Goal Achievement: Introduction
What are some of your biggest goals in life? To lose weight? To earn more money? To be in your dream career? To set up your own business? To live in abundance? To be in the peak of your health? To meet your life partner? To have a loving family?
For any of these goals, have you ever felt the resolve to achieve it, devote resources toward it, work on it for an extended period of time, only to have it fall flat on your face eventually?
Say you have a goal to lose weight and you resolve to shed off 30lbs. You start off strong, cutting off the amount of food you eat. You also start an exercise regime. Every day, you measure your weight to closely track your progress. Within the first few days, you start seeing a reduction in your weight. Rejoicing, you continue what you have been doing, but it seems that your actions have lost their effectiveness because your weight loss has plateaued. If anything, it seems to be increasing slightly versus your lowest weigh-in.
You become discouraged. You start to give up and binge, resigning that it is never possible for you to achieve the goal because it is in your genes or you just do not have the self-discipline. You begin to bury the whole notion of weight loss at the back of your head. Predictably, you start to gain back all the weight you lost and more. This makes you even more depressed and you start eating even more.
At some point down the road, you receive a wake-up call to lose weight. You embark on the goal pursuit again, more determined than ever. However, past events repeat themselves and soon you are back where you started, if not in a worse place.
Does this pattern of behavior apply to any of the goals you have set out to achieve before? Being looped in a continuous cycle of setting the goal and trying to achieve it, but never quite getting there? At this point, you feel despondent. You resign that you are not meant to achieve this goal and decide to focus your energy on something else.
The Biggest Mistake Many People Make in Goal Achievement
Many people are guilty of trying to tackle their goals using a series of trial and error approaches. They randomly throw their energy out with all their might on the few steps they know, thinking that this will get them to their goal. They deal with their goals in a haphazard approach, then hope that everything will turn for the best in the end.
While it may work in the short-run and on smaller goals, it does not work with big, long-term goals. For example, you may get away with losing 5lbs of weight by generally just eating less and exercising more, but to lose more weight and maintain that weight loss requires proper strategy.
Many people have this misconstrued notion of goal achievement because they only come into contact with the results of others’ goals. They are not involved in all the thought-processes, intricacies and actual planning that went behind the achievement of those goals.
Take a look at Olympic winners. They do not achieve their medals because they just blindly train everyday. There are many things that go on behind the scenes, such as coaching by the best coaches, proper diets, self-help courses to psyche them in the right mindsets, learning the right techniques, etc.
Steve Jobs did not bring Apple to where it is today because he got lucky. It was through conscious strategizing and planning that allowed Apple to carve its special niche in the previously monopolized market by Microsoft.
The Eiffel Tower, one of the world’s tallest buildings, was not built from just randomly slapping tiles of concrete and slab together. It was through envisioning, strategizing against environmental elements, precision in planning and execution that enabled it to be built, much to the surprise of everyone back then.
Personally, I am a very spontaneous and action oriented person. I am a big fan of just getting out in action mode, swinging at my goals and getting the instant gratification of seeing the results, instead of wasting time mulling over how to achieve the goal. Trial and error approaches are great for getting quick results and lessons.
But for goal achievement to succeed in the long-term, you need have a system in place to sustain it.
Just imagine you want to travel from Island A to Island B by sea. If they are 1km away, you can probably get there just by jumping head first in the water and swimming across. However, if the islands are 1,000km away, you need to start thinking about building a boat, food supplies, clothes, shelter, etc to bring you through the long journey. You might even want to invest time in building a mini yacht if the size of the goal calls for it. Without proper strategizing and planning, you will end up drowning in the middle of the ocean. With big goals, you will find the initial investment will be far outweighed by the benefits generated in the long-run.
My Experience With My Goal Pursuits
I have set and pursued many different goals throughout my life. My general approach toward goal achievement in the past was to just focus on the goal intently and do everything I can to reach it. The most I have ever done in terms of planning would be to just identify my end target and set aside an arbitrary amount of time in my calendar to work on them. That was all. Beyond that, it was all about throwing out all my energy toward the goals. After all, that was what I thought success goal achievement boiled down to. A mix of one’s desire of the goal and one’s persistence level.
