The Rest Of Your Freakin’ Life (again)

Special Note If You’ve Just Come Here From My Facebook Rant On Winning Arguments: If you’re looking for a fast, thoroughly fun way to quickly learn high-end salesmanship skills… for a screaming bargain, no less… grab a copy of my must-read book “Kick-Ass Copywriting Secrets of a Marketing Rebel” here.

Okay, on to the current blog post:

Saturday, 1:30pm
Reno, NV

Hey, you bastards, I’m still here!” (Steve McQueen as Papillon, floating away to freedom…)

Howdy…

I’m re-publishing — for what has become a very popular tradition on this blog — one of the more influential posts I’ve ever written.

What you’re about to encounter is a slightly tweaked way of looking at the best way to start your new year…

… but this tweak makes all the difference in the world. I’ve heard from many folks that this particular technique finally helped them get a perspective on where they’re at, where they’re going…

… and why they care about getting there.

So, even if you’ve read this post before… it’s worth another look. Especially now, as you gaze down the yawning gullet of 2013, trying to wrap your brain around a plan to make the year your bitch.

This is a critical step for entering any new period of your life. To keep your life moving ahead, you need to set some goals, dude. And most goal-setting tactics, I’ve found, are useless. Worst among them is the traditional New Year’s resolutions (which seldom last through January).

This tactic I’m sharing with you (again) is something I’ve used, very successfully, for decades…

… to reach goals, to clarify the direction of my life, and to change habits. I first shared it in the old Rant newsletter a few years back, and I’ve hauled it out here in the blog on a regular basis.  It’s timeless, classic stuff that will never let you down.

So let’s dive in. Here’s the relevant part of the post (slightly edited):

“Goal Setting 101 And
The January 15th Letter”

Yeah, yeah, I know a chat about goals can quickly turn into a boring, pedantic lecture. But then, so can a chat about space flight.

And, in reality, both space flight and your goals are VERY exciting things.

Or should be.

It’s all in the telling.

What I’m not going to discuss are “resolutions”. Those are bogus pseudo-goals that have the staying power of pudding in a microwave.

No. It’s merely a coincidence that I’m suggesting a review of your goals in January, just after the New Year’s supposed fresh start.

I mean…there’s not much else to do, so why not sit down and plan out the rest of your life.

This is, of course, a very damp, cold, and bleak time of year. The depths of winter and discontent.

A good percentage of the population suffers fleeting depression because of lack of sunlight… thanks to the geniuses behind Daylight Savings Time, who arrange for dusk to arrive around 2:30 in the afternoon in these parts.

We also just got slammed with back-to-back-to-back “Storms of the Century”, each one dumping a record load of snow on us. I sent photos to friends, and many emailed back wondering when I’d gone to Antarctica to live.

We had a little cabin fever brewing. Didn’t help when the local PBS channel ran a special on the Donner Party, either. Three feet of snow drifting down, the lights flickering, enough ice on the road to make the SUV sidle like a Red Wing goon slamming someone into the boards.

The safest place was home… but man, the walls start to close in after a few days.

I’m telling you, I had excuses up the yin-yang for allowing my senses to get a little dulled. The natural response is to turn your mind off, and hibernate until March. And I succumbed. Started moping around, watching CSI: Miami reruns instead of reading a book, surfing the Net for stuff I didn’t care about… you know the drill.

I’m sure you’ve done your own version of it now and again.

And I’m also sure you already know that no amount of “buck up” happy talk will mitigate the gloom.

In fact, there are a few enlightened health pro’s who say we should let our bodies wind down every year or so. Get a full system-flush type of cold, crawl under the covers for a few days and let the demons and other bad stuff bubble to the surface. So you can purge the crud. Evacuate the used-up bacteria and tube-clogs out of your pipes, physically. And shoo the whispering monsters out of your head.

We’re not perfect creatures. We need to sleep, we need to recharge our batteries, and we need to stop and get our bearings. At least once a year. So don’t beat yourself up for the occasional down period. We all have them, and the healthiest folks just roll with it. It’s not good to repress this stuff.

It only becomes a problem when you sink into clinical depression. That’s the cold, empty state where nothing looks good, and hope is an absurd memory.

I’ve been there. Several times. The year I turned 30 (for example) I lost my job, my girlfriend and my place to live all within a 45-day stretch.

That shit can wear you down.

Now, I have two things to say about this:

Thing Numero Uno: If you think you’re losing a grip on your mental state, seek professional help. Don’t head straight for pharmaceutical land, though — give “talk therapy” a try with a real, qualified psychotherapist.

Choose this therapist carefully. You’re going to dump every secret you have on him. You may need to plow through a couple to find one that clicks with you (just as you might have to try out several dentists or plumbers to get a good match). (And yes, you should regard this therapist just as you would your dentist — they’re not gonna become your new best friend, but they will bring a professional expertise to the table during the time you need them. And you only need to see them until you get your head straight… which might be a short time or long time. Again — just like you may need serious dental work, or just a cleaning once a year. Figure it out.)

Keep in mind the fact that everyone goes through bumpy emotional states. And that the percentage of people who actually do lose it every year is rather small.

That’s why talking about your problems with someone who has perspective can be so beneficial — the first thing you learn is that you aren’t alone. And what you’re going through is not abnormal.

Most of the time, you’re probably going to be fine. Even when your problems seem overwhelming. There are tools available to help your brain cope. You don’t often come across these tools on your own.

This kind of talk-therapy is one of the few times the “science” of psychology earns its keep — because finding out how others successfully dealt with the same nonsense you’re suffering through can change everything. Seriously — often, just discovering that you’re not alone in what you’re going through, that others have successfully navigated similar troubles, and that the folks who study human behavior and thinking patterns now have really simple (and super-effective) ways to obliterate feeling overwhelmed can solve much of what’s currently holding you back.

A good book to read (while you’re waiting for the spring thaw) is “Learned Optimism” by Martin Seligman. I’ve recommended it before, and it deserves another nod. (The blurb on the back cover, from the New York Times Book Review, starts with “Vaulted me out of my funk…”)

I haven’t read the book in a few years, but I remember the main lesson well. A study, explained up front, stands out: Someone tested the “happiness” quotient of a vast sample of people, including Holocaust survivors.

