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Success Series III - Goals

The Mage


Out of this series this has been the hardest to write. I started months ago but it was too big, so I rewrote it, and again, and again. I just couldn’t keep it from being way too long. My fear is that too many people will stop reading way before they would get the full benefit.

Another problem will be that I will ask you to do something, to create or modify your goals. Many people will see this and just stop, either just avoiding the process, or putting it off, pretending that they will come back to it. (They never do.)

I will ask you to do something for me

Start now or schedule this

I will ask that if you aren’t going to read the whole article than put it on a schedule. Put it into your calendar, set an alarm on your phone, whatever. Then when you get to the process either do it right then and there, or set another alarm to follow along, and finish the article.

Whatever you do, don’t just ignore it or put it off. Scheduling it should be done within a week. Preferably during a short time when you won’t be disturbed. It will take less time than you would think, and isn’t a lot of work really.


When I first started writing this, I hoped to have it out before the new year. That time when everyone is writing, or more likely just stating their resolutions. Unfortunately, resolutions are about the worst way to create goals.

The problem with resolutions is that people too often just throw them out without any serious effort. Most people simply write them down and forget about them. Some actually start on those goals, and by February there are tons of unused exercise equipment in the classifieds.

This is a complete misunderstanding of goals, how they work, and how best to use them to benefit you.

A great metaphor, and real-world example is a road trip, or any vacation. You make your goal, deciding where you want to go. Then you often plan out how you are going to get there, what you are going to do while you are there, maybe make hotel reservations, camping reservations/permits, friends and relatives whose house you might stay at, whatever it is you often will prepare that ahead of time.  Just knowing where you are headed will make this process easier.

Pretty soon we are taking a trip to Iowa. (Due to free tickets to an amusement park.) It helps to know that so we know where to get a hotel room. If we just randomly drove there we wouldn’t have known where to book the hotel. Booking one in Vegas sure wouldn’t have helped us.

Most people will spend more time planning out their vacations than they do their life.

Goals vs Systems

Here is an interesting concept, something I hinted at in my last post. Some people don’t believe in goals at all, figuring that setting up systems is better. Put yourself on a system, and let it run, and eventually you end up somewhere.

Systems / habits are extremely powerful. But even then, you can’t get away from the idea of having some sort of goal, even if it isn’t treated as one. Scott Adams has written about this in his book, “How to fail at almost everything and still win big”. And even he admits that you have to decide what you want, which is at least a weak goal.

I think it’s best to use both together to get what you want. Use the goals to decide the direction, then set up the system / habits to get you there.

The complaint about having goals is that you are constantly in a state of failure until the goal is achieved. Then once achieved, you spend a short time being happy, but now you have no direction since you goal has been achieved.

I have stated before that instead of achieving to be happy, happily achieve. I admit there is sometimes such a focus on goals that people will torture themselves to get to the goal, forgetting to enjoy the process along the way.

One story I remember was a person who had a goal riding his bike. Every day he spent time on his bike drudging along, and really having a horrible time at it. One day he really lost his motivation, but still got onto his bike, but without worrying about achieving his regular goal. He discovered that he loved riding the bike that day. Instead of blindly focusing on his goal, he was enjoying the time on his bike, seeing everything around him, experiencing all the enjoyment of simply riding.

This must be kept in mind when living your goals. Again, use the goals to set a direction, but then plan your life to go into that direction in a way you find enjoyable, not in a way that makes you feel life is nothing but drudgery. The person who runs a marathon only to win it vs the person who runs a marathon because he loves to run live extremely different lives. Sure, the guy who loves to run can also focus on winning, but will enjoy the entire run. If he ends up not winning at least he had an enjoyable run. The person only focused on winning will hate the run, and if he doesn’t win will end up thinking he wasted all that time.

Step 1 – Write down your dreams

Set aside a time where you won’t be disturbed and write down every dream you have. It doesn’t matter what your dream is, nor what anyone else thinks of your dreams. Doesn’t even matter if it’s possible, nor what anyone else would think of those dreams. Open up your mind and just have a free-flowing creative time writing down those goals.

If you already have goals written out, grab them and use them as a starting point, and write them them down if they still interest you. Reword them so they more fit what you want.

Spend a minimum of 3 minutes on this. You will find that you will start out slowly, but at a certain point the floodgates will open up and you will be amazed at how much you come up with.  

Step 2 - Add a dose of reality

You now have a list of dreams, but they are still fantasy. Just because you have a dream doesn’t mean you would really ever want to achieve it in real life. I have imagined being President, but I also know what the job entails and the reality is I would hate it. I would probably enjoy running for President way more than actually being President. Another fantasy is fighting in the UFC. But I really don’t want to get punched, have a problem with my neck, and being 50 really isn’t any benefit. But that doesn’t mean I can’t adjust that to learning martial arts, instead just taking classes in Krav Maga and Brazilian Jujitsu.

Look at your fantasies and see if they are completely impossible than you can simply list them as nothing but a fantasy. But just like the UFC fantasy I listed above it can be adjusted so it is more of a fun little hobby instead. Some people would learn what they could and become a coach.

Pretty much you are figuring out what the complete fantasies are, the ones that you could modify in some way to make a close fantasy a reality, and the ones that are seemingly in the realm of possibility. (And be careful because often more is possible than you would think.

You also want to know what you really would think of going for, as opposed to those things you would want to do on the side. Playing guitar in a band professionally is different than learning to play guitar as a hobby, and require different levels of focus.

But remember if you are under 5 feet tall, and in your mid 40’s that dream of being a pro basketball player really is just a fantasy.

