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How to Achieve Anything

Photo: Kevin Russ. Check out his stock portfolio.

Is there a goal you want to accomplish, but just cannot find the time to start it? It might be something trivial like, to reduce the amount of TV watching, or time spent browsing the Internet. It might be, to become an early riser, or to quit drinking alcohol, or to start a home business. Whatever it is, what is keeping you where you are instead of reaching your desired destination?

I have several such targets in my life that I often think about, but rarely take action on. Each time I’m reminded of one of them, I would guiltily say, “I really should do [blah]”, and then forget about it until the next time guilt creeps back into my head.

One such target I have is to exercise. I’ve been talking about wanting to get in shape for about two years now. I even setup an arbitrary goal of doing a triathlon to get me excited. I did start to go running shortly after setting the goal, which lasted for about a week, before I became distracted with another target.

I like to think of myself as a pretty disciplined and motivated person – I mean, I write about this stuff! But, something about this particular target has been very psychologically challenging for me to take consistent action on. And I want to understand it.

Overcoming the mental blocks and actually taking action towards this outcome has been my focus over the past few weeks. I am proud to announce that I have been doing 5-mile walk-runs, every other day, successfully for fourteen days now.

I’m confident that since I have kept it up for two weeks, then surely, I can keep it up for a month. And if I can consistently do it for a month, I will have habituated the activity into my daily rhythm and be able to keep it up indefinitely.

The point of this article isn’t about running, but rather, extracting lessons from achieving a goal, and applying them to other areas of our lives.

Analysis of ‘Why It Didn’t Work’

Looking back over past failed attempts at this target, I realized that I didn’t have enough reasons to keep myself motivated, thus I wasn’t fully committed to making the change. Here are some observations:

1. Excuse: “I don’t have enough time”

I used to assume that it I was working too much and simply did not have the time. Well, I’ve come to learn that “I don’t have the time” is the biggest lie we can tell ourselves to justify for the lack of action towards activities that can (sometimes) significantly improve the quality of our lives. If we added all the time we spend on unimportant and not urgent things – like web browsing or TV watching – we would have the time, easily. We do have the time!

I used to tell myself, “When I leave my day job, I will have much more time to pursue the things on my lists, which I don’t have time for now.” Things like exercising.

You’d think, now that I’m in a position to create my own schedule (or lack thereof), surely, I should have enough free time to exercise. Well, ladies and gentlemen, I still don’t have enough time. It’s become obvious that without a measurable target and a reasonable plan, life has a way of magically inserting random (often unimportant) activities to fill up our day. The same items on my list while I had a day job are still on the list.

We don’t have time for things, until we create time for these things. If something is important enough to us, we will find the time, regardless of how busy we are. End of story.

It’s a matter of finding the compelling reasons why something is important to us – enough of a nudge to drive us to lasting change.

2. Focus on Pain

The more I focused on the uncomfortable factors associated with exercise, the less motivated I became, and the more excuses I made to skip workouts – before I stopped completely.

Here are my favorite excuses to justify not exercising:

  • It’s hard! I can’t breathe.
  • My leg hurts
  • It’s cold outside
  • It’s raining (I do live in Seattle, after all)
  • It’s late, if I go jogging, I won’t have enough time to do X.

3. Lacked Motives to Action

Although I kept telling myself that I should go jogging, I wasn’t fully clear on why I wanted it. I wasn’t overweight, and didn’t have an explicit incentive to get active. I didn’t have the motives to justify the necessary action for a vaguely defined goal.

Did you know that we will do more to avoid pain than we will to gain pleasure? In this case, the affects of not doing it, was not painful enough to drive me to get it done. In my mind, the pain of doing was greater than the pain of not doing.

4. Language, Focus & Priority

The goal was a should and not a must. “I should go jogging”, I would say , when it’s better to say, “I must go jogging, in order to gain the energy I need”. When something is a should, it is wishful thinking, and we don’t get it done. When something is a must, it becomes a priority that deserves our attention. Because the target was a should, I never gave it the focused attention necessary for it to become a reality.

