10 Tips for Achieving Goals in Life – Malcolm Gladwell

What was the most surprising thing about Malcolm Gladwell’s research on achieving goals and succeeding in life? “What surprised me most were the ordinary methods successful people use to achieve all they achieve,” writes Malcolm Gladwell in Outliers: The Story of Success.

If your goals are big, they’re worth chasing. Here’s what one reader says: “I’d love to run a women’s retreat center somewhere beautiful and warm for women who were victims of violence, long-term survivors,” says Sydney on Examples of Smart Goals – From Specific to Timely (SMART). “It would be someplace comfortable, safe, peaceful, and spiritual, where they could go to get encouragement and support through fellowship with other survivors and begin work on a plan to reframe their life experience so they can move on to fulfill God’s purpose for their lives. There would be activities to soothe the body and soul, like yoga, art activities, and gardening as well. I want to help women achieve their goals in life.”

How do you start achieving goals in life? You ask for help from people who might say no. For example, an unknown, newly published author once asked Jack Canfield of Chicken Soup for the Soul fame to write an endorsement for her book. He said yes even though he normally doesn’t do endorsements. Sometimes we assume something is out of our reach, but we don’t really know until we ask for it.

But it wasn’t as easy as it sounds. The author had to ask twice before Canfield said yes. First, she sent a profession business letter. When his representatives said no, the author sent a heartfelt email. She told Canfield how meaningful an endorsement would be and how much his books helped and encouraged her. That’s why Canfield endorsed it and even put her book on the front page of his website – which she didn’t ask for.

10 Tips From Malcolm Gladwell on Achieving Your Goals
Malcolm Gladwell Tips for Achieving Goals

10 Tips From Gladwell’s Outliers on Achieving Your Goals in Life

No matter what life goals you’re setting and hope to achieve, ask for help. Talk about what you need. You may not get what you ask for, but you have no chance of getting it – or achieving goals in life – if you never ask.

If you don’t have the right education, expertise or resources, your first goal is to find what you need to succeed. One of my favorite goal setting tips is to avoid working towards competing goals. If your goal is to earn more money so you can make your RV retirement dreams come true, for example, don’t also set a goal of getting pregnant and starting a family. Focus on achieving one or two life goals, and make sure they’re compatible.

1. Incorporate rewards

One of the best ways to achieve your goals in life is to keep persevering – and the way to persevere is to reward yourself along the way. For instance, every time you make a sincere effort to achieve your goal or you accomplish a small goal, reward yourself with a healthy, meaningful something.

Focus on moving forward. For an appropriate period of time, make this life goal the extraordinary focus in your life. It doesn’t have to stay #1 on your to-do list for the entire duration, but it has to put in an appearance in the top spot.

2. Refuse to beat yourself up on the slow days

Instead of berating yourself for your weaknesses and failures, a great tip for achieving your goals is to set yourself up to succeed. For me, this means making my “to do” list at the end of each work day…and forgiving myself for not achieving everything on my list today (it’s about overcoming perfectionism).

Write your goal in the present tense. When you say, “I will…” it tells the spirit that so far, we aren’t. Write your goal in life as if it is already in existence: “I am…” Your logical mind knows it’s fiction, but your spirit listens to the truth in the words and works to make it so.

3. Work with your strengths

I’m a big fan of “to do” lists and I love checking off each task as I accomplish it. That’s one of my strengths, and I work with it to achieve my goals. What are you good at? Use your inclinations, and be creative. For instance, if you’re good at talking to strangers, find ways to use that ability to get you a step closer to achieving your goal in life.

Make it a medium-large dream. Your goal should be big enough to make you wonder at your temerity, but not quite so huge that you question your sanity. If you shrug at the ease of the effort, double the goal. If you shrug at the impossibility of achieving your dreams, dial them back to the realm of what you can believe and achieve.

Is your goal to start a family? Read How Goal Setting Helps You Get Pregnant.

