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.

Mindset: The Basics

Mindset is, for me, one of the absolute foundations of improving yourself. By that I mean your mindset can determine how successful you are in pursuing any avenue of self-development, and setting out with the wrong mindset will scupper every effort you make to learn and then act on that learning.

Why is mindset so important? The answer starts to make sense when you look at the two different forms of mindset commonly referred to in this field – fixed and growth. Can you guess which one is the one we want to adopt for ourselves? No prizes for getting the answer right. Let’s look at the other one first though, see if anything sounds familiar.

A fixed mindset is just as the name implies – a mind that is fixed in its definitions of things (like ‘success’ or ‘happiness’ for example) and also fixed in its understanding of itself and others. Someone speaking from a fixed mindset might say something like “there’s no way I could do that”, “I’m just not a creative person” or “Dave was an absolute melt back in school, how’s he running his own company now?! Some people get all the luck! I’m so unlucky, nothing like that will ever happen to me”.

What makes this mindset so dangerous is that it fits with how we see the world, often through the lens of social media where everyone puts their best self on show and we compare that to how we’re doing that day and think we come up short. We’re also heavily influenced by the world in how we define success and force ourselves to measure up against that yardstick. Very often, deep down we will have a different definition of success but we keep quiet about it because it’s clearly the wrong definition and we don’t want to look silly in front of the actually successful people. The other thing with a fixed mindset is that it’s self-fulfilling and therefore hard to break out of. We assume our lack of creativity is hardwired, so we never bother trying to train ourselves to be more creative. What would be the point of that, right? Might as well train ourselves to levitate or shoot lasers from our eyes! Pointless.

Bollocks, say I (and many others). What if, going back to the questions from a couple of paragraphs above, there was another way to view things? What if we asked different questions like “if I was to do that, how would I go about it?”, “why can’t I be a creative person?” and “I should get in touch with Dave for a catch up, I’m interested to find out how he got to where he is from being a complete and utter twonk back in school”. OK, that last one isn’t a question, but you take my point. This is how the growth mindset thinks and sees the world.

The growth mindset is not interested in limitations, it is unfazed by the achievements of others and it is constantly looking for opportunities to learn and develop. What’s more, the growth mindset is backed by a strong belief that, with the application of effort, you can achieve whatever goal you set yourself, you can learn any new skill if you put in the time and focus and that others can do the same. If you can adopt a growth mindset you will be forever open to new opportunities to see, do and learn something new. You’ll have the confidence to set goals, plan your way to achieving them and then put that plan in to action. I’m not saying you’ll immediately be the next Elon Musk, but you will be a step closer, if that’s what you ultimately want.

Where a fixed mindset is frustrated by your lack of natural talent for something, the growth mindset looks for a way to learn to be talented. All talent is, really, is a skill that someone has developed through hard work and practice, you just don’t always see the hard work and practice, just the end result. Yes, some people are gifted at certain things, but without hard work and long hours, they will never rise to the top of their field among the most talented.

In fact some of the most ‘gifted’ figures in history were forged through many long, hard years and countless knock-backs before getting to where they wanted to be. Einstein hated most of his school years and failed on his first attempt to study physics at University. Morgan Freeman, a ferocious natural talent, had to put in decades of hard graft before hitting the big time. Or how about Steve Jobs getting fired from Apple in 1985 to then be re-hired to save the company a full 12 years later?

Granted, not all talented, successful individuals have quite as bumpy a ride to the top, but I promise you that each and every one of them possesses the growth mindset, and that this mindset has been fundamental to their success. If you don’t feel like you possess it, but you want to, then I have good news – you can. It probably won’t happen overnight, but here are a few exercises you can do to start shifting your focus;

  1. Ban the word “can’t” from your vocabulary. There is a way. “Can’t” means you choose not to. Also, if you choose not to do something, that’s OK. Make peace with your reasons and move on.
  2. Ask yourself more questions that start with words like “how” or “if”, as in “how can I be more independent?” or “if I was going to start a business, what would it look like?” – do this the next time you start wishing for something. Stop wishing, start planning.
  3. If there is something that you’ve been wanting to do but telling yourself you can’t – set some time aside to practice. Perhaps you want to create something or learn a new skill. Consider what would be a realistic amount of time that you could devote to it, an hour one evening maybe, and keep that appointment with yourself. Tell your husband, wife, brother, mother, cat, whoever you live with, so they can help make sure you get that time.
  4. Remember there is no pressure from anywhere to do any self-directed learning. It’s entirely down to you making that investment in yourself.

That’s it for this post, it’s a bit longer than I planned it to be, sorry. Next week we’ll talk about setting goals and where a lot of people go wrong. Thanks for reading, see you soon!