Effective Goal Setting, by Michael Crichton

(This is a transcript from a talk given by Michael Crichton, author and film-maker at the American Academy of Achievement in 1992)

“What none of us really acknowledge very well is that we all have two minds. We have a conscious mind, the mind that’s now, in my case, trying to form words and not seem like a fool, and we have an unconscious mind, which is also active, which is also operating, and which is tremendously powerful. It’s arguably much more powerful than the conscious mind. And I actually think about the relative balance of these things as an enormous elephant, on top of which sits a small mouse. 

The mouse is our conscious mind. The elephant is our unconscious mind. And if you want to knock down walls, the notion of which animal, which mind, you want to enlist is, I think, very clear. You want the unconscious mind. There’s been at least one or two times in my existence when I have been aware of the extent to which my own behaviour is unconsciously determined and there is, in fact, a kind of hidden person inside myself. 

The notion of goal-setting, the notion of intentionality, the notion of really trying to be clear about what it is that you want to do, the notion of writing it down, the notion of specifying and defining, seems to me to be important because that’s what the mouse is doing in order to get the intelligence and the co-operation of the elephant. And you need that elephant. The other thing to say about this is that the issue of the unconscious not only goes to the matter of character but it goes to that very unfashionable thing to talk about, which is spiritual values. We live in an increasingly secular world. We live increasingly in a world where people don’t even want to talk about values. They are thought to be something that’s old fashioned, or of another generation, that went out with the horse and buggy! In fact they haven’t. I was trained as an anthropologist and an anthropologist believes that every person has religious beliefs. Atheism is a kind of religious belief. Everyone is guided and led by these profound beliefs about how the world is, how we ought to treat eachother, how we ought to proceed. That’s part of character, and it’s also a thing in itself and increasingly we’re a society that does not talk and shape and find agreement among ourselves about what the proper values ought to be and how our individual elephants should charge forward to be effective. I think that’s going to change, I think that’s going to be one of the things that the next generation will deal with in terms of the errors and the lacks of my own generation.

If you can be really clear about what it is that you intend to do, about what it is that you intend to happen, whether you define that in a general way and then try to make it more specific, if you can be clear about what you are trying to accomplish then you’ll accomplish it. It’ll happen. And you don’t always have to be so self-conscious. You don’t have to know all the intermediate steps. They occur. My experience in writing a book is that I have an idea, I have a goal, I have a desire, and I sit down and somehow it happens. If I had to know everything about how it will occur, or even if I have to think very specifically about how long it’s going to take, and how much trouble it’s going to be and many times I’ll have to do it over, then I wouldn’t do it. That kind of knowledge can be inhibiting. But I think to set your goal, to have your intention, to talk to your elephant, and let it charge, is the way to proceed.”