Write 3 Sentences to Drive Personal and Professional Growth

One of the critical components of business coaching is to help clients define clear goals and set them on a path to achieve them. An exercise I use to facilitate this process is something I call “3 Sentences to Growth and Reflection.” The exercise asks clients to write 3 sentences to frame their mission or goal in the past, present, as well as desired future state. Inspired by Dan Pink’s “What is Your Sentence?” challenge from Drive, I use this as an alternative to the “What’s your mission?” exercise. Doing so provides the following benefits:

  • Honor Past Accomplishments: For so many of us, we tend to ignore our accomplishments and focus on what we have yet to achieve. For example, you likely already write down your annual goals, but how often do you reflect on the past and celebrate what you have already accomplished? If you don't do so already, add it to your annual goal setting process.
  • Pushes You to Create Stretch Goals: Asking someone to define what they hope to be or accomplish in the future tends to lead to the creation of more aspirational goals. Framing it as a personal or professional “mission” is one way to push yourself to think bigger.
  • Highlight the Gaps in Your Plan: Coaching is all about moving people to action, and comparing present and future state yields a gap and a sense of urgency to close it. Of course, building a strategy and action plan to bridge the gap is critical, but awareness of the gap is the first step.

So now that you have an idea of the benefits of the exercise, below are instructions for you to conduct your own “3 Sentences to Growth and Reflection” exercise.

1. Define Your Focus Area: Start by identifying the area of your personal or professional life where you want to grow. This could be as big as defining your professional mission or a more tactical goal like mastering a new skill. Consider the following focus areas:

  • Your Personal Mission: What is your personal mission in life?
    • Example: I want to be a great dad who prioritizes time with my kids despite my commitment to growing my company.
  • Your Professional Mission: When you look back on your career over the next 5 years, what do hope you will have achieved?
    • Example: I want to lead a growing business that impacts customers in a meaningful way while sustaining employees financially and creating a fulfilling workplace.
  • A Specific Goal You Are Trying to Accomplish: What one goal do you want to achieve that will offer the greatest return to your life or business?
    • Example: I want to grow sales in my territory by 20%.  
  • A Behavior You Are Trying to Change: What one behavior do you need to change that is getting in the way of your personal or professional success?
    • Example: I want to become a quick and decisive decision maker both in my personal and professional life.
  • A Skill You Are Trying to Master: What is a new skill you want to master that will help advance your professional life or make life more enjoyable?
    • Example: I want to be a recognized speaker with the ability to engage and captivate audiences.

2. Draft the 3 Sentences: Now that you have defined your focus area, it’s time to draft your 3 sentences.

  • Define Where You are Going: What one sentence do you want to describe yourself as an individual or leader in the future? Be sure to write it in the present tense as doing so will automatically make it more achievable and create subtle shifts in the way you think about this goal.
    • Example: I run a thriving design agency employing over 100 people and work with many of the world’s most innovative companies.
  • Assess Your Current Situation: What is the one sentence that describes your current state? As you do, be fair to yourself and don’t include judgment which reflects your frustration with a lack of progress. Provide an honest assessment as to where you are.
    • Example: I am the sole owner of a design company that does a balance of exciting work as well as projects that pay the bills.
  • Reflect on the Past: What is the one sentence that describes where you were in the past in regard to the stated goal?
    • Example: I worked for a design agency that provided stability but lacked an ability for me to create my own destiny.

3. Identify the Gap(s): To start moving toward action, take a look at the sentences defining your future state and your current situation. As you do, ask yourself, “What it will take to get from here to there?” Consider what steps you will need to take, new skills you will need to learn, behaviors you will need to change, people you will need to know, etc. Also, take a moment to reflect on the progress you have made to get to your current state. Doing so will give you confidence to close the gap between where you are and where you want to be.

4. Determine Next Steps to Close the Gap and Commit to Action: Now that you have an understanding of the gap(s) to close, identify 3 immediate next steps you can take to close each gap. As you do so, be sure to commit to a specific date you will complete each action. Also, write down your commitments and post them somewhere (e.g. on the wall above your desk) to keep them top of mind. Finally, for those bigger goals (e.g. your professional mission), you might need to select 3 immediate next steps that don’t get you all the way to the future state. In that case, revisit Step 3 after you achieved each of the commitments you made.

5. Hold Yourself Accountable: One of the most powerful ways to hold ourselves accountable is to share our goals and commitments with colleagues, friends, and family. Be sure to only include those people that will hold you accountable and not let you off the hook and accept excuses. Also, share your goals and commitments with people in your business network that you admire, not just those people who are your peers.

So what are your 3 sentences? Please use the comments below to share your 3 sentences.