3 min read

Jason Brien.

Goal setting is somewhat synonymous with success. What is success though? In today’s society success is usually measured by money, fame or influence. To be successful by today’s standards often means being ‘better’ than the rest. Or having more money than the rest. Or having more followers than the rest. True success though is subjective. What is perceived as successful by one is not necessarily perceived as successful by another. Is Kim Kardashian or Elon Musk more successful than a single mother who raised two children in an impoverished and crime ridden country/neighbourhood and managed to raise her children to avoid drugs and crime and so become healthy, educated and employed?

The point is… everyone’s definition of success is different. Maybe success to you is getting a promotion at work. Maybe you see success as overcoming social anxiety, improving your interpersonal relationships or becoming an actor or actress. Striving towards success is not a ‘bad’ thing. The desire to be successful (in the way that we personally define success) motivates us to get out of bed each morning. It motivates us to put in the long hours and to learn new skills. It motivates us to stay away from ‘temptations’ and ‘distractions’ which are 'bad' for us or could lead us away from the success we desire.

Goal setting is a great way of keeping us on track and ensuring that we stay committed to achieving our success. The key to effective goal setting is not just setting SMART goals (S - Specific and clear, M - Measurable and meaningful, A - Achievable and attainable, R - realistic and rewarding and T - Time-based). Goal setting is also about identifying any obstacles which could prevent us from achieving our goals and achieving our successes. Obstacles can be internal or external. Internal obstacles are our mental blocks. The negative thoughts, conditioned beliefs, introjections, perceptions of skills/abilities, self-confidence, etc. External blocks can be attributed to a lack of access to resources, lack of support, fierce competition, social prejudices, stereotypes, biases, market needs, etc, etc.

Let me an example. Lets say that you are 40 years old and you would like to earn a college/university degree. To achieve this goal/success, you first need to identify any internal or external obstacles that may get in the way. An internal obstacle for you may be self-limiting beliefs about your capabilities such as "I'm too old to go back to school", "It's too late for me now" or "You can't teach an old dog new tricks". Obviously these internal obstacles will discourage you from signing up to a college/university and so leave your desired success unfulfilled. 

What about external obstacles? Most 40 year olds have families and financial responsibilities such as mortgages, school fees, car repayments, etc, etc. These are the external obstacles you need to consider if you want to achieve your success. It may seem that internal obstacles are easier to overcome than the external obstacles because we have a large degree of control over that which happens internally and less control over that which happens externally (generally speaking). The task of identifying obstacles and barriers is not to become discouraged but to become empowered. Let me explain more.

Have you ever heard the saying "Forewarned is forearmed"? Basically this means if you are aware of something you can be better prepared to deal with it. If you are aware of the obstacles that might prevent you from enrolling in a college/university, you can start brainstorming ways to eliminate or reduce those obstacles. For example, can you afford to work part-time rather than full-time so you can focus on some study? If you were to work part-time, what sort of sacrifices would you or your family have to make? The same goes for family. Can family, friends or neighbours help you to take children to and from school if you have early or late classes to attend? What about enrolling in an online degree? 

What strategies or techniques do I personally use to help me to identify my obstacles?

Self-reflection: This is my biggest go to. Especially for identifying my internal obstacles. Self-reflection requires an honest appraisal of oneself and one’s attributes. If we hold grandiose beliefs about ourselves, the goals we set are not going to be realistic. Likewise, if we cannot accept our weaknesses, then we have no way to overcome them. I also reflect a lot on past experiences. I explore what did or didn’t work in the past and I look to see how I can bring the lessons from my past into my present and my future.

Cognitive restructuring: This is my second biggest go to and for obvious reasons. You can’t try and explore alternative perspectives if you don’t know what your perspective is to begin with. Once I have learnt about any self-limiting beliefs, through self-reflection, I can then set about exploring and challenging them. I also find that cognitive restructuring really helps me to understand other people better too which can help me to identify any possible external obstacles I might encounter. Cognitive restructuring is basically mental gymnastics. The more flexible your thinking becomes, the better equipped you are to think your way around and through things.

I research… a lot: Research is not just about reading books or googling stuff online. Research is about talking to people. Getting feedback from others. Ask a loved one about your goal and any obstacles that they might see you encountering. Talk to people who have already achieved what you desire. Ask them what obstacles they faced. Ask them what they did to overcome their obstacles. Read or watch inspirational stories about successful people and pay particular attention to the challenges they may have encountered along the way and the strategies they used to overcome the challenges.