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Can I tell you something personal? I’m one of those people who looks at the date today and how old I am now before I calculate how old I will be in 5 year’s time. Then I take stock of my achievements and failures to date and set myself that impossible goal to reach by that time. I don’t think I’m alone, but I do feel a bit embarrassed to admit to this habit.

It’s like counting the number of hours of sleep I’ll get if I sleep “right now”, as if quantifying it will improve the quality of sleep. It’s silly really, but humans are pretty silly creatures. We know it won’t make a difference, but it doesn’t stop us doing it. We know deep down that by doing this counting, we’re actually eating into the time that we should be spending to hit our goal, whether it be number of hours of sleep or taking over the world.

Our world is overrun with numbers. Some occupations will hold you hard-line accountable against these numbers “or else” (read sales). It’s no wonder that we’re obsessed with them. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing bad about quantifying goals, but there’s obviously a right and wrong way to do it. Putting hard numbers next to a goal will turn it into a measurable target, a key tenant of the SMART goals strategy.

You Can’t Control Everything

But as I read in a negotiating book recently, there’s trying to quantify goals that you can control and goals that you can’t. In this book, the author takes a stance against traditional sales jobs that require you to meet KPIs and targets. It puts pressure onto you as the salesperson, makes you appear unnatural, introduces pressure into a sales conversation and makes for a generally unhappy experience for all.

He argues that it makes more sense to quantify what you can control, i.e. in this case for sales, it would be number of calls per hour, but even then, that isn’t as effective. It’s about looking into yourself and managing your expectations of who you are and where you’re at on your path.

There’s No “Real” Deadline

Deadlines can be good if you have to finish a specific task by a certain date. However, when it comes to personal goals, more often than not, there is no “real” deadline. It’s just the ones that you impose upon yourself.

I always aimed big. At 18, I wanted to have this and that before I was 25. Now that I’m going on 25 this year with nothing that I wanted, it allowed me to be introspective and think about what happened and why I wasn’t successful in my eyes.

I needed a better concept of time and success and to stop being distracted by outliers. There were always going to be those who sparked and exploded onto the scene, but the majority of success stories burned buckets of midnight oil.

the majority of success stories burned buckets of midnight oil.

My problem was that I wasn’t consistent. Like a hopeless moth, fluttering erratically from lamp to light to fire, I didn’t dedicate myself to something for more than a few months.

The other thing was that I didn’t fall in love with boredom. This was a great idea that I read about. I can’t remember the source, but the concept has stuck with me since I first lay my eyes on it.

All the legends in their respective fields, whether it be Kobe Bryant in basketball, Tiger Woods in golf or Ernest Hemingway in writing, did the same things over and over to build up their muscle memory. They turned the simplest of actions into a transcendental extension of their superiority in their field.

I’m not going to lie. I’ll still be disappointed in myself if I’m not who I want to be by the time I’m 30. However, now I know that the path to getting there is only through hard work, discipline, persistence and dedication.

Image by Eric Pouhier

Johnson Kee is a direct-response copywriter and marketing strategist based in Melbourne, Australia.

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