In the last two posts I discussed how we understand success, our inevitable misconceptions of other peoples’ successes and the debilitating role fear sometimes plays when we consider the big picture ways successes might change our life.
In this final post I want to talk about some of the ways we can break down our fears, confront them and ultimately understand our goals and dreams in a way which no longer overwhelms us, but rather frees us to enjoy, rather than fear the process. I don’t have all the answers, and I am writing about this because it is something that I struggle with, but I will just describe some of the things I have found useful in understanding what success means to me and what achieving it might look like.
Let’s start again at the Oxford English Dictionary definition of success:
“The accomplishment of an aim or purpose”
That is easy enough to understand. Success in other words, is simply achieving something you set out to achieve. You know what you are aiming for, and you do it.
The first thing we need to do then is work out what we want to accomplish. If we don’t do that then we have absolutely no point of reference by which to measure our success. We will never succeed because we don’t know what we are trying to achieve. This is often the first problem, and a symptom of what I described previously as other people’s stereotypical expectations of what success looks like in our particular field. We aim for the extrinsic rewards without understanding what exactly we need to do because that is what we see success to be.
Choosing Your Goals
There are different levels of goals that we can set ourselves in life and it is important to write these down so that they are officially identified. Take some time to decide what is important to you; make a list of your priorities in life, from what is most important down to what is least important.
It might be helpful to even have a go at writing your own obituary, morbid as it sounds. How do you want to be remembered by the different people in your life? I am in the middle of writing ‘a look back on 2012’ – writing from the perspective of this time next year, what do I want this year to hold, and what does it look like. I am writing it like a diary rather than simply in the form of a list of things I want to do. This means I go through and think about how rather than simply what, and as a result things are much more realistic than if I were to abstractly (and ignorantly) put something like ‘get signed’.
Once you have your goals in writing you can start to unpack the aims within each area. Be as brutally honest about your dreams as possible. No one else needs to see them. Remember: Who we are is completely dependent on what we do, not on who we say we are or what we say we are going to do. If you tell people your goals, prepare to not be the person they think you are, unless they think you are someone who doesn’t keep your word, if you happen to fail to achieve them. I believe you are less likely to accomplish something if you tell people what it is you are aiming to do. Derek Sivers talks about this and how declaring your goals gives you the same feeling as actually doing them.
Shorten Your Goals
Let’s say for example that you want to run a marathon next year. You are not a runner and you are not that fit.
In itself, as an aim that is not going to motivate you to do what you are setting out to do. It is far too broad and there is too much of a gap between where you are now and to where you want to get. It is no good having a dream if it remains so detached from your present position. You must break it down into short term projects ( 90 day challenge style).
For example, if you want to run a marathon you have to start running. Simple. So one aim within the first three months would be to get out a few times a week for a gentle jog. Just start. After this you will want to begin pushing at the next goal of going further, so another target could be to push to three miles within the first 90 days. Once you start training for realistic goals then other things will naturally fall into place. You will notice the things that help your body cope better (ie, your diet might naturally change), your sleeping patterns might improve etc.
Work Within Your Means
Don’t spend money on things you don’t need. All that is required is the most basic tools and you can build from there. Often as humans, we have a tendency to buy all the bits and pieces that people try to convince us we need in order to embark on a new project. We want to fit in, and look like experts – generally this practice does the opposite. Don’t succumb to this, start with as little as you can get away with. It’s much more fun, and will also enhance your skills and creative ability more effectively.
If you follow this through to its logical conclusion, you will be forever progressing through the constant reflection on and renewal of your aims. This will lead to a consistent, deeper sense of intrinsic success. At the end of each 3 months you will be able to look back with a sense of amazement at how far you have come without even realising.
It works with almost any of your dreams, whether it be getting fit, spending more meaningful time with your family, finding a job, acquiring a new skill, booking a tour, writing an album, getting on a uni course etc. The end aim might start as a daunting prospect, so far beyond our comprehension, but through a process of short-term goals you can succeed without even feeling it. We fear things when we are unsure of them – and we fear success because we can’t cope with the unknown and progressive consequences.
No More Believing that Gatekeepers hold the key
The great thing about doing this is it negates any notion of requiring permission from gatekeepers. As a musician if my dream were to sign a record deal then I would have to try and convince a whole series of gatekeepers that I can make them money as they ‘make me’. This is simply not true. We ‘make’ the people around us and ourselves by granting our own permission. This goes for most things; if we believe that we need someone else’s permission to succeed, and consequently spend all our time, effort and money in trying to get it, then we are way off course.
Give yourself the permission to do what you can do right now, and you’ll be surprised that along the line you will be granted permission from all sorts of other sources. In fact this has probably already happened countless times throughout your life, but you just haven’t realised it because it felt so natural. Live in the moment and you will inevitably succeed, and you will undoubtedly be a more pleasant person to be around.
Decide on what you want to achieve next. Write an obituary or a look back at the coming year. Create some manageable and actionable targets for the next three months. They need to be things that you can definitively say you either did or did not accomplish. Don’t get ahead of yourself. Enjoy.