How To Set Goals (You Will Actually Achieve)

Happy New Year! I hope 2014 brings everything you hope for.

We are now over a week into January, how are those New Year’s resolutions working out for you? Whether you are on or off the wagon, this post may be just what you need.

The following process is an abbreviated version of how I set goals, taken from a section of my book called ‘Planning To Evolve’. The full version forms part of a more detailed planning process which builds on other concepts and ideas discussed in the book and, as such, works best when delivered in that context. That said, what follows stands alone as a comprehensive framework to achieve whatever you set your sights on.

[Warning! This post is 3000 words long and will take 8 – 10 minutes to read. If you really want to get the most out it by setting your goals using this process, bookmark the page, and set aside a couple of hours to follow it through – Trust me it’s time well spent]

The core principle driving the process of cyclehacking is that by pursuing the things that really matter to us, that we have a burning desire to spend our time doing, that we are prepared to suffer living outside of our comfort zone for, we will be compelled to do whatever is necessary to achieve them.

The areas of life that I focus on are as follows; however, feel free to add others relevant to your circumstances:

– Relationships
– Personal Development
– Career/ work
– Health and fitness
– Spirituality
– Financial (income), financial (giving), financial (saving)
– Travel/ recreation/ toys

Balancing how you spend your time is often challenging, which is why it is important to consider all areas of life. Ultimately by saying ‘yes’ to doing something in one area, you are also potentially saying ‘no’ to something in another.

Our minds are incredibly powerful tools; however, they came preinstalled without an instruction manual. You only have to look around a city centre, watch the news (not recommended), watch ‘humans are awesome’ on youtube (highly recommended), or visit a library to experience the innumerable ways we have discovered to use our minds. We have created unbelievable outcomes at both ends of the spectrum, from war and genocide, to courageously going where no man had been before, and everything else in-between.

We have two minds: our conscious mind and our unconscious mind. The conscious mind is responsible for everything in our conscious awareness, our waking state. It is also the goal setter; we consciously decide what we want to do, then the conscious mind gives instructions to our unconscious mind. The conscious mind has been described as the tip of the iceberg, the part visible on the surface of the water. Our unconscious mind is responsible for everything outside of our conscious awareness; it is the part of our minds that breathes for us as we sleep, beats our hearts, and takes care of every other bodily function.

As an example of how the two work together, just lift your right arm into the air. You used your conscious mind to decide to lift your arm, however, it was your unconscious mind that actioned the instruction by sending the signals through the multitude of muscles and tendons required to lift your right arm. If I asked you to do the same thing consciously, you wouldn’t be able to do it; you wouldn’t consciously know which muscles and tendons to activate, unless you had an intricate understanding of your physiology. Even if you did, it would take significantly longer and would be more akin to watching a robot, than the normally fluid movement of a human. The unconscious mind has been referred to as the much larger mass of an iceberg that resides beneath the surface of the water.

In the context of deciding where you want to be and getting there, the conscious mind is the goal-setter and the unconscious mind is the goal-getter. What follows is the process I use to set goals that clearly instruct the unconscious mind what to go and get.

How To Set Goals – Aim High

We all know what we really want but there are a number of reasons we may choose to aim for something less.

For the purpose of this exercise, just imagine anything is possible and that you have all the resources you need. Most people completely overestimate what they can achieve in a year and completely underestimate what they can achieve in ten years. Remember, you have a lifetime, and depending on your age, you may have decades to achieve something truly magnificent.

Spend five minutes writing down everything you want to HAVE in each of the following areas of life and any others relevant to your circumstances. You might find that it doesn’t take five minutes for some areas, others might take longer, just get everything down as quickly as you can. I tend to use a journal and write each area of life at the top of a fresh page, leaving a blank page in-between:

– Relationships
– Personal Development
– Career/ work
– Health and fitness
– Spirituality
– Financial (income), financial (giving), financial (saving)
– Travel/ recreation/ toys

Then repeat the process, this time taking five minutes to list what you want to BE; you could add these to the relevant pages you have for each area of life or start a fresh page. Then, spend another five minutes, this time listing what you want to DO in each area of life.

