Seven ways to achieve more

Without working yourself into the ground

7 ways to achieve more. Paul Claireaux

Many of us want to achieve more of our big life goals, but the truth is that most goals are never achieved.

And most New Year’s resolutions fail too!

So, let’s look at why this is, and explore how you could achieve more of yours.

These ideas are not just for Christmas and New Year either.

There’s really nothing special about these times if you want to make longer-term plans for change.

Why would we wait for the earth to reach some random point in its journey around the sun to think about re-setting our own course in life?

In any event, normally, we’re busy at Christmas and New Year with parties and socializing, right?

So, if this is not a good time for you, bookmark this Insight and come back to it later.

Seriously, any time of year is a good time to make new plans – and New years fall on different dates in different cultures, anyway.

For the world’s biggest population, the Chinese, the next new year doesn’t start until February 1st 2022 – and the date moves every year because it’s based on lunar cycles, not solar ones!

Did you know that the Chinese have 12, animal-named, years in their Zodiac?

Their next year is the the year of the Tiger – as was 1938, 1950, 1962, 1974, 1986, 1998 and 2010.

And those born in a year of the Tiger are predicted to be brave, competitive, unpredictable, and confident.

They’re also charming and well-liked by others but sometimes impetuous, irritable, and overindulgent!.

It’s all very detailed, isn’t it?

To be honest, I don’t believe in such unevidenced ideas.

Sure, we could all find someone born in a Tiger year, who shares some of those attributes. But we could also fit every astrological prediction to most people too, and that’s a game I like to play sometimes!

Anyway, whatever date (if any) you use to review your goals, this Insight will give you some solid ideas for achieving more of what matters to you.

Just be aware, most people can achieve a lot without having too many goals. And those Apps that help you set multiple goals – might not be the answer you’re looking for. 

How many people achieve their New Year’s resolutions?

Yes, you know it’s a low number because I gave the game away earlier.

But exactly how many resolutions are realised each year?

Well, that’s a bit tricky to answer because, for example, according to YouGov in December 2019, 27% of Britons polled said they planned to make a resolution for 2020 – but only 12% went ahead and made some.

So, that’s a failure rate of about half just in keeping your commitment to make a resolution.

Then, of those who made resolutions, only a quarter kept all of them while half managed to keep some of them and another quarter failed completely.

So, if you count partial failures (and the failure to make your promised resolution in the first place) as a failure, then the overall failure rate is about 85%

And what’s really interesting is that the over 65s only claim half the rate of (complete) success on their goals as 18 to 24-year-olds.

Why do the results vary so much with age?

I’m not sure anyone knows 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 while 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, I’ve also seen older data to show how quickly our goal failures happen after New Year.

Around 70% of failed resolutions come undone in under 3 months, and nearly 50% fail in less than one month.

The survey data on ‘resolution success’ can be found here and here (if you have more recent data, please let me know below)

Do these failure rates matter?

Well, it shouldn’t matter to suffer a small setback on a ‘typical’ New Year’s resolution.

Everyone knows that progress comes by taking two steps forward whilst accepting the occasional step back, right?

Brault. Taking a step back

Well, no, I don’t think so.

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, that 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. And if that interests you, learn more about it here.

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* assuming it was a sensible and achievable goal in the first place, you can really only fail if you don’t put in enough (well-directed) effort towards it.

That’s obvious enough, but the more interesting question is why you would not put in the effort – and what would help you do so?

Here are seven ways that can help us achieve more.

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

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, sail, fly aeroplanes, 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, 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 to keep good records of ‘every step you take’ towards your goal – those 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:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Relevant (to what you want) and
  • Time boxed

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.

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.

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.

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 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 making 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.

Should you share your goals with family and friends?

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.

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 🙁

Clothes on running machine

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

Great Coach and Ikigai

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.

Here 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:

Edison, Genius

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 is not entirely bad but it can cause a lot of procrastination, as we explored here.

The truth is, for your important but less urgent goals, a small delay can be a price worth paying… if it yields 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, but there’s a lot to this as we explored here.

In short, 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 it’s unlikely that you’ll try that hard to achieve it.

So, choose your goals and resolutions carefully.

Yes, this is easy to say but harder to do, especially if you like to ‘keep your options open’ which many of us do because we think keeping our options open, reduces our chances of failure.

Truth is, of course, that the ‘options open’ approach is likely to bring about the very failure you want to avoid,

Think about it, ‘keeping your options open’ is just another term for lack of focus.

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.

Do you need help?

If you want coaching help, someone to bounce your ideas off and be challenged before you make your big decisions, go for it.

Just be careful who you work with… frankly, there are some air-headed idiots out there.

So, take a look at this Insight for ideas on what a good coach looks like, and if you believe I could help, let’s have a chat about that.

Hope that’s been useful, good luck on the next stage of your journey and,

thanks for dropping in, 


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