When I did that, I faced varying successes depending on what the goals were. For goals like scoring good grades, they were attained as long as I kept up with my classes and assignments. Other goals like earning more money, establishing my freelance graphic design business (back when I was in university) and performing well in my (previous) brand management job were all within my grasps too, as long as I kept going at them.
However, there were certain goals I had issues with. For example, my weight loss goal. I was never overweight but I wanted to be slimmer since I was 18 (in 2002). For the next 5 years after that, I saw myself spending time and energy trying to attain the goal but failing in the process. I tried all sorts of different diets, from low-carb, high-protein, low-fat, low-calorie, to not eating. I tried counting calories, to not counting calories. I tried different types of exercises, exercising every day, to not exercising at all. During the times when I start off on the goal, I would succeed in losing some weight in the first 1 week. But it never lasted beyond that. After the first 1 week, things would remain status quo, and it was a matter of weeks before I would return to my old eating habits, usually eating more too because I felt deprived.
For me, it was utterly perplexing and disappointing because I could not fathom how I would face so much success with my other goals, but be stuck at a benign goal like losing weight. Why did that happen? It wasn’t because I did not want my goal enough. I definitely felt that I was as passionate about this goal as I was about my other goals.
I thought maybe I was not persistent enough about the goal. But then again, if I was not, I wouldn’t have spent some 5 odd years of my life mulling about it, would I? Something must be wrong in the way I was trying to reach the goal.
It was in end of 2007 when I thought that enough was enough. I was sick and tired of going up an emotional rollercoaster, pursuing and failing repeatedly in this goal and beating myself over it every time I failed.
I sat down to troubleshoot my situation and identify how I could really bust this goal. I started looking around me for ideas. I was still working in my previous company then, in brand management. In my day to day work, I was consistently faced with huge business goals and million-dollar projects which my team and I had to deliver against. I thought about how we would deal with those goals to eventually conquer them. Then it struck me on what I was lacking – a proper strategy to achieve my goal.
Strategy in Goal Achievement
I first studied strategy during business school 4 years ago. There, I learned about the role of strategy in business world and how the companies with the right strategies triumph in the long-run. When I started working in brand management, my contact with strategy intensified. Every day, we would spend huge amounts of time with senior management inside meetings, debating about best strategies to move forward with. We literally breathed and ate strategy.
It was all these strategy-intensive work I was doing that led me to my realization. To put it simply – If strategizing has been leading multi-billionaire businesses to success through the decades and where they stand today, wouldn’t it make sense to apply it to our personal lives as well, to achieve the same level of success?
I started applying the principles I learned at work toward my weight loss goal. I set up a vision, identified the barriers I was facing, identified counteracting strategies, made specific plans, did a tracking sheet, among others. Within the first week of getting into action, I could tell things were different this time. I knew, with a deep-seated sense of certainty, that I was going to succeed. Sure enough, a year later in 2008, I had lost 13 lbs. It came so easily that I wondered why I was even struggling with this goal for so long in the beginning.
From there, I realized as long as I use the same key principles and follow the same formula, I will see similar success as well. And that was what happened when I applied it for all my goals from there on, such as becoming a vegan (which you will read in Part 4 on Strategy), achieving business goals at my previous work place, building the web presence of my personal development blog and setting up my personal development business.
Suddenly, goal achievement became much easier and surmountable. The uncertainty that used to surround the successes of my goal pursuits withered away in the face of this new-found insight. It felt amazing, because it was like I had uncovered the secret as to what make goals tick. While time and energy still need to be invested, the process of goal pursuit has turned into a predictable science than abstract art. I knew as long as I followed the same formula in all my goals, I would definitely face sure success and triumph in them.
Eventually, I distilled down the key elements of what I was doing so that I could share it with others and have them face the same success too. The output is a 5-step framework I call ESPER .
This is part 1 of a 7-part series on how to achieve your goals with success.