Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Successful People Aren’t Gifted. They Just Master Some Goal Setting Techniques

Many people think that IQ is the most important factor that determines if one would be successful or not. Researchers have found something different.

They did a 30-year study[1] on 1000 children and found that cognitive control is a more reliable predictor of success than IQ. Having better cognitive control means they have the ability to delay gratification in pursuit of their goals and to keep their focus.

What’s the implication? Successful people aren’t smarter than most people. They’re just better setting goals and achieving them

So how to set goals well? How to set them in a way that you won’t forget them so easily after a month or some years?

The ultimate guide to goal setting

Here are the steps:

Step 1. Don’t set small goals. Set long term goals FIRST

It’s so easy to set a long list of small goals like

“Visit Asia.”

“Learn to ski.”

“Find a new job.”

Human tends to seek for an easier path. And it feels good to write a long list even if you won’t be able to finish all the items.

However, life is short. When we just follow the flow and aim at nothing big, we’ll end up achieving nothing big too. Successful people start with long term goals first. They are ambitious and dare to set big goals and work towards it step by step.

Having long term goals forces us to look beyond today’s work. It helps keep us motivated, especially in the face of mundane, tedious, but necessary everyday tasks.

Long term goals are more concrete than dreams. There is a big difference between saying “Someday I will be an authority in brain research and possibly find a cure for a dreaded disease” and “By 2020 I will have my Master’s Degree in Neurologic Surgery from Johns Hopkins University and will find a job in brain research.” The first statement is a dream that has no firm basis in reality. The second statement is a long term goal that was derived from a dream to become a brain research expert, but it also includes a clear and tangible path on how to get there.

Step 2. Break down big goals into smaller ones

While long-term goals provide us with focus and direction, short term goals give us momentum.

After setting long term goals, setting short term goals is critical because they provide you with quick wins and allow you to experience lots of “little successes” on your way to the big success.

Let’s pretend that your long term goal is to run a chain of bed and breakfasts (B&B’s) on a beach–somewhere.

First you need to break it down into a slightly smaller goal like to open your first B&B in a specific location or area within five years.

To further break it, you could start by working at a local B&B and shadowing the owner for six months in order to learn the business.

If you don’t break it down, it can be overwhelming and many of us would end up just always thinking about the dream without taking any actions.

Step 3. Check if the goals are SMART enough

When setting goals (long or short), use the SMART framework[2]. This means that goals should be:


You should have a clear idea of what exactly you want to achieve. This helps you set your priorities right and not be sidetracked by things that don’t matter. It will also be easier for you to develop an action plan if you know what steps you should take in order to achieve your goal.

For example, ‘I want to be famous’ is not specific. A specific goal would be ‘I want to be a famous YouTuber. It helps you identify which direction to go, such as learning the video editing skills needed, so that you can stay focused on your goal.


You should also be specific about how much or how many you want to achieve. For example, if you want to be a famous YouTuber, gaining 1 million subscribers is a measurable goal. That way, at any time, you are able to tell how much progress you’ve made since you started, as well as how much more needs to be done. Having a concrete reminder of how far you’ve come pushes you to move forward.

Attainable (achievable)

Your goal here is to achieve a goal, and you can’t do it if your goal is impossible! An achievable goal should match your abilities and resources. If it involves something else that’s out of your control, then it probably isn’t achievable to you.

For example, if your goal is to become a famous YouTuber with 1 million subscribers, but you’ve never made a video before, you should ask yourself whether you will be able to learn all the skills you will need. If you feel you can’t, then your goal is not achievable.

Relevant (realistic, reasonable)

A relevant goal matters to you. It should fit in nicely with other aspects of your life. If you have to sacrifice many other things in order to achieve your goal, ask yourself: is it worth it? Will my effort be rewarded?

For example, if gaining 1 million subscribers on YouTube means you have to spend 10 hours a day in your bedroom editing videos, you may struggle to maintain your day job or relationships while getting enough sleep. If you’re not willing to make such sacrifices, then your goal is not relevant.

Time-based (timely, track-able)

A time-based goal has a specific deadline. You should also plan your milestones and the expected time to reach them. For example, your goal could be to reach 1 million subscribers on YouTube within 1 year, with a smaller goal of reaching 300,000 subscribers within the first 3 months. This helps you track your progress while working towards your goal.

Step 4. Re-evaluate your big goal every two years

Success is a dynamic process that requires constant readjustments and recalculations.

Re-evaluate your goals often (at least twice a year) to ensure that your goals fit the SMART framework and to ensure you are still on target[3].

Make adjustments to your plan and processes when necessary but always maintain a laser like focus on your goal and refuse to settle[4]. Interruptions and hiccups to the plan will occur, but you must push past those and keep yourself locked in on the prize.

Your goals dictate your actions and set your course. They provide you with a sense of purpose… and pretty soon you will have turned your dream into a reality.

Featured photo credit: OnInnovation via flickr.com


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