How To Set Powerful Goals That Are Inspiring & Achievable (Part II)

Last Updated: May.02.18

II. Figure out the How

A goal serves as the inspiration that gets us start; whereas daily actions are what get us finish. Follow these steps to set a plan for each of your goal.

1. Write it down on paper. Make a statement to describe your goal in a clear, specific and measurable manner 

Use this sentence format “I + now + verb…”. Make your statement positive, assertive, and in present time. For example, if your goal is to quit smoking by Jun.30.2018, write “I now enjoy my life without cigarette”.

2. Set a definite start date, and, if possible, a flexible due date (if it’s a character or improvement goal, no due date)  

Don’t say “Ok,  I’m so exciting, let’s start tomorrow right away”. No. That won’t do. You must take time to physically, mentally, and spiritually get yourself ready. A long journey, however inspiring, needs preparation. So, set a start date, say a few days from now.

But why “flexible” due date? Because by giving it a fixed/absolute/rigid due date, you invariably defeat the other major purpose of embarking on a journey, which is to enjoy the trip.

Remember the last time you were rushing to finish that report for your boss? It’s stressful, it’s physically, mentally, and spiritually drained, not mentioning that you might cut corners and make lots of mistakes. Anyway, you met the deadline. But you abhor the process. The good (I’m not that sure) thing is that because it’s our job, it’s pretty close to a do-or-die situation, and so under that circumstance, we’ll find a way to make it happen.

Unfortunately, we don’t have that kind of pressure on most of our personal goals. Without joy, it’s hard to stay motivated day after day, no matter how much wonderful the finish end is.

Besides, if you set a deadline for your goal, beware. Beware that, on your journey, you might treat everything you do and everyone you meet to be nothing more than a means to achieve your goal. Beware that, from that day going forward, the only value that is worth considering in all things you encounter, might be whether it will take you closer to your goal, everything else is secondary.

So, treat the due date as a rough estimate, and if you can’t make it, you’d simply create another due date.

3. Break your goal down into milestones

On your mind map, from the final destination, work backward, find out the major milestones that must be achieved to reach that end. Identify potential obstacles, what stand between you and your goal. Again, be flexible on these deadlines.

4. Brainstorm doable action-oriented steps to complete each milestone

You can do some research to help you brainstorm the necessary steps to reach each milestone, overcome the obstacles. In fact, if you have no idea what are required, research is the first step you can take.

However, research so that you know just enough to get started.  Don’t waste time learning everything about the subject. And for those who love to seek advice/suggestions/words of wisdom (you know the term, “the best way to…”), beware.

Beware that, on your search for the best line of thought/philosophy of life, you yourself become a philosopher. Becoming a philosopher is fine, if giving advice (I wouldn’t say wisdom) is your day job. But becoming an idle philosopher will also guarantee you never reach your goal.

Make sure the steps you lay out here are doable. Depending on your confidence, you can stretch yourself a bit. By the way, confidence, in my definition, includes two elements: 1. You THINK you can do it. 2. You KNOW you can do it.

5. Perform what-if analysis for each of the above steps

Now, come back to the plan you’ve just completed. For each of the above steps, brainstorm at least 2 extra actions that you can take, in case something goes wrong.  

Basically, you’re projecting 3 scenarios here: best, normal, and worst. The action you planned during the first brainstorm is the step that you’ll take if the best scenario occurs, where most things go right. Under the normal scenario, in which you make a few mistakes, or there’re some wrong assumptions, you then take the next planned action. And so on for the worst scenario. Depending on each situation, a worst-case scenario might mean a failure or a major lost occurred. Be specific here by setting parameters and providing details for each scenario.   

Whatever scenario you come up with, remember to treat it like that – a projection – and no more. You project different scenarios and plan proper responses for each scenario. Please don’t confuse such prediction, about what might happen, to be a statement of truth.

