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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. Stewart

    Thank you! I’m now writing a plan to improve my life because I don’t like the direction it’s been going recently. Your words have given me motivation to do what I want, finally.

  2. Sometimes it just takes the perfect kick-in-the-arse event to make things happen. Where there’s a will there’s a way.

  3. John Woods

    Simple is good, no doubt.


  4. This was a really good article. I think you should write an article about how excuses are holding us back, because I have a friend who makes a crapload of excuses and its just stupid. I’ve broke it to him before saying it’s not that, it’s you, but he won’t listen. Perhaps you can help him and others like him out

  5. You have some good advise. I will work on
    the principles you have written here.

    thanks from tony

  6. It’s all up to us to reach our goals. How much we really want it happens..that motivates us in achieving the goal set no matter what obstacles in front of us!

  7. Brian

    I found that an effective way for me to get into shape was to have my computer calendar remind me every 3 hours to do situps. This way I had a constant reminder to keep pushing me. If I skipped a couple of times I wouldn’t forget the next day because my computer would keep my habit going.

  8. Seriously, this article has motivated to take action on one long time goal of mine. To wake up at 5 AM, pray and go for a 2 miles walk.

    Thank You Tina


  9. Thank you for this incisive, insightful and rewarding article. Many of us have fallen for this ‘dude’ called procrastination. I have excuses for not doing things that will be of immense benefit and add value to my life. I believe many will move out their complacency in order to enjoy life to the full and live peacefully. More of this, please

  10. john

    Thanks for this article – I really needed to read something like this today.

  11. Sometimes a graduated implementation strategy works, especially for something you’re not accustomed to doing.

    For example, for working out, if your ultimate Goal is to work out 5 times a week, begin with a Goal of 1 day this week, 2 days next week, 3 days the next week, 4 days the next week, then 5 and then simply maintain.

    What happens for most people is they surpass their expectations. There is so little pressure with this approach. They start with 1 day and instead of feeling like “oh this is so hard” they actually achieve more than they set out to do because they realized how easy it is.

    It works for those who are easily overwhelmed. You begin with a low minimum and gradually increase your frequency until you achieve it, then you maintain.

    You have the same outcome in your mind, but you allowed yourself the time to work the new habit into your schedule which is half of the battle.

    Live Your Dreams,

    Jill Koenig

  12. Sometimes it helps to set execution goals such as everyday I am going to do “x” rather than just focus on achieving the end result.

  13. Naf

    A few things:

    1) A few people have commented that skipping sleep is a great way to achieve your goals. First off, skipping sleep will make your waking hours much less productive. You’ll get more done by sleeping well and working efficiently during the time you’re awake. Second, skipping sleep is as bad for your health (or worse) as not exercising. So, it would be really counterproductive to skip sleep in order to be able to attain your goal of exercising more.

    2) When it comes to exercise, or most anything, I’ve found that whatever the activity is, it doesn’t “stick” unless I enjoy it. Using words like “must” instead of “should” only make it worse. Life is short — don’t punish yourself for not achieving overachiever status.

  14. woody

    1) Turn ‘should’ into ‘must’.
    2) The language we use carries with it energy.

    yep, you’re right in the second sentence..
    I dare to challenge you on the first one.
    We “must” do a lot of things nowadays.

    We must:
    be in time for work,
    be back at home in time,
    take care off the kids,
    eat healthy,
    get excercise,
    etc., etc., etc., the list is endless!

    If your list of “must” do things gets too long you realize that you’re not perfect and that it is just impossible to do all those things you “must” do.

    conclusion: you are are a loozer/failure…
    no stamina, to weak. you name it all the negative labels apply to you.

    i’m not getting out of bed anymore,
    i’ll start using or worse abusing drugs
    (alcohol, soft drugs, hard drugs, or whatever.. for some it’s food (obesity)

    why? because: i can’t do what I “must” do and therefore i “must” be a loozer, weakling etc. etc.

