How to Accomplish Your Wild Goals This Year (Really!)

By Dave Fox
Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
January 17, 2019

Most big endeavors encounter roadblocks along the way. That’s okay. You just have to get creative.

I’m writing this two and a half weeks into January – a time when many people start to waver from their new year’s resolutions, and others are thinking, “Hmmm … I really should get started on my new year’s resolution, or the next thing I know, it’s going to be November.”

A lot of people don’t succeed at their new year’s resolutions … in fact, many expect to fail. It’s become a joke that new year’s resolutions don’t actually work. But they can – if you know how to approach them. (And if you’ve come across this article at a different time of year, these tips for accomplishing your goals work year round!)

There are some key reasons why some people achieve their goals and others don’t, and it’s not a simple matter of lazy vs. not lazy. Once you understand the science and psychology behind how to achieve your goals, it gets a lot easier to start that big project you’ve been thinking about starting (perhaps for years!) … and to follow through and finish it.

Why Some People Achieve Their Goals and Others Don’t

(And how you can be one of the ones who does!)

Succeeding at that goal you really accomplish is all about mindset. There’s an acronym in the coaching and business worlds that lays things out in a simple manner. (There are a few different variations of what these letters stand for but we’ll go with one of the more common ones.)

The usual acronym is SMART, but I’m expanding it to “SMARTY”:

Y – I’ll get to that one in a moment.

Let’s take these one at a time:

Specific: If your dreams are vague, you’re less likely to succeed. Take, “I want to be a writer,” for example. I hear that a lot as both a writing coach and a life coach who works with a lot of creative people. “I want to be a writer” is great, but what does that mean? What does it look like? Anybody who writes already is a writer, but when people say, “I want to be a writer,” they usually want something more – and this statement isn’t specific enough to get them there.

“I want to be a famous writer?”

Nope. Still too vague.

When you pinpoint a specific destination in your conscious mind, you etch more confident neuro-pathways in your unconscious mind to help you get where you want to go.

One of the ways the brain draws motivation is by visualizing. It does this best if it has well-defined milestones.

So what does it mean to you to “be a writer?” How will you define your success? What finish lines will you cross? Do you want to create a high-profile blog? Publish your first magazine article? Become a storytelling sensation on YouTube? Write a romance novel about kangaroo farmers? Get really specific in defining your goals and your sub-conscious mind will be more willing to pursue them.

Measurable: This goes hand in hand with specific. You want to break into freelance writing? Super. How many articles will you publish this year? How many words of your book will you write each week?

You want to save money to travel? Cool! So where is your next destination? How much money must you save to go there and how long will that take?

You want to “get in better shape?” How will you measure that? How many days will you exercise each week? How far do you want to be able to jog three months from now? Is there a number of bench presses you’d like to build up to? A target body weight? Set a number, track your progress, and celebrate your intermediate milestones as well as your final accomplishment.

Achievable and Realistic: I’ll lump these two together as they’re closely related. I’m a big believer in setting a high bar and challenging yourself – to an extent. But sometimes, people set their bar too high, which sets them up for failure.

“I want to write a novel that makes the New York Times Bestseller List.” Achievable and realistic? YES! But if you’ve never written fiction before, then aiming to accomplish this in six months isn’t realistic. You might need to take some intermediate steps first: Enroll in some classes. Join a writer’s group. Hire a writing coach. Maybe begin with a short story before you tackle a full-length novel.

“I want to run a marathon.” Cool! “I want to run a marathon next month and I haven’t gone jogging since 2011.” No. That won’t work. So what is a realistic goal for next month, and what’s a realistic goal for when you’ll be ready to tackle the full 26+ miles?

Consider your timeframe, the cost, and your availability to dedicate yourself toward the goal. Consider your current skills, and the time it will take you to make necessary improvements or acquire new skills. Also think about what you might need to give up – in terms of time, money, other activities, etc. Is it realistic for you go let go of certain things to create the space you need to pursue your goal, and are you willing to do this?

If you decide your timeframe isn’t realistic, then stretch your time frame. Make that big goal a long-term one that stretches beyond this year. Sketch out a three-year plan, a five-year plan. Next, figure out what you can realistically achieve in the next month, the next three months, etc.

(And yeah … I know five years sometimes feels far away, but the day will come. When it does, you’ll see the rewards for your hard work – and for your patience with the process.)

At the same time, don’t be afraid to aim high. You know that gadget you carry around (and are perhaps reading right now)? That thingy that makes video calls and sends messages around the world in seconds, that holds a stack of books, your music library, games, movies, and apps to help you read the news, check the weather, go shopping, navigate unfamiliar places, translate foreign languages instantly, fall in love, etc., etc., etc.? Yeah well, back in the 1980s, most people would have said that’s impossible. Getting here just took some big-dreaming people time … and a lot of missteps along the way.

Timed: This is another big one. I’m not talking here about making time in any given day or week. I’m talking about solid deadlines.

