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Set An Amazing Goal But Have Zero Expectations

Back in early 2011. I set myself a lofty goal. To be able to quit my job and support myself. But I had a mortgage, debt, and commitments.

Fast forward a few years. When my then-girlfriend, now wife, moved in with me. I raised the bar even further, I wanted her to not work too.

At the time of writing this, I’m still in a job.

Still very far from reaching that goal. Although I’ve made progress in the last 12+ years.

The biggest problem with setting goals like this. Is the expectation that comes with it.

Expectactions that you set related to the goal, and on yourself.

Instant Results For A Goal

The problem with this is we look for instant results.

And industries play on this.

“Get a 6 pack/beach body in 30 days”.

Although, as I’ve got older I’ve not fallen for this as much. If I set myself a fitness or health goal. I don’t expect it to happen overnight. Even after 30 days.

My expectations are far more realistic.

But, for this goal, my “lifestyle” goal is to be able to work for myself. I wanted it now.

Because I hated my job.

I never liked school or college either.

Although, I loved being at University. Because that was on your terms. Attend or skip a lecture, it’s up to you. You didn’t have to be there.

But then working after University. It felt like school and college all over again. I hated it.

It took me till I was 30 to realise, “It’s living life on other people’s terms that piss me off”

Stuck In A Vicous Circle

The problem I found with wanting things to change now. To reach my lofty goal in weeks, not months or years.

Was that I was in a constant merry-go-round.

Being pissed off, working hard towards the goal. Then having “downtime” which meant the usual weekend of binge drinking.

Blocking out the fact that someone else rules over you.

What would happen, is, I would wake up at 5 AM on a Monday. Having not made any progress in the previous week. Dreading having to commit another week to work a job I can’t stand.

The problem with that was that I started my week in a foul mood.

I was pissed off and hated the week before it had begun.

Then, I’d work hard all week, outside the 9-5 to try and move the needle.

To make a bit of money, to grow a side project, to figure out how to market a product. But nothing was working. Why? What was I doing wrong?

It’s hard. Could the reason there doesn’t seem to be a light a the end of the tunnel because of this desperation?

Desperate to live life on my terms. Desperate to secure my and my wife’s future.

But this desperation is impacting how you execute.

It’s a vicous ciurcle.

You go around and around and end up questioning if it will all be worth it.

Completely Out of Your Control

99.99% of things that will happen are out of your control.

I can’t control if you’re going to read to the end of the paragraph. Whether a social media post will “go viral”. Or a car in front of you won’t hit the brakes for no clear reason.

And that was the biggest problem with the goal I’ve set.

That replacing your monthly salary with your own business. Or a simple side project is difficult.

I’ve seen so much content saying “If you aren’t earning $10K a month, then you’re a complete idiot”

That may be true (which hurts even more).

But we are “brainwashed” into not being able to do this.

I didn’t even think this was possible for me until I turned 30. Thirty years worth of conditioning, that you don’t even realise is there.

That needs “unwinding” before you can even think about working towards a goal.

How do you even go about starting to unravel this conditioning?

Never mind a side project that will replace your job.

Doing the Work

There’s a quote I heard on a podcast

And that’s the issue.

In 2013, I did a Tough Mudder.

But, I didn’t train for a week and they expected me to be fit enough.

I committed to going to the gym at 5 AM every weekday for 6 months before the event. As well as doing a long run on a Sunday morning. My diet? Well, that had a complete overhaul as well.

The problem is. You see the “end result” from other people and want the same result. Without knowing what they’ve gone through, how long and hard they’ve worked.

You spend a week coding a product, putting up a landing page, and posting on X and LinkedIn, but with zero results.

You end up completely pissed off again.

But the work could take months, well years for it to start paying off.

And the payoff might only be internal skills and awareness. The outward results still could be a long way off.

I know, as I write this, they still are for me.

Zero Expectations

Whether you do the work or not. Am I saying that I’m always “pissed off” in a bad mood?

I used to be, Yes.

So what changed?

Well, the reason I wrote a section about things being out of your control, is because that’s “the game”.

That even though you could be doing the work. “Doing all the right things”. Showing up, grinding, hustling, pushing. On this never-ending merry-go-round.

Nothing is guaranteed, absolutely nothing, zip, zero, zilch.

But our expectations and the goals we have are at the opposite end of the spectrum.

Flip Expectations On Their Head

Because the results of us doing something are out of our control. A zero guarantee of anything.

Then we should change our expectations.

Expect things not to work.

