Ever felt like you're drifting through life? Feeling dazed and confused?
You're not alone.
There is a solution.
Having clearly defined goals, and measuring your progress, creates a sense of urgency and meaning.
Without goals, your efforts are likely going to be unfocused and best and wasted at worst.
Does that mean goals are the ultimate solution to all our problems?
Goals aren't a panacea. There are downsides to goals (such as unethical behavior which isn't often spoken about).
But the benefits of goal setting usually outweigh the (very limited) costs.
Your goals are your "north star". They provide you with focus and a strong sense of clarity.
As it turns out, I recently spoke to Brian Tracy about goal setting on the Productive Insights podcast and the conversation began with an interesting topic ...
... eating frogs!
Brian's known for his book "Eat that frog". I wanted to know what eating frogs had to do with goal setting, so that's where I decided to kick it off.
What frog-eating has to do with goal setting
Here's Brian's story around how he arrived at frog-eating (and what it has to do with goal setting).
Brian reads voraciously — at least three hours a day — this isn't uncommon for people of his caliber.
At one point, Brian came across a story from Mark Twain who said that if the first thing you do in the morning is to eat a live frog, you'll have the satisfaction of knowing that the worst thing that could happen to you all day is probably behind you.
Mark said were two corollaries to this law:
- If you have two live frogs, eat the ugliest one first.
- If you have to eat a frog at all, it doesn't pay to sit and look at it for very long.
And thus the "eat that frog" legend was born. So there you have it.
The metaphorical frog in the story is your worst or hardest task. Get it out of the way as soon as possible each day.
Once you've got the hardest thing out of the way, it'll all be easy from then on.
Note: Eating an actual live frog is optional.
Why it makes sense to handwrite your goals
In my experience, it pays to physically write your goals down by hand. It seems to activate a different part of the brain and creates a certain sense of urgency (and agency). It helps you to embed the goal into your psyche.
Once you've internalized the goal, you're far more likely to accomplish it.
Brian agrees. Let's listen to a snippet of our conversation. You can catch the entire conversation here.
Brian Tracy's 12-step process to achieve your goals
Before embarking on the goal-setting process Tracy recommends doing a few things:
- Develop a strong mindset built by taking responsibility for your life (and your thoughts)
- Get clear on our values
- Reject self-limiting beliefs
- Visualize your future
Once that's done he recommends following this 12-step approach:
1. Figure out what you really want
What do you actually want? Getting clear on what you really want keeps you from wandering aimlessly. According to research, you can increase your confidence by emulating other people's successful tactics.
Figure out what you want and set the direction in the key areas of your life:
Make sure you set SMART goals. SMART stands for:
- Actionable (and assignable if your business has more than one person in it)
2. Believe you can achieve it
Believing you can achieve your goals is critical. You need to develop a strong conviction around your capacity to achieve the goal.
I'm not talking about magically manifesting things out of thin air (though some people might suggest it's possible). I'm talking about setting realistic goals and then believing that you can actually achieve those goals.
It pays not to spread yourself too thin. Focus on a few goals at a time. You're more likely to believe in your capacity to achieve them if you're realistic about how much you can if you narrow your focus.
3. Write your goals down
After my conversation with Brian Tracy on the Productive Insights podcast, I've been writing my goals down every single day. Yup, you read that right. I've been writing my goals down ...
The results have been profound. I feel more energized. My conviction around my capacity to achieve each goal grows with each passing day.
Writing the goals down each day forces me to be realistic about what I can achieve and forces me to stay focused on just a few specific goals.
I highly recommend writing your goals down every day. It's one of the best habits I've developed in recent years.
4. Assess your starting point (what got you "here" won't get you "there")
This step is about taking stock. It's about getting clear on where you are right now and what behaviors (or lack thereof) got you to this point.
You need to be really honest with yourself about your current circumstances and what got you here. Taking the time to reflect on the patterns in your life that contributed to your current circumstances is the key that unlocks the doors to your ongoing progress.
Developing a mindfulness practice can be very valuable here.
Let's say your current annual revenue is $400K and you're making a profit of 10%, and you've set yourself a goal to achieve annual revenue of $1 million dollars with a profit margin of 40%.
Reflect on the behaviors that have led you to this point. Why is your revenue level where it is? What behaviors (or lack thereof) led to this situation? Perhaps you hate making sales calls (I do).
Perhaps you don't believe you can reach $1m in annualized revenue. These are important questions to ask and things to journal about.
What about your profit levels? What will it take for you to move your profit up from 10% to 40%? Perhaps you need to be meticulous about documenting your business expenses.
Are you paying for software services you don't use? It's common to subscribe to something and then forget that you did.
