Finding Motivation for Improbable Goals


In two previous articles, I wrote about my desire to live a completely digital life. A digital lifestyle is when all of your income generation doesn’t depend on a location. Preferably through a business (although freelancing and a few jobs would allow you to go digital), this would mean you can live anywhere in the world, work whenever you want and have near total freedom.

Needless to say, most people don’t have digital lifestyles. Even if you managed to earn a stable income that wasn’t attached to a location (not easy), you would still need the skills and initiative to take advantage of that freedom. How many people have the gumption and ability to live in foreign places without knowing the language or culture?

From an outside perspective, a digital lifestyle appears to be an improbable goal. It certainly isn’t impossible, and there are people who live it today. But it is certainly a lot harder than working a stable job from 9-5 and paying mortgage payments for a 3-bedroom in suburbia.

Improbable goals can be hard to maintain motivation for. A digital lifestyle isn’t the only improbable goal you can have. If you’re overweight and have failed diets before, how do you get the motivation to lose the extra 30 or 40 pounds? If you want to start a business, you’ve probably heard that 80% fail in the first five years. How do you overcome those odds?

Less Hype, More Reasoning

I’ve never been a fan of pump-up techniques for motivation. I don’t think deluding yourself should be a prerequisite for self-improvement. Instead, I strive to find perfectly logical reasons why my seemingly improbable goals are worth my enthusiasm.

I’ve found there are three big reasons why many seemingly improbable goals are still worth giving your full attention to. If you understand these reasons you can still be a dreamer without being reckless.

1) The Value of Getting Halfway There

Most goals aren’t an all-or-nothing event. Many improbable goals are worthwhile, even if you can only accomplish them half way. Using my first example of a digital life, even if you still needed a job, a part-time business could offer you more financial flexibility. I’m not completely digital yet, but I’m still enjoying the benefits of the moderate success this blog has had.

Often, when you work towards improbable goals, you won’t quite make it (at least, in the short term). But you can still enjoy the benefits of halfway success. Small progress can still have its rewards, so it still makes sense to pursue those improbable goals.

Health, finances, habits are all areas where halfway improvements are still meaningful. If you can remind yourself of these smaller victories, it can give you the motivation to keep striving for the bigger win.

2) Are the Odds Really Against You?

I often ignore pessimistic opinions about how likely achieving a goal is. If someone tells you that only 0.1% of the population has a black belt in karate, does that mean you have a 1/1000 chance of becoming a master? Of course not. Probably 98% of the world hasn’t even studied karate. Just by signing up for a course you put yourself into a small minority.

I try to discount odds which ignore my internal motivation and persistence. Instead of comparing myself to everyone, I compare my odds of success against people who have the same level of drive as myself. Everyone has different motivations and an overwhelming amount of people don’t have clear goals. Don’t use those people as a basis of comparison.

Sometimes, the odds aren’t lying. Becoming an NBA player is a truly improbable goal because many of the hopefuls do have determination and drive. When the odds are against you, try to look for creative solutions that separate you from the pack.

3) Embrace the Possibility of Failure

If halfway victories are meaningless, and the odds are truly stacked against you, I use failure itself to motivate me forward. By this, I mean that failures aren’t the worst-case scenario. Striving hard towards an improbable goal and failing gives you mental assets and training you can use for any other goal.

When I run this blog, I realize that many other people are also trying to make it. Getting into the Technorati Top 100 would put this blog in the top .0003% of all blogs. That’s certainly low probability by most people’s standards. I also know that the percentage of successes is still low, even if I discount the unmotivated, unfocused bloggers just creating free accounts.

However, even if you look at a pessimistic picture like that, you can still be motivated. Running this blog, even if it doesn’t catapult to huge success, has taught me a great deal. I’ve learned business skills, writing skills, communication skills and personal skills. All of these I can take with me to whatever challenge I face next.

Hard Work Makes You Lucky

The surprising thing is that it doesn’t take a lot of luck to move yourself into the top 5% or 1% of something you care about. When you find the motivation to work hard towards an improbable goal, it starts becoming more likely.

  • Stu | Improved Lives

    Hey Scott,

    Great post! I think that improbable goals are some of the best kinds of goals, because accomplishing easy stuff is never very satisfying.

    I’m glad to see you mentioned failure too. I think failure is a big reason that a lot of people tend to shy away from their goals, especially the improbable ones. Failure though is all about your outlook. If you see failure as a learning experience, failure can be a positive outcome. If you look at it like that, it’s impossible to have a negative outcome when setting and trying for goals. The only negative scenario is not trying.

  • Sara

    Your three reasons are incredibly compelling. After all, by even trying to reach a goal, you’re bound to grow and learn. I think embracing a combination of wild, crazy goals and small, reasonable goals is a good way to stay motivated.

  • Dave Fowler

    Hi Scott,

    With regard to your failures, are you able to expand on whether you’re using negative emotions associated with the failures to spur you on, for example, frustration and possibly anger?


  • Scott Young


    Not anger or frustration. I’m not an angry person by nature, and I don’t usually find frustration motivating.

    What failures have done is they have focused me back on a problem. If everything is going according to plan, you can get lazy and stop investing 100% of your energy. A momentary setback can often kick all your resources back towards a problem.


  • graham

    I fully agree that hard work makes you lucky! The more situations you put yourself through by working hard, the greater the chances one of them will eventually pay off big for you. It’s just numbers.

    Lately I’ve been learning the quickest way to success is to fail fast, and fail often. The more lessons you can expose yourself to, to learn and improve, the quicker you’ll evolve and meet the challenge properly next time. Success is mainly a matter of sheer perseverance.