A bunch of folks are starting to put together their three words lists. While we’ve said in years past that the three words aren’t resolutions or goals, I wanted to take a moment to explore how they could give rise to goals and measurements. If you’re the sort of person who likes to be able to take something like the 3 words exercise and turn it into a plan of action, here’s one way of doing that.

First, the three words aren’t measurable. Let’s be very clear about that. They are abstract concepts.

Next, we need to set down vision, strategy, and tactics. Lest we get caught up in the degenerate corporate versions of these words, we should define them clearly now.

Vision: what will you and your life look like when you have achieved?
Strategy: what tangible, measurable things will you do to achieve your vision? (and how will you measure them?)
Tactics: how will you do the things that your strategy dictates?

Let’s put this in a mind map so you can see more clearly how this might break out.

3 words exercise

It becomes clear how we can take the word and start to expand it into a broader picture of how that word might influence our lives in 2012. I’ll use one of Tim Brechlin’s words, initiative. Tim mentioned that he wants to bring more initiative to his photography. What would this look like in the vision of a successful year for photography in 2012? Tim might be so bold as to say, “By the end of 2012, I will have shot 12 photos that I’m proud enough to sell and will have made at least one sale of them.” That way, at the end of 2012 he can legitimately say that he’s a professional (shoots photos for money) photographer.

This gives rise to questions about what he should be doing and how. Let’s see how this might break out:

3 words exercise

Now we’re truly digging into the what and how. What’s more, now that we’re digging into the specifics, we can see a plan of action and a weekly agenda beginning to grow. Each task can be broken down even more granularly until what was just a single word is now an entire recipe:

3 words exercise

Here’s the beauty of this kind of structure. By doing this kind of mind mapping explosion of the meaning of the three words in vision, strategy, and tactics, we can feel the depth and reach of what those three simple words really mean to us. We avoid the trap of those words becoming cliches or even punchlines to jokes later in the year as we confront our inevitable deviation from them. Recite the words with the plans you set down in front of you now and those words will have much greater meaning in the year to come.

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