Tag: achievement

Why we fail to reach our goals and what to do about it

If you’ve ever read a personal development book, I’m sure you’ve come across the importance of goal-setting. Everyone and his brother seems to lament the importance of setting big goals, shooting for the moon and going all in.

This might be one of the dumbest things I’ve ever heard.

Not only does this not work, but it is actually counter-productive and demotivating according to this study.

Humans are creatures of habit, and our habits are most often based on what’s easy for us to do. What this means is that if we want to accomplish anything, we need to make sure our goal is something which doesn’t take an enormous amount of effort to do, and that it is mostly within our own control.

For instance – you can’t control whether or not you become the next Jimi Hendrix, but you can control whether you practice playing the guitar for 30 minutes each day. Playing for 30 minutes each day is achievable, within your control, and adds up over time, and those elements are the keys to achieving anything worthwhile, so let me repeat it for good measure.

If your goals are achievable and within your control they will add up to a lot over time. The reason why so many fail to do this, is because we overreach – we want to achieve our goals tomorrow, and become the greatest in the world within an unrealistically short time frame.

This is also the reason why we’re so fascinated by the people who achieve outsized success, because we subconsciously recognize that what they have achieved is super-human, insofar that they have had to circumvent their natural wiring in order to get to where they are today.

While we may not see the thousands of hours in the gym, or the frustrating hours in front of the computer trying to write something worthwhile or excel at making spreadsheets (sorry), we recognize that the people who have truly mastered a given subject have put in an immense amount of effort in order to do so, and the whole point here is that so can we – as long as we take sufficiently small steps, and practice our craft diligently and persistently

You might already be at a point in your career where you are well on your way to mastering a subject and you just need a little nudge to make the final leap to complete mastery. Or maybe you are in the beginning of your journey and you’re feeling all jittery or excited, or maybe you’re in what Seth Godin calls the Dip – the point where you’ve achieved some progress and then stalled, because the effort required to reach the next level is more than you’re able or willing to put in right now.

Whatever your case, keep in mind that making your goal achievable and within your control is the first step to making enormous progress, but it is going to take a long time, and we must realize this if we want to achieve anything worthwhile.

As long as we’re stuck in the mindset that we have to achieve large goals in a short period of time, we will keep falling into the same trap and give up every time we encounter adversity, because we feel like we should be able reach our goal almost effortlessly.

In reality however, overcoming adversity is one of the best indicators for high achievement, but that’s a subject for another post.

For now, suffice it to say that when you know what you want, you have to figure out one action you can repeat day in and day out that will move you closer to your goal.

Forget about Big and Hairy – set Small Micro goals

Can you do one push up today?


Go and do it right now.

You’ve just accomplished the first step in your new fitness routine.

Do it again tomorrow and you’re well on your way to starting a fitness habit.

Do you think you can write five sentences about what’s on your mind today?

I’m sure you can.

If you can – and you did – you’ve accomplished the first step to becoming a writer.

Too often we get caught up in these long term goals – I want to be a millionaire by 30, I want to make partner at Deloitte by 35. These goals are all well and good, and if they turn you on and inspire you to show up and put in the work each day, then all power to ya. But I don’t believe this is how humans are wired. I believe humans are by nature short sighted, and I have the science to back it up. Kahneman & Tversky won the Nobel prize in economics by proving that humans are inherently biased, and one of the main biases we suffer from is myopia – short-sightedness.

That’s the reason why I believe that unless you are very un-average – which by the very nature of the word most of us aren’t – you won’t be turned on by long term big hairy and audacious goals. In fact it might be holding you back.

What we humans are really good is doing things on a day to day basis and most of us can do one thing today, as long as it’s not too overwhelming.

