It’s crazy, but it’s already January 2017. It feels like just yesterday that I was writing my wrap-up of my 2015 achievements, and here I am now, thinking about doing the same for 2016.
I’ve had an incredible year. As I’ve talked about in other posts and in my emails, shifting my mindset to begin planning in 90-day chunks helped me go from $200K in 2015 to over $600K in 2016, and I’m going to be doing even bigger and better things in 2017.
One of the questions I always ask myself at the end of the year is, “Am I where I want to be in my personal and professional life?”
Don’t feel bad if your answer is “NO!” According to some estimates, just 8% of people achieve the New Year’s resolutions they set for themselves.
Considering how motivated we all are at the start of a new year, that’s a pretty discouraging number!
If you’re among the other 92% of people who can’t get their businesses where they want them to be, or who have trouble getting in awesome shape, stick with me. I’m going to give you the strategies you need to make 2017 your best year ever. Here’s how to make 2017 a year of action by setting goals you’ll really follow through on:
Take a Hard Look at 2016
One of the things I’ve learned over time is that, if you want to set good goals, you need to know where you’re starting from.
Imagine you’re a basketball player and you want to increase your free throw percentage (I’m borrowing a sports metaphor here from my friend and mentor Todd Herman, the genius behind the 90 Day Year program that changed my life).
You could set your goal to be something like, “I want to make more free throws.” Ok, well, what is more for you? How will you know if you’ve reached your goal if you don’t know where you’re starting from?
Even if you get more specific with your goals, you still need to have a starting point. Take the “SMART” goal of “I want to increase my free throw percentage by 5% in 2017.” (It’s “SMART” because it’s specific, measurable, actionable, realistic and time-related — see more on this below.) But even here, you need to know where you were in 2016 so you can figure out how to grow.
Another reason why knowing your starting point is so important is that the strategies you choose to reach your goals – and I’ll talk about strategies more in a bit – have to depend on where you’re starting from.
Take two players, one with an average free throw percentage of 50%, and one with an average of 75% (just about the average for most NBA players). Improving 5% over an existing average of 75% is going be a lot harder than starting from 50%. You’re going to need different strategies and a different mindset to achieve that goal.
But again, I’ll talk more about strategies in a bit. For now, I want you to focus on getting very clear about where you’re starting from – including the good, the bad, and the ugly.
Ask yourself the following questions to get started:
- Did I set any goals for 2016?
- Did I meet those goals in 2016?
- If so, what are the biggest factors I feel contributed to my success?
- If not, what got in my way?
- How do I feel about my progress in 2016?
- What did I do well in 2016?
- What could I have done better in 2016?
- What parts of myself am I unhappy with as I look to 2017?
This isn’t something you can do while you’re in denial. You need to be very honest with yourself, even when the answers you come up with aren’t ones you want to admit — even to yourself.
As you build your list, start attaching real numbers to as many of your answers as you can.
For instance, say you hoped 2016 would be your first six-figure year, but you fell short. How far short did you fall? Don’t just say you missed your goal – say, “I hoped to make $100,000 in 2016, but I only made $88,978 and I added $9,916 in debt.”
If you were trying to lose weight, but failed, step on the scale and get realistic about the damage. Saying, “I didn’t lose as much weight as I wanted,” doesn’t help nearly as much as saying, “I lost 16 pounds, instead of the 50 I’d hoped to lose.” It gives you a foundation you can build on.
I’m not going to harp on this too much, but please put some time into the process. Have a good understanding of what went right and wrong in 2017 before you move on to the next step.
Learn How to Set Good Goals
I’m going to get into the specific process I use to set goals later in this section, but first let’s cover some goal-setting approaches that DON’T work.
Maybe you’ve heard some of these acronyms before:
- SMART – specific, measurable, actionable, realistic and time-related
- BHAG – big, hairy, audacious goal
There are plenty of others out there, you get the picture. The idea is, rather than setting vague goals, you build them according to the characteristics described by the acronym you’ve chosen.
Planning goals this way is ALL wrong.
In November 2015, I had the chance to sit down with Todd Herman and talk goal-setting. You should definitely watch the entire interview on YouTube, but I want to highlight some of our conversation on goal achievement here.
According to Todd, a goal is about more than just sitting down and writing out what you want to achieve. I think you’ll understand his point if you’ve ever set – and failed to reach – a goal before.
You sit down at your desk and say, “I’m going to get in great shape in the new year.” You may even write out a plan for yourself – you’re going follow a certain diet, sign up for a new gym or get all the sweets out of your house.