Now, why didn’t I tell you to brainstorm 3 actions in the last step? Because I wanted to let our imagination run freely! You’re dreaming your dream, so don’t wake yourself up with the “but what if…”. Dream lofty dreams, yearn for the faraway lands, “look (up) at the stars”, like Oscar Wilde said.

And then come back to your plan, but this time you shift gear, to be pragmatic.

6. Set a specific time and duration on your calendar to tackle each of the above steps

I can’t stress this enough, a goal with a deadline without a list of daily actions is as good as a dead dream. A goal serves as the inspiration that gets us start; whereas daily actions are what get us finish. Ideally, I prefer to work on my goals every day including weekend. If not possible, I’d schedule the activity as often as I can.

A note on the duration – think about your journey as a marathon, not a series of interrupted 100m sprints. Do not try too hard too soon. In fact, I would recommend that you deliberately perform at only 65% (or 2/3) of your ability. Reserve willpower only for challenges and obstacles, and for the late part of the journey, when the going gets tough.

So, suppose in the mid of excitement to build your dream body, you plan to exercise 30 minutes daily (by the way, that’s another sub-goal, isn’t it?). If so, set a goal of exercising 10’ daily starting next week. That’s right, just 10 minutes.

If after you reach the 10 minutes goal, and you’re positive you can go much further, then continue until you reach 20 minutes (20 over 30 is 2/3 of your plan). Otherwise, feel free to stop. Then, increase the duration up by 2 minutes weekly, if you exercise consistently for at least 5 days (~ 80%) that week.

7. Keep a daily detailed accountability

Use a note app with a calendar to record the day you miss (I use Way Of Life app*). You know, we sow the seed to bring our dream into reality by planning daily actions, but shits happen. That’s life. Some days, because of my laziness, procrastination, negative friends, cynical relatives, unexpected events, or whatever reasons I couldn’t understand why…without such record, there’s no way I can track my performance and progress.

8. Make a daily commitment to yourself and others

Every day, after waking up and before going to bed, write the statement that you made for your goal in your notebook. Write in a slow, clear, and deliberate manner. Write, as if you were writing to your sweetheart. It is my conviction that “We become what we think about”, as Earl Nightingale said. The act of rewriting the statement daily serves 2 purposes:

1. Remind, and make a promise to ourselves of our goal. If someone suddenly asks you what your goals are, you must be able to respond quickly and clearly without a second of hesitation.

2. Make an impression on our subconscious mind. The stronger the impression, the greater its impact on changing our self-image, beliefs, thought patterns, actions, and finally, our reality.

With regard to sharing goals, do share your give-up goals to everyone. Sharing your progress on these goals hold yourself accountable. However, be selective in sharing your dreams, or goals of similar nature. Make sure to tell only people whom you know will inspire and encourage you to achieve them.

III. Execution

You know what you want, you’ve already scheduled daily actions for it, now is the time to execute your plan. Remember the rule we’ve agreed upon at the beginning? Don’t expect to create a perfect game plan. And because your plan isn’t perfect, what you do during the execution phase is equally important in reaching your goal.

1. Turn your goal into an obsession

Over the course of our lives, we have many ambitions, but we turn very few of them into reality. It’s because daily busy-ness has consumed most of our attention, leaving no room for us to nourish our interests. Without attention, those desires vanish quickly. And after a year or two, they can’t be found. Jim Rohn called this “The Law of Diminishing Intent”.

I’ve learned that once I’d turned an initial interest into an obsession, like in the case of quitting cigarette, I could almost always guarantee success.

To do this, you need to invest time, energy, and emotion. If the topic of interest is new to you, you can study, research, discuss with others more about it. Build up the interest over time, make it become your obsession.

2. Start

When the alarm goes off, start your planned action. Well, I said “start”, not “finish”, didn’t I? And I mean that, literally. You start your scheduled activity. Don’t worry about how far you can go. Even if you just take the first step, consider that as one step progress toward your goal.

Although I wouldn’t say it’s an achievement, I still aim for consistent starts during the beginning of any venture. I learned this from Zig Ziglar. Many people don’t do something because they don’t feel motivated enough to do it. Zig got it backward, he said that you do the something, and then motivation will set in, motivation creates energy to carry you forward.