That something will crash and burn.

Now, you may feel that this is then pointless. Why put in all this effort for no reward? Do all this work with a 99% chance of it failing?

That’s a great question.

But it goes back to the post I’ve included.

The only way to truly guarantee that something won’t work. A 100% certainty that something will fail. Is to not do the work at all.

Yes, there is only a 1% difference.

But the difference between 0 and 1 is huge. Infinite in fact.

That’s why zero expectations are better than a zero guarantee.

But Don’t Be Negative

This is something I do struggle with.

That I do the work with zero expectations of the outcome.

The problem is, then, you get into a negative mindset that things aren’t going to work. Another vicious circle. Still working hard, still annoyed with the result.

The antidote to this is by saying to yourself “What if this works”. Instead of “this isn’t going to work”.

It helps you get through the work. To become excited, to get things done and dusted.

All you are trying to do is hack your brain.

To make yourself do the work, to a high standard, in the shortest time possible. Without getting down on yourself. And without wanting “the moon on a stick”.

Become excited at the possibility of something working.

But expect it not to.

It sounds strange, but this has helped me a lot.

What Can You Control?

It’s all well and good to tell you things are out of your control. Be positive, and work hard. But expect everything to crash and burn.

Once I’ve written it out, it seems absurd.

But so does doing nothing and expecting the world to give you your dreams on a silver platter.

So what can you control?

Well, only one thing. You!

All you can truly control, to guarantee, is your output.

What you can commit to and do every day.

Discipline & Consistency

It took me a long time to realise this.

I only started figuring this out after 10+ years of working, or side hustling.

That is the reason I may not be getting what I want. Is because I’m not controlling my output. That I’m not focusing on the right things. Or have the right mindset.

Don’t rely on inspiration, it’s like lighting. You don’t know where and when it will strike.

Forget about motivation. It lies to you. Makes you believe it’s an unlimited resource. But it’s not, it’s a battery with very little charge left.

All that you can rely on is discipline and consistency.

Discipline yourself. Focusing on things you believe will help move you towards a goal.

Be consistent in the discipline. Make sure you are working towards that goal as much as possible.

Build A Habit of Disciplined Consistency

James Clear in his book Atomic Habits. Talks about becoming 1% better every day

It goes back to my 0 or 1 comment.

Even though 1 seems like a small insignificant number. It’s far better than the alternative of zero.

Once I realised I’d been focusing on the wrong things. And after re-reading Atomic Habits. I decided to build up a habit of being consistently disciplined.

So what does that mean?

What does that look like in the real world?

Well for me. It was about ticking off the things I wanted to do every day. Not to work towards the goal. But to focus on the things that could help me reach that goal.

Like making sure I was keeping fit and healthy.

If I had no energy or was always tired, I couldn’t work towards the goal.

So I built a tracker to make sure I ticked off both personal and professional tasks every day.

Here’s what it currently looks like.

Working towards a goal. Tracking habits that help stick to a plan

If you want a copy of my habit tracker so you can tweek it for your own purposes. You can grab a copy here, there’s no charge, and you can pay what you like.

Then each and every day I know what I need to focus on. What I can work on that I hope will help me move towards my goal.

But expect nothing from the actions, the output.

All I’m worried about then. Is turning up every day and putting in the effort.

The rest?

Well, it’s out of my control.

Conclusion: Working Towards A Goal

If you’re fed up with not getting what you want.

Feel like you’ve got a goal you want to achieve. But it feels miles away. And you’re completely frustrated by the whole situation.

I feel your pain. I’ve been there, and still am in a lot of ways.

But it’s not the goal that’s the problem. It’s our expectation around the results we are going to get.

We think it should happen now, with the minimum amount of effort.

And that is where we’ve been going wrong.

All that we can do is a “best guess” on what to focus on. What outputs can we produce, and hope that they work? But have zero expectations that they will.

The key to this is to develop discipline in these outputs and do them on a consistent basis. For me, that’s daily (including weekends).

This becomes a habit, a second nature.

Yes, have lofty goals, but expect that things won’t pan out.

It’s hard, but the alternative of doing nothing is far worse.

Oh, if you want to check out my habit tracker which helps me stay disciplined and consistent in the pursuit of my goals. Download a copy here.

Wait, want more tips & tricks? Yes, please!

Who Is Phil Hughes

I am a coder, content creator & software consultant for start-ups and FTSE 100 companies. I am obsessed with productivity, self-improvement, and building a lifestyle business.
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