How often have you set out on the path to reach a goal only to fall flat on your face within days or weeks of beginning? Why does that happen? Is it due to a lack of ability or a lack of discipline?
The mind is a powerful thing. But in order to produce its greatest potential, it requires great discipline. Those who are successful at reaching their goals are not lucky, fortunate, or an exception to a general rule of failure. More often than not, those who succeed have planned for success and set themselves up for success by the preparations they have made. The successful anticipate roadblocks and challenges, and then establish ways to counter and conquer them. The successful keep their eyes on the big picture.
Do you want to be successful at reaching your goals?
I sure do!
From my past experience of both successes and failures, I’ve learned these 11 lessons about how to be successful in reaching a personal goal.
1. Start with the end in mind, then work backwards.
To be successful at reaching your goals, it’s important to know what they are. Be specific.
After you know your destination, you can work backwards from that point to where you are now and develop a workable plan and actionable steps to make it happen. You’ll need to plot the points along the path and develop your route. Certain checkpoints along the way will require certain pre-qualifications, so you’ll have to achieve certain objectives to reach each checkpoint.
It’s crucial to understand the critical path (or the shortest possible route to the destination) and what checkpoints are dependent on other checkpoints being reached. This understanding is essential in developing the plan that will provide the quickest route to success.
2. Set goals that are challenging, yet attainable
Don’t doom yourself from the start. The purpose of setting goals is to motivate you to achieve something – something you desire to successfully attain. Count the cost before you set your goals to make sure you want to reach the goal, are capable of attaining it, and willing to do what it takes to achieve it. If you’re not able to dedicate the time/energy required and don’t have the abilities needed for the task, then you might want to reconsider your goal. Nothing will steal your motivation and confidence faster than realizing you’ve put a lot of work towards something that is going to be impossible to reach.
How do you know what will be required to reach your goal?
Have you accomplished it before?
If not, do you know someone who has?
Have you asked them about what is required to reach such a goal?
It’s difficult to set challenging, yet attainable goals if you haven’t got the slightest idea about the amount of work it’s going to take and the skills/resources required to accomplish the task. Do your homework before you make a serious goal, and count the cost before you start to build.
3. Set your BHAG
In addition to reachable goals, set a BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal) as well. This is important because oftentimes you will blow past your initial goals without realizing just how much was “possible” or “reasonable” at the time you started out on the journey. This has often been the case for me.
Personally, I look at my current circumstances and determine what is possible for me. Then, I set challenging, but reachable goals. However, often during the journey something crazy happens. As I’m working hard, learning, and experiencing things, the scale of possibility often drastically changes.
Be prepared to develop knowledge and skills during your journey that can greatly enhance your effectiveness and abilities.
You don’t want this to happen without having a secondary BHAG goal already in your sights.
You don’t want to stop challenging yourself. EVER.
You don’t want to stop growing. EVER.
4. Be Specific
Setting general goals isn’t productive. Being general may give you some warm and fuzzy feelings about dreams of success and something to shoot for, but there’s no meaningful way to evaluate your progress. There’s no real way to evaluate where you’re at and how far you are from your destination.
There’s a line from the movie The Patriot that really captures this idea. Benjamin Martin is with his sons as they are surrounding some redcoats to help rescue his captured son. He pulls his boys close to him and tells them, “Aim small, miss small.” The principle being taught here is the more precise the target you’re aiming at, the higher the likelihood you’re going to hit it. If you’re aiming for a guy in a red uniform, you’re bound to miss quite a few shots. However, if you’re aiming for a button on the red coat, your odds of missing are going to be MUCH smaller.
If you’re aiming for the target, your results might look like this:
But if you’re aiming for the bulls-eye, your results can look like this:
This can be easily applied to goals and the principle will hold true. If you have a more precise goal (losing 40 pounds by December vs. “losing some weight this year”), then your weight loss results will typically be much greater. Even if you don’t reach 40 pounds, you’ll be closer to 40 pounds at the end than if you took the general approach.
