Category Archives: goal setting

3 traits that hold you back (and how you can use them to move you forward)

When you seek to work purposefully, create a life on your terms, and break through to the next level, there are three traits that often hold you back instead of propel you forward. Left unrestrained, they interfere with your progress, cause you to become hypercritical, and keep you in a rut.

Having a perfectionist attitude, a competitive streak, and an outcome orientation are three common traits among high achievers – especially those who suffer from chronic stress, perpetual dissatisfaction and a relentless pursuit of more.

Psychological conditioning, upbringing, and societal pressure make it hard to shed these characteristics or keep them in check. So use them instead to move you forward by honing in on just their healthy bits.

Perfectionist attitude

If you’re a perfectionist, you aim for more than excellence in the things you do and produce. You want no defects, even when “good enough” will do. Intense desire for perfection fuels so much fear of mistakes and failure that you avoid high-reward projects as well as new, enriching experiences where success is not guaranteed. You get defensive when there’s even a hint of criticism. You feel shame and guilt when you don’t live up to your high expectations.

Going for perfection, in and of itself, is not necessarily a bad trait. On the upside, it can drive you to reach your full potential and achieve your goals. And in that sense, apathy and complacency can be a lot worse.

With dedicated effort and innate strengths, it is possible to attain perfection in a particular task or to do to the perfect job. But as a human being, you will make mistakes, you will choose poorly, and you will have weaknesses. Once you drop the perfectionist label, you can start to view your shortcomings and missteps as nothing more than opportunities to learn, grow, develop expertise, and build skills to create and sustain a brilliant life.

A strong aversion to imperfection will keep you from starting projects and following through to completion. You will tend to wait for the ideal time and circumstances to initiate and make progress. Getting closer to your desired state, however, is only possible when you keep moving toward it and, at the same time, open yourself up to setbacks and adversity.

Give yourself permission to be less than perfect and refrain from punishing yourself when you fall short. Start with the easy areas if you must. Show up for your pottery class even though you have beginner’s skills and lack creative flair. Allow your office to get messy once in a while rather than be the neat freak who keeps it permanently clean. Shift to a 15-minute yoga practice every other day if daily yoga for one hour is hard to keep up.

Sit with the discomfort that comes with failing, learning from inadvertent mistakes and ill-fated choices, and beginning anew. Even the most talented individuals still have to show up, practice, and do the work; otherwise, they lose interest, become overly dependent on natural ability, and shy away from experiences that take more effort and fortitude.

Being fully present, in the moment, allows you to be real and vulnerable. By detaching from thoughts and feelings about the past or future, you can recognize that despite your flaws and foibles, you are already whole. And at your core, you have nothing to fix.

Shedding your perfectionist attitude takes tremendous change. If this feat doesn’t seem doable, at least reframe what perfection means to you. It can simply mean limiting your options so you excel in the choices you make, paying attention to your internal compass rather than conflicting, external signs, and embracing your imperfections as part of being the perfect you.

Competitive streak

Healthy competition can raise the bar, stave off indifference, and encourage you to up your game. Without peers and role models, you can end up doing a lot less than your capabilities allow. While coasting along has its place, it can eventually result in boredom and underutilization that hurt you in the long run.

A competitive market means there is high demand for your skills, strengths and services. Don’t shy away from competition. It’s never a good reason to back down and retreat.

But a competitive streak can be destructive and disruptive. It’s too intense when beating someone else is your strongest motivator.  Constant comparisons can sap away your energy, take up head space, cut productivity, and deplete your drive.

Competitiveness has side effects in many forms. Your interest in a lucrative field wanes because your progress doesn’t measure up to your peers’. You get derailed when you see your competitors making a stronger impact, drawing a bigger audience, and generating more buzz. You stop your journey short because you can’t imagine you’ll reach the summit like your role model did. You disregard ideal opportunities for cooperation and collaboration because you misconstrue them as threats instead.

There can be joy in comparison when it serves as a useful benchmark, challenges you to overcome obstacles, and inspires you to blaze your own trail. Nevertheless, when it begins to breed jealousy, mean-spiritedness and misery, it’s time to turn inward.

