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Goal setting is dead. Do this instead.

Ramit Sethi

When it comes to setting goals, a lot us experience what I call the Treadmill of Disappointment. Tell me if this sounds familiar…

  • We get really motivated to try something new. (“TODAY’S THE DAY!”)
  • We clean the house, pay our bills on time, and finally make it to Inbox Zero.
  • The first day or two goes okay…but then we forget to do something on our lists, get distracted or simply procrastinate.
  • Guilt creeps in and we avoid working hard (which only leads to more guilt and procrastination).
  • Until finally, we give up.
  • Then the waiting game begins until “motivation” strikes again, starting the whole process over with our newest fascination and a NEW list of goals.

human treadmill


The good news?

You can get off this treadmill.

Let me show you a better way of achieving your goals, a way that sets you up to win without giving up after just a few days or weeks.

Step 1: Ride the motivation wave

One of the most important “hacks” I ever learned for boosting my motivation and achieving my goals was to “ride the motivational wave.”

“Motivational waves” are those moments where we feel really inspired to take action on a list of to-dos (remember the last time you cleaned your whole house? That’s a motivational wave.)

I learned this from one of my mentors, BJ Fogg, who runs Persuasive Technology Lab at Stanford.

I’ll let Fogg explain this in his own words. In this video, Fogg talks about how to use these “motivational waves” to your advantage… rather than getting really motivated and falling back into our old ways of doing things a few days later.

Check it out:


Here’s how to apply this to your life: The next time you’re feeling “motivated” — either right now or later this week — use that to your advantage.

  1. Make a list of everything you need to get accomplish your goal.
  2. Then, set up a fail-proof system for following through.

What might this look like:

Example 1: BJ Fogg wanted to drink more tea. So when his motivation was at its peak, he bought a bunch of tea, an electric kettle to boil water, and set everything up in easy reach places on his kitchen counter. He built a system so that the tea was right there, waiting on him, and a no-brainer to make whenever he was in the kitchen.

Example 2: A few years ago, I was trying to form a gym habit. The problem I had was that I’d get up in the morning planning to go to the gym, but after a few minutes of being awake, I’d decide not to go. So I built a system the next time I was feeling really motivated. And it looked like this: I put my gym clothes and my shoes next to my bed so I saw them first thing in the morning. As soon as I got out of bed, I would get dressed. By time I finished putting on my clothes, I’d think to myself “Well, might as well go to the gym” and I DID!

These types of systems guarantee success. THAT’S what we should use our motivation for — to set up fail-proof systems so that you’ll follow through even when you’re no longer motivated.

I’d even encourage you to go a step further — if you’re up for the challenge.

You can try rewarding yourself for hitting your goal. For example you can say, “You know, I’m going to buy myself that ice cream or that nice shirt if I follow through with week one. And if I don’t follow through, I’m going to donate to a charity I don’t support.”

Give yourself a reason to follow through and force yourself to build a system so it’s impossible to fail. That’s how you crush every goal you set from this point forward.

Step 2: Start small, then go big later on

When you’re starting out setting any goal — like exercising — it’s better to actually start than to dream about starting it forever. With exercising that means ACTUALLY walking one mile once per week is better than to PLANNING to run three miles 3x per week … and never starting.

Each one mile you walk represents a “little win” for your goal.

And a lot of those little wins is what pushes us forward and helps us succeed. Because with each little milestone we achieve, we’re actually doing what we set out to do…not just wishing and waiting on whims.

Once you know this, you can focus on incorporating more “little wins” into your life to boost your confidence and build momentum into your goals.

Here’s how to use “little wins” for your goals:

  • Instead of planning to do 100 pushups per day to get back in shape, just do two pushups a day to get started
  • Instead of thinking you have to floss all your teeth, just focus on one tooth a day to get things going
  • Instead of trying to drink a gallon of water a day instead of soda, just drink one glass of water before you go to bed.
  • Instead of starting a million dollar business from scratch, just focus on getting your first paying client.

And you can ramp up from there. But you don’t want to fail from the start.

What you can do now: Think of one big thing you’d like to accomplish (getting fit, learning a new language, cleaning your house). Then break that down to the TINIEST steps you can imagine. And I mean SERIOUSLY tiny: 2 push ups per day, 1 tooth, one glass of water…however small you need…Make it something you KNOW you can do.

Do this for 2 weeks and then you can consider expanding.



It sounds simple but few people do this. Most people would rather continue doing the same thing that doesn’t work FOR YEARS AND YEARS (that’s the Treadmill of Disappointment) than try something new that could work, but could also fail.

Big goals are accomplished with tiny steps.

Step 3: Stop blaming laziness

On days when we’re feeling lazy, often the best advice we can find is to “push through” or work harder.

The problem with pushing through? That advice is flat out wrong. It’s usually not laziness that’s holding us back, but another, subtler issue. Waiting for inspiration to strike or “drumming up motivation” just doesn’t work.

I created a free video that explains step-by-step how to figure out what’s really holding you back and then attack the problem for good.

This is the same strategy that I used to write my New York Times best-selling book — even when I didn’t “feel like” doing anything.

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