Goals Help you Survive the Day

The July/August 2015 issue of the DAV Magazine had a compelling article about Lester Tenney. Mr. Tenney is another WWII veteran – one of the few remaining in an ever-dwindling number. He is one of even fewer who survived the Battaan Death March in the Philippines in 1942 and then imprisonment for more years.  His story struck me for a particular reason: his use of goal setting.

The story relates how of the 12,000 troops that started that march only 1700 survived it. “They called it a ‘death march’ not because of how many died but the way you died. If you stopped on the road. You were killed. If you had a malaria attack, they killed you. If you had to stop to defecate they killed you. If you just couldn’t take another step, they killed you,” he related in the story. “They’d bayonet you, shoot you, or in some cases decapitate you.”

By day two of the march he quickly realized that if wanted to survive this he continually needed to set goals. “I would see a herd of caribou in the distance, and I would say to myself ‘I must get to that herd of caribou,’ then when I got to the herd of caribou I’d find another goal, and another goal and another goal. Everyday was another goal.”

Aside from his account of the terrors of the experience it was this unique use of goal setting for survival. It is about the power of focusing your mind on a single thing, in the present, allowing or facilitating your movement forward towards something.

Goal setting is not just about some far flung future wish. It is a powerful technique to keep us moving forward. Mr. Tenney harnessed the power of goal setting. By setting and resetting daily actionable goals (we call them process goals), you move towards your desired outcome.Yes, he wanted to survive and eventually return home to family. But that was too distant. It was his focus on a single, immediate, actionable goal that got him through.

To be sure there is no guarantee that we will reach our desired goals. This was true for Mr. Tenney as well as for us. However, there is no doubt that when you master the power of focusing your energies on the one immediate goal that guide your actions right here right now – the odds are with you in reaching your goals. For you it may be getting fitter, healthier, making the team or qualifying for the Boston Marathon. In Mr. Tenney’s case, goals helped him live to fight another day.

Thank you, Mr. Tenney for your service. Thank you for a powerful lesson.

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