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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. thanks for being inspiring

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

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

  4. The goal was a should and not a must. “I should go jogging”,

    If you’re telling yourself that you should do something then you definitely need to reword your goal or change it all together.

    “Should” goals are typically things that we know on some level would be good to do, and that may be true, but we don’t really want to. Until you create a goal that you are really excited to achieve you won’t exert the energy needed to get started. The more fun a goal is to achieve the more likely you are to accomplish it.

    Great post and congratulations on getting started with your running program!

  5. Sometimes the best method for starting a new habit is to not overthink it. Just start small.
    Be happy with a small start.
    Do it again a little more the next day.
    Just keep doing it each day.
    A little more each day.
    If you fall off one day or 10 days just start again.
    Don’t make it have to be a big continuous chain.
    Start small.
    Sometimes low intensity with regards to goal achievement can work better than high intensity.
    Start small
    Go slow
    Enjoy it.
    You’ll get there.

  6. Small steps are indeed key. As George Burns said, showing up is 90% of everything. Making work out wear (hubbie’s boxers and a baggy t-shirt) the first clothing I put on in the morning and then climbing on the elyptical machine before I am awake enough to know what I am doing (or talk myself out of it) works for me. Happy New Year 2009! Hugs Mama Marlaine Parenting 2.0

  7. thanks Tina, I’ve been inspired from it..

  8. MsKwats

    Great piece! This is me! I used to come up with several reason not to get up and exercise or go for a walk in the park. Now I inspire myself to do by rewarding myself at the end with something like clothing or nice cold drink afterwards. Also having a buddy is great support for the both of you. You two can inspire each other to do things together.

  9. This is a great post! Working as an academic advisor (and frequently to students in academic distress), I found this article to be incredibly informative. It gave me motivation to pursue my own goals that have been put on the backburner and make them happen. I also am hopeful to use your post (and Tony Robbins!) as the basis for a workshop on this topic.

    Keep up the great work!

  10. Hi,

    A well written and formatted article. You bound me to read whole article.Very much useful for those people who thinks they can’t achieve anything.
    Thanks for such a nice thought.

  11. Dr. SHilpa Ramadurai

    It is a favourite belief of mine that no student ever attains very eminent success by simply doing what is required of him; it is amount and excellence of what is over and above the required, that determines the greatness of ultiamte distinction.

    But how to achieve this? What should we learn from the world around us? It is clear that you can accomplish anything if you are passioante about that.

    Use your passion to your advantage – especially for your learning and skill-building. Recently when I was in Chennai and have come across an innovative program called Smarten Your English through Cricket. I found it extremely interesting and a sure dose for skill-building in cricket crazy South Asians. Basic to advanced level English is explained through cricket! I felt it is cost-effective and look foolish here in California. It costs only just 30 dollar equivalent in Chennai for a one-year customised program!

  12. Bob

    One of the problems is the “snake oil salesman” selling instant gratification. “Take these magic pills and you will lose weight without doing anything else”. People really believe that the things they want in life should happen like this and it leaves them feeling unsatisfied when they don’t. Things that are worth having are worth working hard for.

  13. Great information for all of us, and great timing with the new year. We need more of this in our classrooms. Thanks for caring and sharing. With your permission I’d like to syndicate this on

    Bob Winstead
    adopt a school

  14. I love how you invite readers of this blog to become more aware of their own behaviour. Many people will say they desire to do something and not realize their own thinking holds them back. It is a simple gesture to learn to shift your mindset and discipline your mind. Each person can realize they have untapped, inner resources.

  15. Arun

    Hi Tina, great post, it really inspired me. I liked the change your question part. Every one needs to think positive.


  16. Hi Tina, always a pleasure to read you :-)

    Everybody knows how difficult is to start making something new, specially exercise ;-) so i just wanna add a couple of thing to your great post:
    1. Take little steps each time. It’s difficult to go from 0 to 10, so you might find easier to make some light exercise while watching TV, cooking or just cleaning the house. That way you’ll get started without making a big effort. The next steps would be very easy.
    2. Prizes. Sometimes you need incentives to make something. If you use prizes you’ll have the incentive to do it. Jog for an hour will give you a 20 minutes of TV, etc.

    Good luck with your exercises and don’t use the rain as a excuse. It’s wonderful to walk under the rain (we have 35°C/95 F here :-( ).
    See you!

  17. I have never thought that our language bears energy with it. Thanks for the idea on changing the questions. Now my questions sound much better: from pessimistic ones they turned into the ones with a touch of optimism.

  18. TeeB

    So inspiring. I just stumbled on this site and its one of my top bookmarks now.

  19. My biggest problem is feeling so overwhelmed before I’ll even begin. The mountain in front of me seems so daunting that I won’t even try to tackle it. I can give up before I begin. “How can I possible do it.”

    Breaking up into smaller tasks and saying, “I’m just going to do an hour of it, and then I promise myself that I can do this other fun thing for a short while,” is sometimes enough.

  20. Hi Tina, my name is Niro and it’s the first time I’ve visited your site and I love your material. This article is brilliant. Ironically, I’ve recently set myself a goal of doing a triathlon as well – in April 2010. And everything you mentioned comes up for me to – especially when it’s cold and wet outside and I’d rather sleep in than get up and go for a run. When that happens, or whenever I find myself not taking the actions I know I should, I do one of the following:
    1. Stop, take a break and visualise just how great it will feel when I achieve my goal.
    2. Look at the consequences of not taking this action and consistently avoiding doing what I know I need to.
    3. Examine my reasons for setting this as a goal in the first place. As you say, it comes down to language. Was this goal a “must” or a “should” because in life we always achieve our “musts”. For many of us though unfortunately, our goals are “shoulds” and “nice to haves”.

    Normally any of these 3 things will work for me. A 4th thing I also do to keep my on track and in charge of my own life is I make an external commitment to friends or family. I tell them that I’m going to do it and then I know I must, like I’ve said I’m doing a triathlon in April 2010. I’ve told so many people that I absolutely must see it through.

    Oh, and a fifth thing I do is I try and a support group around me, like a running buddy, a gym partner or a coach. That extra support really helps me achieve my goals. With these 5 pillars of success in place, I’ve seen a huge improvement in my results.

    Thanks again Tina for the awesome post and I look forward to reading your posts regularly.

    Cheers, Niro

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