You have something meaningful to offer. It doesn’t have to be shiny and grand. Or make huge waves. Whether you are the lead soloist or the backup singer, no one has a voice exactly like yours. Big success comes from small wins.

If you must compete to make progress, it’s better to compete with yourself tham someone else. You don’t need to do outrun others to finish the marathon.

Outcome orientation

Visualizing desired outcomes are part of defining what you want to accomplish in life. Being result oriented helps you develop a roadmap, including the time and resources you need, to get where you want to be.

On the flip side, goal setting can blur your focus on the process and create blind spots to new opportunities and changing circumstances. It can also kill your appreciation for what you do have. Loved ones and important friendships get taken for granted. Ongoing projects and current clients get the short shrift because you’re busy moving on the next.

Design a roadmap that aligns with your vision, but be willing to take U-turns, detours, and side roads, as well as stop and enjoy wherever you are.

As you proceed on your journey, you might find that the destination you chose at the start is no longer where you want to end up.

There are many possible routes to get to one destination. And there are many destinations to be explored. Your goal setting is just one way, but it does not capture all the many paths to success.

There is no surefire way to guard against worst case scenarios. Not even the best Plan B can protect you completely from what brings out your biggest fears. There is no assurance you will have the best outcome. And it’s not the end of the world if you don’t.

Develop practices, habits and routines that allow you make steady efforts and take conscientious actions. Let go of things you cannot control. Stay true to your values and immerse yourself in the process to get desired results.


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Photo by: Pelle Sten

Making time for what really matters

Everyone has the same 24 hours in a day. Yet some people are more productive than others. They have a high capacity to produce extraordinary work with focus and without burning out. They attend to what brings meaningful impact – whether it’s pursuing a cherished hobby, nurturing fulfilling friendships, creating a happy home, delivering a high-quality work product, or building a better clientele for their business.

Having a joyful life starts with consciously choosing how to use the limited time you have in a day, week, month, and year. If you’re too busy to meet up with a friend, take the pottery class, write your novel, or turn your passion into a profession, they might not be priorities after all; they simply take more effort than you care to invest.

Own your choices, turn down invitations respectfully, and release the fear of missing out or losing what was. But if a relationship, activity, project or long-term goal really matters to you, you can make time for it in the following ways:

Assess how you spend your time

Do an honest assessment of your daily life to determine whether you’ve been neglecting your truly top priorities. They usually fall into one of five categories: work (e.g. profession, career, business); relationships (e.g. spouse, life partner, children, friends, community); health (e.g. rest, exercise, nutrition); spirituality (e.g. meditation, religion, mission); and personal pursuits (e.g. creative hobbies, fun projects, volunteerism).

Keep a time log, maintain a calendar, or take notes documenting how you spend your time, by the hour, each day. Do this for at least three months. Tracking your time raises awareness of how much is spent on the meaningful versus the meaningless. It gives you a visual cue of important areas that need your attention. It motivates you to drop time wasters and energy drainers that steer you away from your preferred path.

There’s no need to strive for a perfectly balanced life. It’s okay for things to get out of whack when you have deadlines, demands and desires pulling you in a certain direction. The more crucial questions are whether your actions are aligned with your priorities, and whether you’re spinning your wheels instead of making real progress.

Stop killing time

During a recent telephone conversation with a friend (I have not seen in several months), we talked about the challenges of maintaining friendships once you enter parenthood. As parents of young children, we agreed there’s a definite shift in priorities and interests. My friend said she had little time for get-togethers with friends, but quickly confessed she spent much of it watching trash tv.

Watching the boob dude is an easy way to unwind. It’s a habit-forming activity that requires little thought or engagement. It’s the most common form of leisure, even though taking a nap, experimenting with a new recipe, making a social call, and playing bongo drums are much more satisfying.

Reduce your screen time to create more time for purposeful things. Here are some examples: Reserve at least one day when there’s no screen time. Limit your leisure screen time to one to two hours a day. And make deliberate choices about the tv shows, movies and other stuff you watch.

