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The Simplest Path to Success

The Simplest Path to Success

Let’s imagine a person whose life is in a mess. We’ll call him Chuck. Everyone around Chuck can see how bad his lifestyle is. It’s making him miserable. Here’s the problem: Chuck can’t see it himself. He goes on feeling wretched, but is completely unconscious of the cause—the mess in his life.

Of course, so long as Chuck remains unconscious of the cause of the problem, he’ll be unable to help himself. No one else can help him either, since pointing to the way his life is means pointing to something he cannot see. He rejects such advice and say there’s nothing wrong with the way he lives. His problem is something else; something outside his control, like his bad family background and upbringing, his poverty, and the prejudice against people like him who weren’t born in the right place or with the right color of skin. Because Chuck also spends many hours watching TV (he’s frequently out of work or feeling sick), he’s now become a connoisseur of medical terminology. He’s sure he’s suffering from ADHD, Restless Legs Syndrome, and probably undiagnosed emotional problems. But he’s too poor to get treatment, so he’s condemned to lifetime illness, as well as poverty and unhappiness. How could changing his actions do any good against such overwhelming problems?

This sad fellow has a sister, Martha. She’s also miserable and her life is as much of a mess as his is. But Martha can see the problem. She knows her way of life is making her wretched. She sees the causes of her unhappiness clearly enough, but does nothing about them. Why? Martha is convinced she has to “get herself straightened out inside” before she can tackle the mess and muddle of her life. So she avidly consults self-help books and magazines . She’s always analyzing her emotions, reviewing her past mistakes, and delving into her family history—which is, of course, as dysfunctional as Chuck’s. She too blames the external world for much of her misery, noting all the neuroses and traumas it’s left her with: problems that prevent her from moving forward until she can finally discover how to make them go away. Chuck tells her about his medical problems, and she agrees she shares most of them. Once she can get herself sorted out mentally and get some money, she plans to go to a suitable specialist. In the meantime, she takes vitamins and herbal remedies, since they’re all she can afford.

Chuck and Martha are becoming Mr. and Ms. Normal in our world today. They’re unhappy and they know it, but they either blame it all on problems outside their control (like Chuck); or have become convinced they must first sort out their emotions and thoughts (like Martha) before they can do anything about the mess they’ve made of their lives.

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Let’s look as Lois instead. Lois’s life is just as much of a mess and she’s at least as miserable as Chuck and Martha. She can list a string of handicaps, from poverty, through an abusive parent, to boyfriends who beat her and the last one who made her pregnant, then disappeared. One morning, just after the birth of her daughter, Amy, Lois wakes up and decides—seemingly for no reason—she has to stop her life being such a disaster area. She’s miserable, she’s poor, she has no confidence in herself and her emotions are a nightmare. She’s certain she won’t be able to cope with anything complicated, so she looks at her life and seizes on the simplest, most obvious thing to do—and she does it.

That’s how it goes on. Each day, Lois does the next most obvious thing she can see to improve her life. She has no plan; no long-term objective or vision of a better future. If you ask her what she’s doing, she’ll tell you she has no idea and it’ll probably be a mistake anyway. But, rain or shine, feeling good or feeling wretched, Lois plods on, doing whatever she can and whatever is most obvious to her.

Months pass. Lois still feels bad much of the time. She’s still poor. When she has time to consider her emotions, she can see they’re just as volatile as they always were. Still, her baby is well fed, properly clothed and healthy. They live in a small apartment. It’s not a wonderful neighborhood, but the place is clean, the rent is paid and they have food, warmth and basic security.

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After a year, Lois can look back and notice how far she’s come. It makes her feel good. After two years, she has a job she likes, enough money to ensure Amy has a comfortable childhood, and she’s attending the local college to better her education. That makes her feel even better.

Five years pass. One morning, Lois wakes up with a jolt. Her mind is in turmoil. She doesn’t know what to do. It’s just dawned on her that she’s happy. What’s more, her life is no longer a mess. She has a happy, healthy daughter. She has a great job. She even has a boyfriend who cherishes her and Amy and has never offered either of them anything but love and respect.

At work that day, Lois confesses her confusion to her closest friend, Juanita. Juanita is fascinated and wants to know Lois’ secret for real lifestyle improvement.

