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Why people are not achieving their goals and how to change it

Motivation and system are essential
Vladimír Záhradník
June 13th, 2020 · 11 min read

Do you ride a bicycle? I just started again recently. One day my brother and I decided not to go to our parents in the countryside by car, but by bicycle. While we were in town, we enjoyed it. We drove on reserved bike paths, a nice wind was blowing, we didn’t rush anywhere, and the journey passed quickly. However, when we left the city, suddenly everything changed. Dozens of cars passed by us at a fast pace, gasoline could be smelled everywhere, the cars were radiating heat, and the adrenaline was rising sharply.

Then we encountered the first hill. I shifted the lightest gear and slowly started to climb. The hill was pretty small, but I lacked practice. It was tough for me. Then the coveted straight came, and I was finally able to rest. Then suddenly, we come to the most feared hill on our route — Župčiansky hill. When I looked up, I could hardly see the end. But there was no avoiding it. So I shifted the gear again and slowly climbed.

However, the hill still seemed to have no end. My brother managed to reach it, but I had to stop. I walked for a while and then tried to get on the bike again. However, after walking another 300-400 meters, I had to sit down again. I was demotivated and exhausted. I saw the mountain and admirably thought about the cyclists crossing the Pyrenees on the Tour de France. It took a while, but I finally reached the top and finished the journey in about two and a half hours. Sweaty and tired, but happy to have it over with.

About a week ago, I watched a video on how to manage hills on a bicycle. Do you know what the key is? Don’t look at the top of the hill that seems to be infinitely distant. Instead, divide the hill into sections. Look ahead and find a point of contact, such as the nearest bend. When you get to it, find another section. This way, you keep moving forward, and your psyche suffers much less.

Pyrenees
Pyrenees. Image by armennano from Pixabay

Do you know why New Year’s resolutions don’t work? Because people set big, often unrealistic goals. And since they don’t know how to reach them, they give up quickly. The big goal is like the hill. To overcome it, you first need to divide it into smaller sections — achievable tasks. Then suddenly, you don’t even know how and you’re at the top.

Even worse than setting an unrealistic goal is having none. I have many friends in my area who don’t know what they want and stagnate in one spot.

One of them, let’s call him Peter, comes from a well-off family. Peter used to meet his friend Martin once a week or two. They ordered a coffee and discussed what obstacles they see on their path to personal growth. They invited me once. As I listened to them, it occurred to me that it was just a never-ending coffee debate that was going nowhere. None of them had a specific, measurable goal that they’d want to reach. Thus, when they asked me for my opinion, I thanked them for the invitation and said that such debates are not for me. I did not mention that I considered it a waste of time. After all, if the meeting gives them anything, let them continue in peace. However, I know exactly where I am going, and such encounters are holding me back.

I meet Peter regularly, and I feel that he is no longer even trying to get out of his comfort zone. He’s financially secure, doesn’t have a knife under his throat, and spends his time meditating on what he really wants. Sometime in August last year, he decided to stop working for a family business and permanently move to Bratislava, where he would find a job. It is June; he is still in Košice and looking for a job.

My second friend, let’s call her Monika, studied artificial intelligence at a local university, works in IT, and her great hobby includes baking pies. Like Peter, she doesn’t know what she wants yet. However, I see a huge effort on her to find out. She is constantly attending several meetups, workshops, and training sessions. She recently started writing a blog, and I see that she is not afraid to experiment. In the meantime, she has decided to improve her practical knowledge of social networks, which will help her no matter what she chooses to do. However, if she attends meetups focused on both artificial intelligence and baking, her progress is much slower. Such a meetup lasts at least two hours. She could use that time to learn some baking techniques instead. I wish her to make a decision soon and reach her goal.

The destination is not important. It’s the journey that leads us to it.

I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t want just to wake up one day as a millionaire and suddenly have all my goals met. I want to build success gradually. That journey is what I enjoy. It’s like a video game. One that has no end and only our skill determines how far we get.

People often tell me they admire me when they see the clear goal that I have. But two years ago, I was where Monika was. I went to work, and in the evenings, I went to meetups focused on software development, artificial intelligence, user interface design, embedded system development, marketing, and much more. It was time-consuming, but I knew one thing: it is better to spend some time in the same spot to find yourself than blindly going the wrong way and realizing it later. On the other hand, looking too long, as Peter does, is another bad extreme.