The Art of Change: From Desire to Result

The actual change happened very quickly – the moment I decided to change. Instead of thinking about it, and silently beating myself up for not doing it, I just did it. It was beautiful!

Photo: Kevin Russ.

Sometimes, the best motivators are the ones we find when we hit a personal low point. My low point came a few weeks ago, when I realized that I hadn’t been outside for seven days straight (Eeeek!). I felt groggy, my body was aching, my energy level was low and I felt a slip in my grip on clarity.

When my clarity is threatened, I start to take notice. I now had a strong motive. I got up instantly and went for a run – a long one.

The System of OPA

OPA is a trick I picked up from Tony Robbins, which when applied, will assist us in achieving the results we desire. It stands for:

  • Outcome (O) – Having a clear vision.
  • Purpose (P) – Focus on results and purpose.
  • Action (A) – Create a massive action plan for meaningful results.

Let’s expand on these and apply them to the jogging example.

O, Outcome

Most of us have vague ideas on what we want. We know roughly the direction we want to go, but because we aren’t clear on the vision of our destination, we get pushed into whichever direction the wind is blowing. Without a vision, we will obsess over “the how”, and will often overanalyze and fail to take action, or take ineffective action.

In the jogging example, “wanting to go jogging” is not the ultimate vision. The ultimate outcome I am seeking is actually mental clarity and physical energy. One activity that contributes to this outcome is regular exercise. Additionally, because I am focused on the desired outcome and not on the how, I have realized that there are other things I can do which will contribute towards this outcome, such as deep breathing, swimming, and yoga.

What is the ultimate vision for what you want? Be specific in describing the outcome you desire.

P, Purpose

Knowing what we want isn’t enough to give us the push towards massive action. We must know why we want it. Why is it important that we achieve our desired result? When we achieve this outcome, what will it bring us? Without strong enough reasons, we simply will not be moved into action.

In the jogging example, my reasons for wanting mental clarity and physical energy are:

  • To feel physical wellbeing. To live fully and consciously.
  • To have the clarity to write articles that serve others. To empower and inspire readers towards a fuller life with more joy and passion.
  • When I have energy, I can get more out of my day. I can do more activities which will benefit my personal wellbeing, and in turn make more contributions to others.

Why must you achieve the target outcome? What are the reasons most important to you? What does achieving the outcome mean for you?

A, Action

Armed with your clear vision of the outcome and with the burning reasons why it is important to you, come up with an action plan for achieving the results you seek. Once you have your action plan, take one small action immediately. Then commit yourself towards taking some action regularly (everyday if possible) towards your target. Regardless of how small the action may seem, it will move you one step closer to your outcome, and – importantly – help build the momentum you will need to reach your destination.

In addition to knowing what you want, why you want it, and having a battle plan, the following are tips to overcome potential pitfalls on the road to lasting change.

