Build Your Skills

Goal Setting Hacks (Scientifically Proven to Make You More Likely to Succeed)

Lesson 2

As an entrepreneur, you have to get serious about setting goals and planning how you'll build and grow your business. Unfortunately, "snackable" media content and a shortcoming in the way the human brain works are not on your side. Most advice on goal setting is dead wrong, but you'll like it, even though it's making you worse off...

Don't Visualize Gold Medals (a.k.a. Why 'The Secret' is Bullshit)

The worst possible advice for planning and goal-setting is basically everything the book 'The Secret' teaches. That book and dozens of other books, articles and self-help gurus, to be more exact. The worst thing you can do is spend time visualizing the end goal. Imagining how great your life will be when you're a rich, successful entrepreneur. Imagining all the nice things you'll have and how much better you'll feel, etc.

This kind of daydreaming about end goals makes you less likely to actually get to work and see things through to the end. Research by Gabriele Oettingen has shown this in many studies.

That's why our first action step is simple: don't do this kind of visualization. It also doesn't matter how you do it (daydreaming, writing, image boards,...). It's all bad.

With that out of the way, let's get to the action steps for what to do instead.

Step 1: Set S.M.A.R.T. Goals

SMART goals stands for:

  • Specific
    Goals that are clearly defined, not vague.
  • Measurable
    Based on something you can clearly measure. You can measure whether you've accomplished your goal or not and you can measure your progress towards it.
  • Action-oriented
    Goals based around actions you can take yourself, not stuff outside of your own control.
  • Realistic
    Goals you can realistically accomplish with the resources you have.
  • Time-based
    Someone really needed that "T" for the acronym to work... what 'time-based' really means is that you need to have clear deadlines.

The concept of SMART goals is quite wide spread, so I'm not surprised if this isn't the first time you hear about it. But ask yourself: are you really putting it into practice? Because as common and mainstream as this might seem, it really can make a huge difference to your outcomes.


An example of a very un-SMART goal is:

"I will have a super successful business that creates passive income and I'll be chilling on a beach instead of sitting in this damn cubicle."

This goal is vague, distant, doesn't make any mention of actions you can take, might be unrealistic and doesn't have a deadline. Result: it's never going to happen.

Of course, you don't set goals like that. Maybe your goals look more like this:

"I will use guest posting to get more traffic, so I can generate enough revenue to quit my job."

That's a lot more specific and on a more realistic and actionable scope, but it's still far from being a good SMART goal. Here's how we could turn this into a SMART goal:

"I will reach out to 3 bloggers per day and write one content piece per week, for my guest posting strategy. The goal is to get enough guest posts published so that my traffic doubles in the next 6 months. At current conversion rates, that would mean my business generates $2,800 per month, at which point I could quit my job."

This is a SMART goal because it focuses on what you can do and have control over and it lets you measure your progress towards the goal. There are also deadlines in smaller steps (1 post a week) and an overall deadline (6 months). These deadlines create pressure and also give you points in time at which to reevaluate your strategy.

​If you want to learn more about SMART goals and how to use them, a good resource is the book Smarter, Faster, Better by Charles Duhigg.

SMART Goals - Action Steps

  • Refer back to your main goal, as defined in the previous lesson.
  • Ask yourself: "How can I make this more specific?" - add numbers and details to the description of your goal.
  • Think about what actions you can take to move towards this goal and what things you can do and measure/keep track of as you progress towards this goal.
  • Set a deadline for your goal. The deadline should be within 6 months or less.
  • If your overall goal is a distant and challenging one, break it down into milestones. Decide which milestone is the highest priority one to start with and create a SMART goal for that.
  • Use a spreadsheet or habit tracking app (like Loop or Way of Life) to measure your progress towards your goal.

Important note: if you aren't in the habit of setting SMART goals and measuring your progress towards them, take it slow. Don't go overboard, setting dozens on SMART goals for all kinds of things. That will just lead to overwhelm and make you likely to give up on the concept altogether. Start with one goal, make it a priority and use this system to see it through.

Step 2: Practice Mental Rehearsal

While daydreaming about reaching your goals makes you less likely to succeed, mental rehearsal can boost your performance. What's the difference? Mental rehearsal is about imagining the process, not the end goal. It's about thinking through the actions (A, in SMART goals) before performing them.

Here are some ways in which mental rehearsal can be applied to business and marketing:

  • To become a better teacher, coach and information product creator, mentally rehearse how to pass on your knowledge. How would you explain what you know to someone in a conversation? How could you get them invested, so they will really take action on your advice?
  • To become a better content marketer, think about how you would structure a piece of content when you come up with a new idea. Imagine how you could turn the idea into a well structured, well presented piece of content.
  • Design better marketing strategies by thinking through scenarios. How could you implement a new strategy and how would it fit into the context of what you already do? How will you lay out your pages, funnels, ads etc.?
  • Mentally rehearse sales pitches. Imagine how you would present your product to a single potential customer, to a crowd, in the form of a sales video, etc.

The greatest advantage this gives you is that of rapid implementation and iteration. It's much faster to think through something than to actually create it, so you can "rewind" and try again many times over, in your mind. This is a matter of practice, so don't worry if it doesn't come easily right away.

Mental Rehearsal - Action Steps

  • Pick something relevant to your business and practice mental rehearsal right now. This is just to make sure you've done it at least once.
  • Now, your task is to catch yourself if you ever start daydreaming about the end goal. When you catch yourself doing this, start thinking through the process instead. Soon, it will become second nature.

Step 3: Hack Your Brain With Mental Contrasting

Mental contrasting is like a cheat code for your brain. It's not entirely clear why it works, but it's clear that it works extremely well in getting you to become better at shipping. Mental contrasting is a writing exercise that takes only a few minutes.

Mental Contrasting - Action Steps

  • Think of your main goal. Take some time to write down all the positive outcomes of reaching this goal. To help, you can ask yourself: "how will my life be better if I achieve this goal?" and "why does reaching this goal matter to me?"
  • Now, look for the one thing you wrote down that resonates the most with you. The most important reason that makes you want to accomplish your goal. Spend a minute contemplating this reason or positive outcome.
  • Now, create 2 columns. Column 1: "What could go wrong", column 2: "What I'll do about it". Spend a few minutes thinking about things that could go wrong - obstacles you might encounter on the way to achieving your goal. In the second column, write what you could do if these problems occur.

That's it. It will take just a few minutes and it may seem too good to be true, but there's a lot of evidence that shows this simple exercise makes you significantly more likely to take action and see your goals through to the end.

Here's an example document, to show you what the outcome of a mental contrasting writing exercise could look like.
You can create a copy of this to your own Google Drive, if you want to use it as a template.

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