Step – 3 Ecology check

This is something I learned from NLP. How will working toward achieving these goals will affect your life, and your family. Too many people make goals and forget their families in the process. Their ultimate goal might be to make their families life better, but that does no good if the person loses their family in the process.

This doesn’t mean that you can’t achieve goals that will have an impact on your family, but you need to decide at what point you are willing to disrupt your family, and if that would be the result of that goal, or the process of that goal.

Many military families deal with being separated for long periods of time, and the families have accepted that. They make the best of it, and work to minimize the effects. All goals can be the same. Going for one might have an effect on your family, but a little planning could minimize the effects. But at the same time, you could figure out if it’s worth it or not.

But for right now it helps to figure out how much impact, and how much your family would be willing to accept, and if there were ways to modify it so it has less of an impact. Don’t forget to see how achieving the goals would also affect your personal life. Some people are unwilling to give up their favorite show to achieve some goals.

Step – 4 Prioritize

At this point you have a list of items that you really want to achieve, are willing to put in the effort to, and won’t negatively impact your life and family in a way that you and (at this time assume) they are unwilling to accept. Now is when you take those items and prioritize them from what you think is the most important to the least important.

Some goals might have similar steps, meaning you could work toward more than one goal at a time. As an example, years ago I was looking at a college course that had 3 tracks. Most of the classes were the same so I started thinking that I could get a degree in one, then take just a few more classes and get the second, and then the third. In fact, the second group of classes covered some of the third. It took very little time if I wanted to get all 3 degrees.

If you had any of those types of goals, I would group them together. But if you have incompatible goals you may need to dump the less important one. (I would keep a separate list of the dropped goals, since things change.)

Once prioritized you may only want to focus on a few of those goals. Maybe you have 10 goals that are possible, but now with a prioritized list in front of you, it is most likely that many of those goals won’t be implemented because they are not as important as the others. Focus on the ones you really want to achieve, and put the others on the back burner for later. (You will want to come back to this every once in a while, so keep this list handy.

Step 5 - S.M.A.R.T

Goals have to follow a certain set of rules to be functional. I waited until now to bring this up because your list may contain things you will never get to. You should go down the list and make the goals match the rules here. You might just need to do this with one goal, or just a few. Most likely there will be goals on your list that you may never get to. You can wait to do this on the goals you are not working on until you are ready to focus on that goal.

Goals should be stated in the positive. You need to be moving toward something, not away. (For this part.) But they need to also be:

Specific- No generalities here. Instead of “more money”, you should list a specific amount. (Total or coming in over a certain timeframe, such as monthly.) Weight loss should be stated in either the goal weight, or measurements. (Waist, thighs…etc. Or maybe bodyfat percentage.) You want to know exactly what you are going for.

Measurable – How will you know if you have achieved your goal? How will you know if you are progressing toward your goal, or not? You need to be able to measure your progress along the way.  Sometimes you are moving forward, but can’t see it. But by measuring it you can see the progress you have made.

You have to be careful with measuring though. It is rare that anything is a straight line. When loosing fat for example, weight loss does not happen in a straight line. It happens in “undulating plateaus”. Often weight loss will seem to stall out, then actually climb before a drop. (There are biological reasons for this.) Not knowing this ahead of time could make people think they are not progressing when they are.

Attainable – We covered this before, goals have to be in the realm of possibility otherwise you are just wasting your time.

Tangible / Timeframe – Your goal should have a timeframe. Infinity doesn’t work. Making a goal happen “sometime in your life” just isn’t motivating enough. Having a deadline to achieve something keeps us on our toes, and working toward something.  

You want to do this to your goals going down your prioritized list from top to bottom.


Now you have a much shorter list of goals. While it would be nice to try to do them all, it is best to focus on just the top one. Maybe later focus on the second one, but every goal you add reduces your chances of success.

Just because one is at the top doesn’t mean that is the goal you will be going for. You might have another goal that make more sense, or by achieving one goal another becomes much easier.

It might just be that you have 4 goals you want to achieve, and while the first one may be the most desirable to you, number 4 could be the easiest to achieve. At that point you need to decide if taking the risk is better than the more guaranteed goal.


Now you have chosen a goal, you need to figure out the steps to achieving that goal, and putting them into your planning system. You use the goals to design the steps to achieving them, and from there decide on the systems and habits that will do that.

Then that is your focus. Following those systems and habits. You aren’t really focusing on the goals at this point. That’s for another time.

Let’s say you are trying to lose some fat. One of the problems with fat loss is that even on a weekly basis you may not see any change. If you do see a change, it is too often a small change that can be frustrating without realizing what might happen by the end of a year. Instead focusing on those habits and systems works to keep you in the right direction.

Once a week you should review the past week, and prepare for the next. You could bring up the goals to see if you are on track, but really, it’s best to focus on just the habits and system at this point.

Once a month do a review, and at this point bring out the goals, but more for a cursory look. See if you need to modify at all.

A quarterly review is a better time to really see how you are doing. Some goals this is even too often, but others you can get an idea of how you are doing. 6 months is also a good time to see how you are doing right in the middle of the year.

Once a year you have a big review, and decide how the year should be going, and if you are on track. Also see if you can add another goal or not. You might even think of eliminating one.

What you have is a review every quarter, with the 2nd one more important, and the 4th one even more important. This means you really spend very little time on your goals throughout the year, but they are still there, working for you.

How much time?

Again, this is much longer than I wanted it to be, but really you could put together your goals in less than 30 minutes, often less than 20. And maintain them for about 5 minutes every quarter, 10 to 15 once a year. This really isn’t that long. The problem is keeping yourself from spending too much time on those goals.

The next article will focus on planning itself. How do you best manage your time? How do you get stuff done without overwhelming yourself? Why do most planning systems suck?


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