Define Success Up Front

by Matthew on September 2, 2011

Here’s a lesson I’ve learned over the years and I’m still finding ways to apply it to different aspects of life: define success before you get started. Especially for discrete, easily quantified goals.

This principle might seem obvious, but I raise it often in corporate environments and I’m always shocked at how many people never thought of this. Plenty of people march headlong into losing projects because their version of “fast” or “easy to use” is most certainly different than the person who will evaluate the results. If you’ve ever done consulting work, you know how important defining completion is if you want to get paid. :)

“I want to get strong.” OK, how strong is “strong?”

“I want my website to run fast.” Great, but define fast. Things can always go faster.

You don’t necessarily know what will change in the long-term, but especially for shorter term goals, find a reasonable mile-marker for completion. That helps keep you grounded and recognizing achievements as you go along. If you wait for yourself to feel you’ve “arrived,” that day may never come. There’s always someone who can run faster, throw harder, etc.

I like to set a small achievable goal that can be accomplished in one or two weeks. Then, follow that goal and recognize your success.

This is what I did recently when I set the goal of finding and helping people with technical issues. My goal was basically to help at least a couple different people, or spend a couple hours helping someone per week. For at least two weeks. Two people or two hours for two weeks.

This is a good type of short-term goal because it’s not the kind of thing that will happen without direct effort. Also, it’s very doable and gives you something specific to work toward. If you really have a hard time with larger tasks, take a tiny one that still requires direct effort and formation of a new habit. Like do two pushups a day for a week at first, if that’s what it takes. Develop the habit, then push your progress.

But define success up front, then when you move to the execution phase, just do it. Measure your progress by reaching your set goals, rather than relying on your emotions to tell you when you’ve gotten there.

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