Between the New Year’s Resolutions that ended the third week of January, the short-lived motivation you felt after discarding everything that didn’t bring you joy only to again fill your house with meaningless tchotchkes, the money you sunk into the latest exercise equipment that quickly turned into expensive dust collectors, or the hours you spent watching Youtube lifestyle videos and reading countless self-help books—you ask yourself, “Why can’t I seem to make my life any better?”
You’re not alone.
The self-help industry rakes in billions of dollars every year because people are desperate to learn how to change. Change themselves, their health, their finances, their relationships, their life.
Change is simple, but it ain’t easy—and that’s the issue. Here are some strategies to help you crush your goals and leave everyone else in the dust.
Don’t Buy Snake Oil
Most “gurus” are just modern-day snake oil salesmen. They make wild claims they’ve found a never-before-seen super-secret hack that will completely change your life and lead to quick effortless success:
- Take this supplement.
- Buy this device that jiggles your butt or shocks your abs.
- Wear this bracelet that improves your balance or circulation.
- Rub this crystal.
- Drink this smoothie that looks (and smells) like baby poop.
- Buy this course that’ll teach you to make $1 million dollars in 2 weeks.
- Sign up for this writing retreat where you stay in a snow-covered cottage and have food delivered to your door so you can churn out the next best-seller in total isolation.
The list of expensive bullshit is endless. But just because something is expensive, doesn’t mean it’s valuable.
People want a “hack,” a shortcut, or a secret no one else knows–and they’ll pay a premium to anyone claiming to have found one.
The real secret?
There is no secret…there is no spoon, Neo.
You aren’t going to find some super-secret life hack that will suddenly solve all your problems and make all your dreams come true.
The Truth About Success
Change is difficult for anyone. So it makes sense that we want to find shortcuts. But there’s a difference between being efficient and cutting corners.
We all have legitimate excuses we use to rationalize why we haven’t made the changes we claim we want to make. No money, health issues, not enough time, anxiety, uncertainty, fatigue–the list is endless.
You have a choice: focus on the problem or focus on finding a solution.
Yes, you may have limited time, so how can you maximize the time you do have and spend it on things you give a fuck about?
Yes, you don’t have much money and want to start a business, so how can you adopt Lean Startup strategies to develop a minimum viable product?
Yes, you have low energy and don’t know much about exercise. So what are the most efficient exercises? (Hint: deadlift, squat, and bench-press are usually in the top 3).
Here’s the thing: Where there’s smoke, there’s fire, right? So if you want to find a fire, look for smoke. If you want to find success, look for successful people. Ask anyone who is successful—whether it’s in finance, sports, writing, health and wellness, whatever—how they did it and they’ll all give you a similar answer.
They didn’t find a “hack” or discover some secret truth. They were SMART.
How To Be SMART
SMART is an acronym to keep you on track when you’re making and pursuing your goals. If you do get off track, keeping your goals SMART lets you know you’re off track so you can adjust course.
Without SMART goals, you risk wasting time on goals that are unattainable or whose timeline extends into forever, without any way of knowing if or when you’ve achieved success.
Let’s say you wanted to be healthier, this is what turning that into a SMART goal would look like:
What do you want to accomplish? “I want to be healthier,” is too vague. What does that look like? What do you actually want? To lose weight, go down a few pant sizes, improve your mile time or running distance, exercise more frequently, what?
Without a benchmark, there’s no way to know when you’ve achieved your goal or, more importantly, if you haven’t achieved your goal. How much? How many?
“I want to lose 10lbs,” or “I want to go down 1 pant size,” is measurable. Now you know what target you’re aiming at. If you’ve lost 5lbs, you know you’re halfway there. If you’ve gone up a pant size, instead of down, you know something isn’t working and you need to make a change.
Losing 10lbs is achievable. Losing 100lbs may not be. Adding 15lbs to your bench press max is achievable. Going from bench pressing 120lbs to 300lbs in a few weeks, not so much. Making your goals achievable–aka, realistic–keeps you from pursuing delusional ones. It also helps you anticipate obstacles you could encounter along the way.
If you’re planning on going to the gym to lose weight, what happens if you can’t afford it? How do you accomplish your goal without relying on a gym membership? Modifying your diet, doing bodyweight exercises, walking or running in your neighborhood, or doing free at-home workouts are all options you can incorporate into your plan to lose weight.
So your goal is still to lose 10lbs, but the way you’re going to do it is by walking 2 miles every day and eating X number of calories.
Did you walk your two miles today? Are you physically capable of walking two miles every day, or is one mile more manageable? How many calories do you need to eat to lose weight but still have energy?
Specific, Measurable, Achievable—see how they build off each other?
If you don’t care about your goal, you’ll give up. If you pick a goal you’re only half-interested in achieving, you’ll half-ass it before eventually giving up. If you don’t actually want to lose 10lbs, then don’t make that your goal.
