The way we set goals in our society makes achieving those goals all but impossible, but it doesn’t have to be.
If you read a lot of the stuff that’s written on goal-setting, it usually contains the same, wrong-headed advice:
- Decide where you want to be 10 years from now
- Break that goal down into monthly goals
- Work towards those, and eventually, you’ll reach your destination
On paper that looks simple, but implementing it can be anything but.
Few people really know where they want to be in 10 years with any degree of specificity and even if they think they do, they’re likely to change their goals along the way. Trying to plan out the next 120 months of your life is an impossible feat and the reason most people simply avoid setting goals.
I’ve worked with some of the most successful CEOs and executives in the world and have created a system for setting goals that actually works. You don’t have to know where you’ll be in 10 years, you just have to know one thing:
What Do You Want To Achieve Today?
CEOs are all maniacal about one thing: Focus.
They know what matters, and they shift their attention there.
It doesn’t matter if they have a quarterly number they need to hit, or if their team is focused on a new product launch 2 years from now—a great CEO is able to align their resources behind that goal while focusing their team on making daily progress.
Think about it this way: If you were attending college right now, what’s the simplest goal you could set for yourself right now?
A lot of people would answer, “graduate.” And that is a simple enough objective. But graduating isn’t really a goal, it’s the result of many tiny goals. A better answer would be, “attend class today and excel at taking lecture notes.”
If you commit all of your energy and resources to class today, and repeat that process each and every day, not only does graduation become inevitable, but that scholarship to that MBA you’ve been eyeing starts to look a lot more likely.
This is where the saying, “The score takes care of itself,” comes from. Forget about the cumulative result; if you work according to your system and focus on what moves the needle forward today, you’ll always come out on top.
How To Turn Your Goals Into A System
Do you know why most people obsess over setting goals? Because they don’t have any.
Instead, they have a pie-in-the-sky dream of some “big” achievement, a fantasy, with no practical idea of how to get there. The common advice in this situation is to endlessly break your dream down into smaller steps until you figure out a path forward, but that leaves you with a rigid and fragile plan. What happens if a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity arises that doesn’t fit your master plan? You’re forced to compromise; either you say no now, or you risk missing out on your dream.
Instead, stop thinking about step number 87 in your plan and focus on the most basic action that keeps you moving. Let that be your goal, and live by a system in which you achieve that goal every day.
Break it down by asking yourself these three questions:
- What is the most basic intent of my long-term goal? Break it down. If a company’s 24-month plan is to grow revenue by 25%, the most basic intent is to grow revenue.
- What action will best help me to achieve my intent today? Without putting limits or minimums on it, what action can that company take today to grow revenues?
- How can I build upon the actions I took yesterday to further my basic intent? You get the picture.
Let me give you an example of what this looks like in the financial world.
How To Raise $10 Billion By Systematizing Your Goal
One of my clients, the CEO of an asset management company, decided he wanted to reach $10 billion assets under management (AUM). In basic terms, his basic intent was to find more investors for his firm to manage.
When he started his business, if he had said, “I need to raise $10 billion dollars over the next x months,” he would be out of his mind and overwhelmed. If he followed the typical advice, he’d divide that 10 billion by the number of days he had to raise it, and set a daily goal for himself.
Again, that’s a fragile and limiting system.
What if he has a series of bad days, and has to constantly recalibrate his daily goal? Or worse, what if he’s capable of more but doesn’t aim higher because his goal puts an artificial ceiling on his efforts?
Instead, we systematized his goal. Every day he simply asks himself, “What can I do today to increase the number of investors that we manage over yesterday?” He doesn’t look one year down the road, he focuses on today.
So long as he’s putting his best foot forward every day, he’ll get there sooner rather than later.
How Systematizing Your Goals Releases Stress
Let’s return to the college metaphor for a moment. If you attend every class thinking “my goal is to graduate,” you’re putting a ton of pressure on yourself, attributing years of stress to this moment.
Graduating is a culmination of attending hundreds of classes, submitting a countless number of assignments, and taking part in numerous presentations over several years, none of which are under your control right now. So why worry about them?
In the business world, most people deal with this problem when they reach a certain level in their company. When you’re at an entry level, you know everything about your role and all the processes and goals that you manage exist inside your head.
At a certain level, there’s just too much going on for one person to manage using mental strength alone. A CEO could never simultaneously consider all the goals, processes, and developments of every part of their company—they’d be left with no capacity to make actual decisions.
It can be scary at first, but you have to take your eye off the horizon. Focus on the step right in front of you, and trust that you’ll be able to handle the rest when it comes time.