New year. Clean slate. Fresh opportunity. I love the new year because I am a habitual goal setter. Like everyone, I believe that this year will be different. This time I will get the six pack, I will launch that website, and I will finally learn Spanish (or French or both!). And like all people, I tend to set goals faster than I can achieve them. So I often fail.

Typically I strive for change every year. I am allergic to staying static. But now that I have finally turned the page into my thirties (bum bum bummm) and I am finally about to graduate medical school and start working, it’s time for a major reinvention. But the first half of 2018 will be relatively lax as I prepare for graduation and residency. If I really want to make the changes I want, now is the time to do it.

I am a habitual self-help book reader. The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck. The Obstacle is the Way. The Power of Habit. Grit. The 4 Hour Work Week. I have studied biographies of great men: Steve Jobs, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Paul Farmer, Michel Jordan. I have read some of the popular pop science books: Outliers. Originals. Predictably Irrational. Thinking Fast and Slow. The Checklist Manifesto. I’ve scoured the internet trying to figure out why some people succeed and others do not. And I’ve started many projects, some of which succeed and far more that have failed.

Here’s what I have learned about the science of goal setting and achieving:

1) Have specific goals

Vague goals produce zero results. Goals should be specific and measurable so you can track yourself as you go. Saying that you want to get fit is one thing, but saying that you want to be 8% body fat or want to squat 315 lbs or workout 4 times a week is something different.

2) Don’t tell anyone about them

Telling people about your goals and receiving positive feedback leads to a dopamine rush that makes you feel satisfied with your goals — and less likely to accomplish them.


3) Break large goals into smaller goals and continue breaking them down to small, manageable chunks

Solve your goals like engineers solve problems. Typically, in computer programming, larger tasks are broken into smaller and smaller, more manageable chunks until a coder is working on a specific problem. Over time, the little pieces add up leading to an aggregate whole: the finished product!

4) Make lists and check off as you go

Keep track of what you accomplish and how far you go. I like to make lists of everything that I want to accomplish including target dates. Then I break those large goals into smaller steps and set deadlines for each of those targets. Finally, I plan my schedule a week in advance with day by day lists of everything I want to accomplish in each day. I track each week in an excel spreadsheet. I check off as I go along. At the end of the year, it feels great when I can look back at all the things I accomplished.

5) Do a little bit every day

Slow and steady wins the race. It prevents burnout. It keeps one sharp. The important thing to remember is that it is important to just show up. Have a workout scheduled and feeling lazy? Just go to the gym. You don’t have to do a high intensity workout. You just have to make progress. Have writer’s block? Just start writing about anything. Sooner or later, you’ll find the rhythm you need.

6) Keep yourself accountable

You are the combination of the five people you surround yourself with. Cut out the poison. Find a workout buddy. Choose your study partners wisely. It’s important to stay positive.

7) Hard work > Skill

It has been well documented that one of the reasons why a genius like Leonardo DaVinci produced masterworks was not because of a single eureka moment, but because he repeatedly took attempts at being great. Being prolific leads to a greater chance of producing the masterpiece.

8) Be patient

Ignore the crash diets, the 6-week plans, the quick and easy. Real results take time and effort. It’s not about a quick fix but about establishing a lifestyle that is conducive to achieving goals.

9) Be realistic

Set manageable goals so that you can feel good when you achieve them. If you just started climbing in a gym, don’t think you can climb Mt. Everest by the end of the year. Make some progress before you set the bar too high.

10) Be intentional

Everything you do should be with intent. Do it with focus. Do it with an exact reason why. Why is this goal important to you? How will it help you? Keep reminding yourself of your goals.

Achieving goals is by no means easy. I struggle with it every day. But if you can make steady measurable progress, surround yourself with positive people, and establish realistic, specific goals — then success is positive. And feel free to tell everyone after the fact.