The behaviors that got a six-figure income won't be the same as those that will get you to a seven-figure income. But understanding the patterns and what specifically you need to change will certainly help with that transition!
5. Discover your "why"
Why do you want to achieve the goals you listed in step 3? Why are these goals important to you?
You might want to consider using the 5-why's approach to dig a bit deeper into your why. This exercise may seem insignificant right now, but you'll find that it does matter over the long term.
Because the road to your goal is likely to be long and arduous. (If it isn't then you're probably not setting yourself challenging goals).
To negotiate that journey and persevere despite the inevitable challenges the journey will throw your way, you need to understand why achieving these goals is important to you?
So list as many reasons you can think of as to why you want to achieve your goal. Dig deep.
Getting clear on your why will help with the motivation, but here's a bonus tip for you.
Design your environment to set yourself up for success. Check out my conversation with James Clear — author of Atomic Habits — where we talked about how to design an environment that sets you up for success.
6: Set deadlines for each goal
Ever heard the phrase: "A goal without a deadline is just a dream". Well, it's true. You need to get clear on when you're going to achieve each goal.
You may well change your deadlines as things evolve but you need to commit to a deadline.
I found this has helped me to be realistic about how many projects I can take on at any given time. I tend to work in 90-day timeframes and give myself certain projects to complete within each 90 day period.
Sure you can have 10-year deadlines on some goals, but then you need to align that goal to specific projects which can fit into your 90-day time horizons.
Let me know in the comments if you'd like me to publish a blog post on why 90-day timeframes are the most optimal for shorter-term goals. If there's enough interest I'll write a blog post about it and maybe even put up a video tutorial on our YouTube channel.
Make sure you use them.
7. Identify the challenges you're likely to face along the way (and plan around them)
What challenges are you likely to face on your journey to achieving your goals? How will you deal with the inevitable failures that you'll encounter on your path to success?
This helps you fortify your brain against the inevitable setbacks you'll encounter.
Tracy also offers a great reframe on the word "failure" — one I agree with wholeheartedly.
You only fail when you stop trying. As long as you don't give up you haven't failed.
Does that mean you stick to projects that you know are dead in the water?
No. Absolutely not.
You also need to know when to quit and you need to be intelligent about it.
But know this: quitting a project and giving up on a goal are two completely different things.
Most people quit way too early though. Edison kept going till his 1000th iteration on the light bulb.
When Edison was asked how he felt about failing 1000 times before inventing the light bulb. Edison replied, "I didn't fail 1,000 times. The light bulb was an invention with 1,000 steps"
Edison told himself a story that positioned him to win. You can do the same.
What story are you telling yourself when you face adversity? The stories you tell yourself are often deeply embedded in your psyche. Way below your ability to access them.
They're that underlying fabric in your mental world that you can't access through words.
But you can change that deep narrative by changing how you respond to situations. Especially situations that present adversity. Just like Edison did.
So here's a challenge for you: The next time you feel defeated or overwhelmed or like you're "failing" ask yourself "How would Edison have viewed this situation?"
Framing (and reframing) is critical when developing resilience. Tell yourself better stories. You'll win every time!
8. Keep learning
Tracy recommends committing to lifelong learning. If you lack certain skills then make a commitment to developing skills in those areas.
Learning new things will help you accomplish your goals and will do wonders for your self-esteem.
Continuous learning also keeps you mentally agile and helps you adapt to change — the one constant in our worlds.
Here are the 4 tips Tracy offers to help you become a lifelong learner:
1. Identify the Key Result Areas in your field.
What do you need to do your job well? To be great at it?
Maybe you need to get better at delegating. Or maybe if you're a graphic designer you need to get really good at using graphic design software.
Identify specific things you need to get really good at and go to work on those things.
Set yourself goals around those things you'd like to learn, and start executing with focus and a sense of purpose.
2. Ask people to rate you (only ask people who are in a position to give you meaningful feedback)
Be judicious about who you pick.
Ask people who will give you constructive feedback. These are people who tend to think positively and aren't down on themselves and the world all the time.
Maybe get a few people to fill out an anonymous survey so they don't have to worry about hurting your feelings when they're being honest about your weaknesses.
Either way, you'll need to be receptive to the feedback and take it at face value.
Make a decision to see the feedback for what it is, resolve not to take it personally, and act on it.
3. Identify your weaknesses.
Some experts will tell you to focus on building your strengths rather than working on your weaknesses. And to a certain extent, that's true.
But you also need to realize that the proverbial chain is only as strong as the weakest link.
So it pays to figure out what your weak points are, and to develop your skills in those areas — especially those that can be a major hindrance to achieving your goals.
Tracy recommends that you score yourself at no lower than seven (out of 10) in those areas.
So if you're a 4 out of 10 then you need to do some work in those areas and bring it up to at least a 7 out of 10.
