The art of trying

My experience with goal setting and productivity hacks.

Growing up, I was taught that all you have to do is work hard and you will make it in life. Find a job, turn up every day, try and be early, do your best and progress will come.

For a long time that is what I did and it served me quite well. I progressed on the normal arc, worked my way up the pecking order in the company I worked for and was happy doing what I was doing.

But I still worried about money. I was working two jobs and living paycheck to paycheck. Trying to save where I could but I often had little leftover after my living expenses were paid. I wanted to travel, buy a new car, to own my own home and all of the other things that came with growing up and becoming an adult. No matter how many hours I would work, I still struggled to get ahead.

The crescendo to my struggles came in October 2016. I had just gotten back from a holiday to New York City with my girlfriend. We had the greatest time. I still reminisce about that holiday and how much I enjoyed it. In stark contrast to this happiness is the dark hole of worry I had about money. I spent all of my savings on this trip and was down to my last $300. To make things worse, I was paid on an hourly basis and I had taken 3 weeks off so I knew that there would be no money coming for a few weeks when I returned.

I was so inspired that when I got home and the first thing I did was tell my girlfriend I wanted to live in New York and I didn’t want us to ever have to worry about money again. I came up with an 8 year plan to live in New York. Little did I know, I had just set my first goal. It involved two steps and was so simple that I’m embarrassed to even write it down:

  1. Learn and find skilled work (A quick google search showed me that I needed skilled work to be considered for a visa so I decided to go to university and get a degree)
  2. I needed to triple my salary at the least. I was working two casual jobs at the time and would always worry that I wouldn’t have enough work in the next fortnight to pay the bills. I thought a good starting point would be finding a job that was in the same field as the degree I was studying.

That’s it. That simple goal with two basics steps set something in motion that has honestly changed my life.

Three years into my eight year plan, I sat down and reflected on whether or not I was on track and was actually shocked to see that I had made serious progress. If I had to put into numbers, I’d say that I was two-thirds of the way there. I wanted to pinpoint what exactly had spurred on this progress. Was it simply just setting a goal? Was it that natural progression had just coincided with the goal I had set? Was it just because I turn up early? No, I put my progress down to simply trying to achieve my goal.

Trying is a trait that I think is wildly undervalued. We are aware of failure. We are aware and celebrate success but how often do you notice yourself trying? I’m not talking about participation. I am talking about purposefully trying to do something and trying to do it as best as you can. Committing yourself to consistently trying to be better will make you better. Add in a set of goals or specific things to ‘try’ towards and I guarantee you will get results. It might not happen right way but it will happen.

When I decided that I wanted to triple my salary, I knew that I needed increase my value and become better at my job. I was reading dozens of improvement articles a day. I developed an insatiable appetite for articles that read along the lines of ‘12 steps to improving productivity and efficiency’ or ‘spend more time focusing on this rather than that.’ I furiously tried to implement these into my daily life. Some stuck and others didn’t. I still can not justify having cold showers with myself but what I have noticed is that a few of these habits have stuck and provided immense benefits. I can go into detail of all the things that have become habit but I’m not here to write about that. What I am here to say is that, even if you don’t notice it at first, if you consistently try to be better and try to apply specifics practices to improve yourself overtime they will compound and you actually will be better.

It’s like the snowball effect. Picture that cartoon you watched when you were growing up — two children are having a snowball fight and one of the snow balls misses its target and begins rolling down the hill. Before long that snow ball has grown exponentially and is a boulder hurling towards the town with the momentum of a freight train. In the cartoon, the snow ball is usually diverted (or stopped by the hero) and misses the town. In reality, if you set your goals to be the town, and throw your snowball towards the town, I guarantee you that the boulder will collide with the town and then continue through to the next town.

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