4. Identify the obstacles to your goals

What’s stopping you from achieving your life goals? Be honest. Is it lack of discipline, physical impediments, lack of money, a weak support network, or a feeling of hopelessness? The sooner you identify what’s holding you back from achieving your goals, the better able you’ll be to deal with those obstacles.

Savor the benefits of achieving your dreams in life. Know what you expect to get out of this goal, and list the benefits. It’s good to recognize the benefits other people may derive from you moving forward in life, but the primary motivation comes from within you.

5. Ask for help in achieving your goals in life

What do you need to achieve your goals and overcome your obstacles? Do you need money? Time? Motivation? Support? Be specific about what you need to achieve your career or personal goals, identify who specifically can help you, and be clear about what you’d like them to do.

Write a press release that announces your dreams come true. Create a press release as it would appear in your favorite national newspaper when you’ve achieved your goal in life. Tell your success story, how it fits into your life’s purpose, and how you overcame all obstacles by setting immediate, mid-range, and long-term goals. The lead paragraph emphasizes the benefit you (will have) derived. Read your press release at least once a week until it is reality.

6. Prepare to overcome obstacles

“Sometimes constraints actually create success,” writes Malcolm Gladwell in Outliers. “Not being able to swim made me run. And running taught me the discipline I needed as a writer.” Whatever your obstacles are, don’t fight or struggle against them. Work with your obstacles to achieve your goals.

Surround yourself with likeminded folk. Who is where you see yourself in one, five, ten, or even fifteen years? To achieve your goals, stay connected to people who achieved their goals in life. Their attitudes, values, habits, and thoughts will rub off on you. Also, stay away from people who hold you back or aren’t supportive.

Sometimes achieving career goals requires setting new goals. Read Making a Career Change at 40? 10 Things You Need to Know.

8. Put your time in

Bill Gates programmed computers at university for 10,000 hours before he started his own company. Gates is one of the most successful entrepreneurs in recent history (perhaps of all time) — but he spent 10,000 hours practicing before he took the leap. That’s 416 days of working around the clock. This tip for achieving your goals is from Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers, and involves practicing your craft. “But they [successful people] also simply put in more hours than anyone else,” writes Gladwell.

Break your life goals into three stages. Stage one is one you know you can do in a few weeks – it is the starter and momentum builder. Stage two is a mid-point, a measurement to encourage you to strive to achieve your goals by a target date. Stage three is the final achievement, and includes the celebration! Throughout all three stages, stay open to “lucky” opportunities.

9. Help people achieve their goals in life

When you encourage or educate or help someone achieve their goals, you renew your own dedication, determination, and self-discipline. It feels great to help people move towards their dreams, and it’s good karma.

Tell at least three people who’d like to see you achieve your dreams. The first person agrees to “hold your feet to the fire,” reminding you of your intent to move forward in life. The second person is a cheerleader, who is proud of you. And the third person holds your intent at a spirit and soul level, and keeps your goal in their prayers or meditation.

10. Revisit and revise your life goals regularly

Last year, my goal was to earn a certain amount of money per month as a freelance writer. This year, it’s to land my first book writing contract — which means the amount of money I earn each month as a freelance writer may decrease. To achieve your goals in life, be open to revising as you go. Take your nose off the grindstone every so often…look around…and make sure you’re still on the right track.

“We’re socialized that we must always succeed, but we don’t always recognize that we’re limited by resources such as time, circumstance, and ability,” says Social Psychology Professor Dana S. Dunn in When to Give Up on Your Goals and Start Fresh. “Motivation isn’t the problem. Our own infrastructure can hold us back. We don’t always have the right education, technical expertise, or resources.”

