At some point in your life, you've probably heard the following advice:

When it comes to setting goals, dream big and shoot for the stars--because, you know, why not? I mean, if others can do it, you can do it, right? You'll never know if you don't try.

This is horrible advice.

It's well-meaning, and there's some truth to it. But too many people think that simply dreaming big is the way to success.

It's not.

This is just one of the themes fellow Inc. columnist Jeff Haden explores in his new book, The Motivation Myth. In it, he reveals a brutal truth about motivation and goal-setting that we could sum up in a single sentence:

The key to staying motivated and reaching your biggest goals is to follow the right process.

Understanding this will drastically change your entire approach when it comes to goal setting--and can be the key to becoming successful.

Set smaller goals

"The main problem with setting a huge goal lies in two simple words," explains Haden. "Here and there. The distance from 'here,' where you start, to 'there,' where you someday want to be, is too great, especially at the beginning."

To illustrate, imagine your goal is to lose 40 pounds. After a week of intense dieting and exercise, you only manage to lose one pound. How defeating is that?

Again, the distance from here to there is too great. "In other words," says Haden, "the distance between your dream and the stark reality of your present is incredibly demoralizing--so it's no wonder you give up on the goal."

The key is to use a big goal as a target--to help you create a plan for achieving that goal. Your plan should then focus on building a process, a series of smaller goals that help you continually move forward.

"For example, if your goal as a manager is to develop your employees, your process is how you identify areas for improvement, create implementation plans, follow through on training and coaching and feedback," explains Haden. "Your process is what you do to make your goal happen."

I learned the value of process years ago, in a very personal way: when I proposed to my wife.

When it came time to propose marriage, I racked my brain to come up with ideas that would make it special. I eventually decided to learn to play a song on the guitar. There was only one problem ...

I didn't know how to play guitar.

Considering I only had three months to practice, I asked a close friend for help. James, an amazing guitar player (and awesome teacher), met with me every three days for those three months. Each time, he gave me a new goal: First, he taught me how to play four notes. I had three days to master those notes, after which James would show me the next four. Then, I had three days to learn those, after which we'd meet again, and so on.

It took me about two months to learn to play the full song. The final month was learning to play and sing the lyrics at the same time. It was one of the most challenging things I've ever done.

But I can't argue with the results: This year my wife and I celebrate our 10th anniversary. Her eyes still light up when she tells our "proposal story."

I never could have learned the song properly without the right process. Imagine if James had met with me on that first night, showed me how to play half the song, and said: "There it is. I'll see you again in a month."

Too much distance between "here" and "there."

But, as Haden so wonderfully illustrates, accomplishing small goals automatically makes you feel good--because not only do you accomplish your task, you can actually see improvement. As you continue to move forward, your process will inch you toward much bigger goals.

"What matters is that you consistently work your process and do what you set out to do, each and every day. If you dedicate yourself to working your process, you will make progress," says Haden.

"Success is inevitable."

Published on: Apr 10, 2018
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