And it turns out that, at some point in your life, Abraham Lincoln was right — you are as happy as you decide to be.

This is startling news to anyone lost in despair. Because it seems like you’ve been forced to feel that way. With no choice.

But it’s not the case. The happiness study revealed that you can not tell from a person’s current attitude what sort of trauma they had gone through earlier in life. People who had suffered horribly could be happy as larks, while silver-spoon never-stubbed-a-toe folks were miserable.

The difference? Attitude. Optimistic people work through setbacks and trauma… while pessimists settle into a funk that can’t be budged.

And it’s a CHOICE. At some point in your life, you choose to either live in gloom or sunlight.

This realization rocks many folk’s boat. Especially the pessimists. They dominate society, politics, business, everything. And they are very protective of their gloom and doom outlook. Invested, heavily, in proving themselves right about the inherent nastiness of life.

Maybe you’re one of ‘em.

If you are, you’re killing yourself, dude.

The guys in lab coats who study this stuff say that heart disease rates are HALF for optimists over pessimists. So, even if you doubt the ability to measure “happiness” — and it is a rather rocky science — you still can’t deny the stats on dropping dead from a gloomy ticker.

Now, I am most assuredly NOT a clear-eyed optimist. I get creepy feelings around people who are too happy all the time.

But I do prefer having a good time, and appreciating the finer things in life (like a deep breath of cold alpine air, or the salty whip of an ocean wave around my ankles, or a secret smile from the wonderful woman I live with).

I’m just good at balancing out the bad with the good.

Being in direct response helps. Lord knows, there’s a LOT of bad with every piece of good news in this wacky biz.

Gary Halbert and I had a term we used for years: We’re “pessimistic optimists”. (Or maybe we’re optimistic pessimists. I forget.)

How does that work? Easy.

We expected horrible atrocities at every turn… and rejoiced when we defied Fate and unreasonable success rained down on our undeserving heads. We grooved on the good stuff in life… and just nodded sagely at the bad stuff and moved past it as quickly as possible. Maybe cop a lesson or two as we scurried by.

If you focus on the bad things that can go wrong, you’ll never crawl out of bed in the morning.

When you finally realize that — not counting health problems — pretty much everything bad that business, or relationships, or politics can throw at you will not kill you… then you can begin to relax.

And eagerly court the Unknown by starting another project.

Have you ever had your heart broken? Hurts like hell, doesn’t it. Feels like your life is over.

Well, from my perspective, sitting here at “way past 50” and pretty darned happy, all those romances-gone-wrong that broke my heart long ago look just plain silly now. And my resulting deep depressions — where I was sure my life was over — are just tiresome lessons I had to get through.

Not a one of those ladies was worth a burp of angst. They were fine people, I’ll agree to that. A few were exceptional (and very skilled at certain man-pleasing arts).

But worth a Shakespearean suicide?

No way.

It’s taken me a while, but I’m now a certified realist. My youthful idealism has drained away, and my brushes with hate-everything dogma never took.

And guess what? Contrary to what an embarrassingly huge number of self-righteous folks would have you believe… being a realist has not dented my passion for life one little bit. In fact, it has opened up a whole new world of unexplainable spirituality (which cannot be contained within any formal religion).

I’m not against religion. Let’s have no “save my soul” emails here. One of my favorite friends to argue with has a doctorate in theology. And I have many other friends committed to various belief systems ranging from fundamentalist to Buddhist to humanist. We get along because, on a deep level, we understand that true spirituality transcends whatever way you choose to express it or appreciate it.

I loathe black-and-white views of the world. It’s a shame that our great country has descended to this “you’re nuts if you don’t agree with me” mentality… but it’s part of the pendulum that’s been swinging back and forth ever since we left the jungle.

The far edges of our institutions — political, religious, cultural, all of it — are in spiritual and emotional “lock down”. They’re sure they’re right, they’re positive you’re wrong, and neither facts nor logic will sway their position.

Mushy liberals seem astonished that anyone would ever not love us, or want to destroy our culture. Repressed conservatives seem intent on crushing everyone who pisses them off (and that’s a lot of people).

It’s “whatever” versus “blind obedience”. And neither works so hot in the real world. I have no use for dogma, or idealism, or punishingly-harsh rules that have been cooked up by hypocrites.

Hey — I’m in no position to tell anyone how to live their life. I’ve screwed up plenty, and if I have any wisdom at all, it’s only because I’ve survived some truly hairy situations.

But I don’t believe anyone else is in a position to tell you how to live, either. That’s gotta be your decision.

And it’s a damn hard one to make.

Fortunately, while I can’t tell you how to live, I can move some smooth (and proven) advice in your direction. Take it or leave it… but give it a listen anyway, cuz my track record on successful advice-giving is fairly impressive.

And I’m telling you that having a hateful, brooding attitude will stunt your growth. It will make you a smaller person, a less-wise person, an older and feebler person. And you won’t grow. Not spiritually, not physically, not emotionally. Not in your business life, either.

Most people don’t want to grow, anyway. Growth only comes from movement and change… and the vast majority of the folks walking the earth with us today are terrified of change.

You can’t blame them, really. Change is a form of death. Whatever was before, dies. And whatever comes next must be nurtured with devotion and sacrifice.

That’s hard. That’s a hard way to live, always dying and being reborn.

And because it’s hard, it’s avoided.

Well, screw that.

I suspect, if you’re reading this, you are not afraid of change. But you may not yet understand the power that REALLY giving yourself to change offers.

And that brings us to…

Thing Numero Dos: Goals are all about change.

That’s a subtle point many people gloss over. Rookie goal-setters often get stuck on stuff like quitting smoking, or vague concepts like “become a better person”.

Or “get rich”.

That seldom works. Goals need to be specific… and they need to involve profound change in order to take hold.

Halbert often talked about “image suicide” — the necessity of killing and burying the “self” you are so heavily invested in, before you can move to a new level of success.

I see this all the time in my consultations. Biz owners refuse to do even slightly risky marketing, for fear of damaging their “reputations.”

And my question to them is: What reputation?

