The Paradox of Big Goals

by PJ McClure on January 10, 2013

Missing your goals?“Did you set a goal?”

“Yes sir.”
“Did you map it out and identify all of the action steps?”
“Yes sir.”
“You understood everything that needed to happen, right?”
“Yes sir, but I just couldn’t seem to get moving. I felt flat-footed and couldn’t get any momentum.”
“I know your problem.”
“Awesome! What do I need to do?”
“You need a bigger goal.”
“Yep. Your old goal wasn’t big enough to motivate you. Set a bigger goal and I think you’ll be shocked at what will happen.”
I was green as a sprout at that point in my professional life and the six-figure lifestyle my vice president sported was enough to make me listen to whatever he said. He had things I wanted and told me I could have them too if I only did the things he did.
It was also my first introduction to self-improvement and all of the mantras of success. I studied them like nobody’s business. Time-management, goal setting, etc. I had it down cold. That’s the reason I was so frustrated with my lack of success.
When I explained my full situation to my VP, he was completely convinced that my lack of motivation was due to a wimpy goal. Never mind that the goal was more than 5 times more money than I had ever seen and required me to do things I had never done. He believed a bigger goal would do the trick, so I set a bigger one and went to work.
He was completely right when he said I would be shocked. I was. Shocked that I did less to accomplish the bigger goal than I did to achieve the smaller one!
I totally froze. Almost 17 years later, I understand why and have had the blessed fortune to share the cure with more than 400,000 people in more than 80 countries. This methodology has proven successful for everyone from 3rd grade basketball players to Fortune 50 CEO’s. It’s what I call, achieving more by believing less.
When we have a goal in front of us that is from our clearly articulated, purposeful vision, we are miles ahead of the game. The action steps to get us from where we are to where we want to go are obvious, so intellectually, we know exactly what must happen for us to achieve the goal. Slam dunk, right?
The only problem is… we find ourselves standing still instead of going after the goal.
We know what we want and why we want it. The results of the goal are so exciting that we practically burst with desire! How come we aren’t making it happen?
The problem isn’t the size of the goal. It’s in where our gaze is focused.
If I stand at the foot of a mountain I want to climb, but never have, and stare at the top, something interesting happens. I may not believe that I can make it all the way to the summit. While I stand and stare at the ultimate goal, I don’t go anywhere.
My thoughts are centered on my lack of belief in my ability to make it all the way to the top. Because my focus is on the farthest reaches of my goal, I forfeit all of the steps in between. It doesn’t matter if I know what the steps are if I don’t believe in my ability to take them.
Many of my past mentors and countless self-help gurus will implore, “You just gotta believe! You gotta want it and believe you can do it!”
I’ve watched and felt that advice destroy more people than I have the heart to count. Well intentioned? Sure. But completely misguided.
Telling someone to believe more than they do might be fine if you’re in a life or death situation that requires immediate action, but it isn’t a useful tool for daily life. We don’t will ourselves to believe. We grow our belief experientially.
To solve the problem of frozen disbelief we need an adjustment of focus. We have to tear our gaze away from the points we lack belief in and put it where we do believe.
Imagine yourself standing at point A and your goal is point Z. Consider them the base of a mountain and top of the mountain. Now, if you’ve never climbed a mountain before, you may not believe in your ability to climb all the way to the top. So we take your climbing plan and do a simple exercise to find out where your level of belief expires and readjust your focus.
We start at the letter or step that requires belief. The first step outside of your body of experience. Look at that step and ask yourself, “Do I believe I can accomplish that step?” If the answer is a confident, “Yes,” you move on to the next.
Repeat the process until you hit the point of disbelief. You’ll know when you’re there. If nothing else, your stomach will tell you. The knot in your gut lets you know that you really don’t believe you can do it.
At that point, take one step back and focus there. For example; if you hit your belief wall at step K, move back to J and focus on achieving J. Since all of the steps between A and J are believable for you, there is no reason for standing still. Just do them one at a time and move toward J.
I’ve been criticized for this approach by people saying that I’m discouraging big goals. Simply untrue. I love big goals and think we should all have goals that stretch our concept of reality. I also believe that a massive goal without action is pointless and serves only to destroy self-esteem.
Using this approach we adjust our focus to a different point on the path. As we approach the smaller goal, we also get closer to the bigger goal. In addition, with every step, our level of belief expands because are logging experiences.
As you look at the coming year and set goals for your own growth, keep in mind that your belief will determine your action. Give yourself a break and set yourself up for success.

Be your best,


DLMAIL57-NEWSLETTER January 1, 2011 at 9:57 am

The problem I come up against every time is I have difficulty coming up with the steps to achieve the goal. I know the end result I would like but if I manage to start steps I come up against a brick wall and can’t seem to go any further. So I guess I am asking how do you actually work out the steps?

PJ McClure January 28, 2011 at 11:40 pm

Here you go. I address setting a goal here

Mark January 1, 2011 at 12:17 am

This is an interesting perspective. I know what I want…and have become transfixed on the end. Might be that I am stuck at a place I do not recognize. Thanks for pointing out what might be a blind spot for many of us. Peace.

Carla December 31, 2010 at 6:06 am

This article makes it so clear. You’ve outlined the steps as if you were a fly on my wall, PJ. The way you bring it down to an understandable example helps the common folk to apply it in their life, me included.

After attending self improvement seminars monthly for over three years I am now able to take what you’ve given in a few paragraphs and reach goals I never could fathom before. Now I know why I froze in my tracks all those years…what a waste! Thank you for the inch by inch steps to bettering my life!


Richard December 30, 2010 at 4:46 pm

P J,

This article hits home with me because, as recently as 4 months ago, my goal was literally making it through the hour and then the day in front of me. I did that by focusing on doing my best at breathing, communicating and putting one foot in front of the other during the day I was in. Not looking back, and not projecting ahead – just being my best in the moment I was living. I did believe I could do at least that much.

It was a tipping point in realizing that I was in control of my life, even if my goal was to live through that one day. With your guidance, I made it through that day, and my goals expanded to making it through the week, and now through the months ahead of me as my life has regained aliveness and momentum.

Thanks P J,


Leila December 30, 2010 at 3:24 pm

Excellent article. I’m sitting here with my ultimate goal clearly in my vision. I have pictured every piece of it in my mind’s eye – and here I sit. I can NOT seem to get motivated. I keep telling myself, I’m just tired, it’s been a hard road I’m burned out. Just give me a little time and I’ll get my steam up again. But I don’t.

It never dawned on me that my process of seeing/reaching goal is so big and almost everything to get there is mostly comprised of things I have never done – I have to learn that it is stopping me in my tracks.

After reading this post, I stepped back, broke the pursuit of the goal into smaller pieces and it’s amazing how many of those small pieces I DO know how to do. So I’m starting piece by piece – like a jigsaw puzzle. Start with the corners because those are easy to identify and put in the right place and then the rest will follow as I see the path more clearly and my abilities continue to grow.

Thanks PJ – there is something about the words YOU choose to say what many have already said that truly resonates with me. I’m so glad you’re here.


Anonymous December 30, 2010 at 11:54 am

This is exactly the approach I used to lose over 100 pounds but I didn’t know how to articulate it till now. This works!

Carole December 31, 2010 at 12:29 am

Loved your sharing with PJ today, Charlotte.

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