4. Leverage what you're good at
Once you've worked on shoring up your weak areas (up to a 7 out of 10) it's time to build on your natural strengths.
Where you perform well and often find yourself "in the zone". Your zone of genius if you like.
I love writing. I also love working with ideas and developing them. That comes naturally to me.
What do you love doing? What's your zone of genius?
Focusing on your natural strengths can do wonders for your bank balance and also for your self-esteem.
9. Surround yourself with the right people
Jim Rohn was known to have said that you're the average of the five people you spend the most time with. I think this is true.
Who you choose to hang out with determines the philosophies, values, and attitudes you allow into your life.
Choose your friends wisely.
Once you've identified the skills you need to achieve your goals, decide which people embody the qualities and have the values that will help you to achieve those skills.
If you want to become a designer, hang out with other designers who have had success in the area.
Want to become a good musician, hang out with other musicians who have a strong work ethic.
One thing's for sure. You can't go wrong hanging out with people who have integrity and have developed a strong work ethic.
Find these people, and then build and nurture relationships with them.
How do you build relationships with these people? The best way to initiate a relationship is to adopt a generous stance.
Check out my conversation with Seth Godin where we talked about the importance of generosity and how to cultivate the habit.
10. Create a plan and execute on it
OK so now you're clear on what you want. You've identified the skills you'll need, the inevitable challenges you're likely to encounter, and your "why" which is going to see you through.
The next step is to turn your goals into a multi-step project and assign deadlines to them (that will align with your overall goal deadline)
Circumstances will change, and your plan will almost certainly change with it. That's a given.
But the act of planning has value in and of itself. Check out this conversation I had with Jessica Mah on the importance of planning.
Tracy recommends following these three steps to help you create a plan:
1. Create a project-planning sheet that has your tasks arranged by priority and then your sub-tasks arranged in the order you need to do them. Each task and sub-task must have a deadline.
Note you might be able to do some tasks simultaneously — also known as parallel processing. Feel free to outsource some of these tasks if your circumstances permit.
2. Consult with others involved (assuming others are involved) and ask them to give you feedback on whether your deadlines for their tasks are realistic.
Perhaps you've overestimated (or underestimated) their capabilities. Either way, get their buy-in, make the necessary adjustments to the plan and lock it in!
3. Decide whether to move forward if you still feel that the goals (and timeframes) are achievable. Tracy recommends doing this because you're better off not wasting precious resources pursuing a lost cause.
11. Monitor your progress and stay the course
Peter Drucker famously said that you can't manage what you can't measure. This is true for most things. Especially for your goals.
Tracy recommends you can measure progress by setting daily, weekly and monthly benchmarks and metrics for each of your goals.
If you want to lose weight, measure the number of calories you're putting into your body and what you're burning up in exercise.
Note that numerical metrics are important but it's also important to keep an eye on qualitative factors. For example, eating 1000 calories a day of fast food might not be as good as eating 1200 calories a day of high-quality nutritious foods.
12. Don't stop — keep going
You now have a clear plan, with specific projects and tasks that take you from where you are now, to your goals. The last step is to keep moving forward regardless of the obstacles you encounter.
Persistence is the name of the game from here on in.
Fear of failure and rejection affects almost every one of us. And there are many ways to address your fears. One is to adopt the strategies I discussed here with Todd Herman — author of the book Alter Ego Effect.
Creating an alter ego is a great way to 'side-step' your personal fears and forge ahead. When you adopt an alter ego you can leave your personal history behind and drive towards your goals.
This approach is more common than most people realize. David Bowie had Ziggy Stardust, Beyonce Knowles had Sasha Fierce and the Beatles had Sgt Peppers Lonely Heart's club band — an actual alter ego for their band.
Brian recommends the following things:
1. Increase your knowledge the more you know, the more confident you'll become.
2. Get enough rest: Being sick or tired can (and does) affect your attitude. Most of us need about 7 - 8 hours of sleep. Getting enough sleep is one of the best productivity hacks I know of.
3. Confront your fears: Brian recommends listing your fears in order of magnitude and then analyzing how much each fear hurts you, or helps you. He then recommends you think about how you can benefit from overcoming those fears. This is a great way of uncovering the patterns that secretly sabotage your life by examining them.
4. Just begin: These two words were probably the most impactful words for me in recent years. I remember having this email exchange with Seth Godin a few years ago. I told him all these reasons for not blogging every day (something I was considering at the time). Basically, I was finding creative ways to hide. Seth just responded with two words ... "Just begin". I took his advice.
You've got this!
If you follow all the steps outlined in this blog post, it's very likely you'll achieve your goals.
Will it be easy?
Will it be worth it?
Uh ... yea!
You've got this! I'm cheering for you!