Alright so you’ve decided to set some goals for yourself: great! I’ve yet to meet someone, or even hear of someone, who achieved anything meaningful without a goal. I’m sure this hasn’t been the first site you’ve visited as you’ve travelled down the goal setting rabbit hole so let’s talk about some really common, really terrible, advice you’ve undoubtedly received.
What makes this advice so terribly dangerous isn’t the fact that it’s one of the most common things you’ll hear on the subject of goal setting. It isn’t the fact that it can both railroad your progress and motivation. It’s not even the fact that it can set an arbitrary and growth stunting limit on your potential. This advice is so dangerous to you because it sounds like good advice!
Can you guess what it is?
The first time this was explained to me it was such a massive shift in my thinking that I definitely couldn’t see it coming…
The advice I’m talking about is to set “realistic” goals.
I know what you’re thinking... everyone knows that goals need to be realistic and, to some degree, that’s true. If you decide that your goal is to be able to broad jump the length of a football field or become the world heavyweight champion in the UFC while scoring an NFL and NBA contract then maybe we need to have a talk about realism but outside of some of the most extreme cases it’s hard to set goals that are too big and “unrealistic” in a negative way.
The reason that being realistic is so dangerous is that it really comes down to who’s definition of realistic you’re dealing with. If you talk to someone who works a 9-5 that they can’t stand, does the bare minimum health and fitness wise to make sure they don’t have a heart attack walking from the couch to the fridge and whose only hobby is watching television what do you think their perspective will be on the realistic limits to your goals? On the flip side, if you were talking to someone like a Grant Cardone who went from broke and drug addicted to owning over 500 million dollars of real estate or an Elon Musk who’s currently trying to send people to Mars what do you think they would say about realistic goals?
The real trouble is that if we’re talking about realistic then we’re usually talking about average and if we’re talking about average we’re missing the Cardones and the Musks and most importantly we’re missing all of the potential you have to do something that’s realistically impossible for an average person.
Have you heard of S.M.A.R.T goals? SMART is an acronym to help you set useful goals and it breaks down like this:
These ideas are all “fine”. Using SMART as it was originally created is infinitely better than not setting a goal at all and I’m sure there are many, many people who have achieved worthwhile aims using this exact framework. That said, I’m not interested in “worthwhile”. I’m not interesting in things that are fine and I’m really not interested in normal goals and normal methods of achieving them. What I’d like to see is something like this:
R: Really, really badass!
Just try and tell me that’s not an improvement!
So what can you do with this? Let’s break these down one at a time and then I’ll give you a personal example about the trap of being realistic before you launch yourself into the world to conquer whatever badass goals you’ve set for yourself!
Specific: This is pretty clear cut. If you don’t have a specific, detailed target you’re never going to know if you’ve hit it - never mind what you should be aiming at. When it comes to setting goals for yourself the more you can dial in to exactly what you want the better, it will make EVERY aspect to planning your attack moving forward significantly smoother down the line.
Measureable: Peter Drucker once said that, “What gets measured gets managed” and when it comes to your goals this is 100% correct. Let’s say you started out with the goal of getting fitter. Once you’ve got your specific, detailed goals from our point above it’s time to find tangible, quantifiable metrics you can use to assess whether your plan is moving you towards or away from your goal. In a similar way that you would still look for street signs while using a map or a GPS to confirm you’re taking the correct route to an unfamiliar place you need metrics you can measure to ensure you’re making the progress you need to to achieve your goal.
Assignable: This is a bit of a funny term but essentially this means there needs to be a person, department or “area” to which you can tie your goal. Think about this as the engine that’s going to push you down the track to success. Let’s go back to getting fit. You’re going to need a food plan and you’re going to need to follow it. Have you assigned the different aspects of this? Have you hired someone to create the plan? Bought a book? Commited your time and energy to researching and creating the plan yourself? What about putting time in your schedule to shop for, cook and package your meals in advance? Maybe you need to go and buy some tupperware so you have somewhere to put these meals once you make them. All of these are tasks you can assign to move you forward. No matter how you feel in the moment you can’t fall under the delusion that things will work out in the future. This is an easy out we give ourselves to avoid assigning, or accepting, responsibility for the things that MUST get done. Do not fall into this trap! As you work through your goals make sure that the actions required are able to be, and are actually, assigned to someone, or something, to be handled. Maybe not the first time, maybe not even the second time but eventually the aspects of your plan that have not been put under the responsibility of someone, or something, will fall by the wayside and your progress will soon fall off with it.
