Setting Goals That Protect You When You Are Weakest

2 times you're most likely to fail, and how to make it through and reach your goals.


I remember very clearly the moment I gave up being a pilot—and learned a life lesson about setting goals that make a difference.

After 140 hours of time in the air with an instructor, I was taking my first solo flight.

Every first solo is the same: Take off, circle, land. I took off, I circled, and was cleared to land by the tower. I approached a short runway that formed a T, with a long runway that was used by commercial flights coming in from Atlanta.

I was getting close to touching down near the intersection of the two runways when somebody started screaming in my ear: “Abort! Abort! Climb and bank to the left! Climb and bank to the left!” At first, I panicked and couldn’t remember any of my training. Luckily, it kicked in, and I climbed and banked to the left.

Just in time to see a 737 coming in that would have T-boned me on the runway.

Eventually, I landed. The instructor met me by the plane and told me the 737 hadn’t been in contact with the tower. It sounded like an excuse.

I handed the keys to him and said, “You will never see me again.”

There’s a reason your first solo flight is just taking off and landing. They are the two moments when things usually go wrong. I had always known this, but it became a bit more real when I saw how close to death I had been.

Every project or initiative is the same.

The two times things are most likely to fall apart? The beginning and the end.

The two times things are most likely to fall apart? The beginning and the end. Click To Tweet

I think of it as the first 15% and the last 15%. Why are projects most vulnerable then? Because that’s when people are at their weakest—mentally.

At the beginning, we’re overly optimistic, and we underestimate. At the end, we’re tired. We think we’re done. We lack the internal resources to overcome new, unexpected obstacles. As told by Forbes, one of the most common reasons people miss their goals is: They give up too soon.

It’s not where you are that matters, it’s where you’re headed.

Man with blazer over shoulder walking away | Needing to reach his goals

What do you do to overcome the potential for failure? Set short-term goals!

There’s a reason pilots use a checklist for every takeoff and landing. Give yourself the same tools to successfully land your projects.

At Takeoff

Your best and most important opportunity to get the Cycle of Winning going is at the beginning of a new project or goal.

The point is you have to start somewhere, and it doesn’t matter if it’s small. What matters is that you have yourself being productive on something that is meaningful to you. Even small goals usually have a series of steps you have to go through to make them happen. So think about what it’s going to take and write them down.

Don’t try to shortcut. Amateurs take shortcuts and assume that things will work out and it won’t be that hard but professionals know you can’t take even the smallest details for granted.

Another important reason to do this is because at the start, you need those short-term goals to help you overcome inertia. Inertia is a real thing, but it is subtle and is the reason so many people with big dreams never even get going on them. What’s worse is they never actually realize what’s holding them back.

3 Airforce Plans in the Air

Where does this procrastination come from? It comes from inertia—a body at rest tends to stay at rest. That’s why people who know will tell you to take the small goals seriously.

For example, according to Business Insider, you must cherish the small goals in your life. You’re trying to change your schedule, your priorities, and your thinking. You need something to help you focus on the activities that will make the change happen. You need a regimen to follow, a checklist of activity.

Chase achievable dreams—not fantasies. If you aren’t convinced you can reach your goals, you won’t really work for them.

I rely on short-term goals heavily in the first 72 hours of a new project or goal. It makes sense. They say it takes 21 days to build a habit, and 3 days is 15% of that.

Short-term goals help you apply the Cycle of Winning early and repeatedly. You’ll build momentum and confidence. And you’ll develop the habits of winners that will carry you through. If setting short-term goals is something you struggle with, this article on The Balance Careers can help you get started.

I rely on short-term goals heavily in the first 72 hours of a new project or goal. It makes sense. They say it takes 21 days to build a habit, and 3 days is 15% of that. Click To Tweet

One of the things experts continually seem to circle back to is the 90 day challenge. According to them, anyone can do anything for 90 days.

That’s great, but what exactly is it you’re going to be doing right now? Before lunch? Before dinner? Before you go to bed? And what are you going to do tomorrow? Committing to a 90 day challenge is useless unless you know what specific activities you are committing to do day by day, week by week to make this project happen.

