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The Importance of Goals & the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon

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By: David Gourley, CSLP®

My family moved to a new neighborhood right before summer in 1995.

I was 9 (about to be 10) years old.

This new neighborhood started a summer swim team the year we moved in.

What good timing!

I joined the team.

But… I was absolutely horrible.

And not just kind of bad… really, really bad.

A large majority of my swims ended in disqualifications,

And the ones that didn’t I got last place…

Every time!

However, I had a great time,

Met lots of kids from the neighborhood,

And knew I wanted to keep swimming.

Between summer of 1995 and summer of 1996,

I joined a club swim team.

I practiced 5 days per week,

Every week!

I definitely did not have a natural talent, 

But I’ve always been hard-headed enough to believe I can do anything.

Swimming was no different.

When summer came back around in 1996,

I was a different swimmer.

There were 6 meets during the season along with a championship meet at the end of the summer.

I got 2nd place in one event, at one of the meets…

But otherwise finished in 1st place every other time.

This trend continued through high school and into college.

During each phase of my life, I would set different goals…

And somehow, I continued to reach them.

Freshman year of high school was just to make varsity (check mark).

Sophomore year I wanted to qualify for state on a relay (check mark).

Junior year I wanted to qualify individually (check mark).

Senior year the goal was to be All-State (top 8 in the state) (check mark).

I took two years off in college,

And by my junior year I decided I wanted to walk-on at Missouri State University.

I not only made the team but was a varsity letterman both junior and senior year.

Now, there is a point to this story other than bragging about my swimming career.

I heard a quote once that says, 

“Where your Focus goes, Energy flows”. 

During those years of my life my focus was definitely on swimming.

But it wasn’t just competing without purpose.

I had a very definitive goal that I wanted to achieve each season.

And when you have a goal, 

Aligned with a plan of how you are going to achieve that goal…

Then you become practically unstoppable.

At the beginning of every new financial planning relationship,

I talk to people about their goals and dreams.

The reason for this is that I know,

Especially as I’ve described above,

When you have a defined goal, it becomes challenging not to meet it.

Not only does it become challenging because you might want to achieve it more,

But there is actually psychology to back it up also.

Have you ever heard of the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon?

This is when you hear something mentioned…

And then all of a sudden you start seeing/hearing it everywhere.

For example, a certain color car or a funny word.

You start noticing it everywhere you look.

It’s as if you can’t get away from it.

Our brains take in such an incredible amount of information each day…

But it will help filter out the noise and give you what it thinks is most important to you.

So, when you have a goal…

And you are thinking about that goal often…

Then, you start making progress towards that goal and seeing it everywhere.

If you’ve never experienced it before,

Then it might sound crazy!


If you are curious enough to try,

Then go ahead and make a goal

Write it down…

And let’s see what happens!

Looking back now (in hindsight)…

My question is, did I set my goals too low?

If my energy and focus went into achieving my goals…

And I reached my goal every season…

Then what if I had set that goal a little bigger.

Something to chew on for when you set your own goal(s)!

As always, You Teach, We’ll Plan, You Retire!

 David Gourley

 Financial Planner

David Gourley, CSLP® is a Financial Planner with Teach Plan Retire, an independent financial planning firm specializing in finance for teachers. He served for eight years as a high school mathematics teacher before transitioning into the financial services industry. He joined Teach Plan Retire in 2022 and his passion for serving as a fiduciary for teachers and a student loan planning expert runs deep, as his wife and several other family members have served as educators for years. He's a proud member of the Financial Planning Association of Greater Kansas City.