Once upon a time, there was a ruler of the ancient Greek city of Sipylus called Tantalus. He was invited to dine with the great Greek gods on Mount Olympia, where he stole some exotic fruits to share with the common people. Of course, this made the Gods angry for betraying their hospitality. To please them, Tantalus then sacrificed his own son and offered him to the Gods. Goes without saying, this made things even worse.
As a punishment, the Gods threw Tantalus in the deepest part of the Underworld, reserved for evildoers. His damnation? — He was sentenced to sit in a pool of water, with fruits over his head. Every time he wanted to take a sip, the water receded. And when he reached for the fruit, it moved up. Simply put, it was a life of eternal frustration and dissatisfaction.
This story of King Tantalus very likely echoes to anyone with big goals who’s tried to achieve them all and have fallen short—which captures most of us really. It’s certainly a tantalizing feeling.
Often, success seems so close on the horizon and yet—so far when we try to go after what we want. And every time we fail, we sit there, stewing in the juices of our own humiliation and disappointment, paralysed and frequently discouraged.
If you take it a bit further and do a post-mortem analysis of what happened, the reasons for not succeeding boil down to a few common reasons.
So, here is my advice on how to get over these hurdles and get closer to everything you want in life:
1. Know What You Want
Don’t fall into the too-broad fallacy. We often fail because we have our goals are too general or too vague. Don’t just say: “I want to be rich,” or “I want to be successful.” That’s very undefined. Success has many faces, and it means something different to every one of us.
Be explicit. For example, “I want to finish my book by the end of the year, I want to become a vice president next year, I want to have my own business by the time I’m 30.” It doesn’t matter how big or “crazy” your dream is. To be able to plan to “get there,” you must have a very good idea what and where “there” is. So, get down to the nitty-gritty details and set for yourself some S.M.A.R.T goals.
“A goal properly set is halfway reached.” – Zig Ziglar
2. Believe in You
We sometimes think that our goals are out of our league—that they are too big and impossible, and that we are mad for dreaming about them. We also think we don’t have what it takes to achieve them or the needed skills, abilities, mojos. But remember that it may be all subjective, a perception. So, if you think you are lacking something which stops you from shooting for your stars, assess realistically—is it your low self-esteem talking, or you actually need to take some additional training or practice more.
What psychologists call self-efficacy, or the belief that we can achieve our goals, has been found to be paramount in successfully completing them. To build belief in you, run a strength inventory. Remind yourself of past successes. Often, we are so focused on the negative, our shortcomings, the dark in us, that we forget to look at the light and what makes us worthy.
3. See Yourself as the Person You Want to Become
How we see ourselves and what we think of ourselves is a major protagonist in our success story. It’s called self-image and generally has nothing to do with the image we see in the mirror. It’s internal. But how we view ourselves dictates our behavior, actions and outcomes.
Bob Proctor, the famous coach and public speaker, calls that picture of ourselves we hold deep in our subconscious minds “prime cause of success and failure in life.” If you have a low self-image, you have a slim chance at winning. It’s that powerful.
The best ways to build a more favorable self-image are through visualisation and priming. Creative visualization is the practice of purposely creating a visual imagery in your mind of the things you want to achieve and have. “A thought, in its substance, produces the thing that is imagined by the thought,” according to one of its first advocates Wallace D. Watters in his book “The Science of Getting Rich”.
That is, your subconscious mind drives your performance and successes. Priming is another technique for upgrading your self-image. It’s a way out of the gloom and the “I can’t do it” feelings. Tony Robbins admits practicing it every day and often talks about the ritual as the step toward turning around your life.
The main idea with these tactics is to challenge the comfort of the status quo. Seeing yourself in your mind succeeding day in and out will help you believe that it can actually play out in real life.
“Your life does not get better by chance, it gets better by change.” – Jim Rohn
4. Try (and See What Happens)
Have you ever been rejected? It stinks, right? It rarely feels as a blessing in disguise, no matter what we are told by the gurus. But what about if you were deliberately seeking rejection, to get more used to it? This is exactly what tech entrepreneur Jia Jiang did, which he also talked about in his famous Ted Talk “What I learned from 100 days of rejection.”
And guess what—if you try or ask, he tells us, you will be surprised how many people are willing to say “yes.” And of course, not every door you knock on will be answered, but his point is to get more intimate with rejection. It’s psychologically freeing to know that not every goal has a happy ending and that’s also perfectly fine.
To advance this a bit further—Prof. Ellen Hendriksen, a clinical psychologist at Boston University, talks about the Challenge List in her book “How to be yourself.” It’s a list of all the things that make us anxious, which we need to purposely start doing anyway such as public speaking to being more assertive to socializing. It’s a successful technique in psychology, called desensitization—continuous exposure to the fear breaks its spell.
In the end, going after what you want can be scary and intimidating. Often, it feels like a long shot at best. Of course, the easiest way out is to dismantle your tent and just leave—move on. But can you constantly run away when things get too challenging? Doesn’t sound like the winning strategy, does it? There are better ways to approach your goals—and amp up your chances of success.
In the times when I need to remind myself of this, I always remember a line I read a while ago from Venus Williams: “Games are won and lost long before you step on the court.” And judging by her strong track record, I believe she got it right.