5. Copy the successful people
Do you really WANT to reach your goals? If so, it’s probably wise to look closely at the folks who have already reached your goal and emulate their behavior.
Since it’s important to plot the majority of your route before you set out on your journey towards your goal, you can remove a great deal of the guesswork by following the same road as those who have successful achieved your goal. If you’re at a fork in the road, wouldn’t you rather take the path you know has led to success? Sure the other path might get you there, but wouldn’t you rather know? It can save you a lot of heartache and trouble by learning from the mistakes/successes of those who’ve done it before you.
If you want to be a professional basketball player, then you should study some players of similar size/strength who have reached the goal to see how they did it.
If you want to be a millionaire by the time you’re 40, then you should study some “self-made” millionaires and the steps they took to get there.
If you want be an effective public speaker, then you should interview a few effective speakers you know to find out what their routines are, what preparation habits they adhere to, etc.
You get the idea. Rather than figuring it out on your own, sit at the feet of a teacher.
6. Set deadlines
Let’s face it; most of us are deadline oriented.
If we have a school project or paper to write, then it often gets finished within the final day (or even final hour). If there is a presentation you have to give for work, odds are you will be working on it right up to the time you have to present. There’s something about deadlines that naturally gets us motivated. The clock can be a powerful ally in helping you reach your goals.
Of course, deadlines won’t mean anything unless they mean something to you.
If you happen to be among the rare self-starters possessing incredible discipline, then self-imposed deadlines will be helpful and effective.
But, for those of us who lack enough self-discipline, it can be helpful to let a bunch of people know about your deadline. This works well because nobody wants to look silly or stupid for telling people about what they’re going to do without following through. It definitely adds urgency to the matter. If you know several people are aware you’re trying to lose weight or get out of debt by a certain point in time, they’re probably going to ask you about it at various times. And when they do, you want to be able to tell them good news about your progress.
7. Set Reminders for Yourself
If you’re anything like me, then you frequently forget about things that are not right in front of you. If I have a busy week, the events of that week can derail me from a goal I’ve been working on for several weeks or even longer. That’s why setting reminders is essential.
You want to succeed. You want to work hard and reach your goals, but let’s face it – Life is busy! By proactively setting up recurring reminders (either on your Smartphone or e-mail calendar), you’ll be sure to stay on top of your goals.
One of my goals I’m going to start this week is to lose some weight. Specifically, 40 pounds. I’m currently around 230 pounds and would like to be down around 190 pounds. I’ve known I need to be more proactive about my health and my weight, but it didn’t hit home until last week when I sat down in my lawn chair.
A picture is worth a thousand words.
Granted, the chair had been sitting out in the sun and the integrity of the straps was somewhat compromised. But regardless, the picture still burns in my mind as a reminder of reality. This picture will serve as a reminder to me whenever I see it. Every time I look at this blog post, I’ll be reminded.
In general, I put important reminders in my Google Calendar and have them set to go off at specified times each day, week, etc. in order to make sure I get things done.
It takes away the “I forgot” excuse that can be so easy to cling to when your progress is not what you would want it to be. You are forced to make a decision each time the reminder goes off.
When you set the reminders, I’ve found it’s best to have it notify you at a time when you can actually do something about it. For me, it’s a bad idea to remind myself during the workday of a goal that is not work-related. By the time I get home and get the kids to bed, I will have forgotten all about it.
If you’re a morning person and that’s when you have free time, set your reminders to go off first thing in the morning
If you’re a night owl, have the notification sent in the evening when you typically have free time.
Be proactive in how you set these up, and they will go a long way in keeping you on the path of reaching your goals.
8. Build accountability into your Process
Tell your significant other, friend, or family member what you’re planning (not “hoping”) to accomplish and ask them to help keep you accountable. Ask them to check in with you periodically to see how you’re doing on your goals. It’s easy to quit when times get tough if nobody else knows about your goal except you.
An even better way to establish accountability is to find someone with a similar or same goal and agree to hold each other accountable. Because you’ll be working on similar things, you will naturally talk about it with each other when you communicate. You can each help each other to work harder, try new things, and encourage each other to stay the course when the going gets tough – because it certainly will at times.
