Seven ways to achieve more
Without working yourself into the ground
I guess most of us would ‘like’ to achieve more of our biggest life goals… but the truth is that most goals are never achieved – and most New Year’s resolutions fail 🙁
So, let’s look at why that might be – and explore some ideas for helping you achieve more of yours.
These ideas are not just for that enforced-down-time, between Christmas and New Year.
There’s nothing special about that time of year – when it comes to making longer-term plans for change.
Why wait for the earth to reach a particular point in its journey around the sun to think about setting your own course for a better life?
In any event – around New Year, you might be too busy with parties and socializing.
So, if this is not a good time for you, bookmark this Insight and come back to it later. Any time of year is a good time to make new plans.
And, of course, New year falls on a different date depending upon where you live and the calendar you follow.
In 2019, New Year for the world’s biggest population, the Chinese, started on 5th February and the date moves every year because it’s based on the moon cycles, not solar ones!
Did you know that the Chinese have 12, animal-named, years in their Zodiac?
2019 was the year of the Pig (which also popped up in 1959, 1971, 1983, 1995 and 2007)
And they say that those born in a ‘Pig’ year have the strengths of being good-tempered, kind-hearted, positive and loyal *and* the weaknesses of being a bit gullible, slow-witted and faltering… although I suspect that we can all be all of those things from time to time, right? 😉
Anyway, whatever date, if any, you use to review your goals (if indeed you set goals at all – and lots of people achieve a lot without them) – this Insight will give you some solid ideas for achieving more of them. More of the things that matter to you.
But first, a question
How many people do you think achieve their New Year’s resolutions each year?
You can probably guess that it’s a low number – because I gave the game away earlier!
But just how many resolutions are realised each year?
Well, research tells us that on average, in the UK, only about 1 in 8 people (12%) claim success.
Or to put that another way, the failure rate is nearly 90%.
However, this ‘average’ success rate of 12% (like most averages) hides some far more interesting data.
Around 20% of 25 to 35- year-olds claim to achieve what they set out to do on January 1st . . .
whilst only 6% of the over 55s claim success.
Why do the results vary so much with age?
Well, I’m not sure that anyone knows exactly why this is. Perhaps we have a tendency to ‘over-egg’ our achievements a bit when we’re younger 😉
and perhaps these ‘one-year goals’ become more challenging (and less important to us) as we age.
What I can say is that many parents spend a lot of time managing and motivating their children to ‘achieve’ more.
Indeed, we may need to defer (or ‘let go’) of some of our own ambitions to focus on helping our young.
This can be tough at times and, as ever, it’s all about juggling priorities and taking time out to think about ‘What really matters’
But whilst helping your children prepare for adulthood will be the main goal of most parents, we must surely not sacrifice our entire life to it.
Parenting work aside, the data also reveals just how quickly our goal failures happen after New Year.
Did you know that around 70% of failed resolutions come undone in under 3 months? … and nearly 50% fail in less than one month.
So, do these failure rates matter?
Well, it shouldn’t matter to suffer a small set back on a ‘typical’ New Year’s resolution.
Everyone knows that progress comes by taking two steps forward whilst accepting the occasional step back, right?
Well, no, not everyone accepts those occasional setbacks. And it’s because we too often measure success on these resolutions in such absolute (black and white) terms, we get ourselves into all sorts of trouble with them.
The incredible evidence is – that with many resolutions, we absolutely do follow one step backwards with another two… in the same direction.
So, let’s look more closely at this to see how we fail at our resolutions. And how, when resolutions backfire, we can be worse off than if we’d made no resolutions at all.
Why do we fail at our resolutions?
In one sense that’s easy to answer.
If achieving a goal is completely within your control, and if it was a sensible and achievable goal in the first place… then you can really only fail if you don’t put in enough (well-directed) effort towards it.
So, the key question is why you would not put in the effort – and what would help you do so?
1. Spread yourself less thinly
Yes, I know it sounds obvious, but just how often do you fall into this trap?
