How to Plan Your Goals: The 2 Steps to Success

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "The Slight Edge" by Jeff Olson. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Do you want to know how to plan your goals and follow through? What do you think is the main obstacle?

Most people have at least some idea of the goals they want to achieve. The challenge comes in creating a realistic and actionable plan on which they can follow through. In his book The Sligh Edge, Jeff Olson lays out a two-step process for planning your goals: 1) design a representation of your goal, and 2) create a blueprint for carrying it out.

We’ll explore both of these principles below.

Step #1: Create Something to Represent Your Vision

First, Olson recommends, write your vision of success out or create a piece of visual art to represent it. For example, make a vision board: a handmade poster full of images that represent your goals (they can be magazine clippings, drawings, photographs, or anything else visual that inspires you). According to Olson, creating a tangible representation of your vision is critical because it allows you to get clear and specific with your goals. 

The Science Behind Putting Down Your Goals On Paper

Beyond simply being a useful way to keep yourself inspired on your path to success, putting your vision and goals on paper has other neurological benefits:

It creates external storage. External storage is a physical way of storing information that allows you to review it whenever you want. The visual cue is a regular reminder of your goals and priorities.

It supports the psychological process of encoding. This happens in the hippocampus, where the brain stores the written (or artistically expressed) information in your long-term memory.

It means you benefit from the generation effect: the fact that we are more likely to remember things we’ve created ourselves versus things we’ve seen or read. You get a double dose of this effect when you write your goals down because first, you create an image of them in your mind. Then, you create a physical representation of that image.

Step #2: Plan Out Your Goals

Now that you have a clear sense of your vision, Olson recommends you create a step-by-step blueprint for carrying it out. Even if your plan is rudimentary and liable to change, it’s valuable as a starting point because it will help you to take initial action. If needed, Olson states, you can adjust the plan as you go along. 

For example, if your goal is to run your own successful company, you might start by planning to make a simple website. The next step might be to write a blog on topics that relate to the goals your company will have. This could help you to build a foundational community that will buy your products or services when you reach that part of the journey. Later, after you get started, you might adjust the plan and start a YouTube channel to create this community instead. However, taking action on the blog still helped you to begin building momentum towards your ultimate goal of running a thriving business. 

How to Plan Your Goals – Don’t Strive for Perfection

As Olson states, plans benefit your success because they give you a starting point: It’s not so much about creating the right plan as it is about taking action and narrowing down your possible options going forward. 

This is a principle supported by research: According to a study at Columbia University Business School, the likelihood of taking action is 10 times higher when we have fewer choices available to us. We are more likely to take action if we stop contemplating all the potential choices we can make and just make any choice. 

Furthermore, some of the most successful people on earth had little to no plan in the beginning stages of their path to success. For example, Mark Zuckerberg didn’t have a clear plan when he came up with the idea for Facebook: He was just taking action on an idea he felt excited about. He didn’t plan for or expect it to become an indispensable, global company. 
How to Plan Your Goals: The 2 Steps to Success

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Here's what you'll find in our full The Slight Edge summary:

  • Why some people fail and some succeed despite having the same tools
  • How small practices, executed consistently over time, will give you an edge
  • How you're getting in the way of your own growth by neglecting simple things

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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