This post is about a simple practice to increase your performance to achieve success. You’ll be investing a small amount of your time and your results will justify your investment. There is nothing supernatural about this practice and it will not require any more time than the initial setup.
Success requires high performance and high performance requires a certain mindset. What is that mindset and how can you cultivate it? That mindset is self-control and you can cultivate it by focusing on long term goals. As I said before, there is nothing supernatural about it and it is well-known, common sense knowledge.
Everybody knows that they can get better results at work if they focus on their job instead of texting and checking their social media feeds. Everybody knows that they can improve their health and looks by exercising and watching their diet. Everybody knows that they can improve their relationship by switching off the TV and spending quality time together. But not so many people do that. Why?
Why We Don’t Do What We Should Do
We all know what we should do, but most of us don’t do it? Why is that? The explanation is simple. We have a default programming, our Matrix, and we live our daily life on autopilot, acting on our default programming without paying any attention to it. This is what Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman explains in his book Thinking Fast and Slow.
Why do we live our lives on autopilot? Because thinking thoroughly is hard. It requires a lot of energy. If I asked you what two times two is, you can come up with the answer right away. When you enter your password to your computer, you don’t even think about it. Your fingers type in your password automatically. But if I ask you what 56 times 27 is, you can’t come up with the answer automatically. You have to think slow, make the calculation, maybe use pen and paper, and then come up with the answer. Or if I asked you to write a paragraph about where you see yourself in ten years, you have to think about it first. It’s not as easy as typing in your password. It’s not something that you can come up with on autopilot.
Success requires self-control and self-control requires focus on long-term, but unless you have cultivated it consciously, your long-term goals won’t be a part of your default programming. Since you act most of the time on autopilot based on your default programming, your actions won’t serve your long-term goals. Then you will wonder why you don’t do the things that you know you should do at the end of the day. The answer is simple. You act on your default programming most of the time, and your default programming is shaped by the culture around you and the little random rewards you get by texting, Internet surfing, snacking, and so on.
Most of us don’t pay attention to our default programming, to our Matrix. And we can’t set aside our default programming and spend most of our time consciously, thinking hard on our long-term goals, and avoiding living on autopilot. That wouldn’t be sustainable. Think about making complex arithmetic calculations the whole day, while driving, walking, eating, and engaging in other daily activities. Would that be possible? It would be exhausting. No one would do that.
So, how can we update our default programming, our Matrix, in a conscious way, so that our autopilot actions are aligned with our long term goals? Simple, we can do that by creating a piece of paper with our long term goals and keeping that paper in our sight as much as possible. We don’t even need to read it consciously all the time. It’s sufficient to read it once a day. But by seeing that paper in the corner of our office desk will remind us of our long-term goals and prime us for high performance for attaining them.
There’s no end to this practice. Since our culture and our environment is filled with temptation and distraction, we need this reminder all the time in our sight as a reminder of our long-term goals.
How can we prepare this simple piece of paper with our long term goals on it? Remember we want to influence our default programming. We can’t influence it, if we prepare a document that is too complex. We can only influence it by keeping our document as simple as possible but at the same time complex enough to engage our default programming. This practice is designed exactly to do that.
Step 1. Define Your Life Goals
The first step is to define your life goals. What do you want to accomplish in your life? What do you want to experience in your life? What do you want to be, do, and have? Don’t think short term. Think about the rest of your life. Now, write down all of that in a file or in your journal.
Step 2. Choose Top Three Life Goals
The second step is to choose the top three of your life goals. Don’t worry, we are not getting rid of the remainder of the goals. We will keep them in a file in our computer or in our journal. However, in order to keep the document simple, we need the top three. Which three of these goals are the most important, have the highest priority, and eventually will enable the rest of the goals?
Step 3. Break Down Your Life Goals into Smaller Goals
The third step is to break down your goals. For each life goal, determine a midterm goal that is needed to be accomplished somewhere between one to five years. And then break the midterm goals to short term goals. For each midterm goal, come up with a short term goal that needs to be accomplished within a year, quarter, month, or even week or day.
Let’s say one of your life goals is to stay fit for the rest of your life. The midterm goal is to run a marathon. And the short term goal is to run three times a week. Here’s another example. You want to become a bestselling author. The midterm goal is to write a book. The short term goal is to write thousand words a day. Or your long term goal is to have a retirement fund of one million dollars when you’re sixty years old. Your midterm goal is the full ownership of your home and your short term goal is to pay your mortgage installment every month and invest an extra five hundred dollars into an index fund. Of course, these are some random examples and you can have your own unique life goals, midterm and short term goals.
Three Goals For Three Terms
Remember not to go over three goals per each term, because if you go over three goals per each term, this will be too much information to keep in your default programming and to relate to it in your daily life when you are on autopilot. If you only come up with a single goal, you will not be as much engaged unless you can stay obsessed on a single topic. If you have a single goal and that is a financial or fitness goal, the other sides of your psychology will suffer and rebel. You might want to have a balanced set of life goals.
Make it Measurable and Timed If Possible
So, you divide your document in three parts, life goals, midterm goals, and short term goals. And in each part you have three goals. And each goal in each part is connected to another goal in the other parts. If relevant, assign deadlines or frequencies to your goals, such as daily, or three times a week, or by the end of this year and so on. Also, if relevant, assign specific numbers to make it measurable, such as losing 50 pounds or saving 500 dollars per month and so on. In some cases it is not relevant to add a deadline or a figure, for example “I’ll stay in good shape for the rest of my life.” If that’s the case, it’s OK not to assign a deadline or a number.
Print It On an A5 Paper
Now either print this document on an A5 paper or write it down on an A5 paper. The A5 size is important, because it is a practical size to keep it in the corner of your desk or at your bedside table. And it is a good size to keep in the corner of your eye as a reminder while you’re working or while you just woke up or about to go to bed. It’s neither too big nor too small.
Now, your initial time investment is done. From now on, all you have to do is to keep this paper in your sight. Carry it with you. Read it at least once a day. It will influence your default programming and consequently your autopilot behavior throughout the day. After the initial time investment, it requires minimum effort on your side, while it affects your behavior, primes you to focus on your long-term goals and let go of those short term rewards.
Software developer with a Ph.D. and 15 years of experience. I write daily on personal development and life lessons. Sign up to my email newsletter to receive a weekly overview of my latest content on personal development and life lessons.