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How to Achieve Big Things

Leadership //

Last year I set what I thought was a big goal; I was going to read 52 books.
My highest before last year was in the 30s so a book a week was daunting.

You might think that along the way I discovered a way to make achieving this goal easy.

I didn’t. In fact, I almost didn’t make it.

I did well through the beginning, often times I was ahead of schedule. Then summer came, a time of year when I am extremely busy…and I feel behind. When November arrived I still needed to read 12 more books.

By the time I put down that 52nd book, I was done.
I wouldn’t be doing that again. In fact, I didn’t even plan to read half that this year.

Still I was proud and shared my accomplishment.

My son decided that he would set a goal for this year….
That’s where I learned a lesson on achieving big goals.

Dream Big
If you’re going to go for it – go big!

52 was a big goal for me, but I knew I could do it if I pushed.
My son decided he needed a bigger challenge.
One Thousand seemed good to him: yes, he wants to read 1,000 books this year.

Develop a System
Here’s where most of us mess up. With a goal in hand, we charge in and start doing. After all, the goal is to accomplish the goal.

But goals aren’t good for getting things accomplished. They’re great at planning for progress, but if you really want to achieve big things, you need a system.

Where I dove in, my son planned. He planned to read 5 a day. That meant visiting the library and stocking up – 70 or so books. Then he’d spend time each day reading, entering them into Goodreads and rating them. When his book supply would start to get low, he’d let us know, we’d load up the car and the process would happen all over again.

It was a simple system but it had a big impact, because big goals can make you unhappy. With goals, you are constantly looking for the next milestone, the next success. Essentially, you are putting off happiness off until the next milestone is achieved only to put it off again when you reach it.

In January I had read 5 books. I was ahead so I was happy…but every time I fell behind reading became a chore.

Conversely, my son was focused on the process, enjoying the present moment – even taking time to stop reading in order to share what he read or rereading a section (or book) because it was that good.

Stick to it
When we start to fall behind, especially if it is because of an unforeseen circumstance, it’s easy to adjust those big goals downward.

At 11, my son doesn’t have much control over his own schedule so when Mom & Dad declare that the family is going out, his book count would drop that day.However, while the goal was still there, he was focused on the process. No books one day didn’t mean anything, just pick up the next day and chug forward.

Conversely, when I missed reading time, I was so focused on the goal that I would overwork to catch up.

Systems are better than Goals
Typically, when I reach a goal, I feel deflated. There’s nothing for me to base my ‘happiness’ on. Doesn’t that sound sick?

Think about someone that goes on a diet to lose 10 pounds. They work out, maybe eat differently and when the 10 pounds are gone, what happens?

Usually, they return.

Or think about those people that train for a big run. Once they hit their goal and run the marathon, they stop training and move on.

In both these cases, the goal was the motivator. When we reach it, we move on. There’s nothing to push it. But, if we instead focus on the system – eating healthy over our lifetime, or running regularly or motivation and our satisfaction isn’t pushed into the future – we experience it immediately and usually achieve more because of this.

Consider this: My son never focused on the goal. This year when I would ask him how many he read, he would take a stab at it, but unless I had recently told him, he wasn’t sure – and I’m not sure he cared. Yet all along the journey he was confident he would make his goal.

It sounds antithetical to say we can achieve big goals by ignoring the goal.
But, by developing a system and sticking with it, Kevin has read more than 87,000 pages this year (more than 7 times the number I read the year before) and passed his goal at the end of last month – 4 months early!

What system do you need to develop?

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About the Author

Jesse and his wife, Teri, will celebrate 20 years of marriage in May of 2012 and are raising two growing sons, Kevin and Alex. After moving from the DC metro area in 2008 they adopted a mastiff named Book and slobber became a way of life. In his spare time, you may find Jesse enjoying photography, biking, or simply watching a movie or reading. Jesse is a graduate of Cohort K from Bethel Seminary’s CFM program and serves as the Children and Family Pastor at the Evangelical Free Church of Wauconda.