The #1 Question Standing Between You and Your Goals

I’m about to tell you something you might not like. Ready? Here’s what’s up:

More often than not, you’re the only thing standing in the way of whatever it is that you want most.

It’s not that you don’t have enough time, or enough money, or enough energy. It’s not that you aren’t good enough or smart enough or “ready” enough or whatever enough. It might feel like those things are your most stubborn obstacles, but they’re not. It might feel like those things are insurmountable and that, if they suddenly disappeared, everything would be perfect, but it wouldn’t be.

Because those things aren’t obstacles, they’re excuses. They’re safety blankets we can cover ourselves in to protect us from actually doing the hard work and going out on every limb and just generally making shit happen, despite our fear.

You say you want to treat your body better by fueling it with whole, healthy foods. But (there’s always a but, isn’t there?) you “don’t have time to cook.” You “can’t afford it.” You won’t be “ready” to make the change until after your best friend’s bachelorette party or your niece’s birthday celebration or your week-long vacation or whatever abstract time in the future sounds reasonable for making the change you’re afraid of making right now.

But, do you want to know a secret? Making the changes you want to make and doing the things you want to do never gets less scary. You can put things off until you have an extra $100 or an extra 2 hours, but then what?

Because – real talk - change is always scary. Admitting your dreams and goals and then going after them is always a thing of uncertainty and fear. Seriously, you guys, I’m scared, like, all the time. I just signed up for a 50-mile trail race in December and I’m honestly terrified about it. I went full-time with Life Less Bullshit about a month ago and I battle fear about that at least once every single day – and usually a hell of a lot more than once.

So, change is scary, yes? We can all agree on that, I think. But, all too often we fall back on our excuses instead of dealing with that fear head-on. We tell ourselves whatever we need to tell ourselves so that we can keep things exactly as they are, and in doing this we’re constantly (and, usually, subconsciously) asking ourselves the single most significant question that keeps us from our goals:

How much can I get away with?

Story time:

For over 25 years, I unknowingly let this question guide my entire life. I’d say that I wanted to learn everything I could in college, but then I’d do the bare minimum amount of work necessary to just get good grades. I’d say I wanted to feel great about myself and my body, but then I’d do the absolute least amount of physical activity possible to just avoid gaining weight. The questions I was unknowingly basing every area of my life around sounded like this:

“How many of these cookies can I eat without feeling sick?”
“How much wine can I drink without embarrassing myself?”
“How little can I study for this test and still get an A?”
“How long can I spend on Gchat at work without getting caught?”
“How many kickboxing classes can I skip before my pants get tight?”

Essentially, how much can I get away with?

And here’s the problem with that mindset: You wind up treating yourself as badly as possible. You set some arbitrary “don’t go past this point” mark in your head, and as long as you don’t hit that point, you’re fine, right? Until you’re not. Until you actually do hit that point and then, because you still don’t want to change your behavior, you set yourself a new, lower bar. You think, “Okay, okay, but as long as I don’t wind up there, I’m fine,” and all the while your best self and your best life are passing you right on by.

So, listen, it’s time we stop trying to pull one over on ourselves like this, isn’t it? To stop breaking the promises we make to ourselves. To stop asking, “How much can I get away with?” and to completely flip our perspective instead. It’s time to start asking some different questions.

The 4 Questions You Need To Ask Yourself

1. What do you want?
Meaning: What do you actually want? Forget what you think you should want or what other people want for you. What the fuck do you want?

2. Why do you want it?
Wanting something isn’t enough. You can tell yourself you want something “really badly,” but what does that actually mean? Nothing, because wanting something “really badly” doesn’t give you an emotional connection to your goal. So, once you know what you want, it’s time to get honest and clear about why you want it. What would it mean to you to achieve it? How would your life be better served by pursuing that goal on a day-to-day basis?

3. What are you willing to do/change/sacrifice to make it happen?
Knowing what you want isn’t enough. Being able to articulate why you want what you want isn’t enough. Because, and I can’t stress this any harder, nothing changes if nothing changes.

4. What’s the next best thing you can do, right now, to move this forward?
You don’t need a five-year plan. You don’t even need a one-year plan. All you need – seriously, all you need – is to figure out one small action step that you can take right now, in the next 24-hours, to move yourself forward. Then, do that thing. Then? Do the next thing, and the next thing, and the next – one small, actionable step at a time.

