How to ACTUALLY Achieve Your Goals in 2024

Hi everyone,

Happy New Year! I hope that this year has been kind to you, and that 2024 brings happiness and success to you all.

For me, the end of the year has always been a time for introspection. I like to reflect on the progress I’ve made and plan ahead for the year to come. The holiday season usually has a nice mix of free time and sentimentality that allows for reflection to flow smoothly.

That being said, it’s very easy for us to make well intentioned, actionable plans for the year to come, just to have them fall through when the holidays finish and life gets busy again.

Looking back on this year, I’m proud to say that I’ve made some of the most progress towards my goals that I ever have.

I promise that I'm not saying this to brag, but because I feel that I have learnt some strategies that have allowed me to turn my New Year’s resolutions into action that has genuinely changed my life.

So, in this newsletter, I’ll share with you:

  1. Why New Year’s Resolutions don’t result in meaningful change
  2. Where life changing action comes from
  3. How you can start making real progress on your goals

Why don’t New Year’s Resolutions work?

We’ve all been there - we set a New Year’s resolution at the start of the year, just to look back in December and see that we haven’t achieved much of what we set out to.

It’s demoralising and frustrating, because it feels like we’re wasting our potential and doing a disservice to our future selves.

That being said, there are several reasons why we struggle to achieve the goals we set out.

First, it’s extremely difficult to identify the correct processes required to achieve a goal.

Say your goal is to get better grades in your next semester of school. Sure, you may have a vague idea of what works, like active recall and spaced repetition, but you probably don’t know how to apply these, step-by-step, into your life.

What happens as a result is that you try applying them, but then find that they’re not working as well as you thought they would.

You might find that the recommendations don’t quite work for what you need to study, or that when you do practice questions, you have no idea how to answer the questions and feel demoralised.

This feeds the second reason, which is that a lack of progress destroys motivation.

When recommendations that work for others don’t work for us, it’s easy to conclude that the strategies don’t work, or that we’re the problem. We can start to question whether we want to achieve the goal anyway, and revert back to our old habits.

The fundamental problem here is that applying theory to practice is more nuanced and difficult than we expect.

How do we start taking the right kind of action?

We often expect the path to reaching our goals to be simple. We think that we can make a few changes, consistently apply them and find life changing improvements.

In reality, the process of reaching our goals is a windy, treacherous path. At first, we can find big improvements, but over time cracks can form in these systems. When this happens, we need to problem solve and adapt solutions to our needs.

Let’s continue with the studying example:

If you start incorporating practice testing into your studying system, but find that you still don’t understand the content, you need to investigate why that may be the case.

More often than not, you’ll have no idea. It may be that the practice tests you are using are low quality, or that you don’t know enough to answer the questions in the first place.

As a result, it’s important to find out more about what effective active recall looks like. What does a good practice test look like? What do you need to do before active recall to be able to get the most use out of it?

These both relate to the process of active recall, and this is the secret to making progress on our goals.

The outcomes we achieve are a consequence of the processes we engage in on a day to day basis. In order to truly make progress on our goals, we need to be constantly learning more about and refining our processes.

So, how do we start doing this?

The way that I’ve been achieving this throughout the year has been through goal setting and systematic weekly reviews. Here’s my strategy.

Start by setting a goal you want to achieve. For example: I want to get 90% or more on my end of year medical school exams.

Then, identify the processes that are required to achieve that goal. Think about someone who achieves this goal easily - what do they do on a day to day basis?

For the example of someone who gets 90% on their med school exams, processes might include:

  • Prioritising their tasks and working on what is most important.
  • Managing procrastination and spending their time working effectively.
  • When in class, learning effectively with a great memory of what is taught.
  • After class, revising thoroughly, using multiple techniques and finding gaps.

Each week, you can evaluate these processes and how well you are applying them. Ask yourself questions like:

  • How well are you doing this process?
  • What barriers are you facing in achieving this process?
  • Do you know exactly what you need to do on a day to day basis to do this process effectively?
  • If not, what can you learn about?
  • How did your experiment from the previous week go? (keep this in mind, I will explain it later)

An example of such a reflection would be the following:

I don’t think I’m prioritising my tasks well. Each day, I don’t think about what I’m working on and just work on what I feel like doing. I don’t really know what effective prioritisation looks like. I’ve heard of things like the Eisenhower matrix, but I’m not entirely sure on how to use it. I could learn more about this by watching a few YouTube videos on it.

This is very simple, but it can empower you to find out more about what you need to do to achieve your goals.

Once you’ve identified and evaluated these processes, you can set short term experiments for the following week. In this example, these might be:

  • Watch some YouTube videos on prioritisation to learn more about effective techniques.
  • Try applying the Eisenhower matrix everyday next week.

At the end of the next week, you can reflect on what you have learnt and how your experiments went. You can also reflect on your understanding of each of the processes, adding to it so that you almost have a step by step guide on what you are supposed to do.

This weekly review system allows you to make consistent progress towards your goals.

Even more, doing this every week allows you to see the progress that you are making, which is incredibly motivating.

If there’s one thing that I attribute my success to in the last year, it’s this - I hope it can help you achieve your goals in 2024 too!

- Emil

P.S - I’m taking on students to workshop their studying and productivity skills. Book a 1-2-1 call with me to get closer to achieving your academic goals!

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