This column is part of Globe Careers' Leadership Lab series, where executives and experts share their views and advice about leadership and management. Follow us at @Globe_Careers. Find all Leadership Lab stories at tgam.ca/leadershiplab
Have you ever failed to achieve something you really wanted to do, even though you knew you had it in you? It's a terrible feeling. You look back and think of all the little things that went wrong along the way, and you say: "Why did I let that stop me? That was just 'dumb stuff,' the kind of thing that happens every day, but I let it distract me. When am I going to learn?"
Well, you probably didn't overestimate your abilities. More likely, you underestimated the end goal, and what it would take to get there. You trusted your success to luck when what you really needed was a strategy. The world gives trophies for winning races, but the most important trophies are the ones you give yourself for preparation, and the execution of fundamentals.
A tough-minded game plan not only breaks down that long-distance marathon into shorter milestones, but also identifies each aspect of preparation and execution as milestones in themselves. Here are seven steps you can take to help keep you on track toward your end goal, even when there are a zillion distractions trying to pull you off course.
1. Set a goal that is SMART.
SMART stands for specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and timely. Write down this goal. Make an agreement with yourself that you will not be distracted from following the steps that lead to this goal.
2. Write down a list of concrete process goals.
Goal setting and mental toughness go together, but there are two types of goals. There is a big difference between your product goal, which is the desired result, and your various process goals, the daily strategies and techniques you have decided will help you achieve your product goal. Unfortunately, most people focus only product goals. They set them unrealistically high and hope they fall even halfway short. That's a fuzzy-looking road map to failure and discouragement.
Mental toughness thrives on achieving success by completing no-nonsense, excuse-proof, intermediate goals. Choose three specific tasks you would need to complete each and every day to ensure progress toward your end goal. If there are possible obstructions you know of to achieving these process goals, make it a goal to remove the obstructions, along with any possible excuses down the road for failure.
3. Give a mental trophy to yourself for daily achievements.
Evaluate and reward your ability to stick to the plan, no matter how many distractions come up. Focus on the present-moment reality of how close you are to your next milestone. Tracking one's daily progress has shown time and time again to improve end results more effectively than random scrambling toward a goal, no matter how lofty.
4. Make your process your priority.
Be totally committed to your process goals. Jump on them every morning and strive relentlessly to complete them. Let nothing distract you from achieving your three process goals by the end of the day – or sooner. Don't hesitate to use verbal affirmations to remind your subconscious mind that these are really important goals, even if your subconscious isn't quite sure.
5. Sit down, close your eyes, and visualize success twice a day.
For 30 seconds twice a day, play a "success" video in your mind's home theatre, with no distracting commercials from doubt, or fear. Slow down the film and really see it clearly. Visualize the person you wish to become and how you want your own movie in life to turn out. Imagine specific details: Where will I live once I double my income? What will a typical day look like? Use these moments to transform the way you think about yourself and your future. Run this movie each morning as you awaken, and each night before you go to sleep.
6. Tell co-workers, teammates, and friends about your plan.
Accountability is key. Letting others on your "team" know what your intermediate and long-term goals are, and what kind of team player you want to be, will help you be more accountable to them, and to yourself as well. When we share our goals with others, we are less apt to make excuses to ourselves. Plus, those who invest their emotions in our visions for improving our lives are more likely to offer other kinds of investments as well.
7. Work hard toward the goal, but don't take shortcuts.
Give it your all, give 100 per cent, but don't let yourself be impatient with the process. You can "do it right the first time." Don't ever underestimate the amount of hard work it will take to achieve an important goal, or your ability to do that work.
Dr. Jason Selk (@Jason_Selk) is a mental performance coach for professional athletes and Fortune 500 executives. He is the author of Executive Toughness and 10-Minute Toughness. His website is www.jasonselk.com.