they have a fear of goal-setting. They don’t want to have to experience that disappointment again. What would you tell people in that situation?

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For more information about Gary Ryan Blair and his work, please go to http://www.goalsguy.com/.

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