• Eve Arnold

How Having Just One Goal Will 10X the Chances of Achieving It

Try having one goal.

“If a man knows not to which port he sails, no wind is favorable.” ― Seneca the Younger

Despite our good intentions, most goals in your life, the ones you set for yourself, perhaps around January 1st, go unfulfilled. We constantly set goals with the best of intentions but often, we fail ourselves.

As humans, as people, we’re told to put our eggs in a few baskets. Eggs in many baskets manage the risk and if one basket gets dropped, well you’ve still got a few baskets with eggs in. Eggs in one basket, however, is a recipe for all eggs to be cracked and no chicks.

But what if you put all your eggs in one basket and looked after that basket. What if you put all your attention and time into learning how to look after your eggs in this basket, so when you moved some out into another basket, they had the best chance of survival.

That’s the benefit of one goal.

If you want one goal you need to do a few things:

  1. Let go of the idea that setting multiple goals will mean you achieve more

  2. Get unbelievably comfortable with a single focus

  3. Make the decision that this is all you will focus on for the next year (or whatever time frame)

  4. Be brave to not waiver when you feel your basket getting close to the ground

Over Ambitious Goal Setting Leads to Low Probability of Success

I’m not quite sure why we do this but I’ve done it many times. When it comes to setting goals you see it more of a shopping list than anything else. You start with good intentions, thinking hard about the things you want to achieve this year and the reasons behind that. You make the goals S.M.A.R.T. Specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-bound. All is going well. But then you start adding. You might well have started with a goal such as:

  1. To write 100 articles in 2020. Make sure you’ve written 50 by June.

Now that goal perhaps represents approximately 300 hours of work (depending on how much time you put into each article of course). 300 hours is quite a lot of time. That’s nearly 6 hours a week, that’s sitting down for at least 1 hour a day, 6 days a week to complete this goal of yours.

But at the time of writing down your goal, you don’t think about the time it takes, your mindset shifts into the possibilities of achievement and you run away with the goal setting. All of a sudden you are adding things like:

2. Run 200 times this year, 100 by June.

3. Finish the house renovation by December, so I can invite the family round for Christmas Day.

4. Write a book, 300-page draft ready for September.

You sit back and start to visualise yourself after 200 runs, a book deal with Penguin and a fully finished house. All of a sudden you are transported to a different life, the life you should be living.

What you’re not thinking about is how long it takes to find builders, get quotes, paint walls, write articles, write a book, find the energy and will power to go for a run. All whilst holding down your 9–5.

So let’s do the maths:

  1. Goal #1 = 300 hours

  2. Goal #2 = 100 hours (30 minute runs x 200) + 50 hours (mentally phsycing yourself up time/ showering after etc.)

  3. Goal #3 = 300 hours (ringing people up, painting, decorating etc.)

  4. Goal #4 = 600 hours (for a very poor first draft)

Yearly total = 1350 hours

Which sounds fine, well it sounds a lot of work but 1350 hours per year, that’s only 4 hours per day. But what about all the other life stuff? Food shopping, walking the dogs, cooking, cleaning. The list goes on.

From doing nothing outside of work to 4 hours a day of activities every day, is a lot. Mostly because if you are in the habit of Netflixing and chilling after work, the shift back into intense work, especially towards 4 different goals is incredibly overwhelming.

What tends to happen is you sit in that space between nothing doing productive and looking at your goals feeling overwhelmed. Prioritising your goals can be difficult if you’ve got a lot of them. Do you paint the kitchen or do you write an article? These sorts of questions whilst common aren’t overly productive. Whilst you’re questioning, you’re not doing.

The One Goal Method

There is a specific body of research that shows that people are more likely to fulfil a goal if they form implementation intentions. Peter Gollwitzer, Professor of Psychology at New York University, describes that as “plans that specify the procedures by which a goal will be attained and the circumstances under which specific behaviours will be enacted”. This was played out in a study by Christopher Armitage whereby students were asked to eat one more piece of fruit per day than they did currently. When students specified when what and how they would eat the extra fruit, they were more likely to achieve the goal compared to those who simply stated the goal and thought no more about it.