In the interest of illustrating my point, let me tell you about the time I went to fat camp. Today I’m smack dab in the middle of the fitness spectrum, and I would consider myself in fairly good shape. I’ve run a marathon (slowly) and can lift a fair amount of weight, but I started out barely being able to walk for 15 minutes. But in fact, that was just what we started with. Walking for 15 minutes, until it became routine. Then walking for 20 minutes until that became routine. Then we’d start going for short runs. Before we knew it, we were exercising and eating healthily as a matter of habit, and it all started with the tiniest of habits – the most manageable of tasks.

That’s why I propose that instead of making a plan to become Mister Universe, make a plan to do a push up a day. Instead of making a plan to become the next Ernest Hemingway, make a plan to write a few sentences every day.

Once you lay the foundation for a solid habit, you can build on top of that day by day. Small chunk by small chunk.

Big and hairy has nothing on small micro goals.

When should you quit?

When I just finished high school, I was dead set on becoming a lawyer, so naturally I applied to law school. The way the system works in Denmark – where I’m from – however, is that you must also pick a second priority, so that if you don’t get into your first choice of school you have the option to do something else.

I chose general humanity studies, which is comprised of history, languages, psychology and philosophy – not exactly law school, but something I still found interesting, and figured I’d be good at.

After a year of this I was bored to tears, and decided I needed a change of pace – so I switched to the study of religion because I was really into Buddhism and Zen philosophy at the time. Whenever people asked me what I wanted to do once I graduated however, I never knew what to tell them, and I was also bored to death in this program. After 6 months of this, and after 18 months in total of dicking around after high school and not knowing what to do, I decided to quit.

I decided I needed to get my head straight and my shit together, so I dropped out of university for the second time in two years, and decided to take a complete break from school.

That was the best thing I ever did. I started working in telemarketing, loved it, worked my butt off, figured out I needed to work in the business world and figured out what I needed to do to get the degree I wanted to get the job that I wanted.

I took two additional courses in math, and started studying economics in the summer of 2011 and finished with a masters degree four and a half years later. I’d found my calling, and I haven’t looked back since.

The reason I tell you this story is because it illustrates the power of strategic quitting. A lot of us have been raised with the dictum “winners never quit and quitters never win” but that is simply not true.

Sometimes in order to win, you need to quit what you’re doing now, in favor of doing something which better serves your interests in the long run.

There is a caveat to this however, which is that I’m not saying quit just because it’s hard. When it gets hard is when you need to show you really want it. You need to decide before it gets really hard if you truly want it or not.

If you do, you can’t let anything pull you away from that, but if your answer is a lukewarm “maybe” then you need to figure out what really makes you tick, quit what you’re doing now, and pursue that instead.

Sometimes you need to quit strategically in order to find something that makes you want to work hard.

What’s your most valuable skillset?

We all have skills. Most of us have more than one valuable skillset, meaning a range of skills which we can utilize to accomplish any number of things. A skill set which sets us apart in a massive way when we use them or where the practice of that skill comes more easily and naturally than our peers. This is sometimes referred to as talent – other times it’s referred to the intersection between work and play.

What I’m getting at is that we all have areas where we have more natural aptitude than others. Some people are gifted with a wide range of areas where they have natural aptitude, and others have a more narrow range of skill sets. Whichever bucket you fall in, rest assured that simply due to the fact that you are reading these words, you have skills that the market is willing to pay for.

I would argue however, that what truly makes a skill set valuable is when we find an area where we enjoy the work itself, and where we do better work than our peers at a similar level.

Maybe you have a natural aptitude for math, languages, writing, solving complex problems, human psychology, sports or any other area where specialized skills command a premium.

My point is that most of us tend to somehow undermine ourselves and work in areas where we don’t use our best skills. On the flip side we try to be good at everything and work on our weaknesses. In sports this is a terrible idea – if Leo Messi all of a sudden tried to become a defensive player he most likely would have never made the pros, but if he had followed the conventional wisdom of working on his weaknesses that would have been the outcome. It works the same in every other area. Focus on your strengths.

Answer the question

what is my most valuable skillset?”

When you answer that question, you will know where you need to focus your efforts.

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Which single habit will give you the greatest progress?