So, at the beginning, aim to develop a habit to start your planned activity as soon as its time arrives. Increase the weekly duration over time, until you reach the desired outcome.

Now, there’re situations, where it’s not appropriate to use duration. For example, the activity involves many steps. Modify your plan accordingly. You might aim to begin just the first step, but if you get inspired, don’t stop there please, continue the process until you complete the planned activity. Basically, we want to build a habit of starting the planned activity initially. Make this process easy, no pressure. Motivation and momentum will carry us forward.

3. Deliberately perform at 65% (or 2/3) of your ability

Again, do not get too pumped up and stretch yourself too much. Life is not a series of nonstop all-you-can-eat buffets you know. I find that the mantra “Do your best!” rarely works for me. Consistent performance over a long period has carried me much further than uninterrupted bursts of hyper energy.

Even if you’re confident you can do more, stop yourself when you’re just above comfortable. Now, how do you know when you’re just above comfortable level? It’s a subjective question that involves trials-and-errors.

Let me give you my example. I always wear an iWatch to measure my heart-rate whenever I go running (any runner here? Greeting!). My maximum age-related heart rate is 186. My comfortable level is around 145. On those days when I don’t shoot for a personal record, I would aim to maintain my rate around this level.

4. Shape up physically, mentally & spiritually   

Physically – Having enough fuel makes your cruise smoother. Some people don’t work well simply because they don’t feel well.

Mentally – Be sure to set time to take a break. But use your break strategically, not habitually. Select the kind of break that is in different (opposite, I’d rather say) nature from the preceding activity. If you’ve just finished working 8 hours, your mental energy would be depleted. And if your job involves hugging a computer just like me, your eyes, your brain would also be exhausted; your body would love a stretch. So, heading to the gym after work is a great idea.

Spiritually – Take time,  even if only 5 minutes, to meditate (if you belong to a religion); or, if meditation sounds so New Age to you, practice deep-breathing (look forward to my next post). Meditation cultivates our mindfulness, reduces stress, and neutralizes our mood, so that we can focus on the next activity without being bothered by what’d happened previously.

Now it’s easy to cite countless benefits of meditating. But how to grasp such benefits? It’s simple. If you meditate, direct your attention to perform each step in your meditation. If you practice deep-breathing, concentrate your thought on inhaling slowly, then hold for a while (you can silently count 1-2), then exhale slowly.

The mind can only hold one thought at a time, and yes, even if it never seems to stand still. So, whatever you’re thinking about, you can direct your thought toward your meditation. Of course, very soon, another thought will pop up. That’s expected. Your goal is NOT to hold your mind constantly fixated upon the meditation. That’s impossible. Your goal is to gently direct your attention to go back to the meditation as soon as another thought pops up.

If you do that, your mind will temporarily take a break during your meditation, rather than continuing to busy itself with calculating/thinking/wondering/analyzing/worrying/projecting/remembering past/present/future events.

5. Nourish positive thinking 

Beware of negative thinking. Why positive thinking? Because our lives are already full of problems, worries, crises (don’t believe me? Just confer with newswriters), and positive thinking is one way we can balance that. Positive thinking doesn’t mean burying your head in the sand and affirming “No problem! No problem!”. No, that’s ignorant. Positive thinking means that although we acknowledge the problem, we also keep an eye out for the gem(s) hidden inside of each problem.

A positive thinker is a diligent student of life, he knows that everything he encounters, whether good or bad, carries a lesson. Each bad deed serves as a warning. Each good deed sets an example to follow. Each defeat trains him to become stronger, better, and wiser. Each triumph teaches him to be content with what he has, and warns against giving in to greed.

Such attitude will give you a whole new way of seeing, a new way of being. You will become serene and at ease with whatever outcome your trial turns out to be. You will stop hurrying yourself up to speed up the process in the pursuit of your goal. Instead, you will enjoy the journey, enjoy taking the required actions, become less resistant to the idea that “you have to do whatever it takes to reach your goal”, and become less attached to the destination.