People often say they want to accomplish something “someday,” but “someday” goals are vague. “Someday” has no finish line. Without a target date to complete what we start, it’s too easy to put things off. We’re less likely to make the time we need, and to move forward in our pursuit of whatever we’re pursuing.

Now, having “someday” goals isn’t always bad. I have things I’d like to accomplish “someday,” which I’m not working on this year because I’m focusing on other things.

I’d like to write a novel, relaunch my podcast, and become fully conversant in Vietnamese, but I’m not setting deadlines for those things because I’m prioritizing the non-fiction book I’m currently writing (“rough draft finished by July 12 / find an agent or publisher by October 31 … and be prepared to regroup with a Plan B if the second of those hasn’t happened”) and expand my life coaching business (“X number of clients per week by March, June, etc.)

Too many goals at once can mean none of them get accomplished. (This is a particular problem for creative people because we tend to get a lot of ideas.) So identify what’s most important for you to focus on and achieve. Set a final deadline, and also (this is important) set intermediate deadlines. As you reach those stepping stones, you’ll feel motivated to keep going.

Y? Y? Y?: Okay, so the more accurate acronym here should be “SMARTW,” not “SMARTY,” but that’s not as fun. For this last item, I’m not talking about the letter. I’m talking about the question.

“Why?” is one of the most powerful questions you can ask yourself. It will help you find clarity on all sorts of issues in your life. It’s critical in goal setting because when we don’t have a clear understanding as to why we want something, our motivation wanes.

You’ve found your specific: You want to publish a novel? Visit all seven continents? Cross the English Channel on a stand-up paddle board? Break the world Pogo Sticking record for jumping on a Pogo Stick? Excellent. You’ve determined that your goal is legal (or subversively possible), and that you can attain the time, money, skills, fitness level, etc., that you need to accomplish it in your timeframe? Great. You’ve checked off all five of the SMART boxes and you’re ready to roll. But why do you want to do this?

Your chances for success will be vastly greater if you can answer that question – multiple times.

Why do you want to write a book? To share a message with the world? To make people giggle, cry, think, or change? To become famous? Knowing this will give you a greater sense of purpose in pursuing your goal. And you shouldn’t stop at your first answer.

Why do you want to share your message with the world? What will be the result of that? Why do you want people to respond to your book in a certain way? How will you feel, knowing how you’ve made them feel? Why do you want to become famous? What will this do for you? (And if that’s your answer, then you also need to go back to “Specific.” How will you measure “famous?”)

With each answer you come to, ask that same question again. Dig down another level until you’re confident you’ve explored the matter thoroughly.

Again, I’ve used a writing example here because I work with a lot of aspiring writers, but you can apply this to absolutely any endeavor. Know your purpose and working toward your goal will feel more meaningful.


What if Things Aren’t Going As You Hoped?

Sometimes we set goals we think are realistic, but we discover along the way we were being too ambitious, or there were necessary steps we didn’t consider when we started.

It’s important to keep in mind this is both normal and common. Accomplishing new things requires trial and error – which means that, yes, there will be “errors.” Those errors might feel like they’re slowing you down, but actually, they’re not.

Think of these moments not as errors but as first steps. They might not have led you in your desired direction, but they will help you rework and fine-tune your plan. Errors are part of the necessary process you needed to go through to discover your path to success. 

When first attempts don’t go as planned, some people give up. Others learn from their experiences and keep trying. They discover what’s been missing or unrealistic in their approach, as well as what has worked. They regroup. They adjust their goals, approaches, and timeframes. Then they try something new or try something again until they get it right.

What you must keep in mind is that failures are good. One of the biggest reasons people never accomplish their goals is they don’t pursue them in the first place … because they’re afraid of failing, or because they’re worried their plan isn’t perfect.

People who succeed are those who begin with imperfect plans, who realize their ambitions and strategies will need some fine-tuning along the way, and who start moving in the general direction of where they want to be instead of freezing because they’re not sure which path to follow.

To steal an analogy from one of my life coaching courses, if you get on the road and drive, you’ll move closer to your ultimate destination. You might make a wrong turn along the way. You might have to stop, look at your map, and let your GPS redirect you along a different route. But you’ve started moving toward your destination instead of staying home and not going anywhere.

The thing to keep in mind is … just get started. Make a plan, plot out specific steps, and assume you will have to adjust your plan as you go. If you only get halfway to your goal by the end of this year, that’s okay. When you keep working toward your goal at the start of next year, you’ll begin with half of your goal already accomplished.


Need Help Accomplishing Your Goals?

Sometimes, it helps to have a co-pilot.

These tips will get you on the right track, but sometimes it helps to have someone who can guide you in your right direction and keep you moving forward toward your finish line. I’m a professional life coach, with specific certifications in goal setting and finding your life purpose, as well as general happiness, confidence, and identity issues.

I live in Vietnam and I work with clients all over the world via Skype, Zoom, and phone. (And I have hours to accommodate people in all time zones.)

If you’ve decided that investing in some coaching will help you get on track and achieve your big goals, or if you’d like to learn more about how I can help, check out my life coaching page.

Published on Thursday, January 17, 2019

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