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How to Achieve Your Goals and Dreams

It’s the last day of February! How are those New Year’s Resolutions going?

Around this time every year, most people look back at the goals they set on December 31st and beat themselves up because they know they’ve been slacking off.

By now, most people who made a vow to workout every day haven’t seen the inside of a gym in weeks.

Most people who claimed that they were going to transform their diet currently have a fridge stocked with shitty food.

Most people who committed to expanding their social circle are still hanging around the same people that they were last year.

In other words, the massive excitement that most people felt at the start of this year has evolved into rumination as their goals seem further and further out of reach.

Luckily, you have two things going for you. 

One, you’re about to read an in-depth article that will show you a step-by-step plan for how to achieve your goals and dreams. And second, we’re still only two months into 2021. There’s plenty of time to right the ship.

So if you’re feeling demotivated right now because 2021 hasn’t gone as planned, you’re in the right place. 

 

Where You Went Wrong With Goal Setting

Before we talk about how to achieve your goals and dreams for this year, it’s important to understand where you went wrong.

Let’s track this back to when you first sat down to do your yearly goal setting. 

It’s human nature to get excited when we set goals. We are hard-wired to experience positive emotions when we dream about the possibilities for our life. 

However, these positive emotions tend to backfire on us when it comes to goal setting. We feel excited and energized — and this heightened state causes us to set unrealistic targets that require boatloads of willpower and self-discipline to maintain.

When the time comes to actually act on these intentions, we often run into a massive wall of internal resistance that feels impossible to get through.

This is our biggest flaw when it comes to setting goals we assume that the level of motivation we feel when we set goals will be there when the time comes to actually act on those goals.

You know exactly what I’m talking about too! 

You sit down and make your plan to leave the 99% in the dust.

You tell yourself — I’m going to go on a 30-minute walk every morning

You go to bed excited and hopeful. You’re ready to start making progress towards your goals.

Once you wake up the next morning, it’s time for the moment of truth. You roll out of bed. You walk downstairs. And right as you are about to throw on your running shoes, what always seems to happen?

You just don’t feel like it.

That motivation you felt when you sat down and wrote out your plan to run every day has vanished. Instead of feeling motivated to take action, you feel yourself being pulled towards the status quo. 

It’s like there’s an invisible wall blocking you from doing the things that you know you need to do.

That invisible wall has a name —  it’s called resistance.

 

 

 

Why Do We Feel Internal Resistance?

Logically speaking, resistance doesn’t make sense. We feel motivated to change. We know we should change. So why do we feel resistance before doing the things we know we need to do?

The reason that internal resistance stops us from taking action is because one of the most powerful forces in the human body is the desire to act in a way that is consistent with who we’ve been in the past.

You may desperately want to change, but you’re hard-wired to fight it. That’s the straightforward answer as to why behavior change is so hard — it involves acting in direct conflict with the type of person we believe we are.

This is the harsh reality that we all wrestle with when it comes to the question of how to achieve your goals and dreams.

If you want to lose weight, but for the past five years you’ve eaten shitty food and haven’t seen the inside of a gym, setting a goal to lose 50 pounds isn’t going to change that. 

You have a new goal and a new plan, but you still haven’t changed who you are. That’s why you’re still going to feel resistance whenever you feel like you should go for a morning run.

Resistance is simply a product of the tug-of-war between who you are and who you want to become, and it’s one that we often lose because of the way our brains are wired.

 

The Power of One Degree of Change

Experts in air navigation have a rule of thumb known as the 1 in 60 rule. It states that for every one degree that a plane veers off course, it misses its target destination by one mile for every sixty miles that you fly.

This means that if you were to fly around the equator one degree off course, you would miss your target by 500 miles.

Learning how to achieve your goals and dreams starts with committing to tiny shifts in your daily behavior. It’s possible to make a complete 180 degree shift in a certain area of your life, it just won’t happen overnight.

Change is not an event, it’s an accumulation.

Think about how you got to where you are today. You didn’t make one choice, you made thousands. And each of them have contributed to the person you currently are.