Focus Your Energy And Attention Wisely

Look back over what you listed in each area and add anything else that comes up. Look for any relationships that exist between the things you have written down and, where appropriate, combine them to create more specific goals. Within each area of life number the goals in order of importance. You want to prioritise the goals that make you feel a deep desire to achieve them or make you feel a little nervous or fearful. These are the goals you really must pursue with everything you’ve got; they will stretch you the most, and keep you motivated to follow through.

We need to take the most important goal from each area of life, and re-write them to engage your unconscious mind. The unconscious mind is symbolic and doesn’t know the difference between something you vividly imaged and something that actually happened. We can use this to our advantage by presenting the goal in such a way that the unconscious mind will start work on making it a reality.

It is absolutely essential at this point that you are ruthless with the goals you want to pursue. By saying ‘yes’ to these top seven or so goals, you are effectively saying ‘no’ to the others on the list. You may find that by achieving your most important goals, by default, you achieve some of the others along the way. But what you absolutely can’t afford to do is become distracted by the less important goals; this is the same as saying ‘no’ to your most important goals.

Redefine Your Outcome

Answer the following questions in writing for your most important goal from each area of life. Start with the area of life you feel will have the greatest impact on all other areas of life:

1. What specifically do you want to achieve? You can’t just say ‘I want to be successful at work’. You need to define what being ‘successful’ means specifically; what are the parameters, milestones and attributes that determine you have been successful. You also need to define what ‘work’ is specifically; what are the detailed tasks, activities and projects you want to be successful at? You need to be thinking in terms of what the end result is that you want to achieve. How will you know you have achieved your goal? What will have had to happen?

2. Is it stated in the positive? Saying ‘you don’t want to fail at work’ is stated in the negative. This statement focuses the unconscious mind on what you don’t want, in this case ‘to fail at work’. The unconscious mind can’t process a negative. If I ask you to not think of a bright orange car, you have to think of a bright orange car, in order to not think of it. But the image is already in your mind, in order to not think of it, you need to positively think about anything else instead. By stating the goal in the positive you are focusing on the outcome you want.

3. When, where, how and with who do you want it? Not all of these will be relevant for all goals. Where they are relevant, include them; it all adds to the specificity. The most important thing is to put a deadline on when the goal will be achieved. The unconscious mind needs to know clearly when to create the outcome.

4. Is it stated in the present tense? I mentioned above that the unconscious mind doesn’t know the difference between something vividly imagined and something that actually happened. Stating the goal in present tense is ‘acting as if’ you have already achieved the goal. The unconscious mind will then seek to create the outcome in reality. An example would be ‘it’s the 30th of October 2015 and I have comfortably ran the London marathon in a time of four hours and thirty minutes.’

5. Is the responsibility for the outcome yours and yours alone? You must be able to start this goal and see it through to the end without relying on anyone else to do so. This doesn’t mean that you can’t work with other people or seek help from others, it means is that you have to take responsibility for all aspects of completing the goal. If you are working in a team and someone doesn’t complete their tasks, you have to either delegate them to someone else or do the work yourself. It is your goal; be fully responsible for achieving it, no matter what gets in the way.

6. Is the goal ethical? Does the achievement of your goal create positive ripples cross the environment and the people that it affects? Going after goals that are good for you but screw over others in the process are not ethical, and will likely mean you will come up against resistance in one form or another. Think about the impact you will have on the environment and those around you. By making some adjustments to your goal, you may induce the support of those your goal will impact, ultimately making it easier to achieve what you want.

7. Is it realistic? Aiming high is important to stretch you and, to be honest, there is very little we can’t achieve if we truly believe we can, and we keep going until we get it. However, setting a goal to be a professional football player at forty years of age just isn’t realistic for most people. This is also very personal to each individual, as what is realistic to you may not be for someone else. What is important is that the goal is realistic to you – do YOU really believe you can do it?

