Managing Goals for Success

People tell me all the time that I’m motivated and dedicated.  They allege that they are impressed with my drive and commitment to reaching my goals.  But I’ve never thought of it- a focus on improving every day- as anything spectacular.  Because I think we all have it inside of us.  We just need tools to help bring it out.  Maybe I know better what those tools are, but I hope to help others find their own equivalents.

First of all, like what I imagine is true for most other self-driven people, I am at the same time driven and haunted by one thing.  No matter where I am in the “success percentile” for any given attribute, I compare myself with those above (to the right of) my line in the bell curve. (Sorry for the statistics reference).  I’ll go into more detail on this in another post, but here’s a simple explanation and example.  If I think I’m at the 80th percentile in terms of athletic ability, I compare myself to the 20% that are better than me.  I have an MBA from Santa Clara, but compare myself not to people with undergraduate degrees or none at all (those to the left on the bell curve), but instead to those with MBAs from what some might consider more prestigious schools.  Or maybe to someone with an MBA and a CPA license.  The point is, I’m driven, in part, because there is always someone out there who is doing more and working harder.  I’m learning that this viewpoint is not always good; but in reality, it is part of the reason for my drive and commitment.

Thankfully, the other reason is healthier (i.e. a lot less anxiety producing) and more applicable to everyone.  After thinking about it a little bit, it turns out that even though I don’t do it consciously, I go through a mental checklist that has worked for me for years:

  1. Make your goal unreasonable and unrealistic – Let me ask you a question.  Is it easier to get out of bed in the morning to face the day if you’re dream and goal is to own a Mercedes and a boat?  Or are you more inclined to face the day with unbridled energy and passion if your aim is just to make sure you pay your bills and maintain good credit?  The answer is easy, right?  (I’m hoping you all agree that the first is a much greater motivator) As Tim Ferris says in his book, 4-Hour Workweek, “Having an unusually large goal is an adrenaline infusion that provides the endurance to overcome the inevitable trials and tribulations that go along with any goal.”
  2. Work backwards from main goal to actions you can control– Once you’ve set your sights on that “unreasonable” goal, work backwards until you have actions you can control.  Say your goal is to gain 15 pounds and run the forty-yard dash in 4.5 seconds before reporting to football camp, as mine was my senior year in high school as I got ready for college.  Working backwards, then, might reveal it is necessary to take in an additional 3,500 calories for every pound of desired gain.  Similarly, after careful thought and planning, you might realize that, to get fast enough to run a 4.5, you need to run a specific type (full, form, recovery) and distance (long, medium, short) of sprints on a specific schedule (Mon, Wed, Fri) to accomplish it.  While gaining 15 pounds is ultimately out of my control, I can control how much, how often, and what I eat.  And while my genetics might ultimately prevent me from running that coveted 4.5 forty, I can control when and what I run, how often I stretch, and my rest periods.  This approach obviously doesn’t guarantee success.  It does, however, give you a fighting chance.  And a relief and comfort that no matter the final result, you did your part in making it a reality.  And from experience, I’ll tell you: you can deal with that.
  3. Measurable Specificity– Whenever possible, quantify your controllable actions.  If I want to be able to do 100 push-ups at once, maybe I need to do 500 per week.  That is a number I can measure.  Maybe I want to learn Visual Basic for Applications (VBA) so I can get more out of Excel and Access.  The goal, there, could be to read one book on VBA per month.  I will easily know each month if I’m on track or behind, if I can check the box off that I completed my monthly assignment or I cannot.
  4. Flexible Units of Measure– Okay, so you want to lose 20 pounds before your high school reunion in five months.  If your math is right, that equals about four pounds per month.  Further investigation tells you that a calorie deficit (calories burned minus calories consumed) of 3,500 is required to lose one pound. So, at one pound per week (four per month), a week seems a logical unit of measure.  Going any further; say a deficit of 50 calories per day, 2 calories per hour, or 1/3 of a calorie per minute; is inflexible, unmanageable, and obviously overkill.  A big enough unit of measure leaves acceptable room for error and missteps.  If you forget to run on Wednesday, you can do it on Thursday.  If you overeat on the weekend, you could scale down on Monday and Tuesday.

Approaching your dream this way creates for you a strategy that will provide the fuel needed to push forward.  Because the dream is grandiose, it will get you going in a way no Starbucks coffee can.  Because you break it down into areas within your control, you feel like you are in the driver’s seat in the car of your life.  Because you specify the actions quantitatively whenever possible, you have an easy way to know what the score is every step of the way.  And because you are flexible enough in the units of measure, drifting away slightly will not cause as much discouragement because you’ll have time to recover or makeup.

And I’ll be looking at you saying “You are so dedicated!”


About bbluford
I am an executive finance professional with a love for process and application development (MS Access, Excel, Quickbooks), mostly as it relates to Accounting and Business Functions. I also love to write and share ideas with other people in this world. I'm an admitted Gym Rat who works out excessively. The best summation of me is that I love to teach and to learn.

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