No general goes to war without a plan or a strategy in advance. No developer launches construction on a building they don't have a blueprint for. Click To Tweet

That is the reason the takeoff is so important when you launch into a new venture. And other than making sure you have something to pursue that excites you, or something you have decided absolutely has to be done now, the next step is getting those small goals in writing and creating a schedule to make them happen.

No general goes to war without a plan or a strategy in advance. No developer launches construction on a building they don’t have a blueprint for.

Hands building with small lightbulb blocks | Reaching goals

During Landing

The second time you’re most likely to fail is right before the finish line.

We all know people who never seem to complete what they start. And that’s ok, unless it’s something that’s really meaningful to you—because you’re going to throw away all of your hard work if you quit before you get there.

I gave up my dream of being a pilot and being able to jump in a plane and fly all over the country anywhere, anytime I wanted because I eventually came face to face with the danger. I walked away because of a decision—not because I wasn’t good enough, not because it wasn’t possible but because I didn’t want to do it anymore. I realized it wasn’t going to be worth the time and money to continue to pursue it.

Sure, I knew lots of famous people—John Travolta, Arnold Palmer, and others—had their pilot’s license and planes and flew all the time. I knew people like Clint Eastwood flew his own helicopter. I knew that many of my hunting buddies from London, England had their own helicopters and were pilots themselves so they could easily get out to their country homes on the weekend.

I knew that some of them loved that freedom so much, that they even had their wives get their pilot’s licenses and their own helicopters. To them it was no big deal. For me, it wasn’t worth the time, energy, and risk—and I had to put in 140 hours of training to do that solo flight to find out for myself.

But that’s totally different than just quitting. That’s totally different than just allowing yourself to get distracted and eventually giving up. The things that are important to you, you just finish! Otherwise you’ve wasted all of that valuable time, all of that money, all of that energy for something that matters to you, but you still did not get there.

You allowed yourself to get sidetracked and drift away from something that matters to you. And that would be ok if losing sight of that goal did not eat at you. Because when you quit or allow yourself to get distracted from something that really matters to you, it eats at your core.

You feel unfulfilled. It constantly haunts your mind: What if I had stayed on track? What if I hadn’t quit? Where would I be now?

You will never get over it—because it’s almost like a death of loved one . . . it was something important to you, and you fumbled it away. Just like the death of people you’re close to, you can get passed it, but you never really get over it.

So at the finish line, you have a choice. And if it’s something really important to you, you’re much more likely to fight for it until you make it happen.

That’s why the most important time to do what it takes to keep the Cycle of Winning going is at the end. Stephen Key, Co-Founder of inventRight and Forbes contributor, says you should never lose sight of the bigger picture. Always, always, always keep your goals in your line of vision. 

That’s why short term goals are very important when you’re close to the finish line—your mental toughness is depleted. You’re tempted to abandon the discipline that got you close to the finish line.

It’s much easier to use the little bit of energy you have left to focus on the step in front of you. You need the next small step to be clear to help you focus and keep going.

When people are completely exhausted and breathing thin air as they approach the summit of Mount Everest, they say all they focus on is taking the next step. Because they know if they do that, eventually they’ll get to the top.

Winners know that’s how you finish projects and allow you to complete your Cycle of Winning on that project and set the stage for something bigger down the road because you stayed on track and got what needed to be done done. 

You need the next small step to be clear and obvious to help you focus and keep going. Small goals help reinforce the actions in the Cycle of Winning, and that will dramatically increase your odds of finishing.

If you want to win, give yourself short-term goals at the start and at the finish.

If you want to win, give yourself short-term goals at the start and at the finish. Click To Tweet

I don’t mean to sound like a broken record on the subject, but let me end with this. If you aren’t disciplined about setting goals all the time, at least set short-term goals at the start and toward the finish.

I’d love to hear how you use goals to make big progress. Share this article and tell the world your best tip or trick in your post or tweet.


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One Comment


Exactly! This is why I do my best to make sure my mental toughness is where I want it to be before I start any project—long or short term. A little investment at the beginning goes a long way in making sure I actually achieve my goals and get some positive results!

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