Let’s Get Real About Achieving Goals And Making It Happen

Achieving your goals brings a lot of satisfaction.

Imagine you want to quit your job and start a reptile-importing business, but you don’t know where to begin.

Now, imagine you’ve struggled with maintaining a healthy lifestyle and have finally resolved to take it seriously.

Or maybe, you want to become an author.

An actor.

A chef.

In fact, imagine any of the countless scenarios that could lead you to search online for advice about achieving goals.

What type of results would you get?

I’ll save you the trouble of running this experiment yourself.

You would face a seemingly endless array of individuals and blogs claiming to provide pragmatic advice but, in reality, tell you to love yourself.

To believe in yourself.

To chase your dreams.

As a reader, you walk away feeling inspired and empowered.

You feel good.

Now imagine you’re an architect and you have been tasked with designing a skyscraper in downtown Chicago.

Or, imagine you’re Flavius Belisarius, the Byzantine Empire general tasked with defending a stronghold from enemy attack during the Iberian war.

How far will the advice, “love yourself and chase your dreams,” get you?

Flavius, believe you deserve to win this battle. 

Good luck with that for actually achieving your goals

Now, don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against motivation.

I enjoy feeling inspired as much as the next guy.

Being reminded that I should love myself hurts nothing.

However, the goals mentioned above—starting a business and becoming a chef—won’t be reached via motivation.

You need a plan.

A strategy.

Your goal may be less dramatic than defending a military stronghold, but the same principles apply.

Those who fail “wing it,” and those who succeed devise (and adhere to) a detailed plan.

It’s harsh and may seem overly simplistic, but it’s true.

Look elsewhere if you want encouragement, empty positivity, or a coddling mantra of self-empowerment.

However, if you’re ready to give your goal or dream the chance it deserves, here you’ll find the basic outline of an actionable step-by-step game plan that arms you with everything you need to execute.

It has everything you need to see things through and finish what you started.

Especially, when things become difficult or enthusiasm runs dry.

These are the exact strategies I teach those I coach (and use myself).

Let’s get into it.

Strategy for Achieving Your Goals

The difference between those who succeed and those who fail is relatively simple.

In most cases, the successful take their goal and:

  • Refine their intention
  • Organize the goal into actionable steps
  • Remove failure from the equation

From these three differences, we’re going to extract nine steps:

Refine Your Intention

  • 1: Define Your Goal or Dream
  •  2: Refine Your Goal or Dream
  •  3: Block Off Time
  •  4: Reduce Potential Distractions
  • 5: Engage in an Exploratory Phase

Organize Your Goal Into Actionable Steps

  • 6: Create a Script
  • 7: Make a Hot List
  • 8: Apply Timelines to Your Goal or Dream

Remove Failure from the Equation

  • 9: Leverage Accountability and Apply Consequences

Let’s explore each of these.

Define Your Goal or Dream

What is your goal or dream?

Say it out loud.

Yeah, it seems silly—you’re probably alone while you’re reading this.

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Just indulge me and say it out loud.

If you can’t articulate your goal in a single sentence, you need to start there.

Give it some thought and devise a concise way to define your goal.

Once you’re sure you have an actual goal and can articulate it in a single sentence, it’s time to dig a little deeper.

You should also be able to explain why reaching this goal is important to you.

Give this some thought; what is your motivation?

Next, consider your current status.

Have you tried to pursue this goal in the past?

What happened?

Have you failed?

If so, why?

Be brutally honest with yourself about achieving your goals

Did you give it the chance it deserves, or did you walk away the first time you faced a challenge?

What did you learn from previous attempts?

Before committing to your goal or dream, ensure you’re truly ready to pursue it and face the challenges that will undoubtedly arise.

If you were interviewed about your goal, you should be able to answer these questions:

  • What is your goal?
  • Why do you want to do that?

One last point: Assess whether your goal is actually a goal or the byproduct of a goal.

For instance, if your goal is to “become famous” or “get rich,” I’m sorry to tell you… you don’t actually have a goal; you have a byproduct.

The goal would be the value you provide that makes you rich or famous.

Byproducts are not goals.

Refine Your Goal or Dream

You should now have a concise goal in mind and a firm understanding of your motivations.

Be aware of your past relationship with your goal.

Now, it’s time to refine it.

“Learn Spanish” is technically a goal, but it lacks details—it lacks criteria by which you can say you achieved it or failed to achieve it.

Instead, try “Be able to speak Spanish well enough to watch and understand all dialogue in the film Die Hard in Spanish (without subtitles) by February 1, four years from now.”

Refine your goal or dream; get highly detailed.

If interviewed, you should be able to answer:

  • What is your goal?
  • Why do you want to do that?
  • By when?
  • How will you know you’ve gotten there?

Block Off Time and Reduce Potential Distractions

Yeah, you’re busy.

Sure, you have responsibilities.

Do you know who else is busy?

Every successful person you know and every successful person who’s ever lived.

You’re not an exception.

If you genuinely care about your goal, you must give it the time it deserves.

You can’t find time, and you can’t make time.

But you can take time.

Block off a few small (30 min) non-negotiable sessions of time each week to work on your goal or dream.

It’s during this time that you’ll address the steps found here.

