Trick Yourself into Achieving Goals


It’s easy to set goals. Most of us do it at some point and for good reason. Goals keep us on the right track in life, and are usually aimed at improving health, happiness or general well being.

The goals themselves are usually worthy: to lose weight, get a promotion, take a sabbatical, spend more time with family, build a successful business. If the idea is so good to begin with, why do we often fail to follow through and reach our goal?

There is plenty of advice out there about achieving goals, from being more mindful to employing stoicism.

If those work for you, great. Much of the advice out there around achieving goals is a little too idealistic and complicated though. Most of us have to keep our methods simple if we really want to get something done.

Here’s a simple method you can use to achieve goals:

Trick yourself into achieving them.

I know that the biggest obstacles keeping me from achieving goals (especially long-term goals) are focusing on the wrong actions and procrastination. Basically, short-term pleasure often trumps long-term benefits.

This even happens when my intentions are good. Take building a website or blog, for instance. If my goal is to build an incredibly useful tool for millions of users, I know that I should be focusing on solving people’s problems and trying to find those people to tell them about the solution.

Sounds simple enough, right?

That Goal Didn't Have a Chance

That’s where our problems start. Most people do things that make us feel good. The goals we set may make us feel good, but probably in a more holistic (being healthy or successful) than immediate (eating a cookie or playing a game) kind of way.

We may start each day with our goals in mind, but shorter-term pleasures can distract us from them. The goals probably sound simple, but in reality there are many things that need to be done to accomplish them. And therein lies the key to achieving a goal.

If you know that a long-term goal is going to be in direct day-to-day competition with short-term pleasures, you have to give the goal a chance to compete.

If the goal remains as a big grandiose concept in the distant future, it’s easy to see how it can lose out to other more pressing matters on a daily basis, like watching the latest episode of Party Down (sorry for the distraction).

Break it Down Now

How can you help a long-term goal compete with short-term pleasures? Break the goal down into bite-sized chunks that are also pleasurable.

In my “building a successful website” example, the goal itself is probably a 3-5 year endeavor. To give it any chance of happening, the goal should be more explicitly defined and broken down. “Success” is a vague word. Define success as something measurable, like the number of subscribers to your blog or the number of your true fans.

Then, think about what it will take to get there. Continue breaking down the goal until you arrive at individual (possibly repeatable) steps, each of which is small enough to compete with your short-term distractions. Make sure there is an explicit outcome to the individual steps.

The “trick” is in making these small steps as pleasurable as possible.

Again in the website example, one of these small steps might be commenting on other blogs so that people will see you as an expert in your field and click through to your website. This is directly measurable (# of comments you make on other blogs), small enough to compete with other distractions, and can be pleasurable in itself (when new visitors arrive via your comments on other blogs).

If you can create small steps that are as enjoyable as some of your distracting alternatives, fantastic. When the small steps aren’t quite as good as watching your favorite TV show, try adding a little bonus reward to sweeten the deal.

Now that you’ve broken your long-term goal down into digestible pieces, stop focusing so much on the overall goal. It can be demoralizing to check in on the overall progress of your goal daily, only to see very little progress. Have faith that your small steps will get you closer to your goal and add some time between evaluations of your long-term progress.

I hope this trick helps you get closer to achieving your goals. What other simple tricks do you use? Let me know in the comments!

photo by Bohman

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Hi, I’m Corbett Barr. I’ve been writing here since 2009. Join my email list for new articles about supporting yourself doing something you love: