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The Goal: Setting Yourself Up for Success

A staggering 92 percent of people who set New Year’s goals never actually achieve them. Most resolutions fall apart in the first three weeks. Why? 

Goals that are too vague lead to actions that are too random, and the results are – well, not really results at all. If all it takes to reach a goal is desire, we’d all be happier, healthier, richer, in better shape and hugely successful – but that’s not how life works. We dream about our future-perfect selves overcoming obstacles and resistance without realizing that changes take time, effort – and consistency.

Most of us have a sense of where we want to be but have no plan to get there, or how we’ll know it when we do. Our lack of outward strategy and inner accountability keeps us get stuck right where we started.

The goals worth striving for are those that support and motivate us. Remember that the goal is not about the outcome; it’s about the ability to take consistent action toward that outcome and make a realistic plan to succeed.

Be specific.

Define what you’re going to do and how you’ll get there – and outline the exact steps you’ll take. Instead of, “I want more work-life balance,” frame it as, “I want to leave the salon by 6:00 on Thursdays and spend time with family.”

Make it measurable.

Each action step needs to be quantified. This will help you to take actual steps, keep you motivated, build momentum, and track your progress. If you spent a month of Thursdays at the dinner table, success! Then define the next step. If not, keep trying, or re-evaluate.

Set a deadline.

Pick a date far enough ahead to achieve results but soon enough that you can stay motivated. Linking a goal to a timeframe creates a practical sense of urgency and a healthy discord between where you are and where you’d like to be.

Psychologist Barry Schwartz – best known for his TED Talk and his book The Paradox of Choice – has observed that successful people really care about what they’re trying to achieve. They’re working on something that matters. “If you’re doing it because there’s a new challenge that needs to be met, a new idea that needs to be explored, the challenges just keep coming,” he says.

Once you feel like you’ve gotten it figured out, it’s time to stretch. Be comfortable not knowing what is going on in a new context, and be uncomfortable long enough to learn how to be in that new context.

Setting Goals for Others

If you’re the boss, work on creating a workplace where people are encouraged to stretch, to take on challenges, to demonstrate new skills. But, if you want to make any headway as a creative, you need structure, process and standards of work.

Having daily/weekly/monthly goals is healthy, and is sure to help productivity. At least once a year, sit down with each stylist and ask if the salon is meeting their expectations. Ask what they would change if they could, and what they see as next steps in their careers.

Then create a plan together that includes rewards for taking actions along the way to help keep them engaged. Develop a possible career path and build milestones into it. But don’t just set them loose down that path; check in regularly.

Ambition Addiction

Dinorah Nieves, Ph.D. writes about how people who are “driven” can quickly become “obsessed,” with a single-minded pursuit of the life they want – rather than an appreciation for the life they have. Our insatiable thirst for more can color everything we have as “not enough,” and that’s how people end up appearing successful on the outside yet feeling miserable inside.

Once you’ve gotten all the promotions there are to get, made all the money there is to make – what keeps you motivated? If you’re pursuing goals merely to “be successful,” you will plateau. It is possible to be both ambitious (wanting to be better) and satisfied (content with where you are). You can love your life and be in the process of constant re-creation.

Celebrate what you’ve accomplished. List the many things that have gone well, what you’ve learned, and what you’ve already achieved. Don’t compare yourself to others, don’t minimise your accomplishments, and don’t dwell on what is still ahead. Congratulate yourself.

Keep your mind focused on where you are now. Over time, your brain will learn to stay grounded in the now instead of obsessing so much about the future.

New Habits

John Assaraf is a serial entrepreneur, and brain researcher who understands how habits are formed and broken. He says that the brain has has two different but competing clocks: Part of the brain works to set goals for the future, but another part is focused on immediate gratification. This is why setting large goals isn’t actually pushing you to do the work you want to do; the part of the brain with the long-game is being undermined by the part that craves reward.

The bridge between the two parts of the brain is planning. Without a specific plan, you will default to old patterns of behavior. That doesn’t happen because of a lack of commitment; it happens because there’s the lack of a plan.

Commit to taking the option of “staying where I am” off the table. Then, take it one step – or day – at a time. Bite off just as much as you can chew. Even two minutes a day dedicated to your goal will help you reach it. That’s how you slowly build the neuro muscles for confidence and certainty – and that’s what it takes to make goals and dreams reality.

The effects of new habits multiply as you repeat them. When you look back years later, the value of good habits and the cost of bad ones becomes obvious.

Are your goals are achievable?

Is it specific? You might say, “I want to make more money.” That’s very general. “I want to decide whether I can take more clients, or if not, raise my prices” is much more specific.

Can it be measured?

It’s pretty hard to measure “make more money,” but it’s simple to measure “find 10 more clients.” You are more likely you are to achieve a goal if you track your progress towards achieving it.

Is it within reason?

“I want 10 more clients a week” might not be realistic. But, “Find 10 clients this month” might be.



Does it have a reasonable time frame?

Commiting to a goal that takes a year to achieve seems daunting. Instead, set your sights on the next month, and when you achieve that goal, set a new one.

Decide who you want to be. Then, prove it to yourself with small wins. Instead of saying “I want to be a session stylist,” tell yourself “I am a session stylist.” That small shift in your mindset may motivate you to line up a model, a makeup artist, and take some pictures. Every time you act on that impulse, you are a session stylist.



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Ultimately, disentangle two questions: “Can I?” and, “Do I want to?” Does the next step match who you want to be, or are you being pulled along by someone (or something) else? Dr. Nieves sums it up nicely: “Ambition works best when we let it drive us in the direction of our deepest values. Just because you can doesn’t mean you have to.”