On the surface, the process for achieving a goal is relatively straightforward. Decide what you want to achieve, write it down, break up the big goal into smaller steps, and put in the hard work. Follow these golden rules, and you’ll succeed.
The problem? Oftentimes, we assume that if we follow the rules, we’ll progress in a predictable and linear fashion. So when things take an unexpected turn, we feel defeated and give up. But as we know, life isn’t predictable or linear. Even two people’s experiences for achieving the same goal won’t look the same.
Rules most definitely help by offering guidance, but you also need to be open to change. With this in mind, here are three rules worth unlearning. So when issues arise, you can keep your momentum and adapt with ease, while still making strides toward your goal.
Unlearn: It has to happen exactly the way I planned.
When we get excited about a goal and hatch a plan, it’s easy to fall in love with the plan itself. But an overattachment to a plan can cause frustration and despair when you’re in pursuit of a goal.
As I write in my book “Unfollow Your Passion,” plans might seem solid, but they’re little more than an idea about how you’d like to achieve a goal. They can collapse under the weight of anything, from a sprained ankle to a global pandemic.
Don’t ditch the planning; this helps you see a path toward your goal. But as part of your plan, consider what you’ll do if and when things work out differently than you envisioned.
Beware, too, of making plans to achieve goals that are not in your control. For instance, you can create a plan to write a book. However, you cannot create a plan to get it on “The New York Times” bestseller list. Focus on what you can do, not what you can’t.
Unlearn: I have to do it all myself.
While being resourceful is critical to success, clinging fiercely to independence can get in the way. For example, maybe you think that asking your well-connected friend for an introduction is cheating. This implies that unless you achieve your goal completely on your own, it’s not a true achievement.
However, this notion has more to do with ego than with a mindset for success. You are being resourceful when you leverage opportunities and relationships. Personally, I don’t know anyone who has achieved a big goal without the help of someone else.
So practice asking for help. It probably won’t be easy at first, because you may fear looking weak or incapable. But at the end of the day, your skill, focus, and quality of effort will determine your success. The goal you reach will be no less yours or less rewarding because you were willing to accept some help to get there.
Unlearn: You have to grind it out. Hard.
When we talk about what it takes to reach a goal, persistence and a stick-to-it attitude are often at the top of the list. In many cultures, working hard—even to the point of exhaustion—is considered the only path to success. Add an obsession with productivity, and you’ve got yourself a recipe for burnout.
Instead, how about you leave yourself some room to breathe. In her book “Make Space for Magic,” Patty Lennon writes, “Most of us grow up believing that if something—anything—is going to happen in our lives, we have to make it happen.” This, she says, puts everything on our shoulders, which can be counterproductive—and take a toll on our health in the process.
Lennon believes that reaching a goal requires the willingness to stop moving for a bit, so you can stay open to what’s possible. “When you release your attachment to making everything happen, you can tap into the field of potentiality that exists in and around each of us,” she writes. “To access it, you don’t exhaust all your energy on it but align with it—and this requires less doing and more resting. Try spending more time in nature, and allowing your mind to be still.” Meditation also improves mental clarity, so try spending just a few minutes a day on this practice.
The process of unlearning doesn’t happen overnight. But when you consciously begin to let go, you can reach your goals in a sustainable way—and discover new ideas about what you can do next.