Finding Your Way in a Wild New World: Reclaim Your True Nature to Create the Life You Want

“You can’t force a Wildly Improbable Goal to happen, but you can create conditions that will either prevent it or invite it,” says Martha Beck author of Finding Your Way in a Wild New World: Reclaim Your True Nature to Create the Life You Want. “Pay attention to your real needs, treat yourself not just fairly but kindly, and stand up for yourself even if it displeases people around you. Befriend, nurture, and protect your own Spirit.”


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10 thoughts on “10 Tips for Achieving Goals in Life – Malcolm Gladwell”

  1. Hello,
    Please dont take this as a criticism, but your goals seem very superficial…what about some deeper, fundamental goals, which, when in place, make all these goals that you mentioned possible, much more fulfilling?
    What about goals such as getting to know and develop one’s authentic self? What about a goal to get in touch with the divine and have a daily spiritual practice? What about goals such as giving back to humanity, even if in a very small, but meaningful way? After a lifetime of pusuing outward goals—money, things, posessions, achievements and relationships, I can honestly say that the last half of my life has been spent in self-development and it has made everything I do and achieve much more rich and meaningful. Take a look inside—success is an inside job–no house, relationship or career is going to make you happy unless you truly have a solid and grounded relationship with yourself and that which gives you life.

  2. Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen

    Thanks for your comment, G. Baker! I, too, start things and don’t always see them through to completion…and the truth is that I need to return to articles I’ve written about turning my dreams into achievable goals, to stay motivated.

    And sometimes I start things, and just get bored. Sometimes the only way to figure out if something is something you really want is to start it…and let it go if it’s not what you envision for your life.

    Anyway, thank you for thanking me. It’s readers like you who keep me going!


  3. I came across your website while searching for topics on fear of success. As I drove home from work yesterday it just came to me that a lot of my aggrivation in my life comes from my fear of success. I have so many things I have not completed and when I look back at my life I see a long trail of things I stopped doing or quit before completing or never pursued. I finished real estate school, but I have yet to take the state exam. I started an animation screen play, but won’t complete it to submit it. Your tips have been quite helpful and I will use your tips to help me move head. I learned (at an early age) to fantasize about how I would like my life to be because I can live there with no worries, but in reality I am not going nowhere. I thank you for your tips, advice and motivation!

  4. Thanks for your comments on achieving your goals. Malcolm Gladwell’s book should be read and re-read – it really is excellent inspiration and information.

  5. The setbacks you encounter when you’re trying to achieve your goals can actually become a springboard to success. It’s hard to be positive when you feel like you’re failing, but if you can try to pull away from the disappointment and frustration, then you’re sure to succeed.

    I loved Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers, and think we should re-read it all regularly when we’re trying to achieve our goals.

  6. Thanks so much for the imformation on this site. I have always wanted to be an artist. Now that I’m nearing the last remaining years. I want to make myliving with what I have the God given ability and talentfor . I’m just scare of how my bills will be paid.
    I always had to do this or that and hold a job. I never really planned to go to college for an art degree, but I did as a non=tradtional student. I also worked full time to pay the bills and provide for my youngest. But stayed with the job because it paid the bills.
    I will try very hard on doing what you suggest by making a nd following a schedule that will allow me to produce artwork and be around positive people and artists. Yes I would love to hear from you all sincerely, dema

  7. Yes, I agree with your opinions. It is important to set your goals to what you desire and help you to project yourself in a better light.

  8. Hi Laurie,
    I know this to be true: the more we outline our goals in a clear, precise manner, write them and review them daily, the higher the probability that we’ll achieve them! Time tested and true!

    One of the greatest resources for achieving goals is your #7 – Surround yourself with like-minded folk! Just as ‘you are what you eat’, the same holds true for ‘you are your environment’.

    Oh, and great bonus tip Laurie!

  9. I am a self confessed avoider of goal setting. I don’t have anything against them, I just never can make myself sit down and write them out.

    I know I need to, though. I like this list a lot and find it encouraging. I will print it out and tape it where it will glare at me until I get off my keyster and do what I know needs to be done.