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man walking the stairs

2020 is here and I’m going to be a competent salsa dancer. My goal is to be able to walk into any salsa club, in any country, ask a woman for a dance and have one helluva time dancing with her to any salsa song.

Just the thought of that is making me poop my pants.

I don’t know how to dance salsa. People tell me I have two left feet. Yet I’m determined to accomplish this goal. In the past, it was common for me to give up on a goal by June but I’ve learned a few tricks over the past 15 years of goal setting to make this a success. There are 5 crucial steps I’ve discovered that have helped me in the past achieve my goals like listening to 20 audiobooks, read 30 books, and lose 20 lbs in a year.

1. Know What You’re Getting Yourself Into

I’ve taken a few hip hop classes before and was never really good at it. Back in college, I joined a salsa group where we practiced, but I’ve forgotten everything and never made it past the third session.

The first few times I go to salsa class will be bad and it’s easy for me to want to give up. As a logical person, I know dancing to a beat will be foreign to me. Let alone doing a partner dance where I also have to lead a woman around the dance floor.

Ahhhhh that’s so much thinking!

Yet I’m determined to get good at this. If I can anticipate that the first 10 times are a wash, then I know I just need to show up to get better. As long I don’t quit within the first 10 times, I will be in decent shape to get good at this. It doesn’t matter what happens because I’m building the habit of showing up for salsa class and that’s most important.

Did you see what I did there?

I tried anticipating everything that could go wrong, that might make me quit and any excuses that might come up. By preparing for the worst, I can set myself up for success.

Before I set any goal I like to look at both the positive and negative. 99% of people only look at the positive:

  • “I will lose weight!”
  • “I’m going to work out!”
  • “I will go to the gym 3 times a week!”
  • “I will look amazing!”

But then never look at the negative. Much of achieving your goals is getting around all the excuses, roadblocks, gaps, sick days and randomness that you will encounter. If you were to only address the negative you’d still be further ahead than most people.

Yet most people don’t ever do that thought exercise.

So for your next goal, think of all the ways you could miss your goal:

  •  What will do you when you get sick?
  •  What will you do when you feel like giving up?
  •  What are some of your excuses you will tell yourself?

Start anticipating as much as you can and come up with a solution to get around it. For example, if I’m sick and miss a salsa class, I will have to either attend an extra class the next week or book a private lesson to catch up. When I know this, it’s easy to make adjustments and stay on track to accomplish my goal.

2. Focus On One Thing

hand focused on smiley face

Like you, I want to accomplish a lot of things. In 2020 I want to visit South Africa, New Zealand and Brazil. I also want to have my body fat below 15% on my DEXA scan (most accurate machine to measure body composition). There are a couple of conferences, personal development workshops and 1on1 coaching I want to do on top of all that. It would also be nice to have a certain amount of money invested, saved up in my savings account and put away for retirement.

Oh yeah, I also want to become a competent salsa dancer.

Is it realistic that I will accomplish all of them?

Yes, it is.

But not in one year.

Here’s a hard lesson I had to learn: the fewer goals you focus on, the more you will accomplish. It’s better to achieve one goal than to have missed on five goals.

You can ask my friends about my general outlook on life and they will tell you that I’m a very optimistic person. Whenever I’m planning goals for Asian Efficiency, I’m always looking for ways to get the most out of our teams and accomplish as many goals as we can. Yet every time we focus on multiple goals, we always fail. This has happened three quarters in a row and it killed morale in the company. Once we focused on only one goal, we started to see growth, success, and happiness again. We started to hit our goal, quarter after quarter, and the company started to grow again.

This has also been true for my personal life. As soon as I focus on more than one goal, my success rate plummets. So going into 2020, I will focus on only one goal: to become a competent salsa dancer.

That’s it. Everything else I want to accomplish will have to wait on my Someday/Maybe list.

Does that mean that I will ignore everything else? Of course not, I’m human. I will continue to eat healthily, work out regularly and sleep as much as I can to maintain my health and slowly get my body below 15% body fat. But it’s not something I’ll be obsessed with or focus on.

Same thing with my personal development. I’m sure I will squeeze some workshops and conferences, but I’m not going to plan that ahead of time. If the time is right and I feel like it, I’ll do it. If not, no big deal and I will go back to putting my resources into becoming a competent salsa dancer.

Oftentimes, when we focus on one goal, it unlocks other goals for us. This domino effect is very powerful. When you’re trying to decide which goal you want to focus on, think about which goal will be the one that pushes all the other dominoes.

For example, by focusing on salsa dancing I unlock almost all of South America as a place to travel to and have a great time in. That means more travel for me which is related to many of my goals (experiencing new foods). Salsa dancing is also a great exercise that is in alignment with getting my body below a certain body fat.

Out of all the goals I have right now in front of me, salsa dancing is my biggest domino that will push all the other dominos for me. So I want to encourage you to think about all your goals and see which one is the biggest domino.

Focus on that one and forget the other goals (for now).

3. Break It Down Into Actions

Now that I have my one goal, the next step is to make that goal a reality. Where I’ve fallen short in the past was using the hope strategy: hoping that somehow, someday my goal would be accomplished.

Boy, I can tell you that didn’t work.