Unless you’re the top dog in your niche, no one gives a rat’s ass about what you think or do. No one is looking at your marketing for inspiration or condemnation, because you aren’t the guy to look at.

No. What these scaredy-cats are talking about when they say “reputation” is what their family and friends think of them. And that’s a sure sign of a losing attitude. That ain’t Operation MoneySuck.

My colleague Ron LeGrand, the real estate guru, is one of the best natural salesmen I’ve ever met. The guy understands the fundamental motivating psychology of a prospect at a master’s level.  And he knows that one of the major obstacles he faces in every sale… is what the prospect’s spouse (usually the wife) will say.

She can nix the sale with a sneer. Or she can nix it in the prospect’s head, as he imagines that sneer.

Ron counters both sides of the objection expertly. He encourages the prospect to get his spouse involved in the decision, so she becomes invested in it. Or, he suggests waiting until the first big check comes in… and letting the money explain to her about what you’re up to.

This is the reality of most people’s lives. As much as they want what you offer… they are terrified of making a mistake. Cuz they’ll pay dearly for it at home.

It’s a huge deal-killer.

That’s why you include lots of “reason why” copy in your pitch — to give your buyer ammunition for explaining his decision to the doubters in his life. However, as Ron knows, the best (and simplest) “reason why” is results.

Money, as they say, talks.

The top marketers seldom give a moment’s thought to what a risky tactic might do to their “reputation”. They don’t really care what people think about them. You can’t bank criticism.

I know many marketers who are involved in projects they are passionate about… but which bore their spouses to tears. Some (like Howard Stern’s former wife) are even deeply embarrassed. But they don’t complain too much. Because the money’s so good.

Aw, heck. I could go on and on about this. The story of Rodale’s shock and dismay at the brutally-honest ad I wrote for their timid “sex book” is a great example. They refused to mail it, because of their “reputation”. Yet, after it accidentally did mail, and became a wildly-successful control for 5 years, they suddenly decided their reputation could handle it after all.

The people who get the most done in life are all extreme risk-takers. They embrace change, because growth is impossible without it.

But you don’t go out and start changing things willy-nilly.

You need goals.

And you need a plan.

Now, there are lots of books out there that tell you how to set goals. I recently found, in a moldy banker’s box, the ad for Joe Karbo’s book “The Lazy Man’s Way To Riches” that I’d responded to back in 1982. The exact ad! With the order form torn out… it was the first direct mail pitch I’d ever encountered, and it changed my life forever. Joe’s book was essentially a treatise on setting goals. And it’s good.

It was a wake-up call for me. I’m having that crinkly old ad framed. Can’t imagine why I kept it, but I did. Pack-rat riches.

If you can’t find that particular book, there are dozens of newer goal-setting guides on the shelves. But they’re all based on the same formula:

1. Decide what you want.

2. Write it down, and be specific.

3. Read the list often, imaging as you read that you have already achieved each goal.

What this does is alter the underpinnings of your unconscious. When one of your goals is to earn a million bucks this year, and that goal burns bright in the back of your mind, each decision you make will be influenced.

So, for example, you won’t accept a permanent job somewhere that pays $50,000 a year. Cuz that isn’t going to help you attain your goal.

The problem is this:  To earn a mil in a year, you need to average around $50,000 every two weeks. This is why it can take a while to get your goal-setting chops honed. As I’ve said many times, most folks don’t know what they want.

And they aren’t prepared for the changes necessary to get what they want, once they do decide on a goal.

What kind of guy earns $50,000 every two weeks, like clockwork? It takes a certain level of business savvy to create that kind of steady wealth. It doesn’t fall into your lap.

What kind of guy makes a windfall of a million bucks in one chunk? That’s another kind of savvy altogether.

In that same moldy banker’s box, I also found a bunch of my early goal lists. And I’m shocked at how modest my aims were. At the time — I was in the first months of going out on my own, a totally pathetic and clueless rookie — I couldn’t even imagine earning fifty K a year. My first goal was $24,000 as a freelancer. And to score a better rental to live in. Find a date for New Year’s. Maybe buy a new used car.

Listen carefully: I met those goals. As modest as they were, it would have been hard not to. I needed them to be modest, because I was just getting my goal-setting chops together. And I wasn’t sure if I was wasting my time even bothering to set goals.

Let me assure you, it was NOT a waste of time.

The lists I found covered several later years, too. And what’s fascinating is that many of the more specific goals I set down were crossed out — I wanted those goals, but didn’t feel confident about obtaining them.

So I crossed them out, and forgot about them.

A couple of decades later, I realize that I’ve attained every single one of those “forgotten” goals. The big damn house, the love of my life, the professional success, even the hobbies and the guitars and the sports car.

I’m stunned. This is powerful voodoo here.

The universe works in mysterious ways, and you don’t have to belong to a religion to realize this. The whole concept of “ask and you shall receive, seek and you shall find, knock and the door will be opened” was well-known by successful people long before Luke and Matthew wrote it down.

The keys are action. Movement.

Ask, seek, knock.

These simple actions will change your life forever.

Back to making a million in a year: Some guys know what they need to do to make this goal real. They’ve done it before, or they’ve come close.

Setting the goal is serious business for them… because they are well aware of the tasks they’ve assigned themselves. Take on partners, put on seminars, create ad campaigns, build new products. Get moving on that familiar path.

I’ve known many people who started the year with such a goal… who quickly modified it downward as the reality of the task became a burden. Turns out they didn’t really want the whole million after all. Half of that would suffice just fine. To hell with the work required for the full bag of swag.

Other guys don’t know what they need to do to earn a mil. So their goal really is: Find out what I need to do to earn a million bucks.

Their initial tasks are to ask, seek, and knock like crazy. And change the way they move and act in the world. Because they must transform themselves into the kind of guy who earns a million bucks in one year.

Right now, they aren’t that guy.

So, for example, reading “The 7 Habits Of Highly Effective People” suddenly becomes an “A” task, while remodeling the kitchen gets moved to the back of the burner. Sharpening your ability to craft a killer sales pitch becomes more important than test-driving the new Porsche.

More important, even, than dating Little Miss Perfect. And test-driving her new accessories.

