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How To Achieve Difficult Goals

In this video, the author reflects on a decade-long exploration into predicting and achieving difficult goals. As a former executive at UCLA, the emphasis is on a scientific approach to goal attainment, introducing a formula comprising commitment, belief (self-efficacy), and feedback. The author acknowledges the importance of setting SMART goals but highlights the challenge of achieving difficult ones. Drawing from psychological principles, the video advocates for commitment measured by actions during adversity, bolstering belief through learning from experienced individuals, and implementing effective feedback systems. This formula integrates renowned motivation theories, providing a comprehensive guide for individuals and teams striving for challenging objectives.


When I was an executive at UCLA, we had some very difficult goals to achieve and we achieved some of them. And I have to confess, we missed more than I care to admit and more than my boss wanted us to miss. Do you ever miss any of your difficult goals? Probably. That’s what leaders do. We strive for goals, don’t we? And that’s why I want to chat with you today. What evolved into a ten year exploration investigation into what really does predict goal achievement, especially when the goals are difficult? Let me take you on this short journey and what we’ll come up with as we investigate, as we take a close look, is actually a scientific equation. Why not? I was at UCLA. We were in the School of Medicine. Lots of research. So let’s take a scientific approach to achieving difficult goals. It all begins with the G. And these three variables. The G you can probably guess is in fact the goal. Knowing where you’re going is the start of any journey. So you have to have a goal, and you’ve probably heard about the old acronym. You need to have a Smart goal and that means different things to different people. My favorite definition of that Smart is specific, measurable, attainable, responsible, and timed. So that’s a Smart goal. And most people are pretty darn good at setting those Smart goal. That wasn’t my problem.

My problem was achieving the difficult ones. Now, I will remind you that goal setting still is very, very important. There is an abundance of research saying that people who set goals far outperform those that do not. In fact, the academic father of goal setting is Professor Edwin Locke from the University of Maryland. He wrote a very thick book that I don’t really recommend for you. I’m sorry, Doctor Locke, because in that book, he reviews 393 separate research studies on goal setting involving 88 different tasks 20,000 subjects timespans ranging from one minute to 20 years, all clearly demonstrating that when individuals, teams, organizations have written goals, they far outperform those that do not. So I’m still a goal setter and you should be one too. But like I said, I miss some of these goals. And I started to do some research. In fact, I met Professor Edwin Locke and we joined forces with one of the motivational fathers of goal setting, Zig Ziglar, and we did some research together. Let me share with you why it was so startling. What we found is that as goals increased in difficulty, the predictive value of having the goals started to go down. Which in English means as a goals got harder. Just because you had them written down doesn’t mean you were going to achieve them. What does. That was about ten years and a review of 2000 scientific studies I’m about to share with you in a very simple, straightforward way.

So by the end of our five minutes left, you’re going to be able to use this. Here it is. Here’s the first ingredient you set your goal. You need to make sure that you or your team are committed to the goal. Now, how do you know when you or a team team members are committed now? I said are committed not should be committed. What? What is that? Well, you know what? I was intrigued in my research when I found out. Psychologists actually measure commitment by the actions people take in the face of adversity. So when the going gets tough, do they persist or do they give up? How about you? So the next logical question would be what if it’s a little bit on the low side? How do you increase that? One of the best ways is to do some brainstorming on your own or with your team about the value, the benefits they would get from achieving the goal. Just do some brainstorming on that alone. And that ratchets it up. Commitment. Because the number one predictor of commitment is value. If I see a high degree of value in that, I will strive harder to achieve it and overcome the obstacles along the way. What’s the second ingredient? What is the B stand for? The B stands for belief now, not just any belief.

The B in this case stands for self efficacy, a very fancy psychological term based on the research by Professor Bandura from Stanford. And what it really means is do you believe you can take the steps? To reach your goal. Now, recently, when I had a difficult goal, the answer to that question was no. Was not too long ago, I was invited, honored to be asked to give a Ted talk. I was fired up, I was committed, I had a goal, and that little voice in the back of my head was like, I don’t know how to give a Ted talk. I can give a two hour talk. I can’t take 20 years of research and crunch it into 15 minutes. What did I do? The same thing you can do. I started calling on experts who had taught other Ted speakers. I started researching, watching the videos. There’s many things you can do, but the idea behind strengthening the belief is to find out and learn from people who have been where you want to go. Dr. bandura called those models you look for a model, and that strengthened my belief. And I think the Ted video from Spokane, Washington, you can Google it came out pretty darn well. Look for Dave Jensen and Paradox. So I strengthened my belief and I achieved that difficult goal.

You can do the same. What about this last one? This F stands for feedback. Feedback is what keeps us on track as we make progress towards the goal. And feedback has a couple different elements. One is celebratory. Do you pat people on the back as a leader? If your team is making when your team is making progress, or do you just wait until the project is over and celebrate? Or worse, you never celebrate. You just move on to the next project. Here’s a hint don’t do that, okay, so make sure you give them positive feedback as they make progress along the journey. The other way to think about that is in terms of systems, make sure the systems are in place to help them reinforce what you’re trying to achieve. This is one of the reasons I failed at some of the goals at UCLA. The system was rigged against us when we were trying to do some things, especially out of our silo, our institute that we had built. As soon as we were working with the system wide things slow down. I sometimes felt like I was trying to make progress, but I was in molasses up to the hips and I was going very slowly because it dragged you down. The other, by the way, system in place is for people who do change. And if you’re trying to change your culture, you have to change the culture to support whatever the major change you want is.

Because culture is the ultimate feedback mechanism. It gives people feedback and corrects their course. So these are the three big variables once you set your goal. Do you notice anything about that? Do you notice this right here. What are these. Yes, I can hear you. You just said multiplication, right? And multiplication means if any one of these is zero, what’s the probability you’re going to achieve that difficult goal? Right? Zero. How about something you may not observe unless you remember all those psychology classes you may have taken in college. This simple but not simplistic equation actually embraces three of the major human motivation theories. In those four total of four variables, we have Locke’s goal setting theory, which includes goal setting and increasing commitment. We have bandura’s human agency theory, self efficacy, and we have some skinnerian conditioning going on right here. So lo and behold, this simple but not simplistic formula I invite you to use it to achieve your difficult goals. How surprised will you be that all your goal setting by the way you end your meetings with goals, right? The purpose of any meeting is what happens after the meeting and with goals. And then make sure your team members are committed. Believe and use feedback to stay on track and we’ll see you in another video.


This insightful video delves into essential survival skills for navigating today’s workplace challenges. Covering skills seven to ten, it emphasizes the importance of developing courage to face challenges (symbolized by “tigers”), mastering cross-functional teamwork, adapting to rapid change, and finding purpose beyond routine tasks. The author encourages readers to view their work as contributing to a larger purpose, urging them to quit a mundane job and discover work that aligns with personal passions and makes a meaningful impact. With a focus on personal development, organizational growth, and effective teamwork, the video provides practical advice for thriving in the dynamic modern workplace.

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