Achieving Impossible Goals

Have you ever had an ambition or desire that you simply couldn’t see yourself achieving? A goal that, given your past behavior doesn’t seem likely to be obtained? Becoming fit and healthy when you are already significantly overweight and have failed all your past dieting attempts. Becoming rich when you are deep in debt and have no prospects for increasing your income. Having a loving relationship when you have always been alone.

Small pieces of success are easy when they are already built on a foundation of past success. Earning 20% more sales in one year is relatively easy when you are already a fantastic salesperson. Building success from scratch can be much more difficult. Permanently losing weight when you have always struggled with health can often seem impossible.

Most people don’t realize that the best approach to achieving goals in an area where you are already successful is quite different then one you are starting from scratch. Because of this they often fail to make improvement. With a new approach to goal-setting you can make dramatic change even in an area of your life where you believed change was impossible.

Start With Habits

Success is like creating a building. You wouldn’t start building if you didn’t first lay the foundation. Yet many people try to do exactly this in their lives. They see someone who owns a skyscraper adding on a small addition and wonder why they can’t even get started. Without a foundation their building collapses.

What is the foundation of success? Habits. Successful people have successful habits. Healthy people have habits of eating well and exercising often. Rich people have habits of being productive, managing their money well and investing properly. Attractive people have social habits of how they deal with others and think about themselves.

When most people start making a change in their life, they set a lot of result-oriented goals. Objectives like “Earning $2000 by the end of the month” or “Losing twenty pounds by the 25th”. Setting goals like this is great, but if you are just starting out you will probably fail all but the easiest of them. Without the proper base of successful habits, your results will be hit or miss.

Instead when you are first starting out in an area, start with action-oriented goals. These goals will help you install the correct ways of thinking and acting so that you can later focus more on results. Goals like, “Exercising an hour every day for the next thirty days,” are far more likely to be successful.

When you have already build up some success in an area, that is the time to start using more results-oriented goals. Because once you’ve built the foundation of successful habits, you only need to make slight adjustments to have a huge impact in your results. But if you start out with only results-oriented goals success will be much like throwing darts at a target blindfolded.

The hardest part of achieving success in any area is building up momentum. Once you’ve built up momentum, it can almost be harder to not succeed. Your habits and actions are so perfectly coordinated that only minor corrections and inputs of willpower are necessary to create success.

If you are stuck in a rut in any area of your life, this is the time to examine your habits and rework the foundation. Check out my Habitual Mastery series for more information on changing and installing habits.

The world isn’t capricious or compassionate. If you don’t think you are the kind of person that can achieve the goals you desire, you are probably right. So change that person. Build the proper foundation of habits. Become the person that can achieve goals that are impossible.

  • Norbert

    Great distinction between the two kinds of goals!

    Habits are indeed essential. One of the habits I had to establish when started working for myself was to show up for work every day. Now I’m trying to show up for music production too.

    Once the habit is established, action is almost effortless.

  • Alex Shalman

    Hey Scott,

    You make a really good point in your post. It’s always harder to start when you having nothing. On the other hand, when you have nothing to lose you are able to take more risks. Check out a similar article of mine at titled, Now: The Time to Start.


  • Scott Young


    Long time no see buddy, glad to see you stop by the site.


    I suppose it depends how you approach the situation and what your area of focus is. One could argue that at the start you don’t need to take as many risks because the solutions are more obvious. For someone grossly overweight and eating poorly to improve his health it would be fairly obvious. For someone with great health, the next step may be more of a risk because it isn’t obvious. Still, you make a good point.

    Just a brief tip, I often try to read articles posted by people in my comments section, but if you want me to, please give the permalink so I don’t need to search for it on your website.

  • Alex Shalman

    Thanks for the tip Scott, I’ll definitely take your advice for next time.

    As far as risk taking, I see your point as it relates to health and weight loss. On the other hand, if you are contemplating being an entrepreneur and switching careers from a steady paycheck to nothing, until you make something, this may work in reverse.

    If you are a high school graduate such as yourself, it may be easier for you to take risks such as becoming a problogger, instead of continuing your education. On the other hand, you may have a 40 year old well employed writer, with a family, who has a lot to risk if his blog doesn’t make enough money to support his family.

    So, I agree with what you say about habits, this is just an aside about risk taking.

  • Scott Young


    You make a good point, that when you have nothing you have nothing to lose. It can be easy to get trapped by the protectionist mindset into a life you really don’t enjoy. I know a few people who aren’t happy with their life, but feel obligated to protect it. I don’t think being naive and taking huge risks is the answer, but neither is sitting and complaining. Then again, that’s a whole new issue to deal with.

  • renee

    i am taking a college course on line .One of my short term goals is learn how to navigate my assignments. we just ended last week with setting goal from long tern to short term . Could there possible be intermediate goal? One of my long term goal is a educational goal is to have good grades. And graduate at the end of my semester.

  • Scott Young


    Good luck on your education. Installing the right habits should definitely help you reach your goal.

  • Monk3

    Hang on there, I don’t want to be overly negative, but for goals to work they have to have some basis of reality.

    I want to flap my arms in six months and fly like a bird.

    All the positive mental attitude in the world would only be enough to make you hallucinate that you are flying. Not good.

  • Scott Young


    Obviously, there are limits to where you can focus your goal setting efforts. The point of the article was to focus you on the goals that appear extremely difficult, impossibility being an rhetorical exaggeration.

  • Hakim Callier


    You’ve hit the nail on the head here,

    If you are stuck in a rut in any area of your life, this is the time to examine your habits and rework the foundation.

    For musicians, a creative “rut” can be very costly. Examining your habits and how you spend some of that time is a big deal. It can also be quite depressing for the working musician to loose the “inspiration”, however goal setting can really help to bring some of that feeling, that inspiration back and get to working effectively again.

    I’ve written something on goal setting for music business analysis: please share you thoughts and ideas with me. I’d love to get feedback from you on this.

    Hakim Callier
    Perry Grinn Media