“Having an unusually large goal is an adrenaline infusion that provides the endurance to overcome the inevitable trials and tribulations that go along with any goal. Realistic goals, goals restricted to the average ambition level, are uninspiring and will only fuel you through the first or second problem, at which point you throw in the towel.”
Tim Ferriss (Author; The 4-Hour Work Week)
“At the age of six I wanted to be a cook. At seven I wanted to be Napoleon. And my ambition has been growing steadily ever since.”
Salvador Dali (Artist; The Persistence Of Memory)
“The greatest pleasure in life is doing what people say you cannot do.”
Walter Bagehot (Author; Physics and Politics)
Set unrealistic goals for the right reasons.
Dating a model is like dating anyone else. Except they’re taller. On average. I met a model after graduate school and dated her for 2 weeks. It was awesome for about a day. I told all my friends about it and sent them pictures of the magazine covers she was on. This is pretty much the only time it’s okay for a guy in my group of friends to send another guy pictures of Cosmo.
We broke up because we didn’t have anything in common. Or maybe because she finally realized I was a 6 at best and dragging down the average. (Just kidding I’m a solid 8.)
You might think that a particular goal like dating a model or something less shallow like getting a big promotion is unrealistic. But then you realize it’s not. Or maybe you reach it and realize it’s not even what you wanted in the first place. Setting an unrealistic goal, achieving it, and feeling good about it after is hard. Why?
That Sounds Difficult. I Want It.
I remember telling teachers when I was 10 years old that I wanted to be a doctor. I didn’t know anything about being a doctor except that it was hard. Apparently. That was the only reason I wanted it. Because it was hard.
So I made sure I was on the honor roll all through junior high and high school. I made sure I was valedictorian. I made sure I went to a good college with a low student to teacher ratio, chose a major that graduate school admission committees would respect, on and on.
Then I had a meltdown in the middle of graduate school because I realized that working in a lab or hospital 12 hours a day wasn’t what I wanted to do with my life. Epic fail. It took my almost a year to get back on track–a year of setting new goals for the right reasons.
Achieve Unrealistic Goals–10 Keys
Once you start doing things for the right reasons, you’ll never go back to doing them for the wrong reasons.
Your brain can’t go backwards. You can’t un-clarify what you want.
Sure, you can try to create a fog around it. You can smoke or drink yourself into a stupor or clog your awareness with meaningless drama or reality TV, but you can’t go back. You’ll still know. And when it’s quiet, late at night, with no one around–it will suck. But there’s an easy way to avoid this–by setting unrealistic and meaningful goals. Here’s how to achieve goals others call unrealistic for the right reasons:
1. Set unrealistic goals for the right reasons.
If you want to be miserable and unsuccessful, set realistic goals for the wrong reasons. Setting realistic goals is a waste of life. Realistic people aren’t remembered. Cars, computers, antibiotics–they weren’t created by realistic people.
The more unrealistic your goal is, the more exciting it is. This excitement will power you through difficulties that come up. Plus, positioning yourself as the underdog against a tough goal will make you more likely to achieve it. In Top Dog: The Science of Winning and Losing, authors Pro Bronson and Ashley Merryman present data showing that being in a position to go for a big win without being expected to win makes you perform better.
Doing something extraordinary requires you to go against the ordinary. But you have to do it for the right reasons. Hitting an unrealistic goal for the wrong reasons will leave you empty. You’ll have given everything to achieve nothing. Without the right meaning behind them, goals turn into curses.
2. Ignore everyone. Yes, everyone.
Other people’s opinions are like viruses. They infect you. No matter who you are or how strong you are, other people affect your thinking and behavior. It’s unavoidable. Science has shown this time and time again.
Yet, most people let anyone into their lives. They let other people rush up onto the front yards of their minds with picketing signs and stay there permanently. Your goals are impossible. Only a fool would try to do that. Your goals are easy. Anyone can do that. That’s what the signs say. Forget people with signs. Forget everyone.
Don’t let other people pee on your spark. You have one original spark inside of you that the rest of the world is constantly trying to put out. They’ll try to suffocate it with dirt or tears or pleas. With smugness. Or nastiness. Don’t let them do this.
When it comes to how you can achieve your goals–sure–get feedback. When it comes to what you want to achieve, ignore everyone.
Goals can’t even be unrealistic anymore. Everything is possible. Want to skydive from Outer Space? Cure smallpox? Make a billion dollars before 40? Before 30? It’s all been done. Quit hedging. Quit listening to the realistic people of the world.
3. Work backwards, not forwards.
Trickle forward goal-setting doesn’t work. You can’t reach an unrealistic goal by relying on to-do lists and weekly calendars. This kind of forward thinking will lead you off course. Instead, think backwards. Create a detailed vision for what you want to achieve. Write down what it looks like and feels like to have it.
What will life be like when you achieve your goal?
Next, reverse engineer your way to your goal. Work backwards to create key outcomes and smaller benchmarks that will connect where you want to go to where you are now.