Even having a simple plan is better than the hope strategy. What’s even better is to have your goal broken down into action steps. This is where you think about all the steps you have to take to accomplish your goal. Some people call this “reverse engineering your goal” but for dumb people like me, it means figuring out which steps I need to take.

After a few minutes of thinking, I figured out mine. To become a competent salsa dancer, I need to show up for salsa classes. The more I do that, the better I will become. It won’t be a linear process, but I believe that as long as I show up for salsa classes that I will eventually become competent at it.

Sure, I could watch YouTube videos, occasionally go to a private lesson, and read a book about the history of salsa, but none of them as powerful as showing up for salsa lessons.

When you’re trying to break down a goal, you might get overwhelmed by all the things you might need to do. The challenge is to find one simple action step that you need to repeatedly do and focus on that. The rest of the steps will usually be figured out as you go.

For example, you might have a weight loss goal. Yes, you can focus on 10 million different things (what to eat, what workouts to do, when to eat, what not to eat, how much you sleep, etc.) but that will just make it overwhelming. However, if you show up four times a week at the gym, you’ll inevitably achieve your goal. So focus on that.

If you want to read more books, read 30 minutes a day. Want to find a romantic partner? Keep going out. Want to save money for a big purchase? Set aside 10% anytime you get money.

Let’s not overcomplicate things here.

For me, I need to show up for a salsa class twice a week. That’s realistic for me. When I can, I’ll go more often to accelerate my progress. If I get sick or miss a class, then I’ll make up for it the next week or hire a private instructor to catch up.

No matter what happens…I just gotta show up!

4. Create Rituals That Support Your Goal With Your Calendar

After identifying the major steps I need to take, it’s time to make this a ritual. The more habitual you become around your goal, the more likely you will accomplish it.

For me, this means always showing up for salsa class and making this a ritual.

(At Asian Efficiency we like to call these repeatable and actionable steps “rituals” because they’re more specific than “habits” that are typically vague.)

To make this a ritual and increase the chances of success:

  •  I will block off Tuesday and Thursday nights for salsa classes on my calendar
  • I will set 1-day, 3-hour, and 1-hour reminders for myself to go to this class.
  •  I will pre-pay for all my classes for the next 6 months.

I hate losing money and by pre-paying for my classes it’ll force me to go to class. By blocking it off on my calendar, I’m forcing other things to be worked around that. For example, if someone wants to meet me for dinner it’ll have to be before or after class. Just like if I want to go to a workshop, it cannot be on a Thursday evening because I know I need to be going to salsa.

In other words, try to preplan ahead as much as you can to make your rituals stick. The more specific you are, the more likely you will succeed. Your calendar is a great tool to help you with this. The more you can schedule your rituals and adhere to them, the more likely you will get what you want.

5. Track Your Rituals

silhouette businessman with 2020

With my former “hope strategy” I would have no idea if I was on pace to accomplish my goal. I could be doing a million things and I would continue to hope it would all work out. The opposite would also be true: doing absolutely nothing and hope my goal would get accomplished.

Both didn’t work.

An advanced concept I had to discover over time was to track my progress. When you’re able to track yourself, you’re empowered to know if you’re on pace to accomplish your goal. By knowing where you are, you can make adjustments as needed. If I were to get behind and I knew that, I could make adjustments to get back ahead.

With my salsa goal, I know that showing up for class is the most important thing and that’s something I can keep track of. Since I go twice a week (my commitment), I know I need to go at least eight times a month. By tracking my progress every week, I could easily see if I was behind or ahead. If I missed a class one week due to whatever reason, I know I need to make up for it the next week by going three times.

If you have a weight loss goal, you want to weigh yourself every day so you know if you’re trending in the right direction. If you want to read more books, you keep track if you’ve read 30 minutes a day.

Whatever your goal is – identify the one metric you want to keep yourself accountable to. Especially if your goal is somewhat abstract like mine is (being a competent salsa dancer). An easy starting point is to look at your action steps and rituals – they often will give you clues that you need to keep track of.

Then you want to review your progress every week. I wouldn’t want to wait a month to review your progress. Do it either daily or weekly so you keep your eyes on the prize.

Action Steps

Focus on one goal for 2020, measure your progress and review it every week. Do this and you’ll have an amazing year. I can’t wait to hear what you’ll accomplish!

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Thanh Pham

Founder of Asian Efficiency where we help people become more productive at work and in life. I've been featured on Forbes, Fast Company, and The Globe & Mail as a productivity thought leader. At AE I'm responsible for leading teams and executing our vision to assist people all over the world live their best life possible.

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  1. I have no idea you can dance. :)

    And I really love your idea when you say we should understand what we got ourselves into. And you’re right when you say most people only focus and prepare for the positives, but not the negatives.

    It is true that many people fail to achieve their goals because they never expected things to happen. There will be obstacles, problems, and roadblocks preventing us from reaching our goals.

    And the best way to overcome them is to identify them and solve/get rid of them one-by-one when they appear.

    Love your 5 steps. Cheers.

  2. These are awesome tips. I totally that really knowing what you are getting yourself into is key. I heard once the idea of having a “pre-mortem” where you imagine yourself a year later and you’ve failed at your goal and then you write down what could have gone wrong. Sounds a bit depressing perhaps, but can be so helpful in actually preparing for your goal. Here’s to a great 2020!

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