When David Beckham was a kid – starting at age 11, he would do target practice as a way to hone his freekick skills. He hung a tire from the crossbar and practiced putting the ball through the tire every day before and after regular practice and school. This habit helped him perfect his shot and it also spilled over into exceptional crossing of the ball as well as superb passing-technique. The point is, that this one habit helped young Beckham develop a number of skills which massively accelerated his learning curve. He figured out something he could do consistently which moved him forward as long as he stuck to it.

So much of success boils down to daily habits – linchpin habits if you will – and the payoff we can get from these daily habits can be enormous if we choose the right ones. Linchpin habits varies based on who you are and what you want to achieve, but if you are in sales for instance, you will do well to read 20-30 pages in a book on Sara each day, as well as keep a daily journal of what you did well and what you need to improve.

In fact, keeping a daily journal of what we did well and what we need to improve is one of the most powerful habits any of us can cultivate.

Another powerful habit, is the habit of writing out your thoughts and ideas everyday. Not necessarily intended for publication, but intended to crystallize your own thoughts. If you do this every day, you will soon find that your thoughts become much clearer, and the way you think about things becomes clearer as well.

On top of that, we each have linchpin habits which are specific to our own professions – what is your linchpin habit?

On putting one foot in front of the other

Accomplishments are a funny thing. We as ambitious people tend to think that we have to accomplish everything at once. For my own part I’ve been guilty more than once of being like the woman with the eggs in the famous H.C. Andersen story. In the story there is a woman who is carrying a number of eggs on her head on her way to the market.

On her way to the market, she fantasizes about how she’s going to spend the money she will earn from selling her eggs. Her dreams get bigger and bigger, until she eventually pictures herself as a fancy lady, and just like a fancy lady would, she throws her head with all the vanity she can muster…

Of course this sends all her eggs crashing to the ground and her dream dies right then and there. The moral of the story is that we have to put one foot in front of the other and not get in our way. If we want to achieve anything we must keep going, keep working, keep grinding – through the dips, the downturns and the recessions. Keep working even when it’s not fun, and keep churning out material, keep running the miles and keep grinding out the presentations.

We have to keep going and never quit. We have to show grit. Especially in the face of adversity, and we have to keep slogging it out and take on our inner demons day after day after day. If we keep working we will get somewhere eventually, but if we keep starting and stopping, we will be stuck in the same spot until get our gears working in the same direction.

One foot in front of the other.


Day by day.

That’s the only way you’ll get there.

Grit and the Growth Mindset

The cowards never started, and the weak died along the way – that leaves us”

– Phil Knight, founder of Nike

There are two adjacent ideas in the field of psychological research which are incredibly interesting on their own, but even more so when we explore them together.

Angela Duckworth won the MacArthur award – otherwise known as the Genius Award – for her work with recruits at the military academy West Point. The training that goes on there is notorious for being some of the toughest in the world, and she found that it didn’t matter how smart or physically fit the soldiers were. The thing that mattered more than anything was what she came to describe as Grit. In other words, the ability to tough it out once the going got really rough.

The point here is not that you have to be tough to be a soldier – that is fairly obvious to most of us – the point is that Grit is a predictor of success in almost every conceivable walk of life. If you want to be successful you have to be willing to tough it out when it matters most. Duckworth found this to be true regardless if you were a soldier, a sportsperson, a business man or woman or any other field where it’s not always roses and butterflies.

This research gets really interesting however, when we consider it in conjunction with Carol Dwecks research on the Growth mindset. Dweck found that one of the main differentiators between those who achieve massive success and those who fiddle the strings of mediocrity is the core belief that they are able to grow. In other words that they are able to learn and improve on a daily basis.

This is interesting, because even if you’re not gritty, you can learn to be. Even if you don’t have what it takes to make it to the top of your field right now, you can learn all the right skills.

If you toughen up, stay gritty and focus your mind on learning every day, improving and staying disciplined especially when you want to quit, you can go on to achieve great things.