How Death in the ICU Can Help You Achieve Your Goals

In this post I’ll share with you my favorite tool to achieve my goals with a step by step exercise on how I achieve them. I’ve followed these steps exactly, and wow, it has paid dividends in my life so far.


So this month, I’ve been working in the intensive care unit (ICU). For those of you who don’t know, the ICU is the part of the hospital where the sickest patients go. One of my attending physicians told me to compare the survival of the patients to a batting average. “Batting 0.300 will get you in the hall of fame.” That is, if one-third of the patients survive the ICU stay, you’re doing a legendary job.

As you can imagine, I have been surrounded by a lot of death this past month. It almost seems like part of my daily checklist is to walk into a dead patients room, perform a physical exam to make sure they’re deceased, and pronounce the time they passed. Afterwards, I usually take a moment to console the family. And each time I leave the room, I think about my patient who passed. What do their families and friends remember about them?

This reminds me of my favorite habit from Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: begin with the end in mind. In his book, he asks you to imagine yourself at your own funeral. One by one, your closest friends and family come up to the podium to say something about you. What do you want your family and friends to remember about you?

I recently read a book by Gary Keller & Jay Papasan called The One Thing. In it these guys have a great exercise called “Goal Setting to the Now.” I’ve used this exercise to not only work my way toward my long-term goals, but I have had huge success with my short-term goals as well. I think it’s a great tool and all you need is a pen, paper, and some brainpower. Here’s how it works: take your pen and paper and write out these questions starting from the top and work your way down the pathway.

  • What is the ONE THING I want to do someday? (someday goal)
  • Based on my someday goal, what’s the ONE THING I can do in the next five years?
  • Based on my five-year goal, what’s the ONE THING I can do this year?
  • Based on my one-year goal, what’s the ONE THING I can do this month?
  • Based on my monthly goal, what’s the ONE THING I can this week?
  • Based on my weekly goal, what’s the ONE THING I can do today?
  • Based on my daily goal, what’s the ONE THING I can do right now?

You can rearrange the time intervals however you see fit. The key is to start with the end in mind and work your way backwards to the present moment. I believe any goal can be reached this way. Go ahead, I challenge you to do it!

Share your goals in the comments below!

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