At the start of this year, you probably decided that you were going to make some radical shifts in your life. But radical shifts invite massive internal resistance because you’re trying to act in direct conflict with your current identity. 

The key to overcoming resistance is to slowly build up evidence that you are a different kind of person.

Let me give you a practical example from my own life.

One of my three goals for 2021 was to deepen my personal relationships. Truthfully, work takes up a large chunk of my life. And sometimes, I find myself getting so caught up in the everyday hustle that my personal relationships don’t get the attention they deserve

In order to achieve this goal, I committed to Facetiming one of my friends every single day. 

This is what I like to call a Level 10 Habit which refers to a behavior you would maintain daily if you had unlimited willpower.

However, the key is that I didn’t start there. Because as we’ve just discussed, resistance will stop you from achieving your goals if you set unrealistic targets.

I decided to take things slow and commit to one degree of change. For the first week, this is what I committed to — Every day at 6 p.m, I will open up my phone and scroll through my contacts.

Notice how easy that is to do? Other than suddenly losing the use of my fingers, there would be no excuse to skip that action.

After one week, I decided to increase the difficulty. Instead of just opening up my phone and scrolling through my contacts, I had to open up my contacts and actively pick someone that I hadn’t spoken to in awhile. 

I didn’t have to send them a message or call them, but I had to pick someone and click on their contact.

  • During week three, every day I picked someone out of my contacts and started typing out a message to them. 
  • During weeks 4-6, I had to scroll through my contacts, and then actually send over a text.

When week seven came, it was time to actually perform my Level 10 Habit. This meant that I had to actually take out my phone, pick someone from contacts, and check in with them via FaceTime.

Want to guess how much internal resistance came up the first day I had to do this? Almost none.

Why? Because during the previous weeks I had been gradually committing to small shifts in my behavior. These small actions slowly built up evidence of a new identity in my brain– someone who checked in on their friends at the end of each day.

All of the sudden, the idea of picking up the phone and Facetiming someone in my social circle didn’t seem like a massive deviation from my identity. 

It was already fairly congruent with the type of person I’d been acting like in the past — this habit was simply continuing the trend

 

the power of one degree of change

 

How to Achieve Your Goals And Dreams: The Step-By-Step Blueprint

As promised, we’re now going to dive into a step-by-step plan that will show you exactly how to achieve your goals and dreams.

The previous sections were necessary because they highlighted the key concepts that will guide your plan for change. Your new plan for behavior change will focus on these four concepts

  • Implementation Intentions
  • Identity Based Change
  • Tiny Habits
  • Incremental Progress

After going through the rest of this article, you’ll have a clear blueprint for how to achieve your goals and dreams, no matter what they are.

This framework is meant to be versatile — you can apply it to whatever you want to achieve.

 

Step #1 – Set Identity Based Goals

When most people set goals, they say things like:

  • I’m gonna lose 50 pounds
  • I’m gonna sell $200,000 in revenue
  • I’m gonna reach $10,000/month

In other words, they set specific targets where the criteria for success is clear. Conventional wisdom says that this is the right way to spark change, but I disagree.

Here’s my main issue with setting goals that have specific targets attached to them —  these types of goals focus on the outcomes you want to achieve as opposed to the type of person you want to become.

If you place too much emphasis on the outcome, you lose sight of the real reason you are setting goals — your primary aim is to fundamentally change who you are.

The alternative to this is to focus on building identity-based habits. When it comes to how to achieve your goals and dreams, this is where you need to start.

Anyone can convince themselves to practice yoga or meditation once or twice, but if you don’t shift the belief behind the behavior, then it becomes hard to stick with long-term changes. 

Improvements are only temporary until they become part of who you are.

  • The goal is not to get straight A’s, the goal is to become a person who studies every day.
  • The goal is not to finish a painting, the goal is to become an artist.
  • The goal is not to win the game or competition, the goal is to become a person who practices every day.

The ultimate form of intrinsic motivation is when a habit becomes part of your identity.

It’s one thing to say “I’m the type of person who wants this. It’s something very different to say “I’m the type of person who is this.”