And then, a week later, when you see a cookie, BOOM – you’re off your eating plan.
What Todd teaches his clients and students to do differently is to make plans and develop systems that make reaching your goals virtually inevitable.
I love that!
It’s a major mindset shift, but when you do it, you find that you don’t have the same stress or fear associated with your goal as you did when you knew there was still the possibility (maybe a 92% chance?) you might not achieve it.
To get to the place where you’re able to make these plans and feel that inevitability, Todd breaks his routine-creating process down into three levels:
- Imagine the top of a pyramid that’s been divided into three tiers. The top tier is your outcome – it’s the place you want to get to. You have to have a real, tangible idea of what that summit looks like for you so you can figure out how to reach it.
- The second tier is where you plan out the strategies you’re going to use to reach the outcome you’ve set for yourself. Here, you’re starting to think about, “What actions do I need to take to move the needle towards my goal?”
- The bottom tier is the process. It’s figuring out, “OK, I’ve set the strategies I’ll use, now what tasks and to-do items do I need to put on my calendar to make sure I’m actually acting on my chosen strategies?”
Let me give you an example…
Say you’re an online entrepreneur like me. You want to grow your business, so you set your outcome goal – your top tier goal – to be something like, “I want to 10X my revenue this year.”
That’s great, but without strategies and processes, it’s meaningless. You’re never going to get there by wishful thinking alone.
So instead, you break your goal down into strategies you can put in place. Maybe you know from the past that your biggest surge of leads and customers come from producing or participating in virtual summits (I told you they work!).
From there, you create a strategy based on achieving milestones that move you closer to your outcome goal. You might, for example, decide to aim to participate in three summits as a speaker in the first quarter of the year, which you’ll do by reaching out to other people in your industry and offering to speak at their events.
Todd says this is the toughest part of the process for many people. Thinking strategically about our own life and behaviors might not be easy, so it’s understandable if you seem to draw a blank whenever you think about how to break down your own goals.
Here’s one tip I learned the hard way: Start somewhere, but not EVERYWHERE.
Don’t try to do every strategy you can think of at once. Pick the one that appeals to you most and that seems to have the highest possibility of success, and focus on it exclusively for at least a month.
If the strategy you’ve chosen doesn’t move the needle, you can always try a different one. You haven’t failed if this happens – you’ve actually added to your knowledge of the strategies that work for you and how to execute strategies in your life.
That knowledge is actually WAY more powerful than most people realize.
So that’s the strategy section, but now you need to put it into practice. You have to figure out when you’re going to do the actual work of the strategies you’ve chosen, and what exactly you’re going to do.
Following the example above, you might commit to something like, “Every Monday morning, I’m going to reach out to 5 new people in my industry.”
Break it down, make a plan and get specific so that your success really does become inevitable.
I know this system works because I used it to reach my own goals in 2016.
In 2015, I did a high five-figure launch, but in 2016, I wanted to do not just one six-figure launch, but multiple six-figure launches.
I still want to be even better about setting up systems – something Todd teaches about – in 2017, but I already know how to do it, because I know this process works for me.
Build Your Habits
As I’ve been studying personal achievement, I’ve noticed that a lot of people who talk about goal setting don’t really talk about goals at all. They talk about habits, and about making ongoing, continuous improvement a part of your everyday life.
Author James Clear, for example, focuses not on setting goals, but on developing methods to achieve them.
According to James, it’s not about setting a finite goal to be achieved by a specific date. Instead, success comes down to regularly practicing what we want to develop, and trusting that the long-term, cumulative effect of ongoing work will be far better than the feelings of failure created when we fail to meet set goals.
Tony Robbins is another motivational expert who falls into this category. Although he does describe his methods as “goal setting,” he sees the habits involved in getting there as being just as important.
In Awaken the Giant Within, Tony shares:
“If you back your goals up with a solid commitment to CANI!, to constant and never–ending improvement of each of these areas, then you’re sure to make progress daily.”
Goals alone aren’t enough. Do like Tony does and commit to consistent, incremental progress towards your dreams.
Make Your Goals Real
What I’ve covered above is just the tip of the iceberg of what Todd covers in his 90 Day Year course. I also want to share a few other strategies for goal achievement and success that I’ve picked up from my own experiences and from other teachers.
One of these comes from Tim Ferriss’s Four Hour Work Week, and it involves making your goals feel so real to you that you’ll stay motivated enough to achieve them.
