How A Properly Set Goal Can Change Your Life
The Formula I Use to Be Happier and Achieve More
I want to be successful.
Who doesn’t? Ostensibly everyone is working to be successful. Which begs the question… how is success achieved?
This question has dominated my headspace throughout my life and career. Eventually I realized — you can’t start answering the ‘how’ without first answering the ‘what’.
In retrospect, the chronology is obvious. It’s frustrating to think how long the obvious eluded me. I knew, inherently, I wanted to be successful. I just never took the time to define what “success” meant to me.
Wanting success is great but “I want to be successful” is not a goal. It’s an ambiguous phrase with different meaning to different people.
Without defining success, how can you understand what it looks like? How can you tell when you’re making progress? How can you ever be successful? You can’t.
Following this realization, I created a process for myself. One designed to push me in the right direction and, if followed, would force me to “be successful”. Thus far, the results have been astounding. I’ve learned even more than expected.
This process now influences everything I do, both personally and professionally. It’s helped me to lose weight, accomplish business goals, and become a happier, more positive person.
The process is five steps — they are:
1. Define Success
If we’re being literal, the dictionary definition of ‘success’ is: “accomplishing an aim or purpose”.
Okay, so what is my aim or purpose? What is it that I’m trying to accomplish? The answers to these questions define my vision of success.
Be clear — this vision isn’t always easy to define. It may be top-of-mind or it may require serious introspection to nail down. A good practice is to identify other people who you would qualify as “successful.”
What about them is successful? What aspects of their lives do you wish to achieve in your’s? Any successful person you speak to or study will tell you they had people they were emulating and chasing at the start.
The vision of success can be anything. A raise or promotion. Buying a house. Working one less day a week. Spending a certain amount of time with friends and family. Anything.
1) Don’t be ambiguous. “I want to have a popular podcast” or “I want to be a successful investor” are not good enough. You need to define what ‘popular’ and ‘successful’ mean. Otherwise they are unattainable. Be as specific as possible.
2) Create inevitability. Don’t express the vision as “I want to”, express it as “I’m going to”. Definition without action is meaningless. A decision must be made. Decide not what you WANT but, instead, what you’ll DO. Definition becomes decision when action is taken.
2. Set Goals
Once the vision is defined, it becomes clear what “success” means and what it looks like. The next step is figuring out how to get there.
I start by working backwards. I keep working backwards until I have a concrete next step. That next step is my first goal.
Ask The Following: What are the prerequisites (milestones or credentials) for this vision? How have others accomplished it (or something similar) before? Can I achieve the same result in a more efficient way?
Let’s use an example and say my vision of success is: “I’m going to have a podcast with one million downloads”. Working backwards from that, the first thing I need is… a podcast. And if I want a podcast, I’ll need recording equipment and something to talk about. And working backwards once more — I’ll need to save up money for the equipment and brainstorm potential podcast topics.
At this point I can’t work backwards any further. I’ve peeled back enough layers where I now have two things I can take action on immediately. These are my goals. By accomplishing these, I’m making real progress and moving towards my vision.
Taking this a step further — once I’ve saved up money and figured out what I want to cover, I’ll have my equipment and my topic. Then I’ll set new goals. For example, recording the first season of the podcast. And after I do that… I’ll have my podcast. I’ll keep iterating until my vision of success is realized.
This, of course, is an oversimplification. But it illustrates how you can work backwards from the vision and set the appropriate goals.
3. Create Habits
Goals aren’t accomplished on their own. Identifying what needs to get done doesn’t mean it actually gets done. Goals are only accomplished by taking consistent action. Let’s continue with our podcast example...
If I need to save up for equipment, then I’ll make regular deposits into my “podcast fund”. Or I’ll get a loan. Or ask for a deferred payment plan. I’ll take action relentlessly until the goal is complete.
Now I have the equipment and my next goal is to record an 8-episode season within a month. For this, I’ll schedule time each week to record 2 episodes. It must become a habit. I’ll create rewards for succeeding and consequences for failing, to incentivize myself. With my new habit in place, I’ll have an 8-episode season by the end of the month.
Again, the example is basic but the concept can be applied to any goal. Define your vision of success. Set goals that will cause you to realize this vision. Establish systems and behaviors that make achieving those goals an inevitability. Next…
4. Track & Measure
This step is crucial for a couple reasons. First, it allows you to see how you’re progressing, what you’re learning, and if you need to correct the course you’re on (see #5).
More importantly — it informs your happiness and motivation. The truth is, many people feel unfulfilled because they don’t define and track their goals. I was one of these people for a long time.
Without defining success and tracking my goals, there was no way for me to see if I was actually making progress. By not seeing or feeling progress, I felt stagnant. Like I was running in place. And that’s a horrible feeling.
With clearly defined goals, I know exactly what success looks like. More than that, I can see how I’m progressing towards my goals. If I see positive gains, I’m happy. I know my goals are achievable and, better yet, they’re in sight. I just have to keep going. Keep pushing.
That’s where motivation kicks in. Seeing this progress, being happy and confident, and knowing my goals are within reach… these all push me to be persistent and take action.
Conversely, if I’m not tracking my progress, I’m in a state of limbo where I’m unsure sure what my hard work and long hours are resulting in. Is this actually furthering my goals? Am I doing the right things? Do I need to make a change?
The only way to answer these questions is to track and measure. It keeps you sane and motivated with the knowledge that you’re moving in the right direction and on track to realize your vision.
And that knowledge is directly correlated to your feelings of happiness and self-worth. The more control you feel over your destiny, the more confidence you’ll have and the happier you’ll be. And that, by itself, is reason enough to track and measure.
5. Review & Recalibrate
While going through the above, I’ve found it’s crucial to regularly take time to review the vision, the goals, and the habits.
This review process should not exclusively be completed at the end, but also along the way. Tracking and measuring organically forces this. As you go, it may become clear that a change needs to be made.
When reviewing, take time to celebrate success, analyze failure, and learn from both. If successful, was it the desired outcome? Was it what you expected? Based on everything you’ve learned, what’s next? How has the definition of “success” changed?
I’ve learned an incredible amount through this process. Through pushing myself to accomplish goals. The next step is to take those learnings and reset. Start again from #1. Think about the new definition of success and how it can be achieved.
A Shift In Mindset
You may think, “this sounds like a lot of work”. And I won’t deny that it does take time and effort. But if you aren’t deliberate about the things you want in life, then the things you want will elude you.
This entire process is aimed at changing your mindset and the context you work within. Once I did this, everything changed for me.
If you define success, map goals to that definition, and create habits that force action — you will succeed. As a result, your vision of success will always be top-of-mind.
Everything you do is geared towards being successful. Rather than sitting on the sidelines of a game that’s undefined… put yourself in a game where you determine what it takes to win.
This is a shift in mindset that tips the scales. The shift of being on the sidelines to owning the game. Of making decisions and taking action, rather than overanalyzing situations. Of treating life as something you make happen, rather than something that happens to you.