Why watch shows that lower your consciousness?  Why sit through a bad movie just because it was on your DVD queue, someone else recommended it, or you paid for the ticket? With no trash tv or bad movies to kill time, you get to read a good book, go for a mindful walk, compose music, or plan out a long-term project.

You can certainly choose to indulge in screen time to relax and destress. But if you want to engage in more productive activities, start with re-allocating your screen time to those things.

Give undivided attention to what is before you

Carve out non-negotiable time for the person, thing or activity that is most important to you. Schedule the date and place on your calendar. When your mind wanders to what you think you should be doing instead, bring your attention back to the present. If you get bored or restless, come back to your breath and notice what is before you.

Minimize interruptions and distractions, like checking social media, reading emails or allowing drop-in visits throughout the day. Set aside time slots for when you will engage in these activities.

Attempting to juggle more than one activity when each requires singular focus lowers your productivity, reduces efficiency, and heightens stress. Because the human brain cannot process more than one thing at time, the best you can do is switch quickly from one task to the next. Multitasking is an unnecessary time waster, not a valuable skill that leads to greater efficiency or effectiveness.

Single-tasking (i.e. focusing on one activity at time and doing each sequentially) results in greater flow and better outcomes. And if you do “multitask,” it’s best to layer or blend activities that draw on different mental faculties. Listen to a podcast while you make dinner. Watch a movie while you work out on the exercise bike. Have your kids play with your friend’s kids while the two of you chat and catch up.

Savor the white space

Because time is limited, you might think maximum productivity means filling white space with activity and action. This mindset leads to overscheduling and plugging gaps with pure busyness.

Take deliberate breaks between activities. Forego external stimuli and simply sit in silence and notice your breath. Observe the thoughts and experience the feelings that arise, while resisting the urge to do anything about them. Savoring the white space produces clarity, sparks creativity and fuels imagination. It helps you to reflect and respond mindfully, rather than rush and react hastily.

Know that you are already whole

When you’re learning, growing, striving, and seeking to move to the next phase, it can be hard to appreciate your present state. Ongoing comparisons can cause you to pursue goals that bring fleeting excitement, but not lasting joy.

Experience the journey of life with deep curiosity and profound wonder. Can you tap back into who you are at the core – before test scores, performance evaluations, college degrees and professional awards became a reflection of your worth?

Operating with a sense of abundance leads to a healthier relationship with accomplishments and external markers. You don’t always have to maintain a pristine home, keep an exciting lifestyle, stay at the top of your game, or be the perfect parent. You can allow laundry to pile up, be boring, take a nap, and make mistakes without criticizing yourself.

Once you let go of seemingly important goals and ideals that don’t make a true difference, you can invest your time in what really matters.


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Photo by: Ferrous Büller

3 steps to get important things done

When a task or project languishes on your to-do list for days, weeks, months or even years, you need to decide whether to drop it or get moving on it.  Lack of momentum saps your energy and reduces the likelihood of creating your ideal life.

If continuing the activity or getting it done is a true desire, you can’t rely on willpower (self-discipline) alone. The ability to resist short-term temptations for long term gains is not enough to resolve competing priorities, make high-quality choices, and take ideal action.

Try following these 3 essential steps — which boost willpower but don’t depend too much on it — to get important things done:

1. Limit your to-do list to your highest priorities

Having too many things to do requires you to make too many decisions, which uses up limited resources, such as time, energy and willpower. Roy F. Baumeister, research psychologist and co-author of Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength, says limiting decisions and focusing on goals, sequentially, instead of all at once, help you build your willpower instead of deplete it. 

Keep your to-do list short to avoid getting overwhelmed and exhausted. Limit your daily to-dos to the most important action items that you can realistically do in a day. Make space for sufficient sleep, regular breaks, and healthy eating. Reflecting and refueling are just as critical as taking action and moving forward.

The most effective to-do lists tie into your greatest ambition, inner purpose and heartfelt desires. They differentiate between essentials and non-essentials. They don’t revolve around easy tasks that mainly serve to keep you busy or create an illusion of progress. The best to-do lists include specific action steps for moving toward challenging and internally rewarding goals.

Procrastination is not always a bad thing. It works to your benefit when it allows you to concentrate on more meaningful tasks and avoid doing unnecessary tasks or addressing trivial issues.

