“99% of all failures come from people who have a habit of making excuses.”
– George Washington Carver
If you’ve reviewed, revised and/or re-focused on making significant progress toward your goals this January, you’re not alone.
Even people who avoid New Year’s resolutions often take stock at the beginning of a new year and adjust their plans and strategy in the hopes of riding some collective momentum.
So we can start with this question: What did you achieve in 2020, and what do you hope to achieve in the next 90, 180 and 365 days?
New Year’s resolutions are often about forming a new positive habit, or stopping an old negative one.
But you probably have bigger goals, too. Things like:
- Getting a new job
- Earning a degree
- Writing a book
- Learning a language
- Buying a house
- Running a marathon
- Starting (or ending) a relationship
These things require more from us than what is needed to just form a new habit.
With a habit, you’re doing—or not doing—the same thing, over and over again. You’re focused on integrating a new behavior into your life OR eliminating an old behavior that no longer serves you.
With a larger goal, like saving money for a house or earning a degree, you’re really managing a project.
And most projects contain dozens or even hundreds of different and discrete steps between the starting point and the finish line.
It can look and feel overwhelming when you’re staring at the horizon with little idea of how you’re going to get from here to there.
And if you stumble at the very beginning, it’s enough to sap your confidence and stall you out before you’ve given yourself a fighting chance.
To prevent that from happening to you, I want to explore three powerful tools that will move you closer to achieving your most important goals.
#1: BEGIN WITH THE END IN MIND
I talked about this in the post on New Year’s resolutions, too, and it bears repeating.
A vague goal is an unachievable goal. We could even go so far as saying, a vague goal isn’t even a goal because if you don’t know what “finished” looks like, you’ll never get there.
Here’s an example.
Let’s say I want to learn French.
What does “learn French” even mean?
Does it mean being able to read and write in French? Hold a conversation in French? Or just order a croissant and a cup of coffee in Paris without feeling self-conscious?
Without a clear understanding of what I consider having “learned French” means, I have no way of creating milestones of achievement or tracking my progress.
You need to know, right up front, what you’re aiming for.
Climbing back into our example … I already can order a croissant and a cup of coffee in French with some competence.
So, what I really mean is I’d like to become conversational in French.
I’d like to become so comfortable with the language that I could carry on a conversation easily AND have a working knowledge of some slang and colloquial expressions.
Now I can being to map the journey from my working ability to correctly pronounce and understand some words and even simple sentences, towards having a meal or a phone conversation with a friend or colleague, entirely in French.
Once you define your goal, write it down.
You want to carefully chart your progress from wherever you are right now to your desired outcome.
And the very act of writing with a pen and paper activates parts of your brain, further cementing your goal AND providing additional motivation and purpose.
#2: DEFINE YOUR STEPS AND RESERVE TIME FOR THEM
After 24+ years as a professional coach and organizer, I can tell you that proper planning makes a huge difference in the timely achievement of goals and completing projects.
Poor planning is in fact one of The 7 Deadly Time Thieves™.
And here’s how I define “proper planning”:
- Understanding and defining exactly what your goal is—covered in #1 above
- Identifying the steps required to achieve that goal and significant milestones on the path there
- Reserving time on your calendar to execute the tasks that make up each step
So now that I have a clear goal, I’ll identify the steps between where I am now and where I want to be.
Given my fundamental ability to read some written French and pronounce most things correctly, here is how I would map out the rest of the journey—some of these steps have sub-steps so I won’t map all of those out … but this should give you a high level look at how I break projects down into discrete steps:
1) Research French immersion courses online
2) Select a course and enroll
A) If the course meets LIVE, schedule those sessions on my calendar
B) If the course is self-guided, review the sections or modules
C) Get any textbooks or supplies needed for the selected course
3) Create milestones for progress
- Milestone 1: Have a 5-minute conversation in French discussing current events
- Milestone 2: Have a 10-minute conversation in French discussing art
- Milestone 3: Have a 15-minute conversation in French discussing popular culture
4) Schedule consistent study and practice sessions on my calendar
5) Keep those appointments with myself
6) Identify an accountability buddy (if possible) who I may be able to study with but/and at least check in with to ensure I do what I have committed to doing
Here’s what I know: if it’s not on my (or your) calendar, it won’t happen.
It’s easy to hold our goals at arm’s length and tell one of our 200 Lies that you’ll prioritize these things “when I have time,” but that seldom arrives.
If you DO get some free time once, it can’t be counted on to show up in any consistent, predictable or reliable way.
And to clarify, “someday” is not a day on your calendar, so it’s a good idea not to schedule anything for then.
If you’re serious about your goals, take the time to quantify them, identify the steps to get you there, and then start tasking towards the successful execution of each step along the way to achieving them.
Do this with the same diligence and attention that you bring to your work and social obligations, and you’ll be pleasantly surprised, if not amazed, at the results.
#3: STAY ACCOUNTABLE
Accountability is one of the most important tools in your goal-achievement arsenal.
There’s a reason why so many people find freedom from addiction in groups, even when they failed alone. Success is SO much harder in a vacuum.
Accountability comes in many forms, but there are two that stand out as the most powerful: accountability partners and mastermind groups.
We call them Accountability Buddies in the Unstuff ecosphere but what you call them is less important than that you actually DO call them!
An accountability buddy is a like-minded person you’re willing to share your goals with. And if you can find someone with a goal similar to yours, even better.
You’ll see In my example above, that finding an accountability buddy was one of my steps to success.
In my case, an ideal buddy would be someone who also wants to learn French. That way, we can practice speaking together in addition to checking in on our progress.
Even if your buddy isn’t working on a similar goal, as long as they are dependable and reliable and willing to hold you to your words and deeds, you’ll both benefit from adding one to any significant goal you’re working towards.
If there is no one in your inner circle that you can tap for this role, there are lots of places online to find accountability partners for your specific goal, including Facebook, Nextdoor, and Meetup groups.
If you want even more structured support, you might join a Mastermind group.
If you’re not familiar with Masterminds, when they are good, they are like a marriage between an accountability partner on steroids and your own private thinktank.
A Mastermind is a group of people who commit to showing up regularly to share progress toward their goals, brainstorm solutions to each other’s roadblocks, and celebrate individual and collective wins.
Mastermind participants challenge each other to set—and achieve—their big goals that take time, and matter most.
I’ve seen amazing results in our own coaching program and Mastermind group, Your Next BIG Thing™, which runs 3 times a year.
The power in either an individual accountability buddy or a Mastermind group comes through expanding or reinforcing a support network that will keep you accountable for achieving an outcome—even when you run into challenges or want to bail on yourself.
Humans are expert rationalizers of our own behavior.
Leveraging other people and their support for your biggest, toughest goals helps ensure that even when you want to let yourself off the hook, someone else will dispassionately keep you engaged and focused.
THE BOTTOM LINE
As Desmond Tutu said, “There is only one way to eat an elephant: a bite at a time.”
Even the biggest, most daunting projects can be broken down into small, manageable parts.
The good news is, those parts are simple to establish for any goal you want to achieve:
- Define your objective with specificity
- Plan each of your action steps and milestones
- Stay on track and leverage external accountability
Don’t overcomplicate the process—achieving the goal may be hard, but planning the work doesn’t need to be.
Be clear, concise, and open to coaching and feedback, and these 3 steps will serve you again and again in mapping out and completing anything you commit to.
If getting organized has been on your list of goals for months—or maybe years—join us on January 26 for this year’s first cohort of The Unstuff Your Life System®! We’ll use all 3 goal-achieving tactics to get rid of clutter for good.