How many times have you sat down to make a resolution – and come up with 10 or more ideas?
I used to be the world champion at that game 😉
The fact is, you can’t do them all if some of those goals will take up a lot of your time.
We may all start out with different levels of resources, but we’re all stuck with the same 24-hour limit on each day.
So, focus your efforts on fewer goals.
Perhaps even limit yourself to just one or two goals for starters.
You can always add to your list, at any time of the year, once you’ve nailed your initial set or when you can find more time.
2. Learn how to get started
Yes, well only a superhuman can make a big change in their life without some skilled help.
Whether you want to boost your general fitness or learn a more complex skill (like learning to ski, or sail, or fly aeroplanes or play a musical instrument, or, heaven forbid, plan your own financial freedom … you’re unlikely to get very far, very fast without some expert guidance
So, get some guidance and choose your coach wisely.
3. Reduce the overwhelm factor
Getting overwhelmed is a common challenge for most people who strive to achieve more.
You want to stretch yourself of course but big goals often look unachievable when you start out.
Just remember that significant personal achievements require a serious amount of effort.
Rome really was not built in a day, and if it was easy – everyone would be doing it – so it’d be no big deal.
How much effort you need to put in will depend on the challenge you’re taking on.
You can acquire some skills with intensive coaching over a few days, whilst others may take a sustained effort over months or even years.
Your coach should be able to advise you on that.
One key to success is to break your goal down into bite-sized chunks that are clear and measurable.
And keep good records of ‘every step you take’ towards your goal.
These notes can spur you on to achieve more in the future.
Now, how about a tenuously linked musical interlude?
(Funny how that old video starts with a cigarette burning in an ashtray. Giving those up is the classic New Years resolution)
Should you time box it?
Well, yes, many will tell you to make your goals ‘time-boxed’ and most coaches will suggest that you make your goals SMART:
- Relevant (to what you want) and
- Time boxed
And timeboxing might be essential… if the timing is critical – if you’re training for a big event, for example – but please go ‘easy’ on this timing aspect.
Sometimes you’ll have unexpected but more important things crop up in your life, or in the lives of your loved ones.
So, be ready for this and know that you may have to adjust your goal schedule from time to time.
It’s better than getting super upset (and upsetting others) when it happens.
Just remember that pilots make flight plans, to take you on holiday, but they break up the journey with ‘waypoints’ too. And they divert if a big storm flares up at your destination or en route.
They do not just stick to their original plan come what may.
And you wouldn’t want them too either!
So, follow the pilot’s example.
4. Visualize the right thing
Some people like to picture their ‘better future’ in their mind or on paper.
And there’s no harm in that, provided that you plan how you’re going to get to that future – and then get on with the work.
Unfortunately, a lot of coaches and self-appointed ‘personal development gurus’ will tell you that this ‘visualization’ game is the key.
According to some of these ‘voodoo’ coaches … it’s possible to simply ‘imagine’ your future – and ‘attract’ it towards you!
You may have heard of this ‘law of attraction’ nonsense before but if not I strongly suggest that you read more about it here
The hard evidence is clear and not very surprising.
To have any chance of reaching your dreams – you need to do a lot less dreaming about them – and get on with the necessary work.
Watch Dr Richard Wiseman’s excellent 1-minute video summary of this here.
So, visualisation can help you achieve your goal but only if you focus on your next step towards it.
Just picture yourself doing that next piece of work and you’ll find it a lot easier to get started on it.
If you’re a sports fan, you may be interested to know that this concept is also in tune with the lesson that Bill Shankly taught us.
Shankly was one of the greatest football managers of all time and if you’ve not yet read that wonderful short story – take a quick look here now
And for more scientific evidence of how ‘dream boards’ and other positive fantasies can make our situation worse – read here
5. Get some expert support
A lack of expert support can be a real goal killer too.
Think about working with a coach for your bigger life goals.