As you work forward, you will hit obstacles. I promise you. But, if being pulled forward by your endpoint rather than push forward by your to-do lists, you’ll stay on track. You’ll always know where you’re going and this will keep you from getting stuck.
4. Be afraid. And arrogant.
Fear and arrogance will keep you flying high and grounded at the same time. Studies show that people who optimistically believe they can accomplish unrealistic goals are happier, healthier, more flexible, better able to solve problems, and better able to cope with negative events. Other studies show that people who are unrealistically optimistic are more prone to making mistakes and errors in judgement.
So what’s the answer? Should you be unrealistically optimistic or not?
Dream big but be and ruthlessly pragmatic at the same time. Face it–bad things happen. The world is full of risks and ignoring those risks will not bring you closer to your goals. Ignorance is painful, not blissful. Don’t be blindly optimistic. Instead, be an information seeker. Have a healthy fear for the things that can go wrong and take action to avoid them.
At the same time, don’t be a baby. Don’t tip toe through life with a beggar’s attitude. The world is not going to give you anything. It’s going to beat you down again and again and again. The only way to keep going is to build up a supreme level of confidence in yourself. You can handle anything. You can accomplish any goal. Together, this kind of healthy fear and arrogance will keep you centered and motivated.
5. Be ready to change directions.
Unrealistic goals are not easy to reach. Unrealistic goals hit back. And they hit hard. Sooner or later your unrealistic goal is going to knock you on your face. How are you going to respond? Most people hit a roadblock and quit. Or, they keep hitting the roadblock head on over and over again until they exhaust their resources.
There’s a third option.
Change directions. Stay flexible. When obstacles come up, bob and weave. Attack the obstacle from different angles, jump over it, go around it, or avoid it completely. As long as you’re working backwards, you’ll still get to your goal.
That’s why it’s so important to define your endpoint first. With your endpoint in place, you’re free to adapt your path along the way.
6. Try a lot of things at once.
The path to success is not linear. In fact, it’s not a path at all. It’s a delta–a series of split paths.
Let your beginnings branch out into a thousand different directions towards your endpoint. Each branch will take you closer to your goal. As you move forward, you’ll learn what works and what doesn’t work. The key is to keep trying things. Keep starting new paths.
Over time, the right path will pick you. When it does, lean into it hard. Consolidate your forces around it and see it through to the end.
7. Cut off the arm to save the body.
You can’t achieve an unrealistic goal by starting things over and over. Eventually, you have to follow through. The problem is that most people don’t have the guts to quit. They’re too afraid of losing what they’ve got to get what they really want.
Don’t sacrifice the body to save the arm. The mission itself is always more important than the individual ventures that make up the mission. If your goal is to make a million dollars doing what you love and you started 5 businesses to get there and one of them finally starts to take off, don’t just keep doing what you’re doing. Instead, consolidate your forces around the business that’s taking off and let everything else sit.
You can always expand again later. For everything unrealistic goal you set, follow this sequence–expand, consolidate, repeat.
8. Get a boredom fetish.
Stay irrationally committed to your goals no matter how boring they get. Learn to love the boredom. Dig into it. Realize that you’re going to hit plateaus and dips and moments of intense monotony. That’s normal.
Unrealistic goals require mastery and you cannot achieve mastery without monotony.
When the monotony comes, don’t quit. Don’t start something new to get the variety you need. Don’t look away from the task at hand. Instead, look deeper. Fall in love with it. Find variety in the high-level details of what you’re doing. Find pride in the fact that most people never dig this deep and doing so puts you further and further ahead.
Too many people quit digging right before they achieve their goals. Be different. Keep swinging your pickaxe. Again and again until the job is done.
9. Create a rivalry that keeps you up at night.
You can’t achieve an unrealistic goal on your own. You need competition. Studies show that rivalries make people perform better and can even reverse downward performance spirals.
Competition is an effective motivator because it requires collaboration. Both parties have to follow the same rules, whether they are the rules of economics or the rules of a baseball game. Most competitions involve teams too, which adds another level of collaboration.
Don’t see rivalries as a negative. Someone or something that keeps you up at night will make you stronger and sharper. They’ll give you the edge you need to achieve an unrealistic goal.
10. Record (and relive) your wins.
The problem with people who set goals is that they keep setting them. They never take a break to celebrate their achievements. Instead, they reach one goal and immediately start chasing another.
Fulfillment is an action. It’s not just some feeling that will arrive on its own. You have to pause and decide to be fulfilled. You have to decide to feel a sense of growth. The only way to do this is to reflect on what you accomplished.
First, record your wins. Second, relive your wins. Study what’s working for you and what’s not working. Gather feedback. It’s impossible to achieve an unrealistic goal without feedback. Once something is working, stick with it. Use it to win again and again. Stay motivated and fulfilled by reviewing your wins on a regular basis.
What unrealistic goal are you trying to achieve? What’s holding you back?
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If you want to learn more about changing your focus to achieve unrealistic goals, order my new book: Black Hole Focus