Tough choice?

Nope. When you get hip to the glory of focused change, you never lament leaving the “old” you behind.

It will be hard, sometimes, no doubt about it. Especially when you discover your old gang no longer understands you, or mocks your ambition. They liked the old, non-threatening you. They want him to come back.

But you’ve changed. And hot new adventures are going to take up a lot more of your time now.

My trick to setting goals is very simple:

Every January 15th, I sit down and write myself a letter, dated exactly one year ahead.

And I describe, in that letter, what my life is like a year hence. (So, in 2012, I dated the letter to myself as January 15, 2013.)

It’s a subtle difference to the way other people set goals. Took me a long time to figure it out, too.

For many years, I wrote out goals like “I live in a house on the ocean”, and “I earn $24,000 a year”. And that worked. But it was like pushing my goals.

Writing this letter to myself is more like pulling my goals. For me, this works even better. Every decision I make throughout the year is unconsciously influenced, as I am pulled toward becoming the person I’ve described.

But here’s where I do it very differently: My goals are deliberately in the “whew” to “no friggin’ way” range. Mega-ambitious, to downright greedy.

There’s a sweet spot in there — doable, if I commit myself, but not so outrageous that I lose interest because the required change is too radical.

I’m pretty happy with myself these days. Took me a long, hard slog to get here, and I earned every step. And I want to continue changing, because I enjoy change. But I don’t need to reinvent myself entirely anymore.

So here’s what makes this ambitious goal-setting so effective: I don’t expect to REACH most of them.

In fact, I’m happy to get half of what I wanted.

There’s a ton of psychology at work there. The person I describe a year away often resembles James Bond more than the real me. Suave, debonair, flush, famous, well-traveled… and in peak health. I hit all the big ones.

However, long ago I realized that trying to be perfect was a sure way to sabotage any goal I set. Perfectionists rarely attain anything, because they get hung up on the first detail that doesn’t go right.

Being a good goal-setter is more like successful boxing — you learn to roll with the punches, cuz you’re gonna get hit.

You just stay focused on the Big Goal. And you get there however you can.

I’m looking at last year’s letter. I was a greedy bastard when I wrote it, and I didn’t come close to earning the income figure I set down.

Yet, I still had my best year ever.

And — here’s the kicker — I would NOT have had such a great year, if I wasn’t being pulled ahead by that letter. There were numerous small and grand decisions I made that would have gone another way without the influence of what I had set down.

I didn’t travel to the places I had listed. But I did travel to other, equally-fun places. I didn’t finish that third novel. But I did position it in my head, and found the voice I want for narration. That’s a biggie. That was a sticking point that would have kept the novel from ever getting finished.

Now, it’s on power-glide.

There’s another “hidden” benefit to doing this year-ahead letter: It forces you to look into the future.

A lot of people make their living peering ahead and telling everyone else what to expect. Most do a piss-poor job of it — weathermen are notorious for getting it wrong, as are stock market analysts, wannabe trend-setters, and political prognosticators.

Yet, they stay in business. Why? Because the rest of the population is terrified of looking into the future. That would require some sincere honesty about their current actions… since what the future holds is often the consequence of what you’re doing right now.

If you’re chain-smoking, chasing street hookers, and living on doughnuts, your future isn’t pretty. For example.

Or if you’ve maxed out all your credit cards, and haven’t done your due diligence to start bringing in moolah, your future isn’t nice, either.

No one can “see” into the future for real. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. In fact, it’s easy, when you have a little experience in life.

Things you do today will have consequences tomorrow. If you put up a website today for a product, and you do everything you can to bring traffic to it and capture orders… your consequence can be pretty and nice.

Sure, you may get hit by a bus while fetching the morning paper… but letting that possibility scare you off of trying for something better is for pessimists (who are scheduled for early checkout).

You have enormous control over your future.

And once you realize that, you can set out to start shaping it.

Stay frosty,

John

P.S. If you’re one of those people who’ve been skimming blogs like this… never reading anything carefully and slowly, and digesting what’s on the page… then I have one more suggestion for you: Stop doing that.

Most of the uber-successful folks I know (and I know a lot) have both skimming skills AND “deep reading” skills. And they know when to use them. You skim to get overviews, which may turn out to be flawed (because you missed something crucial in your skimming). You deep-read when you want to absorb something important, and you need to make the impression of what you read stick in your brain.

Right now, there are readers here who should be seriously considering the courses and opportunities I offer in the right-hand column of this blog. This is the stuff that has launched freelance careers, transformed biz owners into ad-writing monsters, and armed both rookie and veteran entrepreneurs with the fundamentally awesome skills of success. Quickly, and with the surety of proven-in-the-real-world tactics and advice.

So stop screwing around. If you need further help in getting your career going, or in crafting the kind of marketing that will boost profits through the roof… then consider the offerings on this page an essential task in your new list of goals. This is the real deal. No fluff, no nonsense — just honest, solid, proven stuff from a respected veteran of biz success.

Meanwhile, get busy with your January 15th letter.

72 Responses to The Rest Of Your Freakin’ Life (again)

  1. I know I’m as happy as I decide to be…finding something to be happy for no matter how ugly the day seems is a choice I make every day. I’m the only one who has control over my attitude. If I didn’t believe that I’d be screwed.

    I’ve had people say to me, “How can you possibly be happy when your life is so terrible? How can you not give up?” Because I’ve CHOSEN not to give up (although some days I question that choice, lol). I know that as challenging as this part of my life is, it isn’t going to last forever. I’ve been through a lot worse than just re-learning to walk. So what if I fall on my face half a dozen times a day because my leg refuses to work—I just pick myself up and keep going. Falling down isn’t the end unless I LET it be the end.

    You’ve got me thinking, John—I’d made the “traditional” New Year’s resolutions like I usually do. I’m going to chuck that list tonight and write myself a letter instead! :-)

  2. Man, re-reading this post is always smart.

    I get now that my problem before was not re-reading the letter often because I don’t think I believed I would ever obtain what I wrote. In the past, in my midst of skimming, I perused over the part where you wrote about still having your best year ever even in the midst of not meeting the picture you painted.

