Life is wonderful.
And if you are like your 7 billion fellow humans, you probably have lots of dreams.
But life is also complex and confusing. It’s easy to lose focus. Sometimes, we end up doing the easy and the immediate, instead of the tough and the meaningful. After years of trying, we may even give up on the dreams that we loved the most.
It’s clear that we need a step-by-step strategy to achieve our goals. And here it is…
- Know (Know Your Goals)
- Choose (Prioritize Your Current Goal)
- Believe (Believe in Yourself)
- Work (Take Action)
- Follow Through (Prepare for Failure)
1. Know Your Goals
I am 29 today, and even with 29 years spent chasing dreams, I still have many unfulfilled ones. In fact, my dreams are so numerous that I sometimes lose track of them.
Our first order of business is to get a structure to better understand our goals.
Grab a pen and paper, jot down all your long-term goals, and see what kinds they are.
Although I don’t know your goals, there are a few things I know about them: they are complex (or you would already have achieved them), they are important to you, and they are going be worth every effort.
Balancing Fun & Productivity
During my time at B-school, boy was I busy!
I set myself the task of starting conversations with 300 strangers during my student exchange program in Europe. (Growing up, I was very shy and now I wanted to gain some, much-needed, social skills.) I was also visiting a psychiatrist, who was helping me with my OCD.
The academic schedule was hectic but I still didn’t miss a single gym session (because I wanted to be in the best shape of my life). I continued chasing my long list of goals as I got my first job and started my 9-to-5.
Although the thrill of improving my life was exhilarating, this is not a strategy that I could sustain for decades. Five years in, my motivation started to wane and I started to coast through life.
Don’t make the mistake I made. Aim for balance—a balance between work and fun. In other words, balance your to-do goals and your happy goals. Life is precious and, from what I can tell, you get only one. So do what makes you happy from time to time.
Now that we understand our goals, it’s time for the next step—picking one.
All of economics is based on a simple principle: the available resources are limited but man’s wants are infinite. This principle applies to you as well—you have limited time and energy. If you will follow all your goals, then you would achieve none.
My point is that you need to pick the goals that you are going to actively pursue.
Deferred Life Plan
When I was 22, I had a BIG realization: all my life, I had followed the goals that were expected of me. These were goals such as getting good grades, enrolling at a decent college, getting a respectable job.
These goals brought me no happiness because they were not my goals. Whether I succeeded or failed, the result was always the same—a sense of emptiness.
What’s worse, I could see these goals stretching infinitely into the future: I would need to do well at my job to get a good start and then save to buy a car and plan to get a house. Then I would have to get married, bring up the children…
There is nothing wrong with wanting these things. Doing well in your career and starting a family are wonderful things. But you should do them if they are what you really want, not because they are expected of you.
Funnily enough, sacrificing what you want for what is expected of you, has a name—a deferred life plan. (I think, it was Randy Komisar who came up with the phrase.) In the book The Top Five Regrets of the Dying, the author, a palliative nurse, tells us that the number 1 regret was, “I wish I had the courage to live a life true to myself.”
Put yourself first, and live a life true to yourself.
The Dark Side of Prioritization
The usual meaning of “prioritization” is to do what is important and stay away from what is not. Easy-peasy. But what we need is an extreme form of prioritization: we must sacrifice (temporarily) the goals we love, for the goals we love the most.
When it comes to prioritization, you need to be certain of 2 things. First, the goals you are currently chasing. Second, the goals that you are sacrificing.
Do what is required to achieve your goals. Do everything that is required to achieve your goals. But don’t do anything that doesn’t contribute to your current goals.
A recap: we know our long-term goals. We have also decided which goals we are going to focus on first. Now, it’s time for the next step—believing.
3. Believe in Yourself
There is a group of people who excel at learning new things. They learn from those around them, they are resourceful, and their minds are designed to adapt to the demands of the environment.
These people are called “humans”. Congratulations, you are one of them.
I don’t think there is anything magical about believing in yourself. But the results of believing in yourself can be magical. The truth is, you simply will not try hard enough and long enough if you believe the task is, essentially, impossible.
To be sure, everything is not possible! (I cannot will myself into becoming pink turnip.) But most of the things we desire, we have seen others possess—which means other humans have managed to do it. If you put in the time and hard work, there is a good chance you can, too.
Good things are difficult, and they do take time. But they are, ultimately, possible.
Talent vs Skill
Talent is an inborn ability, a God-given gift. Skill, on the other hand, is a learnt ability that is developed through time and effort.
It’s tempting to think of greatness as a result of talent. We like to think of our heroes as being effortlessly great at what they do. Some of the blame for this view lies with the media—it focuses on brilliant performances, not on the struggles to make them possible.
However, there is consistent research telling us that world-class performance is the result of enormous amounts of hard work. The point is that you need to have faith that you can be good at the things that scare you. You can become good at the things that you are not good at.
Seeing is believing.
But when you are down and out and life is the exact opposite of what you want, it’s difficult to imagine a better future.
When I feel uncertain about my goal, I get my confidence back through creative visualization. That’s just a fancy word for imagining your desired future and believing that it already exists. The best part is that it doesn’t cost you anything, except 10 minutes of your time a day.
Here is the 10 minute visualization technique that I use.
STEP 1. When you are alone and free of distractions, sit comfortably on your bed. Close your eyes, and take a few deep breaths to calm your mind.
STEP 2. (For the next 10 minutes)
Imagine all the small victories leading up to your ultimate goal. Then see yourself experiencing your desired outcome and feel all the happy emotions that come with success.
DO include as much rich detail as possible. Smell, touch, and hear your success.
DON’T engage your rational mind. This isn’t the time to think about how to succeed.
STEP 3. Simply, do it every day. Make it a habit. The more you visualize, the better you would get at it.
Now, you know your long-term goals and you have prioritized your most important goals and you believe that they are possible. It’s time for the most important step of all—doing the work.
4. Take Massive Action
You have some good news and some bad.
The good news is that your goals are possible. The bad news is that they are not easy. Put bluntly, you need to work your butt off.
Things may come to those who wait, but only the things left by those who hustle.Abraham Lincoln
No one is coming to save you. You need to save yourself. And no one said this was going to be easy (it’s not). You will need to get your hands dirty.
The actual work that you would need to do will depend on your goal, your strengths, and your situation. Whatever be your goal, you would need a plan to guide you. Your plan would ensure that you do everything to reach your goal and nothing that doesn’t contribute to your goal.
Then you execute. Whether you are tired or sick or busy or sleepy—it doesn’t matter. Do what you planned to do. If you are unable to do what you planned, nothing will work.
After some time, say a week, review your results and update your plan. Planning isn’t a one-time thing. Your plan will need to be refined continuously until you achieve your goal.
Then execute again.
All your activity is going to be a cycle of planning and executing.
5. Prepare for Failure (a.k.a. Don’t Give Up)
It sounds strange but failure is a part of success.
On the way to your goal, you are going to have wins and loses. That is to be expected, and you should not be afraid of making mistakes.
What is important is that every time you fail, you get back up, refine your process, and try again.
Movies give us an unrealistic idea of success. The road to success isn’t elegant. It’s messy and confusing. It’s trial and error. It’s things not going according to plan. Mostly, it is about not giving up.
Failure is simply the price for success. Pay it and move on.
Over To You…
I hope that you get whatever it is you seek. If you haven’t already, start your journey today.
There was a time when I felt that I would never be happy, and this strategy to achieve my goals helped me tremendously.
Thank you, for letting me share it with you.