The 3 Simple Steps to Achieve Your Goals

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Girl, Stop Apologizing" by Rachel Hollis. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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What are the three steps to achieving your goals in life? Why should you focus on achieving one goal at a time? What should you do if you feel stuck?

Sometimes, your goals can feel impossibly out of reach. But if you break down the steps to reaching them into bite-sized pieces, they can feel much more attainable.

Here are Rachel Hollis’s three steps to executing your dreams from Girl, Stop Apologizing.

Executing Your Dream

Hollis has walked you through all of the excuses that will hold you back and revealed the truth beneath each one. She has given you behaviors to turn into habits, and she has suggested skills to develop. If you were a carpenter, you’d now have all of the tools necessary to get the job done. The final thing you need is the blueprint, and then you can get to work. 

Your blueprint is a step-by-step template that you can use as many times as you want on as many goals as you desire. Here are the three steps to achieve your goals, according to Hollis:

1. Choose One Goal Only

At this point, you’re probably fired up and ready to dive into all of your goals. However, Hollis advises resisting the urge to work on all of them at once. Instead, choose one goal at a time and give it everything you’ve got. 

Why Only One?

Hollis argues that having a long list of goals is wonderful, but that working on more than one at one time is ineffective. First, you will spread yourself too thin and not dedicate enough energy and time to any one thing to make it happen. As the saying goes, “when everything is important, nothing is important.” 

Second, having more than one goal allows you to have backup plans B, C, and even D. Therefore, the stakes are too low. If you’re working on multiple goals at a time, when one is difficult to accomplish (or is taking longer than you anticipated) you might give yourself permission to quit because you’ve got other things going on. If you’ve been working single-mindedly on one goal for years, however, you’re unlikely to quit when it gets tough.

(Shortform note: Gary Keller, author of The One Thing, centers his book around the idea that choosing one impactful goal-oriented task at a time and performing them sequentially is far more effective than doing several tasks simultaneously. One strategy that he suggests is “going small,” which means to ignore the dozens of things you could be working on, and instead focus on one small task at a time. He explains that this keeps you from becoming distracted by never-ending tasks that don’t move you any closer to your goal.)

How to Choose

Hollis’s advice for choosing one goal can be synthesized into three steps: visualize, strategize, and prioritize.

Visualize: Start by asking yourself, “Who do I want to be in 10 years?” Imagine your dream life. Nothing is off limits. Feel free to say you want to be bigger than Oprah, if that’s what you want. Write furiously for five minutes straight, describing in detail who you want to be and what that person is doing. Write in present tense (“I am a doctor,” not “I will be a doctor”)

Strategize: Now take a look at what you just wrote, and make a list of accomplishments that would make this dream life possible. Be specific and write in present tense (i.e. “My book is on The New York Times bestseller list” versus “My book will be a success.”) Narrow your list down to 10 or fewer items. Decide what is truly crucial.

Prioritize: Of all the statements on your list, choose one goal you can work on right now. It must be specific and measurable (“I will lose 10 pounds” versus “I will lose weight”). Resist the urge to set a time limit. Hollis stresses that self-improvement should be ongoing, and if you set a deadline and don’t meet it, you’re apt to give up.

Narrowing It Down When You Have Too Many Interests

Maybe you have a variety of passions, and you can’t decide which one to choose. The Balance Careers website offers advice for choosing a profession, and it is applicable to choosing a dream as well. They recommend you start by writing a list of all of your interests and distinguishing which are best suited as hobbies versus careers. This isn’t to say which ones make money and which ones don’t. But if you like to cook to relieve stress, you probably won’t want to do it full-time as a job. 

After this, list your work style requirements. Do you prefer to work alone or in groups? Do you thrive in fast-paced environments, or do you prefer to take your time? Compare these answers with your interest list and you will come away with at least one solid direction. For example, if you enjoy reading mystery novels and prefer to work alone, consider the possibility of becoming an author.

Don’t Do This When Goal Setting

In The 10X Rule, Grant Cardone points out several potential pitfalls of goal setting. When creating your goal, Cardone advises avoiding the following:

-Setting goals for others instead of yourself (are you doing this to make your dad proud or because it feeds your soul?)
-Setting goals that are too ordinary (fear of failure)
-Limiting your accomplishments to what others have achieved (you should instead aim to surpass their achievement)

The gist: If your goal isn’t a little scary (exciting) and if it isn’t true to what you desperately want out of life, then you’re likely to lose interest. 

2. Break Down Your Goal Into Steps

You now have your one goal, you’re loaded with motivation and tools for success, and you’re ready to run full speed toward it. Not so fast.

Take a moment to consider this metaphor. Imagine you’re told to build a house. You’re given some carpentry training, handed a set of tools, and are pointed toward a pile of raw materials. Now imagine a slightly different scenario. You’re told to build a house. You’re given the same training, tools, and materials, but this time you’re also handed a blueprint. Looking at the blueprint, you see what the finished house is supposed to look like and have all of the measurements. 

