If you’ve ever struggled with making meaningful progress towards your goals, I’m excited for you, because this post provides actionable advice and subtle tweaks to your mindset that will radically shift your results. Stay tuned.
Let’s start with a story about the MSI YouTube channel. In October of 2016, I posted my first YouTube video. I didn’t show my face, used a pseudonym rather than my real name, and didn’t feel all that comfortable doing it. After all, I used to be somewhat anti-social media and very private. Regardless, I committed to a schedule and I stuck to it. Every Saturday at 8 AM, I would post a new video, no matter what. A few weeks later, I bought new animation software, didn’t know how to use it, and found myself staying up all Friday night and into Saturday until 7 AM before I got the video finished and uploaded. I wasn’t going to skip an upload, no matter what.
While growing my channel was always a goal, it’s difficult to realistically assign a number to something so arbitrary as subscriber count. So I didn’t. I just focused on my commitment. Week after week, month after month, I posted a new video. Five months later, in March of 2017, we hit 100,000 subscribers. By month 11, in September of 2017, we hit 200,000. Fast forward to 2018, and it became much more than just a YouTube channel and evolved into a full-fledged business and my main source of income.
Imagine if I took a more traditional approach to goal setting. Let’s say hitting 100,000 subscribers in 5 months wasn’t a coincidence, but actually my goal from the start. I’d start excited and hopeful, but at month four, I’d likely be discouraged that I still had fewer than 30,000 subscribers. In fact, I may give up at that point, or at least be less disciplined with my weekly schedule. I could have missed the opportunity of continuing to post and having a sleep video go viral that would add over 60,000 subscribers in just one month. It was non-linear growth and there was no way for me to see it coming.
1 | Focus on the Methods, Not the Outcome
When setting goals, most of us think of a specific desired outcome, set an arbitrary time frame, and hope for the best.
“I want to get to 10% body fat before summer.” “I want to make $100,000 before the end of the year.” Then, we think of the steps required to get there, and lazily half-reverse engineer the plan of attack. Best case scenario, we don’t reach our goals. Worst case scenario, the goal, and timeline act as perverse incentives with unintended negative effects.
By rushing to lose body fat before summer, you may resort to unhealthy weight loss pills or other radical means that may come with long term health tradeoffs. By rushing to make $100,000 above all else, you may compromise on your morals, bend the rules and end up in legal trouble, or sacrifice long term sustainable growth for a quick buck that burns hot but dies fast.
Instead of focusing on a concrete end goal, focus your attention and energy on the habits, practices, and routines that will facilitate your desired outcomes. There aren’t shortcuts in life. Just those that are willing to put in the work, consistently, and those who aren’t.
Rather than 10% body fat by summertime, aim to lift weights 5 times per week, eat at a 500 calorie deficit, and do 2 days of HIIT. Whether you hit 10% body fat by summertime isn’t all that important. You’ve now set the foundation for a healthy habit that’s going to give you a killer physique long term, whether this summer or next.
Rather than making $100,000 before the end of the year, focus on putting in 10 hours every week into your side hustle. Focus on marketing, revenue generation, and recruitment, and see where you end up in 12 months time. Best case, you’ll build a respectable brand that grows and exceeds your expectations. Worst case, you’ll learn business fundamentals that will position you well for your next entrepreneurial endeavor.
This approach has a few distinct advantages. First, this maximizes the odds that you actually achieve your desired levels of success. After all, successful people don’t get there by relying on temporary bursts of motivation and inspiration. They get there by consistently showing up, day after day, regardless of how they feel, and putting in the work. Second, even if you fail in achieving your goals, chances are you’ll have made significant progress and learned something meaningful along the way.
2 | Track Your Progress
After you have your scheduled practice in place, make sure you set up a system to track your progress. Tracking your progress has two main benefits.
First, tracking serves as a method of feedback. You instantly gain greater clarity of what is and is not working. You’ll be better equipped in knowing when to keep pushing, and when to change gears to course correct.
Second, tracking functions as a motivator. Seeing previous progress, even if it’s slow but steady, can often be the difference between you sticking to your commitment for the day and falling through.
Weight training is a scheduled habit that is important in facilitating the outcomes I desire. I use two methods to track this habit. First, I use the app Strides on my phone to mark the completion of certain habits. I input 5 days per week of lifting as my target, and this app helps keep me accountable. I’ve also used HabitList and HabitShare in the past, but Strides is currently my favorite habit tracking app for iOS. If you have another suggestion, let us know with a comment below. Second, I track workouts on a custom Google Sheets template I created.
During every workout, I update the spreadsheet with the numbers of sets and reps of each exercise, including the RPE, a measurement of how difficult the set was. By tracking these variables, I’m better able to course correct and optimally program my upcoming workouts.
3 | Regularly Review
After you’ve set up your schedule and have a method of tracking, it’s time to reflect and review your progress. This isn’t something you should be doing daily, as emotional swings may convince you to quit or compromise on your goals. Rather, your reviews should occur every 1-3 months in most cases.
For your study strategies, are you satisfied with your grades? Are you practicing evidence-based study strategies and staying focused when you should be? If not, have you watched these two Med School Insiders videos that have transformed so many students’ lives?
For your YouTube channel, is growth occurring at a reasonable pace? What are things you like about your current methods, and what are things you’d like to experiment with changing? Have you listened to constructive criticism and feedback from your audience?
I’ve found the habit of journaling helpful when it comes to reflection and review. By writing down your thoughts, rather than simply thinking them, they are solidified with greater clarity. Be clear about what you’re going to continue doing, and what methods or systems you’ll experiment with changing. This is key.
Another helpful tool in your regular review would be the fear setting exercise explained by Tim Ferriss in his TED talk. Fear is an insidious force that can color our perceptions and hijack our plans. This practice, whereby you explicitly write out your fears, the ways to prevent them, and how to repair them, is a tremendously useful exercise in keeping your fears in check.
I wish you the best of luck with your goals, and I’m confident that by following the three steps here, you’ll be well on your way to achieving them.