How frequently do you come up with ambitious goals only to have them fall flat within a few weeks?
According to US News, 80% of new year’s resolutions fail by week two of February. Yikes…If you’re like me, you probably have a list of goals for yourself at any given moment. And if you’re really like me, you drop the ball on half of these goals.
But over the past year and a half, I found myself making progress on one very important long-term goal: building this blog.
A few friends noticed this progress and commented on my work ethic and the self-discipline it takes to keep writing. One coworker mentioned that he was impressed with my commitment because many of his friends tried starting blogs and failed within a few weeks.
While I appreciate the support of my friends, I also find their comments hilarious.
I never considered myself to be significantly harder working or more disciplined than those around me.
In college, I would see peers with a seemingly superhuman ability to focus, sometimes studying over 50 hours a week. That wasn’t me. I succumbed to binge watching The Office episodes on Netflix or reading and discussing interesting ideas when I should’ve been studying.
But somehow, I managed to stick with this blog every week. And upon reflecting, I realized why I was able to progress with this particular goal over my other goals (eating healthy, working out, reading, etc.).
Below are my thoughts on how to achieve ambitious goals. I hope you find this useful in achieving the goals that are most important to you, whether they are recruiting and career related or not.
Achieving Ambitious Goal = [Long-term Desire] + [Short-term Action]
Achieving an ambitious goal requires long-term motivation and short-term progress.
If you take short-term actions towards a goal but don’t have a burning, long-term desire to achieve it, you will get distracted and eventually stop working. Despite how much I think I want a 6-pack of abs, it isn’t a burning priority relative to other goals in my life.
On the other hand, if you have the long-term desire to achieve a goal but don’t take action, you won’t make serious progress. I see this happen often with people’s career interests. Many crave the job of a startup founder, venture capitalist, or social media influencer, but without concrete action, it’ll never happen.
Once again: Achieving Ambitious Goal = [Long-term Desire] + [Short-term Action]
This equation is pretty simple.
However, during my first six months of work, I had trouble making time for 2 by 22. I still had the long-term desire to write articles, help people, and build the blog. But the way I spent my time did not align with my priorities, and therefore, I wasn’t able to put in the short-term action needed.
It’s easy to aspire to work more, but it’s hard to do so consistently and systematically. I needed to come up with a lasting solution to this problem.
I took a step back and analyzed why I was making limited progress by reflecting on the first six months of working life. I came to a few conclusions:
- I’m most productive early in the morning after a solid seven hours of sleep
- It’s very difficult to write articles in the evening after a long day of work
- Despite how busy I thought I was, I still had hours in the day to work on 2 by 22
I finally decided to focus on waking up early, which would allow me to work on the blog before heading to the office for my full-time job. This change of mindset modifies the equation to:
Achieving Ambitious Goal = [Long-term Desire] + [Habit] [Short-term Action]
My goal shifted from the nebulous and less actionable idea of working on 2 by 22 to the actionable idea of waking up early everyday.
For the next week, I forced myself to wake up two hours earlier than usual. This was not easy, but when I successfully woke up, I had the time and clarity of thought to make meaningful progress on the blog.
To make this work in the long run, I needed to build a strong habit of waking up early. As you probably know, waking up two hours earlier than usual is a big life change that’s difficult to accomplish consistently.
Rather than throwing in the towel and claiming “I’m just not a morning person,” I decided to further reframe the equation to the following:
Achieving Goal = [Long-term Desire] + [Small Life Changes] [Habit] [Short-term Action]
Now the question was “what small life changes can I make to get myself to wake up 2 hours earlier?” Through trial and error, I came up with a few action items, ranked by difficulty:
- Go to bed two hours earlier to get a full seven hours of sleep (medium)
- Place my alarm on the opposite side of my room far away from my bed (easy)
- Drink a cup of coffee after waking up (easy)
The first idea can be further broken down into easier action items like:
- Stop using phone thirty minutes before sleeping
- Structure my evening such that I finish important work early and don’t need to stay up
- Force myself to lie in bed with the lights off even if I’m not tired
These trivial life changes require little discipline and cause a massively positive domino effect.
For example, I did not have the discipline needed to work hard on my blog. I struggled with this everyday for six months.
But I do have the discipline to place my alarm on the opposite side of the room, which only requires a few seconds of effort.
This, in combination with a few other easy action items, causes me to wake up early and refreshed. And by waking up early, I have the time and brainpower to work on my blog.
The best part is that this is all systematic and repeatable over the long term.
By distilling the equation down...
Short-Term Action on 2 by 22 -> Building Strong Habits -> Making Small Life Changes…
I developed a repeatable habit that enables me to achieve my ambitious goal.
One year later, these small life changes continue serving as the dominos I need to help me progress on the blog.
Try taking stock of your personal or professional goals. Have you made meaningful progress on the goals that matter most? Why or why not?
Trying to land a job or internship at a company that doesn’t recruit at your university is tough and often feels unfair.
You can complain about it and blame your GPA, university prestige, lack of family connections, or anything else that’s not changeable in the short-term. This will leave you dreaming about the possibilities with no progress.
I’ve met a number of students who complain about not finding an internship and blame it on situational factors. Despite being aware of the importance of networking and cold emailing, they did not invest any meaningful amount of time on these activities.
On the other hand, someone I know overcame disadvantaged situational factors by sending out thousands of emails to network heavily. Consequently, he landed over 7 offers with elite investment banks.
For most people that’s probably overkill, but this person did what he needed to take control of his career. Do you want to dream about the possibilities or control your future by taking action?
Make small life changes to build the right habits, which will help you take action towards your goal.