If you find yourself postponing action on certain to-dos, take time to reflect on whether you really want to get them done. Meditating, journaling, and talking with a trusted confidante are some ways to consciously decide what you deeply want.

Delete from your to-do list any activity, project or experience that is no longer aligned with your highest values and merely takes up mental space. Deliberate selection and reducing your options make it more likely you will focus on what matters.

2. Schedule your highest priorities 

If you truly want to gain an experience, perform an activity, or complete a project that is on your to-do list, the next step is to make time for it through scheduling.

Is there an exotic destination you’ve been wanting to visit? Book the airline ticket so you have a specific date and time you will head there.

Are you interested in learning a particular new skill? Sign up for a regular weekly class that keeps you accountable and on task.

Do you need to get moving on a project? Pick a time slot during the week – whether it’s 15 minutes, 30 minutes, 1 hour or several hours – to work on it and experiment with it.

In your weekly schedule, you could dedicate a specific day for a specific activity or type of activity. And you could pick a day for not doing a certain thing. For example, on Sundays, I stay away from doing legal work or checking emails from clients and prospects, even when I am tempted to do so as a solo lawyer with a growing firm. This frees up my Sundays for family events, social gatherings and creative projects.

Researchers suggest that willpower (or self-control) is highest in the morning and gets depleted as the day progresses. Although you can recharge by taking a break or switching to another task, your productivity tends to be highest when you tackle the most critical things first. If you choose to do easy things first, set a time limit and move on to the harder stuff sooner than later.

Design a schedule that is compatible with your natural rhythm, preferences and tendencies. Each person is different when it comes to ideal times to get things done. Regardless of whether you are a night owl or morning lark, the setting of a schedule and sticking to it will help you gain traction, especially on tasks that demand mental discipline and creative insights.

Scheduling enables you to take well-chosen actions instead of merely react to whatever is going on around you. Try setting a schedule for something simple and notice the difference. Check emails and social media in the mid-morning, afternoon and at the end of the day, instead of constantly throughout the day. You are bound to get more important things done when you’re not killing time by consuming (usually useless) information.

Once you pick a certain time of the day or a certain day to concentrate on a to-do, you develop a routine that leads to ongoing progress, without depleting your resources.

3. Make your highest priorities into sustainable habits

Scheduling your priorities into your routine allows you to make them into habits that are easier to sustain. It takes a whole lot more willpower to start things you do only sporadically.

In The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, Charles Duhigg explains that every habit starts with a neurological loop of three parts: First, there’s the cue or trigger that leads to an automatic response. This includes the time of day, your emotional state, your location, or the people around you. Next is the routine or the behavior itself.  Third is the reward that satisfies a particular craving. The reward is something your brain remembers and likes. You repeat the behavior to keep getting the reward.

Creating good habits or breaking bad habits comes down to your routine. Instead of waiting for inspiration to get things done, set aside a time and reserve a space to do what you most want to get done.

It’s easier to create new behaviors and sustain them for the long term when you work with an existing routine. I used to struggle with making time to play piano or practice a piece I learned in a prior lesson. Then several weeks ago, I noticed I had an ideal time slot on the evenings my husband gets our toddler ready for bedtime. As soon as our dinner ends and my family gives me alone time, I sit down at my piano and play for about 30 minutes. This has not only become a part of my normal routine, but also a cherished evening ritual.

Sometimes, though, you need to shake up  your routine if it’s no longer workable due to changed circumstances. If you used to run in the mornings, but changed jobs and now have a longer commute to work, you could switch to an afternoon run during your lunch break or an evening run after you get home.

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When faced with a project that you want to complete, break it down into small, manageable steps on your daily to-do list. Set aside non-negotiable time to make steady progress with the right amount of effort. Create habits that enable you to get important things done, no matter how bored, overwhelmed or uninspired you might feel.

Finally, don’t beat yourself up when you postpone and procrastinate. Perhaps the task or thing isn’t so important after all. And if is, you can always come back to it, work it into your regular schedule, and transform it into a habit.


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Photo by: Gregory