In his book, Tim touches on this in two different ways. The first is in his discussion of “realistic” versus “unrealistic” goals. Tim writes:
“If the potential payoff is mediocre or average, so is your effort. I’ll run through walls to get a catamaran trip through the Greek islands, but I might not change my brand of cereal for a weekend trip through Columbus, Ohio.”
It isn’t necessary that your goals have to be big and unrealistic (though that might be your thing).
Instead, what I hear him saying is:
- You have to actually care about the goal you’re striving towards
- It has to be so real in your mind that you’ll be willing to do whatever it takes to get it done
If you set a goal because you think it’s something you should do – not that you actually want to do – you’re never going to be able to sustain the motivation to get there.
At the same time, if your goal is too vague, it’s never going to motivate you to greatness. You have to really feel, deep in your bones, that your goal matters, and you have to know what it means to you – not your spouse, parents, boss, or coach.
If your goal is to earn a million dollars, but you’ve got $0.50 in the bank, it can be tough to make that goal real enough to motivate you.
So instead of just visualizing seven figures in your bank account, imagine how you’ll feel to finally have financial security; to confidently walk into an electronics store and buy that flat-screen TV you want, or that you can test-drive the car of your dreams and know that you can buy it on the spot.
This ties into something else I’ve learned from Todd Herman: the importance of digging deep into your “why.”
Ask yourself why you want to achieve something until you’re able to reach the root of what motivates you. That’s what’s going to help keep you going when things get tough.
Tim also writes about the concept of “dreamlining,” where you imagine the specific things you want to have and do, and then research what they’ll cost.
When I was growing up, one of my goals was to do a real “College Spring Break” with my best friends. I got to achieve that goal back in 2013, but if that was still on my radar, Tim’s advice would have me figure out the cost of each component to better understand what I’d need to do to achieve it.
Maybe my flight into Panama City, Florida would cost $1,000, and maybe my hotel fees would be $250 a night over five nights. If I wanted to budget $100 a day for food and drinks, my total cost would be $2,750.
If I broke that up across a six-month dreamline, I’d know I needed to earn an extra $459 per month to achieve my goal. Then, rather than trying to figure out how to bring this massive goal to life, all I’d have to worry about was making that extra few hundred a month.
Dreamlining can work with time, too. If you’re facing a massive project, breaking it down into smaller steps makes the entire thing seem infinitely more doable.
Prepare for Roadblocks
Productivity experts go back and forth about the importance of motivation in goal achievement. Some say it’s too unpredictable to rely upon, while others say it’s something you can build – like a muscle.
Personally, I love what Ramit Sethi has to say on the subject: your motivation is going to be short-lived, so you might as well ride the wave.
According to Ramit, “‘Motivational waves’ are those moments where we feel really inspired to take action on a list of to-dos (remember the last time you cleaned your whole house? That’s a motivational wave.)”
The key, in his perspective, is to recognize that when you’re riding a motivational wave, and then take advantage of that spurt of energy and enthusiasm. A motivational wave is the best time to lay out what you need to do to achieve a goal you’re thinking about and put systems in place to make sure you follow through.
For example, you’re out with your friends on New Year’s Eve, and you’re all dedicated to getting in the best shape of your life in 2017.
One friend suggests you all undertake the “Whole 30” challenge starting Jan. 1, and everyone agrees. Then another friend says, “Let’s do a marathon in March!” And because you are all pumped on excitement and adrenalin, you pull out your phones right then and there and sign up for the first marathon you can find in March.
Then you all make a pact to meet at the track to do speed work every Tuesday and Thursday mornings.
That’s “riding the wave!”
In my experience, you have to go one step further. You WILL struggle at times to stick with the systems you create for yourself. And you need to have a plan for when those things happen.
One of the best ways to get ready for future roadblocks is to be a bit pessimistic.
You know that inner voice you have in your head – the one that’s always criticizing you and telling you you’re going to fail? Now’s the time to put that voice to work.
Look at the goal you’ve set and let your inner critic run wild. Write down everything the voice tells you about why you’re going to fail.
Keeping with Ramit’s fitness example, you might come up with something like the following:
- “You always register for a gym membership, but you never wind up going.”
- “You hate vegetables. You’re never going to be able to stick to a diet.”
- “You don’t have any willpower. Whenever you get stressed at work, you eat extra dessert.”
You can probably keep going a lot longer than that, but this is enough to get us started. What we’re going to do now is make a plan for handling these roadblocks when they inevitably appear.
“You always register for a gym membership, but you never wind up going.”
