Looking for actionable solutions? Set a goal that makes you feel nauseous.

If the title sounds like a contradiction, you read it right.

Not long ago I was writing a special New Year’s article called Why Most New Year’s Resolutions Fail and How to Make Yours Stick. As I started writing, I noticed that it didn’t sound right. I wasn’t convinced of its value.

And if you’re not convinced at the start, why bother? I stopped writing it and it never saw the light of day. On January 1, I noticed a funny tendency: everyone was publishing the same kind of thing: how setting big and vague goals led to demotivation and small, paced goals throughout the year produced better results. In fact, I was going to set such goals myself.

But I wasn’t convinced again. For some reason, my mind was rejecting this “actionable solution” to an every-day problem: sustaining motivation.

I already wrote about how hard it is to sustain motivation and suggested a solution, even one including the Jelly app. Instead of repeating what I said, I want to go straight to the source of the problem.

Why can’t we sustain motivation? First of all, it is something that works differently for every person. There is no one-size-fits-all formula. Secondly, there are two types of motivation that have to be in a healthy balance to help us to reach our goals. While external motivation can be anything from a good salary to a promising relationship, internal motivation is harder to come by: it is what drives us from within to keep trekking.

I have tried many times to go with one or the other, and every time, I failed. They say internal motivation is more important than external rewards. But being internally driven also wears out if there’s no external benefit.

No man can go on passion a full year without being paid. No woman can go on money and success alone, without a vision.

Therein lies the problem: the two kinds rarely go hand in hand.

Now, let me tell you about a story that I read in The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. The book is a detailed analysis of habits and their affect on our daily lives. It also holds the key to changing our bad habits into good ones.

At the beginning of the book, I was blown away by this simple story of amazing life transformation: a woman in her twenties, overweight, smoking like a fiend, unable to sustain relationships for long, turns her life around in a matter of twelve months. How? By setting a crazy goal.

She decided she is going to trek the Sahara Desert and she had 12 months to prepare for it. Eventually, she gets in good shape, stops smoking, finds a partner and a job that she loves. All that in one year.

I just can’t help but think, if she can do it, I can do it, too!

Did she set small actionable goals to reach her ultimate dream? She probably did. But she started with setting a goal that seemed crazy at the time.

If you start out with a series of actionable goals, make sure you determine the end goal first. Otherwise, you just have a bunch of steps you can take to… what? Being better, smarter, stronger? That’s just too vague.

This is why I decided to set my own crazy goal.

To make it work in the long run, it needs to fill a few requirements:

  1. You have to really want it.
  2. It has to make you nervous, but in a good way.
  3. It has to be crazy enough to seem a bit outside of reach.
  4. It has to be the biggest achievement you can imagine.

If you don’t really want it, it ain’t gonna work.

If it doesn’t make you nervous, it is possible, and therefore boring.

If it’s not crazy, there will be no nay-sayers you can later prove wrong.

If it’s not big enough to make you proud, what are we even talking about?

While the woman I mentioned set a goal that would get her out of the hole she was in, people who are not necessarily “stuck” don’t need such drastic measures. If you’re like me, you’re generally happy in your life, but you can’t help but feel that… something is missing. Maybe you’re procrastinating too much or not achieving enough. Maybe you don’t have the job that you want. Or maybe you haven’t found anyone to share your days with.

Whatever’s missing from your life, you deserve to have it.

By setting a crazy goal that’s viewed as “out there”, you will have something amazing to look forward to and fight for. The small, actionable steps will follow naturally. Do you want to move to an expensive district in California? Well, you’ll probably start by fixing up your resume, taking some seminars, finding a well-paid job, making contacts, saving money, and so on.

Everything should follow and stem from your crazy dream. Remember, no dream is too big. You can reach as far as you can dream.

My dream is to be a speaker on TED one day. I set it yesterday and today I feel a wave of energy wash over me. I am less tempted to procrastinate because I don’t have that luxury. If I am to speak on TED next year, I must prepare.

I’ve already made a list of steps I’ll need to take to get on TED: learn about public speaking (the part that makes me nauseous), get articles on big publications, make the right contacts, advance my projects, set a daily routine for maximum energy (diet, exercise, sleep), and so on. What is more, I’ve already started to change some annoying habits in my life AND plan to acquire new skills that will come in handy later.

I don’t know if I will make it to TED or what I could even talk about if I do. All I know is, I have a goal and I’m slowly moving closer to it.

If I play my cards right, I will have the internal motivation and the external rewards that will surely come on the way.

Now tell me, what is your crazy goal this year? Set it high.

I can still hear my boyfriend’s objection over the phone. Just set something possible and go from there. Set a goal every month. Thing is, I’ve tried this already and it’s not really doing it for me. I am the kind of person who strives on proving the impossible can be done, time and time again.

There is no achievement in reaching an actionable goal.

There is all the achievement, however, in proving people wrong.

If you’re like me — and if you’ve read this far, perhaps you are — you’ll wake up excited by the possibility of achieving something nobody thinks you can reach, and get off on that. And when you reach it, you will be full of pride, some unexpected humility, and a healthy dose of optimism for life.

Set the goal. Right now. Everything else will follow.

Violeta Nedkova

Violeta Nedkova is a multipassionate marketer who loves helping people. She talks and writes about marketing with purpose and personality because it's so much better than traditional marketing.