9. Commit to ongoing learning/education
To reach most big goals, you must keep learning. Odds are you don’t know everything you need to know when you start out on your goals journey. You have some knowledge and education about what you need to do, but it’s not perfect. One of the big differences in those who achieve their goals and those who don’t is the successful people keep learning and searching for new and more efficient/productive ways of doing things.
If your goal is to is to lose 40 pounds in the next year, you’re going to need to know a little bit more than “eat less, exercise more.”
For instance, which foods speed up fat burning and which workouts are the best for converting muscle to fat? Does sleep have anything to do with weight loss? How frequently should you eat to have a metabolism that is working most efficiently?
You get it, I’m sure.
By educating yourself on these things and putting your learning into practice, you’re going to be improving your results and making your dieting and exercising pack the biggest weight-loss punch it can.
10. Set milestones along the way, and celebrate them
When you set big goals, it’s nice to get some gratification along the way. Depending on the goal, it can sometimes take FOREVER to reach it, which can leave the door open for all sorts of things to come into your mind to discourage you and deter your progress.
What if I’m not smart enough to do this?
What if I never reach this goal? Am I wasting my time?
Is it really worth all the effort?
Why am I even working so hard?
When you’re on a long road, it can really give you a boost of motivation when you reach a smaller goal and get to celebrate it.
For example, if you’re goal is to lose 40 pounds by December, you can establish 10 pound milestones where you have a planned reward/celebration.
I’ve been in that place before where it’s all work and no fun, and it stinks! But it doesn’t have to be that way! Setting goals and working hard can be a lot of fun and very rewarding if you do it right.
11. Set aside time periodically to reflect and re-evaluate
Have you ever been working on a goal before and had your desired outcome for yourself change along the way?
Have you ever been working so hard on something for a long time that you’ve got your head stuck in the details and you drift off the path?
Have you ever been working towards a goal and somewhere along the way change your mind about what you really want to accomplish?
For each of these reasons and more, it’s important to set aside time for reflection about the appropriateness of your goals and the quality of your effort. It can be easy to get lost in the trees and miss the forest if you’re not careful.
You may discover your priorities have changed and your previous goals no longer line up with your priorities. If this is the case, then you may need to modify your course or go a completely different way.
You may find out your goals weren’t challenging enough and you need to step it up a notch.
Or, you may have gone off on a tangent, and you’ve been focusing time and energy on things that aren’t important and don’t help you reach your desired goal.
You’ll do yourself a huge service if you regularly reevaluate your priorities and your goals. Because there’s nothing worse that discovering you’ve been spending tons of time on something that doesn’t really matter to you anymore.
Here’s how I practically applied these 11 elements
My goal: Save $15,000 by the end of March 2016 for a down payment on a house. The $15,000 has to be saved completely using money made through resale.
- Start with the end in mind: In order to be able to buy a new home by April 2016, I need to be able to save $15,000 for a down payment. On my salary alone, our family is not able to save that much money in such a small window of time. It will require some side hustle. I’ll need to save $1,500 each month in order to reach this goal. Or, if I break it down even further, I’ll need to make/save approximately $375 per week. In order to make this much money each week, I’ll need to go to yard sales each Saturday morning, go to the Goodwill outlet on my lunch break a few times a week, and find an item or two per week on Craiglist that I can flip for profit. If I do these things, I’m confident I can reach my goal.
- Set goals that are challenging, yet attainable: Saving the $15K in 10 months will be challenging because I also work a full-time job and have two kids, one of which is an infant. It will be challenging, but I know based on previous experience this is a goal I can reach if I put my mind to it. In the past when I was paying off my student loan debts, I was able to pay off more than $20K in a single year. Based on what I’ve done previously, I know that I can achieve this if I put my mind to it.
- Set your BHAG: Saving $18K in 10 months would be a BHAG for me. For me to be able to save that much money is going to require some serious growth on my part. It is going to take educating myself and taking my resale skills up even a few more notches. It’s going to require me to find efficiencies and discover new sources of potential profits. To reach this BHAG I would have to earn $1,800 per month (approximately $450 per week).