In my case, I took the time to think for about half a year. My problem is that whatever I get into, I’m good enough to make a living from it. That makes my options even greater. I enjoy programming, but eventually, I found out I also enjoy writing, creating videos, or managing people. At the same time, I have not specialized in anything in those years. I want to make the best use of my comprehensive knowledge of many industries. Logically I concluded that a job where I use all my knowledge does not exist, and I have to create it.

I’ve been following startups for a long time, but I didn’t think I’d start one myself. But that’s where I see the opportunity to use all my talent. Especially in the beginning, when there are few people in the team, the whole project’s success depends on the founders. So when I finally decided I wanted to have a startup, I already had my long-term goal. And everything else is already aimed at materializing my goal.

How do you set your long-term goals?

I can’t advise you completely, but the first thing is to slow down and think about yourself. Take a pen and paper, turn off your phone, computer, and write down what comes to mind. What do you like to do? Do you have something you want to be famous for? Just write and mainly think… You don’t have to write your goals in one sitting. Take your time. I worked on mine for several weeks.

The following are some of my long-term goals (longer than five years). Note that many are still relatively abstract and do not have a deadline:

  • Be financially independent. Have enough money, so I don’t have to think about how much I spend
  • Diversify income streams and not be dependent on just one source
  • Establish at least one successful open-source project
  • Do what I enjoy without compromising
  • Learn to play the piano

However, once you have goals set in this way and you know where you want to go, it will help you set medium-term (2-5 years) and short-term goals (less than a year) and break them into even smaller ones. Note that while the medium-term objectives are still abstract, the short-term objectives are already specific and measurable. At the same time, I also divide all goals into areas such as work, finance, or hobbies. Let’s take a look at some of them.

Medium-term goals:

  • Be able to do market research and put together a solid business plan
  • Build a network of contacts, primarily through social media
  • Learn to read quickly and techniques to improve memory
  • Find a mentor (for software development / personal growth)

Short-term goals:

  • Read at least one high-quality book per month about business and marketing
  • By the end of 2020, have at least 500 subscribers on the Medium platform
  • Contribute to any open-source project with at least one feature/bugfix per week
  • By the end of September, learn the basics of ReactJS and JavaScript

These goals of mine are not carved in stone. I keep updating them according to the circumstances. For example, if I find that I have good enough reading skills, I can read not one book a month about marketing, but up to five. At the same time, other things may take longer than you thought. It is important always to have a plan and keep it up to date.

How to start meeting goals?

The difference from general goals, such as wanting to lose weight, is that these come from within you. Therefore, you have the motivation to fulfill them. Ever since I set my goals, I don’t need any time management techniques to get myself to work. I work on my goals naturally because I already have a vision of where I am going.

I divide my short-term goals into tasks that I perform regularly and check them about once a month. If you know the Kanban board, you know what I mean. I used to look at people who use the Kanban spreadsheet for personal planning with astonishment, but I must admit that it is an effective technique. Once a month, you drop in tasks and move them between the “To Do”, “In progress”, and “Done” columns. At first glance, you know how your tasks are progressing, and that’s the key — to have the information all in one place.

Kanban board
Kanban table with my tasks

It worked very well for me when I divided these tasks into several areas and thus reserved a time window in my calendar. So, for example, between eight and ten in the evening, I write. Although I do not manage to complete all the tasks every day, I actively try to make progress. I also get notifications from the calendar, so it constantly reminds me of what’s on the list.

I like to compare fulfilling goals to one scene from the movie Apollo 13. As the crew of the failed mission approached Earth, they had to make a path correction. And since the computer was turned off, the maneuver was done manually.

Apollo 13: manual burn

The Earth was their target, which they saw in their window, and they turned on the engines for one minute. Their ship shook in all directions, but they did not lose sight of their target. In the end, as we know, they landed successfully. I would liken the ship’s deflection to the sides to meeting short-term goals. However, you are still approaching your “Earth,” and when you look back after a year, you will see how far you have come. I see it in myself.

And what if I don’t have time?

