How to Believe in Your Goals and Change Your Life

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Goals!" by Brian Tracy. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Are you still unclear about what you want from life? How do you set goals if you don’t even know what you want?

According to motivational speaker Brian Tracy, goal-setting starts with changing your mindset. Tracy suggests four mindset-shifting methods for those who are unclear about what they want or those who let negative thoughts keep them from setting goals.

Keep reading to learn about Tracy’s four mindset-shifting methods.

The 4 Ways to Shift Your Mindset

Tracy discusses four mindset-shifting methods: 1) take responsibility, 2) clarify your values, 3) reject self-limiting beliefs, and 4) visualize your future.

1) Take Responsibility

The first mindset-shifting method is to learn that any change you want to make in your life is entirely up to you. To get what you want, Tracy says that you first have to free yourself from negative thoughts, emotions, and behaviors, particularly:

  • A sense of entitlement—you justify dwelling on negative emotions because you think you have a right to feel that way. For example, if you lost your job, you think you deserve to wallow in self-pity instead of taking action and looking for a new job.
  • A victim mentality—you refuse to acknowledge the part you played in unfortunate situations and blame outside factors. For example, you blame your current situation on something your parents did when you were a child. 
  • Hypersensitivity—you put too much stock in others’ opinions or treatment of you. For example, you don’t volunteer to head a project because you’re worried that others might think you don’t have the skills for it.

Tracy says you can overcome this negativity by taking responsibility for your own life. Understand that you only have control over yourself, not the past or other people’s opinions.

Replace Negativity With a Positive Mindset

Tracy says that you can get over negative mindsets by taking responsibility, but he doesn’t go into detail about the positive mindsets that should take their place.  Here’s how you can overcome the negative emotions and behaviors mentioned above:

A sense of entitlement: Get over this mindset by bridging the gap between reality and your perception of what you deserve. Open your mind and consider your situation from the perspective of others

A victim mentality: Instead of replaying past experiences of victimhood in your mind, adopt a growth mindset that reflects on how those experiences can make you a better person.  

Hypersensitivity: Studies show that we tend to overestimate how much other people think about our failures. To stop worrying about other people’s opinion of you, practice attentional control: Direct your attention toward the things you want to focus on and away from other people’s judgments and criticisms.

2) Clarify Your Values

The second mindset-shifting method to practice before you start setting goals is to clarify what’s important to you. Tracy says that this is an important step because goals that aren’t aligned with your values will inevitably lead to unhappiness. (Shortform note: Tracy isn’t explicit about why values are important in the goal-setting process. Author Tony Robbins explains that your values are like a compass—they show you a clear path forward and guide every decision you make as you work toward your goals. If you’re unclear about your values, you won’t be able to make decisions that move you in the right direction, resulting in frustration and a lack of fulfillment.) 

According to Tracy, one way to clarify your values is by reviewing your past. Reflect on the experiences that have increased your self-esteem and the choices you made in stressful situations because these tell you what’s important to you. Keep in mind that your past choices may not reflect who you are now, so consider if you would make different choices today.  

3) Reject Self-Limiting Beliefs

The third mindset-shifting method is to reject any belief that hinders you from achieving your goals. Brian Tracy’s goal-setting method requires that you reject these self-limiting beliefs.

Tracy writes that you might hesitate to set big goals because you believe that you don’t have the skills to achieve them. However, he argues that this very belief will keep you from succeeding because whatever you strongly believe in comes true. 

Furthermore, Tracy says that your beliefs about yourself often aren’t based on fact; instead, they were shaped by your childhood, the people around you, your education, and your experiences. For example, your belief that you aren’t smart may have started in school, where only verbal and mathematical intelligence were measured. You can be excellent in other areas (entrepreneurial, interpersonal, and so on) without knowing it because you simply never tapped into them at school.

Tracy gives three tips to help you unlearn beliefs about your abilities:

1) Question your beliefs: Assess the areas where you believe your abilities are limited and ask those close to you to point out blind spots. Then, reflect on your findings to determine if they’re true. (Shortform note: Another way to challenge your self-limiting beliefs is to write down evidence to the contrary. This might reveal that you’re more capable than you think.)

2) Choose only beliefs that will help you. Start by believing that you’ll be successful—if you believe that success is inevitable, then you won’t let anything stand in your way. Tracy advises that once you’ve chosen your positive beliefs, you make sure that what you say and do are consistent with them. (Shortform note: If you find it hard to replace your negative beliefs with beliefs that help you, another method you can try is putting a positive spin on those negative beliefs. For example, instead of saying, “I always fall for the wrong person,” you can say, “My experience has taught me what qualities to look for in a partner.”)

3) Act “as if.” Think of the person you want to become, then act as if you’re already that person with the skills that you want to have. Tracy recommends looking for role models and dressing like them, adopting their work ethic, and asking them for advice. (Shortform note: Tracy writes that dressing for success can help you believe in yourself more, but some experts argue that this tactic can, counterproductively, lead you to think more about your shortcomings. Instead of using superficial ways to feel more successful, try a healthier way of acting “as if”: Identify self-limiting behavior and then act as if you’ve already overcome it.)  

4) Visualize Your Future

The fourth and final mindset-shifting method is to visualize what you want by creating vivid mental pictures of your ideal life. Tracy says that visualization is important because it helps you reach your goals faster by unlocking the power of the three parts of your mind: 

  • Your subconscious mindthe part that absorbs information. Tracy likens it to Sigmund Freud’s concept of the id.
  • Your conscious mind—the part that compels you to act. Tracy likens it to Freud’s concept of the ego. 
  • Your superconscious mind—the part that Tracy describes as a universal power. He says this is what Freud calls the superego. 

According to Tracy, these three parts of your mind work together to help activate the “Law of Attraction,” an energy that turns you into a magnet for the people and things that will help you reach your goal.

(Shortform note: The Law of Attraction that Tracy mentions is a pseudoscience that is the backbone of a lot of positive thinking advice and is the premise of Rhonda Byrne’s The Secret. Byrne explains that people operate as human transmission towers, sending a signal out to the universe, and the universe then responds in kind. She says that this means that whatever you focus on will manifest in your life. She adds that you can trace your current situation back to your previous thoughts—signals that you sent out to the universe in the past.)

Exercise: Change Your Mindset

Prior to setting goals, Tracy says that you should get into the right mindset.

Take responsibility: Describe a time when you blamed your failure on external factors. What could you have done differently to prevent the failure?

Clarify your values: Describe a difficult choice that you made in the past. What values does this choice reflect?

Reject self-limiting beliefs: Think of a belief about yourself that keeps you from achieving your goals (for example, you believe that you’re not good at networking). What would you do differently if you didn’t have this belief?

Brian Tracy: Goal-Setting Starts With a Mindset Shift

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Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best book summary and analysis of Brian Tracy's "Goals!" at Shortform.

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  • Brian Tracy's steps to setting and reaching your goals
  • How to approach your goals with the right mentality
  • Why persistence is more important than courage

Darya Sinusoid

Darya’s love for reading started with fantasy novels (The LOTR trilogy is still her all-time-favorite). Growing up, however, she found herself transitioning to non-fiction, psychological, and self-help books. She has a degree in Psychology and a deep passion for the subject. She likes reading research-informed books that distill the workings of the human brain/mind/consciousness and thinking of ways to apply the insights to her own life. Some of her favorites include Thinking, Fast and Slow, How We Decide, and The Wisdom of the Enneagram.

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