8. What price are you prepared to pay? Everything in life comes at a cost; what price are you prepared to pay to make this goal a reality? This could be a simple as making ten minutes available every day to meditate. Going through this goal setting process takes time and a fair bit of mental and emotional energy – is it a price you are prepared to pay to get what you want? Some goals may require you to pay a much greater price. Whatever the price is, rest assured that the universe’s books must always balance in the end. You will be rewarded according to the price you have had to pay, and the longer you have to wait for your reward the more interest you will accrue along the way; essentially, the bigger the price you pay, and the longer you have to wait for your reward, the greater the reward will eventually be. Ralph Waldon Emerson once wrote ‘That which you did not truly earn will not be yours to keep, that which you did truly earn will not be withheld.’ It is the same reason that most lottery winners ultimately spend their fortune and, in many cases, end up worse off than they were before receiving their bounty. They didn’t have the skills, knowledge, energy or understanding to make the money in the first place and therefore didn’t know how to keep it. Be clear about what you are prepared to pay. Or, forget about the goal; wanting something you’re not prepared to pay for is just a miserable form of mental torture.

9. What resources do you need to achieve it? Think about the resources you already have that you will need to employ. This could be time, money, equipment, or beliefs, attitudes, relationships, etc. Think broadly; you will probably be surprised how well equipped you are to make it happen. Also, consider which resources you don’t currently have but know you are going to need.

10. Have you, or have others, ever done this before? If you can find others that have already achieved what you want, find out from them how they did it. In NLP this is called modelling. In fact, NLP was created as a framework to understand how some people were achieving exellence where others were not.  The US military used modelling to learn how their best marksmen achieved their impressive scores. By finding out exactly what the top marksmen believed, and the mental processes they followed before taking a shot, they were able to reduce their small arms marksmenship training from six weeks to three days without detrimental effect to the pass rate. You can do the same thing; if you’re not able to access them directly, you can learn a lot about how a person thinks by reading books they have written.

11. For what purpose do you want this goal?

12. What will happen if you achieve it?

13. What won’t happen if you achieve it?

14. What will happen if you don’t achieve it?

15. What won’t happen if you don’t achieve it?

I appreciate this is quite a lot of work, however, going after poorly defined goals without fully considering why you want to achieve them, and what you’re prepared to pay to get them, is the reason so many goals remain just that. This process is designed to shake out the wheat from the chaff, and leave you with a deep understanding of what is important to you and why. It is understanding the ‘why’ that will cause you to overcome any ‘how’.

Creating A Goal Statement

Using the answers from the questions above for the first goal you are working on, write a goal statement. Make sure you make it as specific as possible including all the important details. State the goal positively, in the present tense, including a time period for attainment, and what you are prepared to pay to get it. Below is the goal statement I wrote before writing the book this process was written for; you could use this as a template and substitute in your own specific details:

‘It is the 1st of February 2014 and I have just published my first book about the subject of cyclehacking. Cyclehacking is the process of doing, learning and evolving as individuals to achieve our full potential. The book is intended to explore the reasons why we don’t always end up doing the things that matter most to us, and provide a practical framework to break these limiting cycles of thought and behaviour. It is based on the premise that by finding a big enough ‘why’ we can overcome any ‘how’, and, in doing so, find out what we are truly capable of. I published the book in ebook format and released it for sale via my blog, cyclehacker.com. The book is over 40,000 words long, containing everything I have learnt from studying the topic of personal development for over 15 years. The theoretical knowledge is enhanced with real world learnings and discoveries made through trial and error. Half of the money earned from sales of the book will help to raise money to build a school with the help of the charity Room to Read.’