 

The Action Step:

Step #1 — Come up with an identity based habit that will help you meet your goals

Think about the type of person you want to become over the next 12 months by asking yourself these questions:

  • Who do I want to be?
  • Who is the type of person that can achieve the outcome I want?

If your goal is to lose weight, ask yourself — What would a healthy person do?

If your goal is to be more productive, ask yourself — What would a productive person do?

Once you’ve done that, you should get an answer that will allow you to choose a daily habit that aligns with that identity.

At this point, we’re good to move on to step 2.

 

Step #2 – Scale Down Your Habit 

Now that you’ve chosen a daily habit that aligns with the identity you’re trying to build, the next step is to scale that habit down to something you can actually stick with every day.

Habit experts and behavior change experts unanimously agree — setting unrealistic targets is a recipe for disaster.

If you set huge daily targets, this means that your motivation will need to be at peak levels to take action.

At the beginning, you may be able to get away with it. 

But as the initial motivation starts to fade, your daily target will start to feel like a struggle. And when this happens, the path of least resistance becomes more appetizing.

When you walk into a gym on January 3rd, it’s absolute chaos. 

But if you come back a month later, the chaos has faded and you see mostly regulars getting their workout in.

Why?

Because the other people ran out of motivation and regressed to the status quo.

The real reason why small habits work so well is that they attack your ego. No matter how lazy you are, small habits are so pathetically simple that you almost feel obligated to do them so that you wake up with a shred of dignity in the morning.

If you want to build long-term habits, you need to take motivation out of the equation. 

You need to make the habit so easy that you can’t say no.

 

The Action Step:

Step #2Scale down your daily habit to something too easy to skip out on

If you did step 1 correctly, the daily habits that you wrote down embody the identity you are trying to cultivate.

Let’s say you’re trying to lose weight. Some daily habits you might have written down were:

  • Walking
  • Running
  • Eating fruits/vegetables

Here’s what it would look like to scale these habits down to manageable difficulty:

  • Walking 30 minutes every day becomes walking 100 steps.
  • Running for 30 minutes every day becomes running for 2 minutes.
  • Eating 4 cups of fruits/vegetables per day becomes eating 5 carrots with lunch.

 

These habits may seem so tiny that you’re wondering how they will ever make a difference in your life.

Trust me, they will. Right now you’re simply laying a foundation for radical change.

 

ladder for how to achieve your goals and dreams

 

Step #3 – Create An Implementation Intention

 

A 2001 study focused on people who wanted to build an exercise habit. Subjects were divided into three groups:

  • Group 1 — These people were simply asked to track how often they worked out. 
  • Group 2 — The people in this group were asked to track their workouts and read material on the health benefits of exercise. Additionally, researchers gave the group a presentation on how exercise could reduce the risk of common heart diseases.
  • Group 3 — These subjects received the same presentation as those in group two. However, each member of the third group was asked to create a specific plan for when and where they were going to exercise over the following week.

Everyone in Group 3 completed the sentence — “During the next week, I will partake in at least 20 minutes of vigorous exercise on (DAY) at (TIME) in (PLACE).”

 Here’s what the researchers found after monitoring the 248 participants who were involved in the study:

  • In Groups 1 and 2, 35 to 38 percent of the people exercised at least once per week.
  •  In Group 3, 91 percent of the people exercised at least once per week.

The only difference between Group 3 and the other 2 groups? They created a specific plan involving when and where they were going to perform their new habit.

This sentence that members of Group 3 filled out is referred to as an implementation intention. An implementation intention is simply a specific plan of action for when and where you are going to perform your new habit.

The benefit of using implementation intentions is that you leverage the power of clarity.

It’s easy to say things like, “I’m going to go on a run today.” But if you don’t clarify when that behavior is going to take place, you’re going to be far less likely to take action. 

 

The Action Step:

Step #3 — Create an implementation intention for your new habit

You’ve got a sense of who you want to become. You’ve got a tiny habit that will help you become that person. Now, you need to get specific and come up with the “when” and “where” of your new behavior.

