How to Achieve Any Goal with Success

This is part 1 of a 7-part series on how to achieve your goals with success.

Goal Achievement: Introduction

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What are some of your biggest goals in life? To lose weight? To earn a lot of money? To be in your dream career? To set up your business? To start a family?

For any of these goals, have you ever worked on it only to fail after a while?

Say you have a goal to lose weight and you resolve to shed 30 lbs. You start off strong, cutting the food you eat. You also start an exercise regime. Every day, you weigh yourself to track your progress. Within the first few days, you see a reduction in your weight. Rejoicing, you continue what you have been doing, but it seems that your actions are not effective anymore because your weight loss has plateaued. If anything, it has increased vs. your lowest weigh-in.

You become discouraged. You give up and binge, resigning that you can never achieve the goal because it is in your genes or you do not have the discipline. You bury your goal at the back of your mind. Predictably, you start to gain back all the weight you have lost, and more. This makes you more depressed and you start to eat more.

At some point, you receive another wake-up call to lose weight. You embark on the goal again, more determined than ever. However, past events repeat themselves and soon you are back where you started, if not in a worse place.

Does this pattern apply to any goal you have set out to achieve before? Being put in a loop of setting the goal and trying to achieve it, but never quite getting there? After a number of times, you feel despondent. You resign that you are not meant to achieve this goal and focus your energy elsewhere.

The Biggest Mistake Many People Make in Goal Achievement

Many people are guilty of approaching their goals in a random way. They set a few action steps, work furiously on these steps, and think that this is enough to get them to their goal.

While it may work for small goals, it does not work with big goals. For example, you may lose 5 lbs by eating less and exercising, but to lose more weight (like 20 lbs) and maintain that weight loss requires a strategy. You need to think about the obstacles you will face, how you plan to tackle them, and have a holistic way to tackle this goal.

Many people have a misconstrued notion of what it takes to achieve a goal. That’s because they only come in contact with the results people achieve. They are not involved with the thought processes and planning that go on behind the scenes.

Take a look at Olympic winners. They did not win their medals just by blindly training. There were many things that went on behind the scenes, such as coaching by the world’s best sports coaches, highly optimized diets, life coaching to put them in the right mindset, learning the right sports techniques, and more.

Steve Jobs did not bring Apple to success because he got lucky. It was through conscious strategizing and planning that allowed Apple to carve its niche in the previously monopolized market by Microsoft.

Great monuments like the Eiffel Tower and the Statue of Liberty were not built by slapping some concrete together. It starts with creating a vision of its ideal form (despite physical challenges), strategizing against environmental elements, precision in planning and execution, and reviewing and changing plan elements as needed.

Personally I am a very action-oriented person. I am a big fan of taking action quickly and seeing results, instead of wasting time thinking about how to achieve a goal. Quick action is great to get quick results.

But to succeed in a goal in the long term, you need a system.

Imagine you want to travel from Island A to Island B by sea. If they are 1 km away, you can probably get there by jumping headfirst into the water and swimming across. But if the islands are 1,000 km away, you need to start thinking about building a boat, getting food supplies, getting shelter from rain, etc. to tide you through the journey. You may want to invest the time to build a mini-yacht if needed. Without proper strategizing and planning, you would drown 30 minutes into the journey. The bigger the goal, the greater the need for a plan.

My Experience With My Goals

I have set and pursued many goals in my life. My general approach toward goal achievement up till my early 20s was to focus on the goal and hit at it with everything I got. My “plan” wasn’t really a plan as much as it was to identify my target, set aside time, and work on it full force. I thought achieving goals successfully was a matter of one’s desire and persistence.

Using this approach, I faced varying success depending on the goals. For goals like scoring good grades, they were attainable as long as I kept up with my classes and assignments. Other goals like earning money and building my graphic design business (I ran a freelance graphic design business when I was in university) were within my grasp too, as long as I kept going at them.

However, there were certain goals I had issues with. For example, weight loss. I was never overweight but thought it would be nice to be slimmer. For 5 years between my teens and early 20s, I kept working on the goal but would fail in the process. I tried all diets, from low carb to high protein to low fat to not eating. I tried counting calories and not counting calories. I tried different exercises and exercising frequencies, from exercising daily to not exercising at all.

Each time I worked on my weight loss goal, I would succeed at losing some weight in the first week. But it never lasted. After the first week, my weight would remain the same. It was a matter of weeks before I would return to my old eating habits, usually eating more because I felt deprived.

It was perplexing because I couldn’t fathom why I would be so successful with my other goals, but be stuck at a benign goal like losing weight. Why is this happening? It wasn’t because I didn’t want my goal enough. I was as passionate about losing weight as my other goals.

Maybe I’m not persistent enough, I thought. But this didn’t make sense. If I wasn’t persistent, I wouldn’t have spent 5 years of my life working on it (on and off). I thought something must be wrong in the way I was approaching the goal.

It was at the end of 2007 when I started to look around for ideas. I was still working in my brand management job then. In my day-to-day work, it was normal to work on and achieve massive business targets, like over $100 million in a project launch. If we are consistently able to achieve such huge results across every department and brand, and the company has obviously achieved great success in the past 100 years, isn’t there something to learn from this? I thought about how the company would reliably achieve these company goals, with obvious nuances across department/brand depending on the people involved. Then it struck me what I was lacking – a proper strategy to achieve my goal.

Strategy in Goal Achievement

I first studied strategy in business school. There, I learned about the role of strategy and how companies with the right strategies triumph in the long run. When I started working in brand management, I dived into a world of strategy. Every day, I would spend hours and hours in meetings with senior management, debating the best strategies to win big in the company’s businesses. We literally breathed and ate strategy.

When I thought about it, the company I was in was a Fortune 100 company, with over $60 billion in yearly revenue. If strategy has such a great impact in the business world, wouldn’t it make sense to apply it to our lives as well?

I started applying the principles at work to my weight loss goal. I set up a vision, identified the barriers I was facing, identified strategies to tackle the barriers, made plans, created a tracking sheet, among other steps. Within the first week, I could tell that things were different. I knew, with a deep sense of certainty, that I was going to succeed. Sure enough, a year later, I lost 13 lbs. I achieved the goal so easily that I wondered why I even struggled with it for so long.

This made me realize that as long as I use the same principles, I will see similar results. Which was what happened when I applied my framework to other goals, including my work performance at that same job, my personal development blog (the blog you’re reading now), and my coaching business.

Suddenly, goal achievement became much easier. The uncertainty that used to surround my goal pursuits withered away in the face of my strategy framework. It felt amazing, because I felt like I had uncovered the secret as to what make goals tick. While I still need to put in the work, the process of goal pursuit has turned into a predictable science rather than an abstract art.

Eventually, I distilled the key elements of what I was doing to help my clients face the same success. The result is a 4-step framework I call ESPER.

Continue on to Part 2: ESPER – My 5-Step Goal Achievement Framework

This is part 1 of a 7-part series on how to achieve your goals with success.

Image: Dartboard