Create a great 2017: a goal-setting guide (part two)

Magnus Still on turning New Year’s resolutions into reality

Athletes do it…sales managers do it…owners of companies do it…successful politicians do it…in fact very few prominent people just stumble upon success without having first established a plan. Most reach an enviably high level by setting clear objectives and having a methodology for achieving those targets.

In most goal-setting methodologies there is a dichotomy that at first seems very confusing: dream big and act small. Some goals can initially seem enormous and totally unachievable; but when you have big dreams several things begin to happen. First of all a part of the brain called the reticular activating system (RAS) switches up a gear. The RAS filters the incoming information from your senses and affects what attracts your attention. If we repeat something often enough, and put emotional weight behind it, then it becomes embedded in the RAS and the RAS let’s information connected to those impulses travel through to the rest of the brain.

If you only very calmly say ‘I want €10,000’ without any emotion attached, you probably won’t get very far. But if you activate the RAS with strong emotions – perhaps the €10,000 is for your child’s education – then it will collaborate by letting through information from the environment that might help you get there. You still have to be intelligent: playing the lottery might not work, but perhaps your activated RAS makes you realise selling your car would.

So, dreaming big activates your subconscious to receive signals from your environment relating to your goals. And yet, simultaneously, you must act small. This has psychological relevance: if you try to do too much at once then you will probably begin to feel overwhelmed and give up. Instead, break up the task into small and achievable steps so that when you achieve something you feel good about yourself. You’ll soon find you become more enthusiastic and want to do more. This is what goal-setting expert Raymond Aaron calls ‘the importance of underachieving’.

Your goals

In my last article I recommended that you write down some goals for 2017. The idea was to ‘underachieve’, since it was a small task that is easily accomplished. I also wrote about the concepts of What, Why, When, Who and How.

What: is the importance of a very clear, specific, positive, written goal (like save €10,000). Why: will activate your RAS by importantly connecting the goal to a bigger dream charged with emotion (saving €10,000 will benefit your loved ones). When: will establish a clear deadline, thus making the goal a reality (save the money by a set date). Who: you are part of the goal, but it is very important to realise you might have a strong team that can help you (other family members might contribute and provide valuable motivation).

And finally – How? Some goal-setting experts recommend developing very complex three to five year strategies. But according to Tony Robbins, ‘Complexity is the enemy of execution.’ I couldn’t agree more. Instead, I prefer two very simple approaches:

  • find a tool to consistently remind you of your goals
  • source your own coaches and mentors

For the tool, you need to be able to easily review your goals regularly over time, say once every week. If you’re doing a large amount of small acts you need to see which of these is working well. For example, if you are trying to save €10,000 you might sign up to a supermarket rewards card. Then after a couple of months, you can check how much you have actually saved by using the card. Remember, even saving €10 is still moving you towards your goal. Soon you will find that you have trained yourself to spot opportunities to save and avoid costly mistakes. I recommend reading Raymond Aaron’s Double Your Income Doing What You Love for more advice on tools to help you assess your goals.

The last part of the equation is accepting advice from those that have gone before you – in other words, finding coaches and mentors. Mentors are people who have already done what you have set out to do yourself and they can be an invaluable source of knowledge. Coaches might not have gone the distance themselves but they are trained professionals in the subject matter.

There may be experienced individuals that can give you free advice, but typically you offer some kind of compensation. That compensation might be tickets to a performance, networking connections or some other kinds of access. I have found that the short-term cost of this help has always been negligible compared to the long-term benefit of avoiding time-consuming mistakes.

To summarise: the ‘How’ of goal-setting is about dreaming big and acting small, maintaining consistent focus on the goal and the motivations behind it, and learning from those that have already travelled the same path before you. Good luck – you’ll need that too.