I don’t have a track record of success.
When I was a kid New Years was a special night when I was able to stay up past my bedtime and see people having a great time cheering for a shiny ball to drop in New York City.
Then I grew up, got married, had kids, and started my own business. New Years wasn’t fun anymore. It became a burden. It was the starting line of a race I felt like I could never win. It became a reminder of goals unreached, an undeniable reference point for my inconsistent track record of setting goals and reaching them.
Somewhere in my late 20’s I opted out of the annual goal setting game. New Years became a reminder of my failure to become the person I wanted to become instead of a celebration of a new year of opportunities.
The problem with setting personal goals
The only thing consistent about my goal setting was my failure to reach the goals I was setting. My track record of failure kept me from being excited about personal growth so I just stopped making resolutions or setting goals.
The only thing I was consistent at was being inconsistent.
So why did I consistently fail at setting goals?
Wandering was less painful than disciplined execution
When I stopped setting goals I discovered that the pain of wandering through my year was less difficult than the hard work of reaching goals. Wandering was easier than navigating my way to success. I made the conscious choice to accept less.
This is the equivalent of choosing to be homeless instead of paying your mortgage. You have a lot of freedom, but you’re homeless.
When something is a painful enough proposition, we take action. What I was achieving without setting goals was good enough for me so I stopped pushing myself toward anything further.
There are two types of pain. One hurts, and the other is harmful.
If you get punched in the face, that pain is harmful. When your dentist drills into your tooth to remove a cavity, that’s not harmful. In fact, it’s helpful.
An immature perspective groups all pain into the same category. If it was painful I thought it was to be avoided.
Year long goals make me feel like a failure for 11 ½ months.
When you set a goal of doing something every day, and then break the streak, you usually quit right away. My friend Jon Acuff wrote about this in his book Finish. My experience with goals left me feeling like a failure for 11 ½ months after I’d fail to make the progress or change I wanted to make a few weeks into the year.
Instead of feeling the sting of failure I chose to experience the dull hum of mediocrity.
I’d rather fail internally than publicly
I never shared my lack of goals with others. I kept my lack of goal setting to myself. It was easier to feel the internal disappointment than the public embarrassment that could have come from talking about my goals and then not reaching them.
I shot too big
Most of my goals weren’t just big, they were impossible. I made goals that I would never be able to reach so when I failed early on, I’d just quit.
Big goals are fun to write down. In many cases people end up achieving them, but in my case I made goals that were wildly optimistic followed up with little if any plan on how to reach them. It was the equivalent of shooting for the moon and then sitting in your car wondering why you weren’t headed toward the moon.
Big plans require specific strategies and I shot too big and planned too little.
We dismiss the little goals
Little goals didn’t count. They never even made it onto paper.
Dreams are supposed to be big! Small goals were small thinking! So even though smaller goals would have set me up for success and created momentum for me to work from to reach larger goals, I dismissed them.
I never considered setting goals that I knew I could achieve. They always had to take a year to achieve.
Goals could create success, but then I would have to manage it
There’s comfort in what we already know. When we choose to stop learning or growing, we are choosing ignorance over insight. When I considered making goals I would never say outloud that I was afraid of success, but subconsciously I was afraid of success.
The idea that I could manage more variables, impact more people, and grow as a person was intimidating to my current self. This is sometimes called an upper-limit challenge, popularized by Gay Hendrick’s book The Big Leap.
The subconscious reality of my upper limit challenge always manifests itself as a headache and nausea. My body will try to slow my success, all without me being aware of it.
It sounds ridiculous but yes, we are afraid of success.
We don’t schedule time to check in on our goals
We’re setting the destination but don’t stop to make sure we’re going the right direction.
When Jeff Daniels falls asleep in the puppy van in Dumb and Dumber he wakes up to find that Harry has been driving in the wrong direction for several hours. Harry did what I did, he didn’t stop to check his progress along the way. He just got in the van and started driving. Big mistake.
When I created goals, I wouldn’t set aside time to measure my progress and adjust. I would just wait until I was off course and then quit. Sometimes I would just forget about the goal all together. That’s what happens when you don’t set aside time to check in on the progress of your goals.
How to set better personal goals
So after all those problems I kept running into with goal setting, it was time to figure out how to set goals that were realistic and achievable. Here are some steps to take to setting the kind of goals you can succeed at.
Start with areas you’re already good at
If you’re great at something why can’t you set a goal of becoming even better at it? There’s nothing wrong with a goal in an area where you’re already experiencing success.
Set goals around things you’re good at. If you’re a good writer then don’t set a goal of doing only videos for a year. Set a goal of recording one video for every five blog posts you write.
Shorten the cycle
Some people have the ability to set a goal and achieve it day in and day out for a year. God bless them, but I’m not one of them.
Set goals for shorter periods of time so you can experience winning sooner. If your goal is to become more productive in the morning set a goal of waking up early for one week. Then treat yourself to a sleepy Saturday. Don’t pledge to wake up at 5 AM for the rest of your life.
Schedule time to review your goals
You know what I’ve never missed? Christmas. It’s never snuck up on me. I’ve never accidentally scheduled an event on the same day. It’s on my schedule. When we fail to achieve our goals it’s often because we failed to review them.
Put time on your calendar to review your goals. Weekly reviews are great. Monthly reviews are great. The key is to physically put it on your schedule though, like Christmas.
Systems are fences and you need one
I read Getting Things Done but I didn’t adopt the system. It’s not the system’s fault, it’s mine.
The system doesn’t matter, executing the system does. I subscribe to Michael Hyatt’s Full Focus Planner annual subscription. I don’t use it religiously, but I do use it regularly.
Pick a system of goal setting and accountability that works for you because whatever you’re doing now, isn’t working as well as you want it to, otherwise you wouldn’t be reading this article.
Set yourself up for public success
When I need to make $10,000, I don’t write a blog post called “How I’m Going To Make $10K”. Instead, I diligently plan to launch or relaunch a product or service in public. I take a private goal (make $10K) and make a public statement (Come Learn About How To Make Great Videos Using $100 In Gear).
When I start inviting people to a webinar, or I reach out to potential clients via email, that’s a public way of fulfilling a private goal. I force myself to execute by making a public promise.
Choose a goal you that you would normally keep to yourself and figure out a way to make it public. This could be through creating a new product or even just starting a blog.
Second versions first
Don’t make all of your goals about starting new things. Some of the most successful goals will involve you refining existing services or products. I call these “2.0 goals”.
Take something and improve on it. Take something you’ve launched once and then combine it with the lessons you gained from launching it, and relaunch it. Revising isn’t sexy, but it’s often the best kind of goal to set.
Ship 1.0 goals.
After you’ve set some version 2.0 goals set some 1.0 goals. The power of setting version 1.0 goals is that the sooner you create version 1.0 the sooner you can create version 2.0. If you want to make a great product then start shipping it now. It can’t get better until it’s been experienced by someone other than yourself.
These 1.0 goals are about shipping, not perfecting. The goal should be your product and a date. It’s not about being perfect because there’s no way to make it perfect the first time.
Do you struggle with setting personal goals?
If you’ve struggled in the past with setting goals and following through with them, I hope this article has helped create new paths to find success. Armed with these new steps, what type of goals will you set for the new year?