I listen to this excuse often. People tell me they don’t have time, and then I see them go somewhere to have fun or watch Netflix every day. Feel free to analyze and divide your activities during the day into two groups — things that bring you closer to the goal and the others. I guarantee you that everyone has a lot of activities that they can limit. I’m not saying quit completely because the right balance between work and play is important.

Clock
Image by obpia30 from Pixabay

When the COVID crisis came, I subscribed to Netflix and realized there was some very good content. I watched a documentary about Formula One, later another about cycling, then a Finnish crime show. In the end, I realized that I spent too much time watching TV and that my progress was stagnating. I knew that if I had Netflix activated, it would constantly entice me, so I canceled it. I may activate it again as a reward in half a year for one month and then cancel it again.

I also learned to say no. My acquaintances often invite me to various events, and sometimes I visit some of them. Still, as I mentioned above, I put them in a box. Will attending an event move me closer to my goal? Or, on the contrary, will it remove me from the goal by taking the time I could spend on studying and working on my vision?

I have already found out firsthand that the statements of the famous have much in common. Success in anything will not fall from the sky. Almost everyone had to work hard for it. I decided to give it a try and put everything into it. I will reevaluate this in five years, but I already know that I would regret not going for it.

It’s time to work, and it’s time to rest

Yes, you read that correctly. If you cut off all the entertainment now, you would work very efficiently, but you would be in danger of burning out. Meeting long-term goals is a marathon. It would help if you found a reasonable balance between moving forward and relaxing.

If you overdo it with rest, you will procrastinate and see no progress after a month. On the other hand, I know from personal experience that if I work full time, it will only last me two or three days. I also need to take a break sometimes.

I highly recommend walking outside. The brain works strangely. Both cerebral hemispheres engage when you walk, and their increased activity engages your logical and creative side together. I came up with many ideas during running or walking when I wasn’t distracted by anything. Sometimes you should try to listen to the inner voice in your head.

Building a sustainable system

Starting to work systematically on your goals requires preparation. It is not enough to know about them. You must also realize them. In other words, you need to create a routine where you will find working on them as something natural.

We know from studies that it takes at least 60 days to build a habit. The first days are the hardest. You have to force yourself to work. I confess, sometimes I succumb and say to myself that I am packing it in for today. But the next day, I try again. Try to get inspired by professional athletes. Their preparation for the Olympic Games begins the day after the last ones. They work hard for almost four years, just for a few minutes in front of millions of viewers.

Maintain discipline and focus more on completing tasks than on meeting a specific deadline. It has happened several times that I did not meet the deadline, but I nevertheless continued and set a new one. Sometimes it turns out that you need to solve certain tasks with a higher priority, so focus on them for those few days. Don’t be afraid to prioritize. Just keep at it, and over time, these things will seem more natural to you.

Carrot and stick

Since prehistoric times, we have become accustomed to the fact that after hard work comes a sweet reward. However, I would like to warn you that you must be mentally prepared that the reward will not come for a long time. For the first year or two, you will feel that everything you do is pointless. Your sweet reward is not coming. And it is at this point that the successful ones differ from the average ones.

Everyone eventually reaches the limits of their abilities. If you give up at this point, you will forever remain average. But if you persevere, gradually and slowly, you will begin to push this boundary further. Over time, success will come.

The mental setting is half the battle

I’ve been actively blogging for about a year. This is my twenty-second article. Almost no one read my first articles, but I didn’t give up. I found out how writing helps me form ideas on various topics and improve my English.

Sometime around Christmas last year, I wrote a post about why it makes sense to focus on the niche market. Suddenly, I achieved my first success. This article flew high above others in reading. Enthusiastically, I continued to write, but again almost no one noticed the other articles. Well, as you can see, I keep trying. Mentally prepare for the fact that success may not come for a long time, but still persevere.

Woman on mountain
Image by StockSnap from Pixabay

So, do you already know what you want to do in life? Are you still afraid to step out of the shadows?

It’s simple: find out your inner goals. They motivate you to overcome obstacles. Develop a system and start doing tasks that will bring you closer to your goals. I gave you the tools and told you how to use them. By the way, do you know what happens when you get to the top of your goal? You will look around and see the surrounding hills to which you can go. The paths lead in all directions, and it is up to you to choose. I wish you much success.

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