Is that as sexy as a color-coded, grandiose, five-year plan? Of course not. But – and here’s the most important thing – there’s nothing less sexy than a “perfect” plan that never even gets put into action because you’re just sitting there asking yourself how much you can possibly get away with instead.

On the other hand, do you know what is sexy? Taking action. Realizing there’s never a “right” time for anything, and doing it anyway. That’s sexy. Being nice to yourself is sexy. Setting realistic expectations is sexy. Not giving up when shit gets scary? That’s sexy. And the sexiest thing of all? Hard work. Consistent, dedicated, fuck-all hard work – because it’s the only thing that’ll get you exactly where you want to be.

{ 22 comments… read them below or add one }

Sharron July 30, 2013 at 3:06 pm

I SWEAR you are the psychic blog whisperer!!! Its as if you knew I’d gotten in late from two days of sheer misery at the office, ALMOST to collapse on the couch under a mountain of sugar.

Instead, I just keep thinking about that post on clarity, so instead took the teeny tiny small actions of getting myself out for a walk and actually broke out into a jog. Was it as many miles as I had PLANNED on doing, no not quite, but it was something and tonight I did my fastest time. So my 300 mile goal by the end of year still remains within reach.

It helps if I think that you are planning on running all the way across America, then I can get myself round the block for a few miles!

Thank you


Kim July 30, 2013 at 4:15 pm

Yup. 125% absolutely. Yup.

For me it’s writing. I want to write, but writing scares the ever-living crap out of me. Well. No. Writing doesn’t worry me so much, failing at it does though. Why? Who knows!? My goal isn’t to achieve Stephen King greatness, it’s to start and finish something creative. Not an essay or blog post, a story.

You’re right. Right now. What can I do write now? I can hit “submit” on this comment and then open up that thrice bedamned Word document and get something knocked out.

I fucking love your blog.


Rachael July 30, 2013 at 5:59 pm

For me, I want to be confident. I want to be able to be “that girl” who is happy with herself all the time, no matter what. Thank you for encouraging me to take small steps!


Jenna July 30, 2013 at 6:56 pm

Thank you.


Jena July 30, 2013 at 8:31 pm

LOVE THIS POST, it speaks to my heart.
I’ve been beating myself up for not getting more accomplished on my vacation from my job. Because I’ve been in A LOT of physical pain and I’ve also been avoiding the doctor because I’m kind of afraid of what news I’m going to hear. I really want to quit my job, because my health is super important to me, but I don’t have another way for income just yet. I’m still trying to figure that all out, but I have been a lot more clear about things anyway. I am just trying to simply enjoy the time off, since it was long over due.


Kristina July 31, 2013 at 12:04 am

Your words are so true and I so wish I would have found your blog earlier, when I was still in university ´cause I always made the minimum to just pass the term. (and now I really regret it!)

Like Kim it´s writing for me. And yes, it scares me, too. Just yesterday I had an small anxiety attack at work thinking about my future. The anxiety attack wasn’t nice but it reminded me that even if I might fail and don’t earn a lot (or at least as much as to keep the lifestyle I have now) BUT I would still do what I love, so it’ll be fine. Sometimes we have to pay the price for doing what we love and I’ll take that price with pride.

I would like to second, that I fucking love your blog and read daily in it!
Thank you so much for your words!


Emmy July 31, 2013 at 12:21 pm

So are you in my head or something? Every time I’m thinking something, you write a post about it I swear! I literally just wrote a post myself about how I never follow through with anything, even though I say I want things. I always do “just enough” to get by and it’s not cool.


Amanda Brooke July 31, 2013 at 1:39 pm

Ohmigosh inspired.
thank you n.
right words at the right time, yet again. xo


Andi July 31, 2013 at 1:45 pm

LOVE this post! So motivating and inspiring!!!


Amy July 31, 2013 at 2:26 pm

You are one creepy fucking thought-stalker, Nicole.

Either that, or my procrastinating, excuse-making ass isn’t as unique as I thought.

In any case, thanks for the four questions. They definitely help to focus the soul-searching I’ve been struggling with the past couple of weeks, such as accepting that some things are definitely my choice whether I want that finger wagging in my face or not.