    I’m committed to reading this year’s letter often. And having it contain targets I deeply care about hitting.

    Along the way, if you ever realized you weren’t on target, what did you do to keep your head in the game?

    Maybe a better question… What did you do to check in with yourself on progress towards your goals?

    And thanks John. Reading your posts has helped bring me through one or two dark times. Take care.

    • Hmmm… how to keep your head in the game? That’s actually a very good question, Matt. For me, it was this process: I dinked around, not wanting to sit down and write out my letter. But the minute I began typing (or writing in longhand — I’ve done both), I started to get excited — because this is my LIFE. I was making an attempt to write the script for the coming year, and the potential was unlimited. In fact, putting some limits on the potential was essential — goal setting is about narrowing your focus, so you’re not just wildly trying to get through the year, but rather targeting certain things you want to accomplish THIS year. Next year, new list, new chance to go after something else. So I was getting more deeply involved in my life.

      If your goals don’t excite you, and recharge you a bit just reading them again… then that’s possibly a sign that you’re not going after the right goals. Make sure you’re going after what YOU want, not what someone else wants for you, or thinks you should go after. This letter should excite you, bottom line.

      Checking in, to see that you’re on the right path, is another lesson. I think I’ve written about the details of goal-attainment elsewhere in this blog. Why don’t you do a quick search for those search terms (goals, goal attainment), and let us know what you find.

      Thanks for the note, Matt.

  3. Thanks for the reaffirmation J.C.

    And you’re darn-skippy I’ll be getting those courses on the left in 2013

    Much Success!

  4. Hah..was running late, so half way thru I went into scan mode…until I hit the P.S! Anyway, back now to re-read (word-for-word). First item going into my Jan 15th letter…”I have successfully consumed one archived J.C. rant each week of 2013!”

  5. The idea of realism is an extremely powerful one. A lot of people think pessimism is realism.. but it isn’t. It’s just another form of fantasy, only in a negative direction. Setting your mind against you is never a good thing. When you look at things realistically (real – realistically), and write them down, clearly spelling the issues out, they’re usually easily solved and are not to be worried about. Realism makes you into a problem solving machine.

    Thanks, John. Great reiteration to start the year out with.

    • Yes negative thoughts sap our energy and self criticism is the worst. Nobody is perfect and everyone makes mistakes but as John says success will never take place without risk.
      So you fall down a few times… BUT you can always get back up.
      Change is part of life. When change stops life stops. Stay in the game and embrace change.

  6. I’ve read and put into practice many, many goal setting methods (I even write out my top three goals every morning when I wake up)… but I’ve never seen it put quite this way.

    So I tried it last night and I can see and really feel the difference between “pushing” & “pulling”… Brilliant… Thanks John.

    • I don’t know about “brilliant”, but when something like this works, it can transform your life. The difference between pushing and pulling is VERY subtle, so it’s nice that you get it.

      • Hey John,
        I’ve been working with something similar (visualizing my future me), and it has helped me greatly, but the method of writing to yourself in the future is simply..yes, brilliant it is. I wrote a letter to myself yesterday, and i could feel how I was getting back into my constructive zone, the place where I actually do ish to change myself. Very powerful stuff indeed.

  7. John,
    I think this is one of your best. Have always dabbled in writing things down, and have seen it work, but something always keeps me from doing it systematically. I think this post may change that. Maybe I’ll write about playing an amazing round of golf with you this year.
    Appreciate ya sir!
    Golf Pro Paul

    • Hi Paul. As I’m wandering through these comments today, I’m reminded of how FEW people alive really understand what it takes to change. Or to craft a goal, plan to achieve it, and then put that plan into action. Everybody loves to TALK about goals, but they lose interest quickly when they realize they gotta actually stop doing what they used to do, and start doing new things. It’s painful to change. The players shrug, go through the (very small) pain and just get busy with a better life.

      I’m dreaming about golf now, with snow on the ground. Can’t wait to take my miserable 90+ game back out on the links and growl at the green…

  8. We vote with our feet AND our attitudes, whether we intend to do so or not. I am looking at my tracks and adjusting my attitude for 2013. This is just the right kick in the behind to get moving in the right direction. Thanks!

    • At this point in my career, John, I’m just relaying the stories and info that have been part of my success and regular bar-room discussions for decades. The “thought” I’ve put into these posts goes back a long way, because I’ve lived the stories personally. This ain’t theory. As you can tell, from other comments in this thread, there will forever be nay-sayers to this style of delivering lessons. It has ever been thus. I’m a story-teller. If what I’m saying is interesting to you, you’ll consume it. If it’s not in your wheelhouse, you’ll get bored and leave. Writers like me will never have huge readership, because the majority of folks refuse to go deep on anything. They want 140 characters. Good for them. And good luck to them in the long haul…

      Thanks for the note, John.

  9. Good lord can you “talk” seriously YOU produce something with NO Fluff, NO Nonsense, are you sure? You have absolutely drowned the really valid points in your article in fluff and nonsense, is this “copy” working for you still? Who is your readership? Old farts like me might be ok to read your article (swear to god it was a struggle) I used every speed reading technique and extracted 100 odd words of MEAT after 2000 of FAT. Every tried to communicate this to Gen Y? How is that going for you by the way? Here is my challenge for you John, put all this guff aside, extract the wealth (it is buried very, very deep as most gold is) and create an infographic! A word is a word, a picture is a thousand words and a video is priceless. Your old copy might have worked in the old days, but we are in 2013, Gen Y are switching off and what you are selling is so, so out of date it is moulded and dead… And you are the most copied marketer, maybe you need to re-market yourself for 2013? Join me in my http://www.blortal.com – less is more universe or not… Up to you…

  10. Oh and by the way the reason you ask at the end of your blog post to “deep read” and not skim read, you know you have put a lot of fluff in you “story” oh I deep read it too, still got a 100 words of MEAT… Good idea to review these comments before posting, god forbid someone should write something contrary to your “sell” but you only have 13 face book likes, and how big is your supposed readership again? Infographics, John, infographics, the future of communication, not long, boring copy! If you have to ask me to really read your message and deep read it at that, then you really are not getting your message across are you?