However, and this is the important bit, Amy Dalton and Stephen Spillerfound that this implementation intention does not extend to multiple goals. In their paper entitled “Too Much of a Good Thing” they write the following: “An investigation into this question suggests that the benefits of implemental planning for attaining a single goal do not typically extend to multiple goals. Instead, implemental planning draws attention to the difficulty of executing multiple goals, which undermines commitment to those goals relative to other desirable activities and thereby undermines goal success.”

In other words, have one goal.

The Method — How to prioritise your one goal

Instead, write a list of all the things you want to achieve in your life. Go far and wide and write down everything on the list. Be bold with it. Then, once you have that rather large list, you need to start to figure out what it is you actually want to do. At least immediately.

Take the list and circle all the critical, ‘I must do in the next 5 year’, things. Circle them or write a new list, the process doesn’t necessarily matter.

Once you’ve got your new, hopefully, smaller list, the next task is to prioritise. For the next year, what is it absolutely critical that you do? I know it’s hard but you need to be strict. What are those things that if you haven’t achieved by next year, you’ll be mad at yourself for? Better still, what is the those that will make you disappointed with yourself that you haven’t achieved?

Write those down.

Now prioritise. 1–5 (hopefully it’s no more than 5).

Now, cross out 2–5. Get rid of them.

You’re going to have to deal with the disappointment next year, for now, you are concentrating on one thing. Singular. One.


Well because you (and I) need to learn the process of actually following through on the goals you set yourself. It’s no good year after year setting the same goals and not achieving anywhere near them. The habit then becomes achieving 30% of goals which means you are settling for less.

Instead, this approach means you’ve got one thing to look at. You don’t need to worry about juggling and prioritising. It means that any spare time you have, you dedicate that to your one, single goal.

And guess what? If you achieve your goal early, then you can go after another goal or you can increase the current one. But for now, all you should be focused on is achieving the most important goal in your life.

Why It Feels Scary to Have One Goal

It feels scary. It almost feels like a defeat writing down just one thing to achieve, like your not achieving as much as you could be. But ask yourself how many times in the past you’ve achieved all the things you’ve written down on that piece of paper January 1st. The answer is probably not many.

Instead, let’s try something different. Be bold, put all your eggs in one basket. It’s not a risk because if you were honest with yourself, before this you spent most of your time arguing with yourself about which task needs the most focus. Instead of actually doing something, you were spending time planning and analysing. Having one goal takes any confusion or analysis away.

And yes, for the first month you might be thinking: “If I drop this basket, I’ll lose all my eggs”. But that’s the level of care you need to take with your eggs. The funny thing about your eggs in this basket is that you are looking after them. Nobody else. What you’ll realise is, no matter where your eggs are, you need to pay attention to them to make sure they are doing well. Having all of them in one place means you only have to look in one direction, not twenty. And as a new egg parent, that’s where I’d want my eggs. Where I could see them.

One Goal — A System Cultivation Approach

The point of this approach is to get good at looking after the eggs (your goal). It’s about focusing whole-heartedly on this goal and not letting it go until you search where you want to. It’s about learning how much time it takes to build a habit, to turn up every day and chip away at your goal when nobody is watching. It’s hard work. You’ll learn the gravity of setting goals because you’ll know the time and effort it takes to actually pursue any goal.

You’ll know the time, the worries, the effort the pain you go through in order to achieve what you want to, so you won’t write down a list of overly ambitious goals again. You’ll start to find tricks and tips to get closer to your goal, you’ll see that once you’ve done something 40 times, there are shortcuts and better ways of doing things that lead to better outcomes. You’ll learn to create systems that not only work for this goal but could work for any goal. You’ll realise that a goal is important and that if you’re going to commit to yourself to pursue a goal, it needs to be the right one.

In Conclusion

Setting one goal is likely to get you to 10X your output. It takes away any confusion about where you should be prioritising your time. It takes away any need to optimise your schedule because the only thing you need to do is work on this goal. It leaves nothing but the space to do the thing you said you wanted to.

It feels scary, of course, it does, but if you’re honest with yourself, how many goals have you set in the past and not achieved? It gives you the focus you need to actually achieve your goal. It teaches you to take goal setting seriously and it teaches you the process of actually achieving what you set out to do. Go on I dare you to have just one, single goal.

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