Juli July 31, 2013 at 2:52 pm

Thanks for the pep talk. Exactly what I need to hear, as often as necessary. So true – sometimes I feel like I’m plotting against myself and just trying to get by, get through, and whimpering all the way. Thanks for breaking it down. It is starting to slowly but surely sink in to my mind that reaching my goal is made up of not one big cataclysmic burst landing directly in my lap but a series of tiny steps each day, every chance I get. And working at that as though my life depended on it. Cause it kinda does. My sanity does! Thanks again.


Kathryn July 31, 2013 at 3:50 pm

Its scary how many of us are all on the same page. Its winter here in Australia and its a time that I tend to hide away and pile on the excuses as to why I’m not living my ideal life.
Reading this today woke me up! I’m printing off a copy to read on those mornings I struggle to get out of bed so that I remember why I set my alarm for that time, and that excuses just wont cut it!
You’re a star! Keep up the excellent work!


Therese July 31, 2013 at 5:16 pm

Fuckity fucking fuck, YES! I’m finally at a place in my life where I’m not just “getting away with the least amount possible,” but going all in 100% and taking steps forward every day, even though I don’t have a perfect plan. I’m willing to do WHATEVER it takes to restore health to my body… to bring my business to life… and to live a life that’s 100% in alignment with who I am. And it feels so good to be going all in with this stuff.

And regarding the being scared every day thing?

Um. YES. Exactly what I wrote about this week on the blog… http://www.theunlost.com/work/crazy-enough-to-change-the-world/


joannerambling July 31, 2013 at 5:30 pm

I loved this post…………..it was bloody great just saying but then it comes as no surprise that you hit the nail on the head again, damn you are good with a hammer……..lol


Mary July 31, 2013 at 9:48 pm

Hi Nicole, I am always so pleased to see a new blog. They are so inspiring. I am just having a hard time making abstinence a goal with steps of action. How can NOT doing something be action? Maybe it is the small changes I make to curb the urge. I get a decaf after work instead of bellying up to the bar. or the action of turning down a different street so I don’t go by my favorite hang out. It’s really hard work strategizing, denying myself and basically changing my life. I guess I just have to be patient and trust that I will be able to take tangible steps in other areas of life once this goal is entrenched. Keep on writing Nicole! Thanks. Mary


jon August 1, 2013 at 1:25 am

Hey, have you ever thought about recording these posts? You know, for the deaf, er blind, sorry. In all seriousness, I would very much enjoy having these read to me. Because I am lazy? No, clearly not, why would you suggest that?


Peach August 1, 2013 at 12:38 pm

Nodded my head in agreement this whole post. “nothing changes if nothing changes.” Loud and clear, my dear. Loud and clear. xo


Cori August 5, 2013 at 4:17 pm

I’m so glad to see that there’s someone that actually thinks just like I do! Taking action. This is the best thing you could have said. Nothing happens if you don’t make it happen, and everything happens with a small step followed by several other steps, each one bigger than the previous one. Until you achieve your goal. Will is power, and your posts are really inspiring! I think you’ve got a new stalker here! ;P


Marie-Therese August 9, 2013 at 10:46 am

Thanks for writing this. I’m scared all the time too. It’s good to know I’m not alone.


Rochelle August 9, 2013 at 4:56 pm

I love love love this post! It is so true, how little can I do to still get what I want. Why do we do that to ourselves? We can’t lie to ourselves nor can we talk ourselves into wanting something we really don’t want. I like your solution, just look at the thing you can do right now, and not look out into the future. I often have to coach myself to just do one thing right this minute. To just get started.


archie August 9, 2013 at 6:33 pm

Just found your site through Tech Cocktail. It’s no surprise that I am a man, a black man at that. As we say in the black community, you the “SHIT”.

We would all be better off, if we accept the truth, no matter the gender or the race. Please, keep telling it like it “IS”.

I will definitely recommend your blog to everyone in my circle.


kaye August 26, 2013 at 11:53 am

What I want/need to give up is…. honestly…. posting and reading things on facebook and reading too many blogs that I tell myself are inspiring me to do something, but are really just wasting my time that I could be DOING THAT THING.


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