Stop right now, look at your calendar, and decide on these sessions.

Then, when you face a session of blocked time, do everything you can to create an environment conducive to focus.

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Reduce potential distractions from people and technology.

Choose a place you will learn to associate with working on your goal or dream.

As you adapt to prioritize your goal or dream, introduce additional sessions.

If interviewed, you should be able to answer:

  • What is your goal?
  • Why do you want to do that?
  • By when?
  • How will you know you’ve gotten there?
  • When and where are you working on it?

Engage in an Exploratory Phase

You may think you understand your goal or dream, but do you really?

Do you know what is involved?

Do you understand the implications of success and the complexity it could contribute to your life?

Don’t just get to work during the blocked sessions of time you’ve allocated to your goal.

First, spend that time performing research.

Research can take many forms depending on your goal.

It could mean understanding your competition.

Or, it might mean understanding the money needed to begin.

It could mean understanding how much time it typically takes to achieve your goal.

Find out what others who have pursued similar goals went through, what problems they encountered, etc.

Only once you feel you adequately understand your goal should you move on to the following steps to organize it.

If you organize your goal before understanding it, you’ll drive without a destination, wasting time and resources.

If interviewed, you should be able to answer:

  • What is your goal?
  • Why do you want to do that?
  • By when?
  • How will you know you’ve gotten there?
  • When and where are you working on it?
  • What all is involved?

Move on when you feel you can answer the above questions and have a good grasp on what we’ve discussed so far.

Create a Script

It’s time to get organized.

Once you’re done with your Exploratory Phase: Whenever you reach a blocked session of time, refer to your Script, which should guide you through the actions you must take every time you work on your goal or dream.

Your script should tell you what to do and should remain the same from session to session.

Take the guesswork and memory reliance out of your process entirely.

Scripts look drastically different for almost every goal, but when it comes time to work on something—whether creative, personal, or professional—most goals require some sort of setup and breakdown of materials or processes.

Create a Hot List

This is both the most important and the most nuanced part of the equation.

Through your goal refinement step and Exploratory Phase, you have the info you need to turn your goal or dream into a structured, nested series of detailed lists within a giant “master” list.

Each item from this list should be individually actionable and organized so that one thing must be completed before moving on to the next.

As a simple example: How would you break it down if your goal was cooking pasta?

After performing an Exploratory Phase, you’d know that your pasta-making Script would include setting up (collecting the pot, checking your pasta inventory, etc.) and cleaning up (cleaning the pot and dishes afterward, etc.).

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Your Hot List steps would include boiling the water, cooking the pasta, straining it, and serving it.

We can break more complex goals into phases, each containing multiple sub-tasks.

If interviewed, you should be able to answer:

  • What is your goal?
  • Why do you want to do that?
  • By when?
  • How will you know you’ve gotten there?
  • When and where are you working on it?
  • What all is involved?
  • What is your step-by-step plan for executing it?

Apply Timelines to Your Hot List

Once you have a plan—clear steps from where you currently are to where you want to be (realizing your goal or dream)—it’s time to apply timelines to both the overall goal or dream and the individual steps needed to get there.

You must take care to get these timelines right (ambitious yet realistic), as you will tie consequences to failure to meet them.

If interviewed, you should be able to answer:

  • What is your goal?
  • Why do you want to do that?
  • By when?
  • How will you know you’ve gotten there?
  • When and where are you working on it?
  • What all is involved?
  • What is your step-by-step plan for executing it?
  • When will you be done with each phase? When will you be done with the entire endeavor?

Leverage Accountability and Apply Consequences

This is the magic bullet.

Through accountability (sharing your goal and plan with others) and carefully tying consequences of failures, you can preserve the wishes of the version of you that existed when you committed to achieving your dream or goal, enforcing continued progress upon “later versions of you.”

These versions of you exist when things become difficult or enthusiasm runs dry.

If interviewed, you should be able to answer:

  • What is your goal?
  • Why do you want to do that?
  • By when?
  • How will you know you’ve gotten there?
  • When and where are you working on it?
  • What all is involved?
  • What is your step-by-step plan for executing it?
  • When will you be done with each phase? When will you be done with the entire endeavor?
  • What will happen if you cannot reach your goal or complete specific phases by the above dates?

“Where Do You Go From Here?” on the Quest to Achieving Your Goals

I offer free videos explaining this strategy in greater detail at foundationsofexecution.com/getthere.

I share examples and other great ways to add to what you learned.

In addition, you can download a shortened, portable cheat sheet version of this training (to hang over your desk as a constant reminder of your path).

That’s it; short and sweet.

Success doesn’t have to be complicated; you just need to understand that it’s a matter of strategy and adhere to it; if you skip any individual step, the system will break down.

Good luck with your reptile-importing business.

Stay inspired; stay passionate.

Let us know your thoughts in the comment section below.

Also, if you found this article helpful, don’t forget to click the share button!

Matthew Canning is a distinguished technologist, productivity educator, and the accomplished author of multiple books, including "Never Forget Again," "Master the Language of the Universe," "Memory Fastlane," and "Get it Together." As the visionary founder of "Become Better at Everything," he actively contributes to media, serves as a valuable startup advisor, and passionately pursues entrepreneurial endeavors.
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