How to set better goals and actually achieve them.

Setting goals is another absolutely foundational pillar of self-improvement, but it’s something that a lot of people get wrong. It’s a huge kick in the balls to set yourself a target and then feel like you’re falling short from the get go, no one needs that. How many times have you made New Year’s resolutions and not kept to them? Or have you ever decided to make a change and then done little to absolutely nothing about it after that? Don’t worry, we’ve all been there. Chances are you’re making one of three mistakes that I’m about to teach you how to avoid making again, so next time you set yourself goal, you can smash it out the park.

Mistake number 1: setting the wrong type of goal.

Right we’re starting out at ground level here. Did you ever stop to consider that there are different types of goals that might require different types of approach? Do you know what these different types of goal are and which one you want to set yourself? The type of goal you set can hugely impact your chances of success. There are two main types that we’ll be looking at here, let’s call them open-ended and outcome-based. Open-ended goals are just that, ones that don’t have a fixed end point. This could be something like “I’m going to transform my body in to the perfect human specimen”, or “I want to help all the homeless cats in the world” or “I want to unravel the darkest mysteries of the universe”.

Needless to say, these goals are BIG and are going to require BIG action on your part to hit them. Not only BIG action but ONGOING, CONSISTENT action. Forever. If you stop for a minute and have an honest word with yourself, is this the type of goal you want to have? Are you passionate enough to pursue it, come what may? Do you have the self-confidence needed to deal positively with failure? If the answer is yes then fair play, crack the fuck on, you absolute legend. For the rest of us, there’s absolutely no shame in starting off a bit smaller.

Outcome-based goals are smaller, more manageable. They have very obvious criteria for success and it’s always a good idea to put a time limit on how long you allow yourself to achieve them. “I want to drop a dress size by the 1st of June”, “I’m going to start donating to a charity for homeless cats”, or “I’ll finally take that evening class when it starts again in September”.

Do you see what I’m getting at here? These goals are, in the grand scheme of things, fairly small, especially when compared to their counterpart open-ended goals (we’re talking about millions of cats vs about 0.7 of a cat, probably) but it really doesn’t matter how small they are. No really, it doesn’t. What does matter is that they are far less scary and fear-of-failure-inducing than the first lot but they count for just as big a WIN for you once you nail them. Maybe even a bigger win in fact.

Someone who sets themselves a huge goal and pours their heart and soul in to it can achieve incredible things, but for someone to pick themselves up after months, perhaps even years of feeling like they shouldn’t even bother trying, actually have the self-awareness to set an achievable goal, one that strikes that balance between comfortable but not so easy you could piss it in your sleep, well, you sir or madam have my respect for sure. Bravo.

The rest of this post is going to be mainly focused on how to achieve these smaller goals, but don’t worry, we’ll come back to the big ones in a later post.

Mistake number 2: saying it yourself only once.

So you’ve set the right type of goal for you, excellent, we’re off to a winning start. I’d hate for anything to go wrong at this point so do the write thing and right that bad boy down. Shit, I meant do the RIGHT thing and WRITE that bad boy down. Good job I wrote that sentence down and didn’t just say it and assume that would be enough, eh? Write it down on a piece of paper and stick it on the ceiling above your bed, write it in the notes app on your phone and set it is your wallpaper, tattoo it in braille on your arse (assuming you can read braille and regularly feel the need to caress your own bottom) if that works for you, but do it one way or the other and refer back to it often.

Reading it aloud works best but if you don’t feel comfortable with that then just reading it is great too. It may take a week or two but you will find that this simple habit helps the goal seem more and more achievable and even starts to guide your thoughts and actions towards achieving it. We’re trying to internalise the goal here and keep it in mind even when we’re not working to achieve it. Keep that up and you’re already halfway to avoiding the next big mistake a lot of people make…

Mistake number 3: not having a plan or tracking your progress

Napoleon Hill in his seminal book Think and Grow Rich, first advocated the practice of writing goals down and repeating them and I agree 100% with him on this. Here is where he and I deviate slightly though, and it’s worth remembering that he’s mostly talking about the big, open-ended goals and we’re focusing more here on the smaller, outcome-based goals.

Good old Napoleon tells us that the practice of repeating goals to ourselves over and over again will lead to the subconscious formulation of a plan, or series of plans that we need to follow in order to achieve our goal. A bit like an early form of brain-hacking. For outcome-based goals I personally advocate getting the rest of your brain involved as well.

Let’s say your little goal for yourself is to drop 20 lbs in weight over the next 6 months. Thanks to the wonders of the modern world you can look up advice on healthy eating and download fitness apps to help you track your progress. Make notes in your diary to exercise on the reg and do your best to stick to these appointments. Carve the time out of your schedule. Get up a bit earlier or skip whatever shit you planned to watch on Netflix a couple of nights a week and hit up a local gym. Can’t afford a gym membership? Reddit is a fantastic source of free info on bodyweight exercises and other forms of low-cost fitness.

Keep it simple though, your plan to achieve your goal should fit in to a space no bigger than your phone’s screen so you can see the full picture at a glance. Refer back to it regularly along with your original objective and update your progress. Don’t wait for motivation or inspiration, they’ll come later I assure you. And accept that the first few weeks are probably going to be pretty frustrating with little to no progress at first. You’ll probably find yourself worrying that you don’t know what you’re doing. That’s OK, very few people actually do.

Bonus tips: Because you deserve them

Don’t be too hard on yourself. You’ll have shit days, days where you feel like you’re going backwards and days where you have to fight the urge to give up completely. Keep going, but give yourself a break once in a while, especially if you’re new to this. It’s about progress over time, not struggling against yourself every hour of every day.

It doesn’t matter what everyone else is doing. This is about you. Everyone is different which means that no one is operating under the circumstances you are. Comparing your progress to others is pointless and will do nothing to help you.

I want to hear from people what their goals are, whether you’re working towards them now or wanting some advice on how to start. Tell me, I’ll do my best to help.


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Ben Burrell-Squires

I’m just trying to stay out of trouble.

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