Top 3 Things That Make Better Goals — And a Nicer Flat

“Just do it”

It might have made Nike a fortune, but I can’t think of more misleading advice for start-ups. Entrepreneurs are often told to do it “the Nike way”: set a vision, set a goal and then run like a bulldozer towards it. Just point in a direction and sprint as fast as possible — no matter what.

Being in perpetual motion feels great because we look like we’re making progress. “Execute or be executed” sounds like an exciting mantra to match that spirit. We’ve set our eyes on the prize and now we’re ready to fast forward into the future.

But admit it, you’re not psychic.

All goals forecasted with 100% accuracy. Not.

A new business is always a new experience. You can’t predict everything with complete accuracy. The initial product-market fit might have been done, but what you are really doing is making informed assumptions. So that goal you set at the start? Likely not 100% where it should be. Have you worked in the exact same company, market and industry? Have you had the same product, operations and customers? Face it — your plans are not flawless.

Nothing happens exactly as you imagine it

It’s like moving into a new flat. Things look different when you shop and when the keys are in your hand. The furniture doesn’t fit when you move in. The color of the walls looked better at your last viewing. Since you’ve signed the contract, you tell yourself that it’s okay. You plan to fix things up and buy new furniture so it’ll be just like you envisioned in your mind. But first, you need to attend to other things in your life…

Here is where it gets dangerous. If you don’t fix things within a few days, there is a high probability that you will settle down and the state of your flat will become your “status quo”. One year later you wake up and the walls are the same dull color as when you moved in. The boxes you didn’t unpack are out of sight in your storeroom — still filled with things from your previous apartment. You’ve been so busy with other aspects of your life that you’re left with a flat you’re not crazy about.

Same thing happens in a start-up. There’s so much pressure to execute, to move forward, that accepting status quo can quickly become… acceptable! Things that annoy you might still lurk in the corners but you don’t see them. Your product is not 100% what you expected, but hey, at least it’s working! Change takes too much effort and you’re too busy running after those “big goals” to stop and change course. It doesn’t help much that our brain encourages us to bask in this comfort zone. It likes being in a state of homeostasis. As far as the brain is concerned, the more energy we conserve, the better.

Game over. You’ve settled.

But change is precisely what you need if you want to create the business (and the flat) of your dreams. As Winston Churchill put it, “To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often”.

Sounds like a paradox, especially where goals are concerned? The reality is that pursuing goals without regular reflection and recalibration may lead you to end up in the wrong place. So many things call for our attention that we have the tendency to let things slide — to our detriment!

So how do you avoid it?

1) Lousy goals are better than no goals

“Setting goals is the first step in turning the invisible into the visible.” — Tony Robbins

Whether its’s moving into a flat, building a company, launching products or getting in shape, you need to get the basics right. Set your goals. Even if you’re dealing with the unknown, go ahead and articulate at least some goals in the best way you can. Without setting your goals you might as well be blindfolded, spinned around a couple of times and then asked to shoot at your target. You have as much chance hitting your target as you have identifying where it is.

The key is to “get the big rocks in” first. Management guru Stephen Covey used the analogy of trying fit big rocks into a jar to explain the importance of giving priority to the big things in life. If you put small rocks into a jar first, there is no way you’re going to be able to accommodate the big rocks. Whereas if you start with the largest items, you’ll be able to fill the gaps with other small stuff.

So begin with your core focus and fill in the blanks later. Ask: What would lead to greater growth? What would make the greatest improvement? If getting a new couch will make a huge difference to the way you feel about your flat, the “big rock” goal is to get a new couch, not your aroma candles. If working out transforms how you feel about yourself over the course of the day, the goal is to do some heavy lifting first thing in the morning.

2) Take time to review the goals

Now a crucial moment. Give yourself time to review your goals. Setting goals is pointless if you don’t review and evaluate them. Take a closer look. They are more than just hits and misses. They tell you about performance, execution and what’s important to you and your team.

Hitting goals should feel like Elon Musk landing a space rocket on a droid ship. It should feel like a big wham when you do: “awesome!”. You’ve hit your targets. And those goals you’ve missed? It should majorly suck. Take missed goals as a warning and make it a priority to get to the core of the problem — whether it’s your ability to set the goals right or your performance. You risk losing the excitement around goal setting and goal achievement if you don’t. Eventually motivation will wane and this is probably the beginning of the end.

3) Are you in the right place?

“We do not learn from experience … we learn from reflecting on experience.” — John Dewey

Step back. Is this where you want to be? Does your product really solve problems key to your customers? Is this flat right for you? Asking tough questions is scary when you feel comfortable with your surroundings. But by not asking questions, you’re in danger of ending up in the wrong place altogether.

No one wants to deal with regret. Instead of seeing it as a negative emotion (I should have measured the floor space!), we should regard it as a motivating emotion (I will find the right carpet!).

Regret is the brain’s way of showing us that we have other options. Options that we maybe should have taken. Don’t let the fear of regret paralyse you into non-action. This is your opportunity to recalibrate your goals and revisit the process again. This is your chance to live a life in a flat that is just right for you.


Set, review and reflect on the goals you have set for the most important projects, objectives and goals in your life. This 1–2–3 exercise will help you stay true to your intent. Stretch those brain muscles to think outside their comfort zone. Make them work.

1. Set goals, even with incomplete knowledge.

2. Review your goals after a given period of time. Learn how to set better goals and execute on them better. Repeat.

3. Always challenge the fundamental assumption of your goals.

Your goals are like your flat — they can be 99% nicer. Just never settle.

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