Maybe you just want to cut out sugary drinks. Cool, then be SMART about reducing how many sugary drinks you consume and leave losing weight out of the equation.
If you just want to improve your cardio enough to be able to walk up and down stairs without getting winded, make SMART goals for that. Walk one flight of stairs every day for a week, then two for a week, then keep doing it until you get to your goal of walking 5 flights of stairs without needing to take a break. Weight loss might be a side effect of walking more flights of stairs, but it isn’t your goal.
Deadlines hold us accountable. If you miss them, you know it. If you give yourself one month to lose 10lbs and it’s two weeks in (halfway) and you haven’t lost 5lbs (halfway), you know you’re in danger of not hitting your target on time. Without a deadline, it’s easy to meander to our goal and take way longer than we should to achieve it.
Parkinson’s Law states “work expands to fill the time available for its completion,” meaning the more time we give ourselves to complete something, the longer it takes us to do it.
Anyone who’s ever procrastinated knows how true this is: Got a paper that isn’t due for three weeks? You wait until the night before then do a mad dash to finish it. It only took you a few hours, so you didn’t need the three weeks to begin with.
As long as your timeline is Achievable, keep it tight. Remember, you can pivot if you need to based on evaluating your progress along the way.
Here are a couple quick examples of how far SMART goals have gotten people whose names you may have heard.
When talking about how to be a prolific writer in his book On Writing, King talks about how you can write a 180,000-word book in three months (The Shining is about 160,000). That’s the equivalent of It and Tommyknockers with about 15,000 words left over—in a year.
How do you, as a budding writer, accomplish such a seemingly Herculean task?
King’s advice is to write 10 pages, or about 2,000 words, each day. An interviewer asked King the process behind how he wrote. He replied, “One word at a time.”
In On Writing, King talks about the importance of consistency and keeping a schedule. Just like with a sleep schedule and how your body naturally prepares itself for sleep because it can anticipate going to bed at the same time every night, so too will it prepare for other consistently scheduled activities. It creates a habit.
If you write every day from 6am-9am, or whatever time period works for you, your brain will adapt to optimize itself for that time (using Parkinson’s Law to your benefit).
Your goal is to finish a book by writing 2,000 words each day for three months.
Here’s how that looks plotted out as a SMART goal:
Specific: Write a book.
Measurable: Write 2,000 words each day.
Achievable: If you can’t allot the time to write 2,000 words each day, just go for 200 at first.
Relevant: Writing this book is important to you.
Time-Sensitive: At the end of three months, you should have a finished rough draft of your book.
David Goggins is a retired Navy SEAL and the only member of the U.S. Armed Forces to complete SEAL training, U.S. Army Ranger School, and Air Force Tactical Air Controller training, ultra-marathoner, ultra-triathlete, former Guinness World Record holder for completing 4,030 pull-ups in 17 hours, and has a host of other accolades.
He knows how to set and crush goals.
In his book, Can’t Hurt Me, Goggins describes how he’s overcome significant obstacles throughout his life to become the man he is today. One way he’s managed to climb his way to the top and become an elite performer in the truest sense of the word is by utilizing the power of SMART goals.
“Set ambitious goals before each workout and let those past victories carry you to new personal bests…[one way you can get in better shape is to] maintain a maximum heart rate for a full minute, then two minutes. If you’re at home, focus on pull-ups or push-ups. Do as many as possible in two minutes. Then try to beat your best.”
He also talks about the importance of scheduling tasks–otherwise, we’re prone to multitask, and that’s created “a nation of half-asses.”
Don’t half-ass your goals. Whole-ass them.
Many people claim they don’t have time to exercise/write/work on a business/practice self-care/whatever, but Goggins advises you take an inventory of exactly how you spend your time. This allows you to “find plenty of fat to trim” and better utilize the time you’re wasting.
Let’s say you discover that between 5pm and 6pm each day, you’re unproductive; scrolling through social media, tweezing a few rogue nose hairs, staring at the ceiling, procrastinating by making another to-do list you won’t use. Instead, use this time to better yourself.
You can make a SMART goal that says, “Five days each week at 5pm I will jog at X pace for 45 minutes.”
Here’s how it plots out:
Specific: You want to get in better shape.
Measurable: You’re going to jog at X pace.
Achievable: You’re physically capable of this goal. If not, jog at a slower pace and work your way up.
Relevant: Being physically healthy is important to you.
Time-Sensitive: Starting at 5pm, you’ll jog for 45 minutes 5 days each week.
Goggins’ book is filled with different “Challenges” that tap into the power of SMART goals to help you kick complacency in the ass and demand the best of yourself.
You can make excuses, or you can make changes, but you can’t do both. Choose. If you want to make the changes that lead to a better life, using the power of SMART goals will exponentially increase your chances of success.
SMART goals give you feedback on where you’re going, what’s working, what’s not working, and when you need to pivot.
There are countless examples of other people and businesses using SMART goals to achieve success. What are some examples that inspire you?
What changes are you currently working to make?