- Be specific: As portrayed above, my goals are very specific. I gave a time frame (10 months), a savings goal ($15,000), and a savings method (I’ll buy/sell stuff as the sole source of my savings). I specified the tasks I’m going to have to do each week in order to reach this goal.
- Copy the successful people: In this case, I’m copying myself since I’ve accomplished a very similar goal in the past, and I know what to do to get it done. If this wasn’t the case, I would seek out someone who had succeeded in accomplishing the same goal or a similar goal to see what he/she did and how they did it. I’d ask for the pitfalls to watch out for as well as the things that gave the most motivation and inspiration. It’s a lot easier to succeed when you emulate a successful formula rather than trying to create the formula for success from scratch.
- Set Deadlines: My ultimate deadline is March 31, 2016. However, there are multiple other deadlines I’ve set for myself along the way. I’ve set goals/deadlines for each month for how much I need to save. I’ve also broken that down into weekly deadlines. Built into my process are weekly deadlines for my eBay auctions, as I have all of my auction listings set to end on Sunday each week. To set up 7-day listings that end on Sundays, my deadlines are Sunday mornings. To set up 5-day listings that end on Sunday, my deadlines are Tuesday mornings. These deadlines keep me from slipping and help me to stay on track.
- Set reminders: I set a reminder in my Google Calendar to alert me every weekday morning. The alert reminds me of why I set the goal and what my weekly and monthly goals are. With these reminders, I’ll receive e-mails every day telling me what my goals are. This will force me to either ignore the reminders or to reflect on my progress/effort on a daily basis.
- Build Accountability into your Process: This is where you come in. I’m going to be providing at least monthly updates on this blog of my progress towards reaching this goal. I started this goal in June, so I’ve included my June results in a graph below, which I will update periodically on A Tale of Resale. By making this announcement to you, I’m creating some additional accountability for myself. Since I know you’ll be watching my progress, it will give me motivation to not only keep going, but to do well. Nobody wants to fail in front of an audience, especially me.
Here’s a snapshot of my progress after the first month:
At the end of June I’m ahead of the pace for my attainable and BHAG goals! I earned over $2,200 in June.
- Commit to learning and further education: I’m convinced there are multiple ways I can increase my productivity with resale. My time is very limited, so any time I save will allow me to sell more items and make more progress towards my goals. There are many resale opportunities that will present themselves to me if I commit to learning more about them, such as buying/selling musical instruments, which I mentioned in a previous blog post.
- Set milestones & Celebrate the wins: I’m choosing to set milestones at each quarter of the way:
Milestone 1: $3,750 in resale earnings/savings
Milestone 2: $7,500 in resale earnings/savings
Milestone 3: $11,250 in resale earnings/savings
Milestone 4: $15,000 in resale earnings/savings
When I reach each of the first three milestones, I’m going to plan a fun trip/event for me and my family to go do and enjoy. It may be going out for a nice dinner or it may involve taking the family on a trip to zoo we’ve never been to before. But the idea is that we will be required to go do something and celebrate the progress. No exceptions!
The final milestone will culminate in the purchase of a new home – the big reward!
- Take time for reflection and reevaluation: At each of the first three milestones, part of the celebration process will involve reflection and reevaluation. It’s important to reestablish the “why” of what all the hard work and sacrifice is for. This can sometimes change along the way, so it’s good to think about it periodically.
For me, it is very important for our family to have a house with a fenced in back yard. This is a luxury we currently don’t have with our rental house. Being a mom is difficult and extremely exhausting work, and I desire for my wife to have the ability to turn the kids loose in the back yard without having to stress about their safety and their boundaries. I want her to be able to have some extended breaks from her work during the day.
That’s my “why.”
Call to Action:
What goal or goals do you want to achieve during the rest of 2015, and for 2016? How strongly do you desire to reach your goals? What’s your “Why”? How do you plan to get there? What things have worked well for you in the past to reach your goals? Please share in the comments below!
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