  • Quantify & Measure – What gets measured gets managed. It’s important to be able to quantify results, so that we can evaluate our improvements and effectiveness. For my jogging example, I got the Nike sport kit for ipod nano – which allowed me to measure distance ran, duration and calories burnt. Once I had the numbers after each workout, I just wanted to beat them! As if playing a video game and trying to beat the top score.
  • Know Your Excuses – List out all the excuses you’re known to use in order to avoid action for a particular result. Now come up with an antidote for each excuse. Even without an antidote, at least, now you’re aware of which excuses might come up, and you’re ready to ignore them. For myself, “I am committed to going jogging every other day, regardless of weather, or how late in the day.”
  • Focus on One Target at a Time – When we try to focus on many results at the same time, rarely will we succeed. When we focus on one thing at a time, we can devote our undivided attention and energy on realizing the single result, thus giving it a higher chance of actualization. Move on to other targets only after we’ve successfully reached or habituated the current target. I’ve found it helpful to write the targeted outcome on a piece of paper, and posting it on a wall where I can see it regularly.
  • Change Your Language – Turn ‘should’ into ‘must’. The language we use carries with it energy. Notice that if you must do something, suddenly you feel a sense of urgency and priority? What is that thing that you’ve wanted to complete, and if you got it done will improve the quality of your experience? Now say, “I must do <insert activity>, because it will give me <insert reason>.” See how much more energy this sentence has, versus “I really should do <insert activity>.”
  • Consistency – When cultivating a new habit, consistency is more important than quantity. Have you noticed that when we skip a routine activity even once, it’ll be harder to get back into it? And the more we skip, the easier it is to skip it again the next time. Before we know it, we no longer have the habit which we’ve worked hard to create.
  • Fun Ingredient – Find ways to make the experience fun and enjoyable. For example, I will listen to motivational audio books or personal growth seminars when I run, and it really enhances both experiences. This added enrichment to the running experience, makes me look forward to the activity.
  • The 30 Day Challenge – If you can repeatedly do an activity for 30 days, it will become a habit, and will integrate automatically into your routine. Take it one step at a time, first commit yourself to following something for 7 days, then extend it to 14 days, then 21 days and 30 days. If you can do it for 30 days, you can likely continue it indefinitely (if you want to).
  • Change Your Questions – If you’re not getting the kind of results you’re looking for, perhaps it’s the questions you are asking yourself. Ask questions which lead to possibilities instead of limitations. Here are some examples of the limiting questions vs. more resourceful alternatives:
    • Why can’t I do this? Vs.
      How can I make this work?
    • Why can’t I make more money? Vs.
      How can I add even more value?
    • Why is this happening? Vs.
      What can I do to help change this?
    • How can they do this to me? Vs.
      How can I use this?
    • What is wrong in my life? Vs.
      What am I grateful for?

Parting Words

We are the ultimate author of our life story. Within each of us, we hold the power to change anything in our lives, and in doing so, experience more joy and fulfillment. Lasting change starts with a change in the way we think – a clear vision for our desired results, meaningful reasons why we must have them, and building momentum towards massive action to make our visions a reality.

With meaning, understanding, awareness, and conscientious planning; we can turn massive responsibilities into actual possibilities, we can incorporate healthy habits, we can realize dreams, and we can live more deliberately and intentionally shape our own destiny.

Thank you for listening to my jogging story and allowing me to share my own life victories, regardless of how trivial they may seem. Through observing this experience, the jogging example accentuated some simple fundamental principles of achievement that can be applicable to other outcomes in our lives. I wish you success!

* What are some outcomes you would like to see in your life? Share your thoughts and stories with us in the comment section. See you there!

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About the author

Tina Su is a mom, a wife, a lover of Apple products and a CHO (Chief Happiness Officer) for our motivational community: Think Simple Now. She is obsessed with encouraging and empowering people to lead conscious and happy lives. Subscribe to new inspiring stories each week. You can also subscribe to Tina on Facebook.

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90 thoughts on How to Achieve Anything

  1. Jason S

    I realize this is sort of an old post but I came across it on Digg and thought I should share a website I just discovered called

    According to them, its a site designed to help people achieve all those goals/dreams they want to get to ‘someday’. I registered and was able to both build and borrow step-by-step Plans for achievement, track my progress, set deadlines, and find others that have similar ‘somedays’.

    Its a fantastic site and its given me a lot of momentum. I highly recommend checking it out.

  2. Jack A

    Love the article. Please keep writing and sharing your advice.

    I thought I’d mention a website that I just came across that I’m using to help me achieve a bunch of goals that I have. Its called and I’m finding that its a great tool to keep track of and actually build or borrow step-by-step Plans for achievement. I read about it in an article recently written by Darrell Etherington in

    I highly recommend this site for anyone wanting to actually put together a Plan to stay focused on achievement.