    Q: What’s the use of failing everyday?

    So maybe you should just realize that you are not “golden boy” or batman or superman…?

    maybe you should rethink your values, aims, goals and what it is that matters to you in (your) life?

    maybe you should prioritize?

    maybe you should be very happy with what you do achieve? and not nag yourself with the stuff you don’t achieve?

    I fully agree with Naf:
    “Using words like “must” instead of “should” only make it worse. Life is short — don’t punish yourself for not achieving overachiever status.”

    It’s late where i live (after midnight) i had a great meal, nice glass of wine so if i’m not to coherent …. sorry. I’m just trying to point out that this solution may work for you now, at this time and period in your life, but it is not THE CURE for ALL and EACH. ANY TIME ANY PLACE, ANYWHERE….

    Considering the fact that you didn’t leave the house for 7 days:
    “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.”

    Plz don’t be discouraged by my questions.. if you feel better now, go on with your running or whatever it is that makes you feel better (without hurting anyone else! i don’t need to explain this bit do i?) but realize that you are on a “dangerous” path…. it’s called life and hell yes it’s/can be tricky, tough, exhausting, etc., etc.

    off topic food for thought: LIVE=EVIL spelled backwards
    meaning “imho” try to be a force for “good”, don’t be to egocentric, there are millions of ppl out there worse of than you, help them; you are guaranteed to feel better afterward and you are really achieving something worthwhile.

    well i better quit while i’m ahead (am i? and is that my goal?)

    Nice topic starter… let’s continue the discussion who knows something good may come out of it; for you and me and everybody ;-)

  15. Tina, actually it is an awesome article, but I have a question.
    You are seeking mental clarity and physical energy, why you choose to do a triathlon if you couldn’t enjoy? You can choose another activity that you love to achieve your purposes.
    I think to achieve purposes by doing something that we love is better than doing something that we couldn’t enjoy.

  16. @Arswino

    To answer your question:

    I realized that exercise is something that I needed to do to gain mental clarity and physical health (a personal observation for myself). And since I didn’t like running, I wanted to take up running as a challenge for myself, and at the same time get the exercise I needed.

    I am a swimmer and can bike (I am from Beijing after all). So, I thought that a triathlon might be a fun target. Again, selected randomly. I do enjoy it. It’s just a matter of getting up everyday and forming a habit of actually doing it.

    And yes, you are right. Doing something we love is easier and better than doing something we couldn’t enjoy.


  17. Fantastic article, well worth taking the time to read. For me, I find I never actually get around to starting a new project until I stop all the thinking, and just take the first step, no matter how small.

  18. We can achieve whatever goal that we want to if we channel our energy properly.

  19. I love when people use the excuse “I didn’t have enough time.” Or even better yet, “I can’t find the time.” It makes me laugh because, no one can really “find” time. You always have 24 hours in a day and it doesn’t change. You just need to use it wisely.

  20. Great thoughts Tina. Perfect with the new year coming up!!!

  21. This is a really great post! I especially liked the part about changing your questions. So many of the challenges we face in life are the result of our own skewed perceptions. Sometimes, if we take the time to just change our point of view or thinking patterns, the answers fall into place.

    As for myself, I often find that achieving success is just a question of wanting it bad enough. Are you prepared to do whatever it takes to be successful? The key to answering that question truthfully lies in knowing the details of “whatever it takes”. Once you know the costs involved in any new endeavor, you can make an informed choice about whether you are willing to pay them or not.

  22. Dreaming about a goal and taking effort and pain for achieving it are two different things. Many people spent time for planning, but they don’t do anything for achieving it. Great Article for anybody who wants to achieve what they dream.

  23. heyzsu

    thank you so much for this useful words.
    everyone can and must find time to do something important if they focus on it.

  24. Hi Tina… I really like the concept of OPA, I’ve heard it before but not for some time…

    Also, the “tips to overcome potential pitfalls” section has some really solid ideas, well written…

    Thanks for being inspiring!


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