In which of these scenarios do you think you would build the house faster? Better? Safer? You might be able to build a house without the blueprint, but it would certainly take longer, and you may cut corners along the way.

Hollis believes goals work this same way. She says if you have your endpoint visualized and specific steps laid out in front of you, you will save time and frustration along the way. For this reason, Hollis advises that you thoroughly plan out your attack, working backward.

(Shortform note: In 2017, a scientific study concluded that those who planned from the end result backward experienced a higher level of motivation, better performance, and less time pressure than those who planned forward. It could be that those who planned backward were already more effective in pursuing goals; however, that would go to show that effective planners prefer this method.)

Choose Three Crucial Targets

Next, start to chunk your goal into steps, beginning with identifying your goal’s three most crucial targets to hit. 

Envisioning your one goal as the “finished product,” Hollis recommends brainstorming steps that would help you get there. Use the same strategy as your goal setting; write furiously and don’t stop to consider whether what you’re writing makes sense. 

When you can’t think of anything else, take a look at your list. Of everything that you wrote, choose three things that if accomplished, would get you to your goal. Hollis refers to these three as “guideposts.” Put them in a logical order. 

At this point, don’t worry about how you will get these three things done. Just know that if they’re done, you will reach your goal.

Feeling Stuck? Ask For Help

If you’re unsure of what three things will accomplish your goal, ask someone who has already done it for a consultation. Keep in mind that asking to “pick someone’s brain” can be annoying (particularly if you don’t know the person), but there are ways you can approach the conversation in a respectful and effective manner

Use Your Connections: A friend of a friend is more likely to help you than a stranger. Before emailing the person you found on Google, rack your brain or talk to friends and see if there’s someone in your network that you can reach out to.

Suggest a Call Instead of Coffee: Depending on how well you know the person and how prominent and busy they are, offer a meet-up that is respectful of their time. A friend of a friend might appreciate being taken out for a meal or a cup of coffee, while a stranger would likely prefer a phone call. Read the room.

Say How Much Time You Need: Make it clear that you don’t need much time, and be specific. Do you need an hour of this person’s time? A 15-minute phone call? Be upfront so that there are clear expectations.

Be Specific About What You Need: Asking for “advice” isn’t specific. Tell the person you’re approaching the exact issue you’re having and what type of advice you’re seeking. This will make them more likely to help because it will show that you’re serious and not relying on them to do your legwork.

Show Gratitude: Be thankful in the moment, and send a follow-up thank you. Nobody wants to feel like they were used.

The Small Steps Along the Way

So far, you have your starting point, you know your end point, and you have three major targets to hit along the way. Now you need to identify how you will get from target to target. 

From your starting point to your first target, make a list of everything you need to do to reach that target. Hollis recommends working backward from target one to your starting point. Continue this with each target (work backward from target two to target one and target three to target two). 

What you’re left with is a step-by-step guide to go from your starting point all the way to your finished goal. 

Hollis stresses that along the way, you will have setbacks. When this happens, keep your positive mindset and remember the behaviors and skills that you have in your toolbox. Your blueprint may shift and change as you go, but it is far better than winging it. 

(Shortform note: This is a great place to utilize the “outcomes list” that Hollis suggested earlier (Skill 3: Effectiveness). For example, if your first target on the way to becoming a doctor is to get accepted into medical school, your outcomes list might include items such as: secure three letters of recommendation, complete all necessary prerequisites, and so on. You can think of these outcomes as daily, weekly, or monthly mini-goals. While Hollis doesn’t recommend having a deadline for your goal as a whole, she does believe that planning week-by-week and scheduling these steps as much as you’re able to will help keep you on track.)

3. Believe in Yourself

Hollis believes that whatever your soul is asking for, whoever you’re meant to be, you can be that person. She has helped you shift your mindset and change self-sabotaging behaviors. She has provided a list of skills that will serve you in any capacity. She has provided you with every tool you need to succeed. The only thing left to do is believe in yourself—unapologetically.

Hollis says that the quickest route to your dreams is to not give up on yourself. You must show up day after day, put in the work (without feeling guilty), and pick yourself up when you falter. If you get off track, take a breath and put yourself back on. It is simple, but difficult, and she believes you can do it.

The 3 Simple Steps to Achieve Your Goals

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Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best book summary and analysis of Rachel Hollis's "Girl, Stop Apologizing" at Shortform.

Here's what you'll find in our full Girl, Stop Apologizing summary:

  • Rachel Hollis's lessons she learned while building a multimillion-dollar company
  • Why "having it all" isn't something you should aspire to
  • Why women need to stop trying to fit society's idea of a "good woman"

Hannah Aster

Hannah graduated summa cum laude with a degree in English and double minors in Professional Writing and Creative Writing. She grew up reading books like Harry Potter and His Dark Materials and has always carried a passion for fiction. However, Hannah transitioned to non-fiction writing when she started her travel website in 2018 and now enjoys sharing travel guides and trying to inspire others to see the world.

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