    My Best, Jack

  3. James

    Thanks for the wonderful eye-opening article. You may or may not believe me but I’m probably the worst procrastinator (sometimes I think I have Adult ADD) –I bookmarked this article couple of months ago hoping that I could read it to help me kick this bad habit.
    I’m going to start strength training again for 30 days straight starting tomorrow. Thanks!

  4. Anthony C.

    Being in another unmotivational rut, I decided to find this article again instead of searching for new ones (you know things are bad when trying to play a videogame and enjoy yourself is a task-given your fear of the joy being killed by criticism…my newest issue)

    I must say I’ve made great progress with animation thanks to techniques on this list. I think it’s about time I make goal lists again-not keeping track is as bad as not getting credit for a research paper.

  5. Suko Tahari

    Anthony C.

    Goal lists are a good start but in my experience you need to do more than that. I had a bunch of resolutions that I made in 2009 but I didn’t seem to make much progress. I came across this article and then read Jason S.’s post about

    I have to say, the site is making a big difference, at least for me. In addition to listing my goals, I’ve actually put together plans with the actual steps to achieve those goals. The process of thinking about and writing down actionable steps has really helped me to get focused and make progress. And now, I can literally see that progress in the progress meter that shows on each of my goals. Sort of cool.

    Hope this helps and good luck with getting out of your rut!

  6. FFL

    This blog is amazing. Actually, the content is one of the best I saw recently. In this sole post, I’ve read more useful stuff than in all other blogs together this week.

    Definitely a bookmark material.

    Keep up.

  7. Very challenging. Hope to apply the principles. Thanks.


    After looking at many sites, “looking for a reason why I ‘can’t ” accomplish the simple goal of exercise”, not motivation, nor any other “reason” listed, I am just lazy….actually only in that area, other than eating healthier….it is hard…I never lasted long at either of them. There, I have admitted it, both to you and to myself…I just can’t get beyond the extra effort that it will take to accomplish those goals, so all of these sites, as wonderful as they are, as much information I gained from them, until I choose to move forward, they will not help, will not nudge me, will not get me out of the rut I am in both emotionally, and physically. Let me ad, that I am quite obese. Is it possible to address this malady. Is this a character thing? In ever other way I am diligent, productive, reliable, and yet the two most important things to me, weight and healthy eating, are paralyzing me. Please help me…I feel as though this is a huge phobia for me……and I don’t know how much I want it. Can you help me?????

  9. Simply a monopolist could study a business and ruin it by offering away products.
    The herd instinct among forecasters makes sheep resemble independent thinkers.

  10. sandee

    i have a simple tips to do anything. Just injoy such task. Make a list of benefit you will get from that work. Find the reason for doing that work. This will automatically motivate you to do that work more and more. You will spend more time in that admiring it. And gradually, you will start achievivg expetise level and after a period of time you will achieve it.
    On the other hand, if you are doing anything coz you should do but you have unable to create any interest in it, than it will become more boring and gradually you will stop doing that work and you will get nothing.
    So its very simple. Just make your work more & more interesting. Injoy it. admire the benefit you are going to get from that work. Then such work will become the necessity of your life. And you will get full mastery on that task. And then you will definitely achieve mastery and expertise on that task.
    Have a good day. :)

  11. Madhu

    best one just loved it…!!

  12. Yetta

    Even when things go sour, remember that things will change again as they
    always have and always will. This comes when the senate subcommittee grilled Apple CEO Tim Cook
    and charged him for the company’s alleged ‘profit shifting’ to its Irish subsidiaries.

    I didn’t push any bad emotions down into the dungeon.

  13. This all seems very easy yet it all requires a certain level of dedication, devotion and commitment to achieve what we want. I also agree with you on that point where we always believe we have no time. We have just as much time as any other person who is successful or not. It will always be 24 hours a day for everyone. What we do with that determines what we achieve in the end. Great post. Keep it up.

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