Really, really badass - this is the fun one! There are a few reasons you want to make your goals as big and as badass as you possibly can. The first is that you don’t know how much you can do and how far you can really go. You might have an idea but I can tell you from personal experience and from spending years working with thousands of people who were trying to reach one goal or another that none of us, especially in the beginning, can truly understand how much potential we really have. The second reason big, badass goals are so important is motivation. Grant Cardone, one of the unrealistic achievers I mentioned earlier, wrote a New York Times best seller called the 10X Rule (and writing an NYT best seller is definitely a great badass and UNrealistic goal.) In this book he explains that setting small goals wont light enough of a fire under you to really get you going. To make progress, with anything, you’ve got to take a lot of action - you’ve got to do a lot of things, and often it’s going to be things you don’t want to, or feel like, doing in that moment. If you’ve got a small, “realistic” goal is it going to be enough to get you out of bed on the days you want to hit the snooze button? Is it going to stop you from grabbing a donut from the breakroom? Is it going to push you that extra mile on your run or during your last set in the weight room? Honestly, probably not. A big goal though - now that’s a different story. You know the idea about the little old lady lifting a car off of her grandson in an emergency? (As a side note lifting cars is easier than it sounds, trust me) This idea about her finding the strength within herself to do something like that is the same idea as a big, badass goal - if you’ve got something important enough in front of you you’ll find a way!
Time-related. We’ve all heard things like, “A goal without a timeline is just a dream” and all sorts of ideas like that - which are true. It’s important that you put a timeline on both your overall goal and any sort of “way-markers” or milestones you can think of to make sure you’re on track and moving in the direction you planned as quickly as you planned. What’s also important, and this is something that a lot of people miss, is assigning strict timelines to the little actions you need to take as well. What kind of actions are important enough for this kind of treatment? All of the actions that have to be taken for you to achieve your goal! We used the example under “Assignable” that you might have to buy a book to learn what you need to know about setting up a diet. Using this as our task what should we have a timeline for? Well, we need to buy the book so that’s one, we need to set time(s) to read the book - that’s another one and then finally we’ll need to sit down and write out what our plan will be based on what we read. All of these three things should have timelines matched to them which should be rigorously followed. You know all those times you’ve bought bought something only to find it unopened in the back of a closet months later? Making sure you’ve got things scheduled and planned is the absolute best way to make sure this doesn’t happen to anything related to your goals!
If you’re not ready to give up being realistic just yet then let me give you a story to consider from my own personal experience…
I’ve always thought I dreamt pretty big, it’s something I recognized as a positive and felt pretty good about for a long time. I mean damn, when I was a 16/17 year old kid I decided to more than DOUBLE my bodyweight and become a professional strongman. You want to know how people react to unrealistic goals? Tell them you’re going to from a 160 pound kid to a 300+ pound, professional strongman.
Now despite the fact that this was a pretty big goal and something I’m still proud of achieving it wasn’t until years later that I realized I was still thinking WAY too realistically.
When I set what I thought was my big, badass goal I set it under the impression and with the belief that I could really only have one thing. I believed that if I wanted to be big and strong that I couldn’t be healthy, that I couldn’t feel good and that I couldn’t be in any kind of shape at the same time. I’ve since come to learn that this isn’t the case at all!
So how did I learn this? Well, to be honest, I learned it the hard way! When I decided to lose weight I began to believe (and I wasn’t even consciously aware of this) that if I could only have one thing and my goal was to lose weight then being strong and muscular was now off the table. Losing 100 pounds was a great experience, and definitely the right choice for me, but it wasn’t until I got there and felt like something was missing that I started to expand my thinking.
Could I get in even better cardio shape and stay lean? Ya, absolutely. Could I start manipulating my diet to allow me to feel even better while still supporting how my new body looked and performed? Hmm, ya I think so. Could I get back to some impressive feats of strength while doing everything else...mmmaaayyybbbeeee.
Luckily for me maybe has always been enough for me to give it a shot - so I did, and obviously I wouldn’t be writing this to you today if it didn’t work out even better than I had imagined!
My point is this: we all fall into the trap of underestimating our potential - even me after everything I’ve done. After transforming my body MULTIPLE times I still but an artificial limit on what I thought I could do and you know what, I’m sure I’ll make this mistake again (and again after that.) But every time my plan is to catch myself sooner and make my goals even bigger and more badass every time I notice this is what I’ve done. I promise you I’ve never worked on a big goal to find that I set it too high and this somehow negatively impacted how far forward I was able to move myself. On the flip side I definitely have set things artificially low and been hurt and ultimately had my potential tethered by this.
My closing advice? Work though the new version of SMART goals I presented above, think as big as you possibly can and trust me - if you do this right you’ll be back here in a few months wishing you had thought even bigger!