    • You miss the point, Bob. I don’t give a fuck about readership (and my rather huge list is divided up nicely between old farts and young guns… the commonality being “wanting to learn shit”) — I write this blog as a way to “pay back” something to the industry that literally saved my life. This is my gift to the larger world, all free. My advice to deep-read isn’t a plea to “put up” with my style of writing — it’s a warning to yo-yo’s who skim that they’re wasting their time and missing opportunities if they think the can get away with skimming the important stuff. Learning the good lessons takes effort, and always has, and always will. The technology of the world changes, but humans do not. We’re lazy, always looking for shortcuts even at the expense of ruining opportunity, and in dire need of advice like I offer.

      Bottom line: If my writing is boring to you, just keep moving along and go find some short-winded expert to deliver whatever you’re looking for. I’ve bucked every trend in marketing for 40 years (including running 3-page copy-dense ads in mags that BEGGED my client not to “waste” their money that way, and launching the long-copy Web format for sales sites) and made it work, and that’s how I’m goin’ out: Bucking trends like bullshit “infographics”.

      I grok that newbies and younger generations to marketing and business want to believe that “everything is different now”. It’s the way of the world, and the jarring changes in technology have supported such a view.

      But the truth is, the “meat” of life’s lessons don’t connect with your brain if delivered in 140 characters (or on a bumper sticker). I often encounter clients who can spout a library’s worth of great sayings, from Art Of War to The 4-Hour Workweek… but they don’t USE any of them. They’re deluded, stuck in a modern “info-to-brain” gap that makes them believe they’re hip and doing it right, while in reality they’re not following any coherent life-plan at all.

      I’m fine with folks disagreeing with me (and you’d know this as a regular reader of this blog), and encourage it. I’m quick to admit when I’m wrong. But I’m also quick to squash wrong thinking when it pops up, and when someone comes at me with “the future of communication” bullshit, I do my best to address it right away. It’s bullshit. Go ahead and believe me wrong, Bob. But if you value a veteran’s opinion, you’ll rethink things.

  11. Thanks so much for the lols John. I think I will model your writers voice when I want to let it all hang out!
    In 1991 I was a sad, lonely single Mum and wrote a goal that I was invited to speak at the Million Dollar Round Table -biggest conference for financial planners ever – and 19 years later an email popped up inviting me to do so! The title – Great Sex In A Loving Relationship! full house 2 days in a row (but they wont probably do the sex topic again…) Love your frosties Dr Jan, Melbourne, australia

    • The cream does rise, eventually. One of the greatest perks of a long career is getting to look back with perspective, and laugh at yourself while marveling at how it all turned out. Congrats…

  12. John, I can count on one hand the living writers I can’t get enough of. And you are one of them, buddy. Please keep us up-to-date on the upcoming books.

    This post is classic stuff. The timing of the “ass kicking” was perfect. Thanks for sharing it again.

    Bob, some of us like to go a little deeper than “3 Reasons To Open This Email” or “4 Ways To Have A Great Life.”

    Besides, bullet points aren’t as effective as they once were – check your friggin’ infographics.

  13. Cool summers day in land down under!
    10:23am, Tuesday 8th jan 2013

    Dear big dog…..

    That was like someone smacking mr in left side of my skull with a golf club….and knocking out even more bullshit from my head…..

    So thanx for sharing JSC…..

    Has to be one of best rants ever!

    Later man…

    RJ…
    Glenelg, Australia

  14. Re: Bob Panic

    Hey man lighten up on this….if none of this sails ur boat simply un-subscribed, far as ur comments go…ur entitled to them however

    I find them disrespectful as shit…

    You ‘electronic’ bullies are gutless as hell…and attacking one of most respected, most admired, most ripped off writers period is not on mate.

    You don’t like these rants…simply do this…>fuck off<

    Without johns advice and without his freelancer course I'd still be chasing my tail, his advice has put $$$$ into my bank account.

    So go suck big fat one !

    Warmly

    Someone who believes in these rants and applying wisdom and knowledge that is being offered.

    Rob.
    Australia.

    • LOL, thanks for the support, Rob. But this guy actually performed a service, bringing a subject to the table that many are thinking about, but few actually broach. So it’s all good. Any subject worth talking about, is worth talking about, and we wouldn’t have had this thread if Panic hadn’t floated it.

      You’d be a good man to have on your side in a bar fight, I’ll bet.

      Thanks, as always, for the note. Glad your career has taken off…

      • No probs John, I’m pretty quick to back up people who I think gettin a roar deal…especially people who I respect…it’s all good this end than if your cool with it…take care.

  15. Thank you for this great piece John. As usual, you pissed me off with how extraordinarily well you write. Much of what you said, I already know, but knowledge rarely makes the difference. The way you told your story and shared your advice gave the concepts a new, bold, and vibrant life. As if by magic my balls just got bigger and I got happier. I am now sitting in December of 2013 working on an amazing future. Talk again soon.

  16. Thanks for putting this in front of me once again John. Rinse and repeat… vital when you are scrubbing the shut up and enjoy your sucky little life demons… out of what’s under your hair.

  17. Lol! Read all 2,000+ words of it. Skimmed nothing. Understood the meat, was entertained and laughed over the related stories. How the meat and entertainment are delivered is a function of technology. How the value and learnings are expressed comes from the experience and sincerity of the messenger.

    John, You’re a master messenger.

    Just wish I could curse and swear like you do. After all these years, Every gdo dman time I do, I can still taste the fkcnig soap and hear my Mother in my right ear saying. Are you going to be a potty mouth again?” Siht and shinola, that was over 50 years ago! Hlel, I’m getting to be a a fcuknig old dog.

    And yes, the typos are intentional, but you still could read everything just fine, couldn’t you? The human brain is a glorious thing.

    PS – Sorry, Mom. Just couldn’t help myself. Does anyone know where the bar of Irish Spring is?

    Cheers!

  18. John, I feel my senses dulled, not necessarily due to the season, but more as a rebound after a few years of relatively easy success when compared to the previous several decades of working my ass off with next to nothing to show for it.

    With tabbed internet browsers, which allow you to procrastinate even online distractions and the ability to stream TV online on demand, it’s easier than ever to waste time and it often feels like I deserve to…the kind of poisonous thinking which I realize is essentially self pity.