Get help with mapping out your financial life plan – so that it’s connected to what really matters in your life
Doing everything on your own is very lonely… and, if you have to learn by a lot of mistakes, it’ll get super expensive too.
Having a regular meeting in which you can share your progress – and build some motivation to deal effectively with challenges that arise between coaching sessions – can seriously boost your chances of success on your big life goals.
Well, that’s not always a great idea – if you want the best chance of success.
Yes, I know this goes against what a lot of people (including many coaches) will tell you, but the evidence is clear.
If you get ‘early’ praise and acknowledgement of your goal (from friends and family) when it’s only an idea… you’re far less likely to put in the work necessary to achieve it.
And with ‘praise’ so sought after (and easy to come by on Social Media) these days, this is clearly the wrong road to head down if we want to help ourselves – and others 🙁
Derek Sivers outlines the evidence in this wonderful short video here
And, if you’re not familiar with coaching, or you’d like my take on what ‘good’ coaching looks like – then head over here
6. Don’t wait until you ‘feel’ like working on it
All parents will be familiar with this excuse for not getting things done…
…which is not to say that some of us don’t carry this excuse into later life too! 😉
The issue here is real and simple – and so is the solution.
Get over your feelings and get on with some work!
Oliver Burkeman sums up the evidence beautifully.
Burkeman is an award-winning journalist who studied this subject in depth for his wonderful book, The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking.
And he talks about the daily rituals and working routines of prolific authors and artists … observing that those who get most done rarely use techniques for ‘getting motivated’ or ‘feeling inspired’ before getting down to work’
“Anthony Trollope”, writes Burkeman, “wrote for three hours each morning, before leaving to go to his job as an executive in the post office.
And if he finished a novel within that three-hour period, well, he simply moved on to the next”
‘Inspiration is for amateurs’ said Chuck Close,
‘The rest of us just show up and get to work’
Or to quote Edison
This is a very simple truth
Only the idle rich can afford the luxury of being able to ‘wait’ until they ‘feel like it’ to start work.
And that’s why they don’t produce very much.
A word on procrastination
Many of us are prone to ‘put off’ completing a goal because we want it to be perfect first.
Perfectionism causes a lot of procrastination – and is a subject we’ll come back to another day.
For now, let’s focus on helping you make more progress with your goals and improving your chances of eventual success.
The fact is, that for your important but less urgent goals, a small delay is often a price worth paying…
… IF it can yield a big improvement in quality.
As ever, the context matters.
7. A final point – make sure you really want it
If you focus on a small number of goals, get some good guidance on how to approach them; break down your bigger goals into manageable chunks, and get on with the work rather than ‘waiting’ to feel like it … surely that’s all you can do?
Well, there is one more thing to do – and it’s probably the biggest key to your longer-term success on your biggest projects.
This is about finding a goal that really matters to you.
Sounds simple, doesn’t it?
But it’s important because if your goal doesn’t matter to you; if you don’t really want the ‘thing’ that you’ve resolved to have, be or do; if you’re not inspired by it then, quite simply … you won’t try that hard to achieve it.
So, choose your resolutions carefully
That’s easy to say but harder to do, especially if you like to ‘keep your options open’ which many of us do.
Of course, you might think that keeping your options open, reduces your chances of failure. Whereas this approach might very well bring about the failure you want to avoid,
Think about it… ‘keeping your options open’ is just another term for lack of focus.
So, you might have to let go of some things on your ‘wish list’ (if only for a while) in order to achieve more of what matters to you.
Yes, that might be difficult upfront but it’s far better than trying to do everything and failing at all of it right?
Do you need help?
So, the question is … do you need help with this ‘decision making’ game?
If so, I might be able to offer it. I support my coaching clients with a powerful process to help them prioritise what really matters to them.
It helps to have that clarity, to keep going during the ‘tough times’ when we question whether our goals are worth all the effort.
Anyway, whoever you choose as a coach, find a good one. Frankly, there are a lot of air-headed idiots out there.
Have a great 2020
Thanks for dropping in
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