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“I don’t have one,” Lois tells her. “I never did. I’m as puzzled as you are. I just kept doing things. Most were really small, dumb actions. The kind of things anyone with half a brain would have seen needed to be done. I’m not clever enough to come up with proper plans. I guess they worked out.”

Too many of us swallow the prevailing myths of our society: that our problems all lie outside ourselves; and we have to spend time getting our minds and emotions in order—or motivating ourselves—before we can tackle the problems in our lives. Believe either of them and you’ll never advance much beyond where you are today. Actions alone make a difference. Not necessarily big, dramatic ones either.

You don’t need a life plan. You don’t need motivation, self-confidence, peer support or even luck. All you need is the willingness to take the next most obvious step—then repeat the process again and again, regardless of how you feel. Try it. Happiness comes from seeing the results of your efforts. You don’t need it before you start.

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Adrian Savage is an Englishman and a retired business executive who lives in Tucson, Arizona. You can read his serious thoughts most days at Slow Leadership, the site for anyone who wants to bring back the taste, zest and satisfaction to leadership; and his crazier ones at The Coyote Within.

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Last Updated on October 15, 2019

How to Plan Your Life Goals and Actually Achieve Them in 7 Simple Steps

How to Plan Your Life Goals and Actually Achieve Them in 7 Simple Steps

Where do you want to be 5 years from now, 10 years from now, or even this time next year? These places are your goal destinations and although you might know that you don’t want to be standing still in the same place as you are now, it’s not always easy to identify what your real goals are.

Many people think that setting a goal destination is having a dream that is there in the far distant future but will never be attained. This proves to be a self-fulfilling prophesy because of two things:

Firstly, that the goal isn’t specifically defined enough in the first place; and secondly, it remains a remote dream waiting for action which is never taken.

Defining your goal destination is something that you need to take some time to think carefully about. The following steps on how to plan your life goals should get you started on a journey to your destination:

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1. Make a list of your goal destinations

Goal destinations are the things that are important to you. Another word for them would be ambitions, but ambitions sound like something which outside of your grasp, whereas goal destinations are certainly achievable if you are willing to put in the effort working towards them.

So what do you really want to do with your life? What are the main things that you would like to accomplish with your life? What is it that you would really regret not doing if you suddenly found you had a limited amount of time left on the earth?

Each of these things is a goal. Define each goal destination in one sentence.

If any of these goals is a stepping stone to another one of the goals, take it off this list as it isn’t a goal destination.

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2. Think about the time frame to have the goal accomplished

This is where the 5 year, 10 year, next year plan comes into it.

Some goals will have a “shelf life” because of age, health, finance, etc, whereas others will be up to you as to when you would like to achieve them by.

3. Write down your goals clearly

Write each goal destination at the top of a new piece of paper.

For each goal, write down what is it that you need and don’t have now that will allow you achieve that goal. This could be some kind of education, career change, finance, a new skill, etc. Any “stepping stone” goals you removed will fit into this exercise. If any of these smaller “goals” have sub-goals, go through the same process with these so that you have precise action points to work with.

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4. Write down what you need to do for each goal

Under each item listed, write down the things that you will need to do in order to complete each of the steps required to complete the goal. 

These items will become a check-list. They are a tangible way of checking how you are progressing towards reaching your goal destinations. A record of your success!

5. Write down your timeframe with specific and realistic dates

Using the time frames you created, on each goal destination sheet write down the year in which you will complete the goal by.

For any goal which has no fixed completion date, think about when you would like to have accomplished it by and use that as your destination date.

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Work within the time frames for each goal destination, make a note of realistic dates by which you will complete each of the small steps.

6. Schedule your to-dos

Now take an overview of all your goal destinations and make a schedule of what you need to do this week, this month, this year – in order to progress along the road towards your goal destinations.

Write these action points on a schedule so that you have definite dates on which to do things.

7. Review your progress

At the end of the year, review what you have done this year, mark things off the check-lists for each goal destination and write up the schedule with the action points you need for the next year.

Although it may take you several years to, for example, get the promotion you desire because you first need to get the MBA which means getting a job with more money to allow you to finance a part-time degree course, you will ultimately be successful in achieving your goal destination because you have planned out not only what you want, but how to get it, and have been pro-active towards achieving it.

Featured photo credit: Debby Hudson via unsplash.com

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