    Your article hit close to home for me and reminds me how I need to continue to face death (change), rather than just coasting along and getting sloppy.

    Once again, thanks for the kick in the ass John. Off to write a letter!

  19. Some thoughts I discovered Re: “Most people don’t want to grow, anyway. Growth only comes from movement and change… and the vast majority of the folks walking the earth with us today are terrified of change.” Well, that’s why sometimes “the Universe” pulls the rug out from under your feet, and you’re forced to grow–spiritually, emotionally, etc. (It’s your “higher self,” really, that planned the challenges, for your own growth and ultimate happiness. And I discovered that because your higher self planned your challenges, it knows how to resolve them successfully—-if only you’d LISTEN to that inner, true part of you!)

    (Hey, that’s what this 2012 Shift in Consciousness is really about, and we finally made it past the Mayan date where we’re entering a new age of greater “light” …meaning, greater connection to Source and our true self, all of which will manifest itself in a variety of ways, such as for example a greater awareness of ourselves, of life on this planet, our connection with the rest of the Universe…)

    It’s great to make plans with your “lower consciousness” mind, but it’s extremely important to be flexible about the goals you set and about HOW you will achieve them. I feel it works better when, after you set your goals, you let your higher self lead the way and have the courage to follow through promptly and consistently on your intuition and hunches. (This is when I found that you “place yourself in favorable synchronicities.”)

    By consciously and deliberately seeking the guidance of your higher self / true self (which is the source of your potential as well as your connection to Source) you will go WAY FURTHER than your lower consciousness mind (meaning peer- and society-influenced mind) ever thought possible.

    I invite those interested in exploring how to connect with their higher self (and how to recognize that voice, even when you’re scared and you can’t hear your guidance) over to my blog, ChristineHoeflich.com. This year there will be a lot of changes in the world and in our individual lives, and even though they will be ultimately for the better of all, there will be some chaos and uncertainty in the interim. I am helping people to live from “creation” (the “heart”) rather than from “survival” as much as possible. (Our goal should be to live from that “sacred space” 100% of the time.) Remember: stay focused, believe, and keep going no matter what’s happening around you!

    Thanks for reading!

  20. Hey John,
    Freakishly good timing, as usual :o) Big Aussie THANK YOU for your inspiration! I’m going to let some ideas for ‘pull’ goal setting ease on into my head, then write the letter.
    Awesome Awesome!

    Thanks again!

  21. I’ve been asking lately, “What’s missing?” I have all the ingredients to be as successful as I can imagine yet at 62 I have little to show for my professional efforts over the years. Your post has given me a clue as to the answer to my question.

    I know how to do things, but as you said, knowing how to do something and actually doing it are two radically different things. So I’ve decided to do the one thing that I know has the power to change the direction of my life…set goals.

    Yes, I’ll write the letter. In fact, it’s a technique I’ve used in the past. But more than anything, I will learn to set goals…make doing so a habit…every day. Baby steps. Thanks again for an inspiring post.

    • Good luck, Jerry. There’s a whole new paradigm to living well when you pass the big Six-Oh mark, but for those who do it right, life really can be better than it was when you were younger. As I age, I’m paying close attention to the perks, as well as the cliched “easy to joke about” stuff. I’m happy as a pig in shit being older — I get to not care even more what other people think, I don’t have to apologize about forgetting stuff anymore, and my goals become very targeted and sparse, as the nonsense stuff I once lusted after no longer makes it to the Big Damn List.

      My point is that (as cliched as it sounds) it’s never too late to get hip to a tool like good goal-setting. I intend to be a writer to be reckoned with until I die at the keyboard in my 90s… I’ll remain relevant, listened-to, and on top of important parts of the American culture (politics, art, biz, love, all of it). I’m happy, and I want to sustain that, as well as piss people off by continuing to pursue and achieve wild-ass goals that matter to me (if not to anyone else).

      Your “baby steps” will quickly become giant strides, with just a wee bit of commitment and effort. It happens fast, once you get your pace going.

      Thanks for the note.

  22. Wonderful post, John.

    Learned Optimism got me through some VERY rough patches in my 20s and 30s when I was in the advertising business on Madison Ave. People have always thought that I’m a natural optimist because I’m funny, clever and love boosting other people’s morale…but I was SHOCKED when the quiz at the beginning of the book put my personal self-explanatory style and optimism at a MINUS 8! I always think everything that goes wrong is my fault, that a funny look from someone means they hate me, that I’m a horrible person if I make an innocent mistake or don’t reach all my goals, etc.

    I’ve learned to catch myself and laugh at my foibles through what I learned in this book — always challenge and question your negative assumptions, especially about yourself, and especially when things are not going well and you are sure you are a total f*ck up. You are most probably totally WRONG.

    • Nice point, Lisa. When you go just a bit deeper than what smart people present to the outside world (the smiles, jokes and upbeat style), you find a complex world that few outsiders can truly understand. Life, and living well, are not simple things. I urge everyone to think critically, free yourself from habits and thinking styles that imprison your brain rather than free it up, and learn from your bouts with doubt and depression and fears.

      Growth is a life-long process. The lucky ones learn to enjoy the ride, and come away from their adventures with good stories. You sound like a winner to me…

  23. Best post ever…I love it.I did it last year and out of
    10 goals I got 4 done(not bad :-))But to be honest this
    year will be different as I will be very realistic and very specific.

    Love to be here in this blog!

    Thanks John and wish you a happy,healthy and prosperous
    2013!

    BTW I lost my job and my girlfriend…and can still pay
    my rent two more months…so whom I´d better listen than
    John? :-))

    • 4 outa 10 is around 4 more than the folks who tried to rely on resolutions nailed… and that’s a real achievement. Congrats — you got a taste for growth now, don’t you…

  24. sir, this is profound. it explains why so many business and personal development sites are so dumb boring, even when they have the information that is good. But the websites are not written from a level of mindset that would bring the desired results. on those websites, key elements are missing. The elements that are associated with the mindset that is required to even scratch the outcome.
    Passion, dedication, determination, honesty, energy, drive and purpose. When the values and outcomes are missing, who cares what the person is writing about. The authors cannot teach the readers the essential thing: the vision of what might be coming, a new self-image.