There is more to life than increasing its speed. – Mahatma Gandhi

6. Have many reminders

Besides of rewriting the goals morning and night, during the day, create lots of reminders:

  • Timed reminder on your phone repeated at specific interval (I use “Alarmed ~ Reminders + Timers” app for iPhone. The beauty of this app is that I can make the reminder to run at whatever interval, and for however long as I please).
  • Post-it note, like a slogan, to post it anywhere in your room, or in front of your computer.

7. Journal at night about your progress

Every night, after you’ve rewritten the statement, spend 5’ to record your progress.

In case you have no idea what statement I’m talking about, please stop reading, go back the beginning and perform the steps. I’ve already told you upfront, I’m a shameless copier. I merely repeat the teachings of the wises who came before me. So, don’t expect to “scan“ this blog for anything new, nor any “best-kept secret to [enter whatever you’re searching here]”.

So, what to journal, then? 4 things only:

1. What I did today that move me forward toward my goals;

2. What went wrong (don’t write excuses or try to rationalize, you’d feel bad when you review it later; simply what went wrong);

3. How I can fix/improve the situation;

4. What I am grateful for (why? Review step 5).

8. Don’t skip two days in a row 

This wise advice I learn from Leo Babauta’s book (his blog is also great). Skip a day if you must, but not two, because this will break the habit chain that you’re developing.

9. See the reaching 

See what it’s like to reach the finish line. After all, the reward after attaining your goal is what inspires you to start this quest, right? So, keep that desire burning. You get to see, touch, smell, feel it vividly, even if only through your mind’s eye, so that your desire has the power to pull you through unavoidable letdowns and detours.

See the finish line, but don’t glue your eyes on it. Otherwise, the huge gap between reality and your dream might make you impatient, thus it’s tough to enjoy the journey. The impatient are among the first people who abandon the pursuit of their dreams.

10. Review your plan regularly

A fixed plan is a dead plan. Nobody knows what’s behind the corner. There’re gonna be lots of course corrections and detours. That’s a fact. Don’t be discouraged. Instead, let that fact be your best friend. Maybe the journey isn’t that challenging. Maybe taking the path invites many unseen opportunities. Maybe you are much more capable than what you thought. Maybe you will find out a way, when there seems to be no way.

So, review your plan regularly. It could be daily, weekly, but NEVER let a month goes by without reviewing your plan. Be prepared to make many changes. However, resolve that, whatever happen, do not change the decision to reach your goal.

~o~

What a long post! Goal-setting is indeed time-consuming. But for me, the time spent to design my life, to make my dreams come true, is totally worth it, because:

1. As a gamer, there’s nothing more exciting than projecting how my current self will turn into my ideal hero in the game of life.

2. It’s much more exciting to work hard on my own plan than someone else’s plan for me; or even worse, working to fulfill goals that belong to others.

Final notes: 

Don’t expect your plan to be perfect, leading you all the way from beginning till the end. Do expect to have goals/plans that:

1. Inspire you to get moving

2. Are good enough so you have sufficient day-to-day guidance to work on

The best plan isn’t the perfect plan. No. The best plan is the plan you execute and stick with it till the end. Mike Tyson said: “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face”. I’d say that, if you lack the courage to “get punched in the face”, your dreams will never see a gleam of daylight.

I want to close with my favorite line by Earl Nightingale: “Start today. You have nothing to lose but you have your whole life to win”.

Above all, I wish you a turbulent and exciting journey 😉!

If you benefit from this post, share it with your loved ones, so that they benefit, too. When somebody shares, everybody wins!

and until our paths cross again, enjoy your journey!

* Disclaimer: Unless specifically stated, otherwise I am not associated with any of the recommended products/services/websites on EnjoyYrJourney.com

Author: Rumi Tran

A vEgEtAriAn/A wAnnAbe Artist/A DreAmer/A PsYcho