How to Set Goals vs. the Power of Now – How to Pursue Big Sexy Goals

April 20, 2016 | 15 minute read

Want to learn how to set goals? This guy:

“Realize deeply that the present moment is all you have. Make the NOW the primary focus of your life.” – Eckhart Tolle, from The Power of Now.

When was the last time you got stuck? I mean, at work, running your own business, pursuing a hobby, chasing the BIG THING, whatever. Was it recently, or maybe not so much?

Either way, I’m sure it felt great.

Wait … great isn’t the word … terrible – that’s the one.

Getting stuck really feels awful. You don’t know what to do next, you don’t know how to set goals (not to mention how to then reach those big goals), you even start questioning your credentials or worthiness.

“Am I good enough for this?” – you’re thinking.

So what is the cause of all those I’m-stuck moments?

Are we just really not good enough for all those big, sexy goals? Or maybe there’s something else… Maybe we need to learn how to set goals properly?

The power of now, and how to set goals

I’ll let another quote from Eckhart Tolle do the talking:

“Time isn’t precious at all, because it is an illusion. What you perceive as precious is not time but the one point that is out of time: the Now. That is precious indeed. The more you are focused on time – past and future – the more you miss the Now, the most precious thing there is.”

When you think about it, it’s hard to disagree with Tolle here. Yesterday is something you already lived through. Tomorrow is but a dream.

Besides, worrying about the future is turning out not to be the healthiest of things. Exhibit a:

“Scientists increasingly believe that cycles of uncontrollable worry or rumination may be an important mechanism underpinning a range of psychological disorders, such as depression, anxiety, eating disorders and substance abuse, and may even make them worse.”

All we have is now.

But knowing this doesn’t solve our problems. In fact, maybe it makes them harder…

Here’s what I mean. Your big goals are almost certainly more than you can achieve in the now. They span into the future and that makes them difficult to grasp. Difficult to achieve.

That long-term nature is what stops us from proceeding and taking action right now.

The complexity of our big goals is what gets us stuck because we can’t comprehend all the elements necessary to reach them.

That being said, please don’t get me wrong, I really think that your big goals are what drives you in life. It’s what makes you get up in the morning. It’s what makes you grow. So you certainly should have them. What I am saying, though, is that it’s worth to stop and reflect on the fact that not knowing how you’re going to get somewhere shouldn’t stop you from starting the journey.

It’s like Jack Canfield once said:

“Think of a car driving through the night. The headlights only go a hundred to two hundred feet forward, and you can make it all the way from California to New York driving through the dark, because all you have to see is the next two hundred feet.”

You don’t have to see the whole path in order to complete the journey.


How to set goals effectively?

The power of baby steps

There’s one mean trick that the media plays on us (okay, probably one of many tricks).

It’s the illusion of overnight success.

The illusion is that there’s no such thing.

Every overnight success takes thousands of nights to brew.

The public simply doesn’t see the hundreds of thousands of baby steps required to reach success.

Baby steps aren’t sexy. They’re too small to be sexy. There’re too many of them to be sexy. And they’re too little to be noticed.

“Adele’s ’25’ sells more than 4M in 10 days” – is a sexy, big “overnight” headline.

But realizing that she’s been singing since age 4 multiple hours a day – her baby steps – to reach her today’s status, is an entirely different side of the story. It gives the headline a whole new layer. Hard work – it is how she achieved her overnight stardom.

Success works the same for all of us.

So, how to make baby steps and big, sexy goals work together? Try this:

  • Decide what’s the smallest, simplest thing you can do that will take you closer to your big goal. Again, just decide what’s the next step for you. Don’t go further.
  • Make sure that this small step takes you forward, that it’s progress. Small, daily progress is what Teresa Amabile’s research points out as the most powerful motivator of them all. Progress gives you momentum. Effectively, going for small wins one by one, is going to bring you much closer to your goal than trying to do a couple of big strides.
  • Make that baby step. Then decide what’s the best next step from there.

That way, step by step, you’re going to get to your sexy goal.

Remember Canfield’s words. Don’t try to break down your main goal into a complete set of baby steps right out the gate. Don’t attempt to see the complete journey before you even make the first move. It will all come, just proceed one step at a time.

What if you fail a little along the way? Good! Here’s why:

The benefits of failure

It’s funny how we can grasp the importance of failure when it comes to the natural things in life, yet not when it comes to our careers or professional projects.

For instance, when a baby learns to walk, it’s clear that it’s going to fell down a lot. No baby ever has just gotten up and started walking.

Yet, with our careers we expect everything to go smoothly, everything to just fall into place perfectly, followed by a steady stream of dollars to our bank accounts.

How come?

This isn’t how things work. Failure is inevitable.

If what you want from life is anything more than a participation trophy, you need to fail before you can succeed.

“If you’ve never failed, you’ve never tried anything new.” – Albert Einstein once said.

And Einstein knew what he was talking about. Until the age of 4 he couldn’t even speak. His teachers were quite openly saying that he’s “not going to amount to much.” Speaking of confidence building for young Albert, right?

Yet, he did amount to much. Why? He was willing to fail. And a lot. And repeatedly.

How to learn from him?

  • Treat failure as a step on your way to something bigger. Just like a child falling down when trying to walk. Make it your secret to how to set goals.
  • Make failure a challenge. Try your luck and think of failure as a game. Ask yourself: “How many times can I fail before I succeed?” (You know World of Warcraft? Each failure is just leveling up.)
  • The more you fail, keep trying. And the more you try, the more you succeed.

Interestingly, our ability to deal with failures seems to be connected closely to how we perceive happiness. Failures in life will happen. It’s how you deal with them that makes you either happy or miserable. Bono brings up an interesting point on the topic:

“The happiest people are often those who have learned how to fail. They’ve learned how to pick themselves back up after being knocked down, reflect on the experience, grow from it, and soldier on.”

Be systematic

Being systematic is the last piece of this “how to set goals” puzzle. Whatever you’re chasing, you have to be willing to take all the steps necessary to get to the finish line.

And this can take time. Heck, if the goal is worthwhile, it will certainly take time. So be ready to put in the hours, and do at least one baby step every single day.

Make things manageable. Don’t force yourself to make extreme progress every day, but always aim at some gradual and noticeable improvement.

Bringing it all together, consider the following path. How to set goals and then go after them:

  1. Set just one big goal per area of life. Family, hobbies, career, health – each gets one big goal tops. Big goals are just … well, too big to have more than one and think realistically about achieving them.
  2. Take baby steps one by one. Focus on the now, and take the smallest action that you can that will bring you closer to your goal.
  3. Make failing a game. Take note of every failure on your way. See how many times you can level up.
  4. Be systematic. Take at least one baby step every day. (Important!)
  5. Celebrate every success. Even the smallest one. Celebrating success brings multiple benefits. Chief of which, it convinces us, and rightly so, that we’re making progress, which improves our morale and makes us even more effective.

Admit it … are you chasing more than one big sexy goal right now? How’s it playing out for you?

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