‘To make this a reality, I stopped cycling around the world and spent three months writing in a hotel in Kargicak, Alanya. I fully committed to completing this project by harnessing a deep desire to solidify my ideas and raise money for Room to Read by announcing on my blog that the book would be released on, or before, the 16th of February 2014. I followed the principles and processes discussed in the book and fully committed to learn whatever else I needed to make it a reality. I fully believed, with every part of my being, that I would overcome all obstacles to publish on time. I could see it, hear it, feel it, taste it and touch it. I knew, by taking action, the universe would conspire to bring to my attention the people, resources and services I would need to make it come to pass.’

Making A Mental Picture

Once you have written you goal statement, focus on the day in the future you intend to achieve it, and create a picture of it in your mind. Close your eyes and imagine vividly what you will see, hear and feel when you achieve your goal. Step into the picture and view the scene through your own eyes, make the picture full colour and allow the warming feeling of success to radiate throughout your being. Hear the sounds you will hear and notice anyone else that is present. Step back out of the picture, seeing yourself in the picture and allow the picture to float out into your future to the date you will achieve it. Notice how the events between then and now align to make the achievement of your goal inevitable.

This may seem like a rather odd thing to do, and if it is the first time you have actively used your imagination in this way, it may have felt a bit weird. Read through the instructions a few times and familiarise yourself with what you need to do. The purpose of the exercise is to communicate to your unconscious mind exactly what you want, symbolically.

How To Actually Achieve Your Goals

Setting goals using this process is not going to make them happen automatically. No matter how much you believe in your ability to achieve your goal, no matter how vividly you imagine it becoming a reality, it won’t, unless you add the final and most important ingredient; action.

Achieving your goals is a process of taking tiny steps, one after the other, paying attention to the signs along the way, and adjusting your course until you arrive at your chosen destination. It is about creating the right cycles of thought and behaviour that make achieving your goals habitual.

It is about creating systems of doing, learning and evolving that will maintain the right attitudes, actions and behaviours necessary to take you where you want to go.

We are creatures of habit; next week I will share how to turn your goals into reality by creating the right habits.

If you found this post useful, I think you’re really going to enjoy the rest of my new book too. Join my newsletter (it’s totally FREE, you can unsubscribe anytime) and recieve a special launch discount only available to people on my list.

I have evolved this process over the years the following sources have provided inspiration along the way; Think And Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill, NLP, Timeline Therapy and Hypnosis Training from The Performance Partnership and meditation and life principles courses from Centerpointe Research.

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5 Responses to How To Set Goals (You Will Actually Achieve)

  1. Anne-Laure January 10, 2014 at 8:52 am #

    This is quite an interesting post.
    I especially like how you guide us step by step into defining our own goals. I’ll probably give it a go even if I’ve already defined what I’d like to achieve this year. I certainly wasn’t as thorough as you were in your process.

    • Fraser January 11, 2014 at 4:51 pm #

      Hi Anne-Laure

      It is a very thorough process, probably more thorough than necessary in some instances. I developed it when I was finding to difficult to achieve some of the goals I had been working on for sometime without success.

      When I digged into the detail I realised that I was aiming for the wrong goals!

      Now I just run through this to make sure I don’t waste time aiming for the wrong things.

      The important thing is to have very specific written goals with a date for completion that you act upon.Good luck with your goals for 2014

      Fraser

  2. Carley August 10, 2014 at 9:27 pm #

    Oh my goodness! Awesome article dude! Thanks, However I am encountering issues with your RSS.
    I don’t understand why I can’t subscribe to it. Is there anybody else having identical RSS problems?

    Anyone who knows the solution will you kindly respond? Thanks!!

  3. Fraser August 13, 2014 at 5:32 am #

    Thanks Carley,

    Others have mentioned this, and I will fix it.

    In the meantime you could ‘like’ my facebook page, follow me on Twitter, or add your email to my mailer, all of which will alert you when a new post goes live.

    Thanks again,

    Fraser

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  1. Turning Goals Into Habits - CycleHacker - Just a Little Cycle Around the World - January 16, 2014

    […] week we looked at how to set goals you will actually achieve by taking a detailed look at what you want to do, be, and have, in each […]

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