Here’s the sentence you’re going to fill out when creating your implementation intention:

“Every day at {TIME} in {PLACE}, I will perform {DESIRED HABIT}”

Here’s what it should look like:

  • Every day at 9 am in my kitchen, I will read for 2 minutes
  • Every day at 7 am, I will sit down at the dinner table and meditate for 60 seconds
  • Every day at 6 pm on my couch, I will send a check-in text to my friends.
  • Every day at 3 pm in my living room, I will drop down and do 5 pushups

Be practical. Genuinely think about pockets of the day where you’ll be able to perform your new habit and come up with a plan of action.

Then, move on to step 4.

 

Step #4 – Create a 90 Day Plan to Scale Up Your Habit

 

Small habits are fantastic for sparking long-term behavior change. But the truth is that at some point, you need to push yourself.

It’s great to start off writing 100 words per day, but if you stop there you’re limiting your potential.

It’s awesome if you start walking for two minutes every day, but if you do that each day it’s going to take a very, very long time to get the body you want.

As you start to solidify a habit into your life, you need to start challenging yourself as your beliefs about who you are start to shift.

Let’s take a look at how to make your small habit a springboard for bigger change.

 

The Action Step

Step #4 — Create a 90 day plan for scaling up your habit

First off, you don’t want to make the mistake of doing this too early. Don’t think that just because you’ve been doing something consistently for a week that you’re ready to go to the next level.

Before you even think about scaling up your habit, you need to go 30 days without missing a day.

Once you cross this 30 day mark, you now have permission to up the ante. What you’re going to do now is break your habit into three categories — Easy, Medium, and Hard. 

Take out a piece of paper and write down your small habit. That’s going to go into the easy category. Then, you’re going to think about what constitutes the next two levels and write down a target that corresponds to that difficulty. 

Here’s what it looks like in action:

 

Example #1: Walking

  • Easy – Walk for two minutes each day
  • Medium – Walk for five minutes each day
  • Hard – Walk for fifteen minutes each day

Example #2: Reading

  • Easy – Read one page of a self-improvement book each day
  • Medium –  Read five pages of a self-improvement book each day
  • Hard – Read ten pages of a self-improvement book each day

Example #3: Meditation

  • Easy – Meditate for 60 seconds each day
  • Medium – Meditate for three minutes each day
  • Hard – Meditate for ten minutes each day

Each phase is going to last 30 days. To start off with, you’ll perform the easy version of your habit for 30 days.

Then, you’ll spend the next 30 days performing the medium version of your habit.

To finish off the 90 day cycle, you’ll attempt the hard version of your habit for the remaining 30 days.

 

Step #5 – Repeat Steps 1-4 Until You Are a Completely Different Person

Once you’ve made it 90 days with your new habit, your next mission is simple.

You’re simply going to choose another habit that aligns with your desired identity and go through the same process. 

You can repeat the 4-step framework I just outlined for any new behavior than you want to develop. After 12 months, you’ll have solidified 4 new habits into your life that are consistent with your desired identity.

Just to recap the framework for how to achieve your goals and dreams:

  • Step 1 – Come up with an identity based habit that will help you meet your goals
  • Step 2 – Scale down your daily habit to something too easy to skip out on
  • Step 3 – Create an implementation intention for your new habit
  • Step 4 – Create a 90 day plan for scaling up your habit
  • Step 5 – Repeat steps 1-4 for any new habit that you want to develop

 

Final Note

I hope you found this article on how to achieve your goals and dreams valuable.

Here’s the main thing you need to realize when it comes to changing your identity — it’s a marathon, not a sprint. 

There’s a reason why marathon runners don’t get off the blocks and start sprinting. They know that pushing themselves too hard in the early stages of the race is a fool’s gambit, as they won’t have enough left in the tank for when it matters.

If you feel like the goals you set at the beginning of the year are starting to slip away, the worst thing you can do is give up. 

Start fresh. Re-adjust. Refocus. 

Commit to one degree of change and set yourself up for success by starting small and then slowly building up evidence of a new identity. 

Bit by bit. Day by day. Habit by habit.

Your identity is malleable. No matter what you’ve done up to this point, you have the power to fundamentally change who you are if you have the humility to set the bar low enough.

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