In my post on goal setting for writers, I wrote about things like setting measurable, achievable goals. Today’s longer post dives deeper into the idea of using goals to achieve what you want in life. It’s inspired by Brian Tracy’s Goals! (The link is to the new edition that just came out in December; I got the audio version of the 2003 original from the library, in keeping with my longstanding goal to get a handle on my overflowing bookshelves.)
The 5-minute summary
Write down your goals, make plans to achieve them, and work on your plans every single day.
Success starts inside
Tracy says, “you become what you think about most of the time.” Once you have clear goals, you’ll move towards them. Think about the future, what you want out of life, and who you want to be, and that’s what your life will be about. Don’t constantly think about the past, all the reasons you haven’t succeeded yet, all the people who hurt you – those negative emotions will hold you down. To free yourself, see yourself as in control of your own fate. Psychologists call this “locus of control,” and you’re happier if you have an internal one as opposed to external.
The timing for this couldn’t be better for me. In November, I used NaNoWriMo to write a memoir-y piece in which I dug deep into old memories, looking for characters and emotions I could work into my fiction. Great idea, right? Except…it was kind of like opening Pandora’s box. I tapped right into a deep well of fears, doubts, resentments, and guilt. And blame, which Tracy describes as the trunk of the tree of negative emotions. Good for my fiction, no doubt.
Clarify your values, because your goals need to be congruent with them. Integrity is the overarching value. When you have integrity, you live in alignment with your values, which makes you a happier person. Create a big dream, clearly envision your future, and don’t let self-limiting beliefs of your own inadequacy get in your way. You need burning desire to sustain the kind of work you’ll need to put in to achieve the highest level of success. Analyze your beliefs because whatever you believe with conviction becomes your reality. Your own self-limiting beliefs can be the biggest obstacle to your success. You have the intelligence, talent, and creativity you need; you have more potential than you could ever use in your lifetime. Reprogram yourself with positive statements, and learn to see setbacks as part of the plan because you’ll learn from them.
Live as though you were already the excellent person you want to become.
Now that you’ve set the stage…
You’re ready to determine and clarify your goals. You can’t hit a target you can’t see. Keep returning to the question, what do I want for my life? Start general, then move to more and more specific goals. Do a baseline assessment: identify your starting point, what good habits are helping you, what bad ones are holding you back, what your best and weakest qualities are, and what new habits and qualities you need to develop. Set deadlines and benchmarks to measure your progress. Commit to them, and discipline yourself to complete them. If you miss a deadline, set a new one: the more you use deadlines, the better you get at setting and achieving them, and the more dependable you become.
Achieving your goals
Remove roadblocks instead of giving up. Brainstorm potential obstacles and focus on solving the ones that will make the most difference. Most of your constraints will be within yourself. Don’t focus on causes of the roadblocks, but rewrite them as positive goals. Expect to fail and fall short many times.
Failure is an opportunity to begin again more intelligently.
Tracy says the best way to develop yourself is in the direction of your natural talents. Signs to look for: you enjoy doing a thing, you do it well, time stands still when you do it, and you really admire and respect other people who do it. Once you know what “it” is, become an expert: commit to excellence, to becoming one of the best people in your field. Put your whole heart into it. Work on developing the skills you need to be the best, by practicing imperfectly until you can do them perfectly. Remember that the top people in your field were at one time not even in the field at all.
Look for opportunities to help other people and make their lives easier. You’ll need lots of help to achieve your goals. Be kind, courteous, and compassionate; get to know people, and recognize and compliment their work. Come prepared, arrive early, volunteer, and cultivate a reputation as the person everyone can depend on. Choose a reference group (the people you associate with) of people you look up to; positive, goal-oriented people that you like, admire, and respect. Don’t neglect your home life, either. Treat everyone like a million dollar customer, and look for ways to make their lives better.
Plan how to achieve your goal. Even if you never look at the plan again, the process enables you to organize your thinking, figure out how to compensate for flaws or weaknesses, identify resources you need, focus on first things first, and avoid wasting time on things that aren’t possible with existing resources. Expect plans to fail at first, and learn from those failures. Manage your time by maintaining prioritized lists of what you need to do to achieve your goals, making decisions about what’s the most valuable use of your time at the moment, and following through.
The step that will change your life
Get a spiral notebook and write your goals daily. Without looking at yesterday’s goals, list your top 10-15 goals, using the 3P formula: positive, present tense, personal. “I weigh X pounds by December 31, 2018.” Your goals will change from day to day, but over time you’ll refine them into a consistent list. What you’re doing is programming your subconscious so it will help ensure all your actions are consistent with your goals. Do it last thing at night so your subconscious will work on it while you sleep, or first thing in the morning to set up your day. To multiply the effectiveness, add three actions you can take to achieve each goal, also using the 3 Ps: “I plan my meals in advance. I eat fruit for dessert. I exercise every day.”
Take control of your mind
Use mental rehearsal and constructive visualization to help you achieve your goals. By changing your internal pictures, you’ll change your reality. Improvement starts with improving your mental pictures. This sounded like mumbo jumbo to me until Tracy pointed out the flip side of this coin: when you worry excessively, you’re mentally rehearsing the negative, with the result that your life is worse than it needs to be. I do believe that, and have a handful of aphorisms squirreled away in my brain, like:
Don’t borrow trouble, or the more fun-to-say don’t trouble trouble till trouble troubles you.
So my mind is open, which is Tracy’s next point: be open to possibility that comes through serendipity or synchronicity, and be open to new ideas. Change will happen, and you have to deal with things as they are. Be flexible – be clear about your goals, but flexible about the process of achieving them. Tap into your intuition by either working on your goal wholeheartedly or taking a break and getting your mind busy elsewhere.
Strengthen your creativity by using “mind storming” to generate ideas. Write your problem as a question, and force yourself to come up with at least 20 answers. The last ones will be really hard, but sometimes that’s where the breakthrough insight occurs. You can take the best idea and repeat the exercise by writing it as a question (“how can I…”); and you can repeat the exercise on the original question every day until you get the insight you need. Use mind storming to do scenario planning; start by thinking of the three worst and three best things that could happen in the next few months, then ask how to guard against the setbacks and how to encourage and take advantage of the good things. You need to have options so you can respond to change.
Action, self-discipline, and courage
Do something every day towards achieving your goals. Go beyond what’s expected, and persist until you succeed. Build the habit of persistence; do what you need to do, whether you feel like it or not. Disappointments and adversity are normal parts of life. The higher and more challenging your goals, the more adversity you’ll face. The way you respond to disappointment predicts your success. Don’t give up.
Tackle your fears head-on. Most of us fear failure and rejection, and that’s okay – courage is mastery of fear, not absence of fear. Confronting your fears will diminish them and build your confidence, while hiding from them allows them to grow. Write a list of your fears, identify the one that’s holding you back the most, and ask how it’s holding you back, how it’s helping you, and what the payoff would be for eliminating it. Take actions consistent with courage and self-confidence, and think of yourself as courageous and self-reliant.
Where do I go from here?
There’s a lot of great advice in Brian Tracy’s book, but as he says, the best advice in the world won’t help you if you don’t act on it. I’m going to try the write-your-goals-daily thing for the rest of January 2018, and I believe that will also help me with developing a clear vision and keeping it alive in my conscious and subconscious mind. I love his advice about treating other people well, and his counsel that you become what you think about most of the time. I might cross-stitch that on a sampler to hang over my desk.
What do you think? If you’ve tried any of these ideas, I’d love to hear about it in the comments.