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 largest population, the Chinese, the next new year doesn’t start until January 22 2023 – 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 Rabbit – as was 1939, 1951, 1963, 1975, 1987, 1999 and 2011.

And those born in a year of the Rabbit are thought to have a quiet personality that hides their confidence and strength. They are steadily moving towards their goal, no matter what negativity they face from others. And, with their reasoning and attention to detail, they make great scholars. They are socializers with an attractive aura. However, they find it hard to open up to others and often turn to escapism.

A plain and routine life is not their style. Though conservative and careful in their actions, they need surprises every so often to spice things up.

It’s all very detailed, isn’t it?

And I’ll leave you to find any evidence to support the idea that we have birth-year-determined traits.

My view is that we can all find someone born in a Rabbit year, who shares some of those attributes.

But we can also fit any astrological prediction (from any star sign) to most people too… and that’s a game I like to play sometimes – try it, it’s fun!

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

Just be aware, we can achieve lots with few goals. So, I’m not sure those Apps for setting multiple goals are helpful! 

How many people achieve their New Year’s resolutions?

So, you know it’s a low number because I gave that away earlier. But exactly what proportion of resolutions are realised each year is tricky to answer.

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%

Interestingly, the over 65s only claim half the rate of (complete) success on their goals as 18 to 24-year-olds.

Why do results vary with age?

I’m not sure anyone knows… perhaps we ‘over-egg’ our achievements a bit when we’re younger? 😉

And maybe ‘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.

We all know progress comes by taking two steps forward whilst accepting the occasional step back, right?

Brault. Taking a step back

Or do we?

It’s easy to forget that truth when defining our goals. So, we don’t always accept the setbacks as part of the journey.

If we measure success on our resolutions in hard (black and white) terms, we may decide too soon that we’ve failed and give up altogether.

And the shocking evidence is that with many resolutions, we follow one step backwards with another two… in the same direction.

If that interests you, you can learn more here.

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.

So far, so obvious!

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 you achieve more.

1. Spread yourself less thinly

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.

A good coach should be able to advise you on that.

One key to success is to break your goal down into bite-sized (and measurable) chunks.

And be sure to keep a record of ‘every step you take’ towards your goal, because 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?

Most coaches 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.

Just 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 prepared for this and accept 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.

And 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.

That’s OK, but doesn’t get you very far, and on it’s own can be counterproductive!

Years of research by Psychologists has shown that you’re far more likely to succeed if you face into (look for!) the obstacles in your way, plan how you’ll overcome them and then crack 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 ‘imagine’ your future – and ‘attract’ it towards you!

Perhaps you’ve heard of this ‘law of attraction’ nonsense before?

If not, you might want to read about it here

The hard evidence is clear and unsurprising.

To have any chance of reaching your dreams, you need do 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 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?

Interestingly, sharing your goals with family and friends doesn’t tend to help either.

Yes, this goes against what 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


6. Don’t wait until you ‘feel’ like working on it

All parents will be familiar with this excuse for not getting things done, and it’s easy to carry that excuse into later life too!

The issue here is 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 rich can afford to ‘wait’ until they ‘feel like it’ to start work – which might be why some in that group 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.

That’s what I’m suggesting, surely that’s all you can do?

Well, there is one more thing, and it’s probably the biggest key to your longer-term success on your biggest projects.

This is about finding a work goal that really matters to you – and fits with what you want from your life.

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.

And this is painfully difficult to do if you like to ‘keep your options open’ … and who doesn’t?

The thing is, keeping your options open does not always reduce your chances of failure. It can also reduce (or even destroy) your chances of success in the near term.

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?

It can be enormously helpful to have a Coach, to bounce your ideas off, learn from and be challenged before you make your big decisions.

Just be careful who you work with.

There are millions of Coaches out there – and a good number have some air-headed ideas.

So, take a look at this Insight for ideas on what a good coach looks like

And if you believe I could help you, we could chat about that.

Just be aware, I’m busy on various projects, so it may be a while before we talk or get started with coaching – but I’m keen to help if I can.

Either way, I hope these ideas are useful and I wish you good luck on the next stage of your journey.

Thanks for dropping in, 


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As a thank you, I’ll send you my ‘5 Steps for planning your Financial Freedom’ and the first chapter of my book, ‘Who misleads you about money?’Newsletter Sign up. Paul Claireaux 2020Also, for more frequent ideas – and more interaction – you can join my Facebook group here

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