Okay, so if, based on past performance, we know that going to the gym doesn’t work, we can choose to do something different.
Maybe that means doing something active that doesn’t take place in a gym – biking outside or taking a kickboxing class with a friend.
Was it the specific gym that you went to that caused the problem? If so, look for other options in your area.
Or maybe the problem was that the gym you chose was too far out of your way and getting there didn’t fit in your schedule. Identifying the problem shows you that you need to find something closer to your home or office.
Go through this with all the examples above – and with whatever roadblocks you expect to hit, relative to your goals.
If vegetables are a problem, try new ones. Try new recipes. Look for opportunities to hide them in other meals.
If you’ve got a fast food habit you can’t seem to break, try a new route home from work that takes you away from the restaurants you crave. Put on music in the car to distract yourself. Keep gum on hand so that your mouth is full as you drive past.
The sad reality is – no matter what goals you’re tackling or how motivated you are – you’re always going to face roadblocks. Life happens. Be prepared by having a plan in place so they don’t derail you from your ultimate goals.
Tie It All Together
So, at this point, we’ve covered a lot of different goal-setting methodologies, from Todd Herman’s 90 Day Year, to advice given by productivity greats like Tony Robbins and Tim Ferriss.
I wouldn’t blame you if you hit this point in the article and found yourself wondering, “Jeez, Navid, that all sounds great – but where do I start??”
I’ve thrown a lot at you! But I want you to walk away from this with something you can actually use, I’m going to wrap things up by pulling all of these different strategies together into one cohesive goal-achievement framework.
As you’re reading the strategy below, remember that this is just one of many possible combinations. Pick and choose the advice that works for you and start there. But if you’re feeling lost, the process below will help you tie together the best of all worlds when it comes to setting and achieving goals.
Step #1 – Identify where you are
Use my process above for quantifying what you achieved in the past year, including your wins and where you’ve fallen short.
EX: “In 2015, my goal was to have one six-figure launch. Instead, my only launch did $55,615 in sales.”
Step #2 – Figure out your why
Take a tip from both Tim Ferriss and Todd Herman and spend time understanding what you want to achieve and why. Get very specific, and make your vision very real in your mind. This becomes the “outcome” goal in Todd’s three-tier approach.
EX: “I want to have a six-figure launch because doing so will help me pay off my bills and provide for my family. I’ll feel happier and more confident in myself knowing that I can give them the best things in life.”
(If that doesn’t feel sufficiently motivating, you can go way, WAY deeper than that… maybe getting into proving to some people from your past that you CAN be a success, or giving your family the childhood you didn’t have. Whatever motivates you!)
Step #3 – Break down your big vision into workable strategies
Your goal in this stage is to walk away from your planning session knowing EXACTLY what you need to do TOMORROW (if not sooner!) to move towards your big outcome goal.
For best results, complete this process when you’re riding that high of a motivational wave.
EX: “The size of my launch was dictated by the number of people on my email list. To have a bigger launch, I need to increase the size of my list, and guest posting has been the most effective strategy for me for doing so in the past. My goal, therefore, is to increase my list size by 10% over the next month by guest posting for four blogs with a reach of at least 25,000.”
Step #4 – Plan ahead for roadblocks
As you’re planning, brainstorm both the roadblocks you’ll encounter as you put your chosen strategies into place, and the actions you’ll take to overcome or avoid them.
Listen to your inner critic. That voice can be a powerful teacher that gives you all the wisdom you need to circumvent failure in the future.
EX: “Last year, I meant to do more guest posting, but I kept running out of time. This year, I’ll hire an assistant who can help me manage my business’s administrative needs while I focus on guest posting. While my VA is working on admin tasks, I’ll use that time to write guest posts.”
Step #5 – Commit to ongoing action
Blogger James Clear encourages people to set a schedule versus a deadline. Todd Herman talks about breaking out the process steps needed to implement your strategies. Tony Robbins shares the importance of committing to constant, never-ending improvement.
EX: “I will write one guest post each week, and will block off two hours every Monday morning to do so.”
They’re all right, and what they’re advocating isn’t a goal-setting strategy so much as it is a mind shift. Think less about the specific goals you’re trying to achieve, and more about the changes you want to make in your personal and professional life.
Chances are, you’ll arrive at the same spot.
As we’re a few days into 2017 now, I'd love to hear from you. What goals are you setting for yourself? What other words of goal achievement wisdom or encouragement do you live by? Leave me a note in the comments below with your thoughts.