    Imagination is everything

    • Indeed, the guru’s of personal development do seem to have more dysfunction than normal, and either don’t realize they’re leaving out essentials, or just aren’t aware of how flimsy their advice is. Real-life experience trumps theory every time… Thanks for the note, Martyna.

  25. It was a hell of read, but I got there and really enjoyed your style along with the Substance with in. Thanks to Ed Dale for linking into this.

    This is something we can all use and has been high on my mind. I am in Need of doing this…

    Thanks

  26. Thanks so much for sharing this article ! I don’t care if it is rehashed content it’s still as viable today as it was then . The only complaint I have is I can’t find a share button .

    • Ha! Old-school sharing was copy/paste the url in an email. Takes 12 seconds. But in our new, faster, “better” world, if it ain’t a single click, we’re ferklempshed. I’m the same way, most of the time. If you’re on Facebook, subscribe to my page (John Carlton), and you can share the links with ease. FB and this blog are the main points of contact for my world.

      Glad you got something from the article, too, Mitch…

  27. Hello John…
    All said and done, anything original feels and sounds great! There are certain “simple” “facts” about how nature (aren’t we part of it) evolves and allows others to do so. Whether we like or accept this fact, the course of nature’s actions wouldn’t change! Every aspects of energy/nature makes us feel how little is our knowledge, how little we know, and how little is in our control, and directs us to be humble and spiritual. If we take (learn) lessons from nature, history and mistakes of “others” (“we” don’t commit mistakes) we could make lives much less miserable and possibilities, more often than not, are that we could live life to the fullest – happy healthy and in harmony. Points noted, nevertheless, from your “lively” blog.

    This is from a friend far off from you (New Delhi/India) enjoying not snowy but freezing biting cold weather…
    Courtesy Asoka Selvarajah, the numerologist, in States sending this link to me that I could read and know about another Guru… Thanks Asoka

  28. Holy Hell’s John’s Freelance Course just arrived at my door, down here in little ol’ New Zealand, apparently I’m sick, ah well, after this course it’s bound to be terminal.

    If it’s gonna be for the rest of my freakin’ life I’ll have fun trying to find a cure, exotic locations and all.

    Who knows I may even be able to afford the Insider’s club after all.
    If not I suppose I could always pull something off of the communal plate at the local church, God only knows, or haggle down a busker.

    The future is wide open, cheers John, now to find me some of that discipline stuff…

  29. Hey John, great post as always!

    I am going to be getting on my letter to myself today once I have got my ‘A’ tasks finished. Just a quick question though, How would you write it to yourself? I mean what sort of tense would you use? I am thinking something along the lines of “Hi Simon, so it is now 2014 have you done x? How did it go with doing y? Did you achieve z?”

    Is that the sort of letter you are talking about or is it more like a list of things that you have accomplished?

    On the skim reading front, yours is one of the few blogs that I actually deep read every time as I know there is so much valuable content in every post and I dont want to miss any of it! Other blogs I will always skim read but still get a lot of info from them but this one is always a “go deep man” kind of blog :)

    Keep up the awesome work!

    Simon

    • Yep, it’s “Hey, John, how you doin’, man? Here’s how 2013 went for you…” or something like that. It doesn’t need anything fancy — this isn’t literature, it’s just a simple psychological tactic with very subtle “pull” characteristics. You can write it however you like, but you’re the only one who’ll be reading it… so, whatever works for you is how you write it. I like to trash myself, taunt myself, and make fun of my own foibles and bad habits — it’s like a self-induced reality check. I’m brutal on myself, but it comes from self-love and respect.

      You may need a couple of attempts at this to get it right for you. Which is irrelevant, because simply engaging in the process puts things in motion. Doesn’t need to be perfect, just in the mix.

  30. John! Great stuff. Straight-from-the-gut and ballsy and honest. Just what I expect from you.

    Your letter made me think. I’ve hit a lot of my goals in recent years, which is nice but it also reveals something else: They’re not in the “whew” and “no frigging way” categories. They’re solid goals, I don’t think they shoot too low, but they sure don’t make me seem like James Bond. Your post inspired me to make 2013 a year that I not only hit new heights but hit DAMN HIGH heights. Thanks!

    (PS, for anyone who has a goal of taking John’s Simple Writing System Course in 2013, do it! It’s a great investment).

  31. Thanks for the motivating and entertaining rant John !..to assist rationalise the decision to take on big life adventures, Tim Ferriss prescribes a cool exercise that requires you to define the worst case scenario if things ‘go to hell in a hand-basket’ whilst you are living out that James Bond adveture (most ‘catastrophies are either unlikely to occur or easily recoverable)…Regards…PS hopefully JB had his Aston Martin DB5 insured !

  32. Hey John!
    What do you suggest we do with the letter after it is written? Do you read over it every day/week/month to give some inspiration….or do you write it and put it in the closet til the following yr?

  33. WOW! Amazing post John. You’ve succinctly addressed health care, aging & crafting a life you desire & will be proud of in ONE POST!

    Fantastic information & great summation of knowledge.

    Personally, I found as well that as soon as I started writing down my goals a funny thing happened and I started achieving them. Not all, sometimes not even most of them, but some very very very important ones generally came out on top. My biggest problem I think has been not being clear on what I want when writing out goals–those that I actually wrote specific information (mostly savings/financial goals) came to fruition.

    Love the letter idea as a different approach as it really forces you to visualize yourself ‘there’ already (whereever there may be).

    Powerful stuff here!

    Thanks!

  34. “Change is a form of death. Whatever was before, dies. And whatever comes next must be nurtured with devotion and sacrifice.

    That’s hard. That’s a hard way to live, always dying and being reborn.”

    These five sentences explain so much to me about me. I learned from Tony Robbins that the reason we don’t do what we know we need to do is because we associate more pain to whatever it is we know we need to be doing. In other words, we don’t change due to pain. Even if our current state is painful, we perceive the change we need to make to be even more painful, so we continue to stay mired in the mediocrity that is our lives. Pretty depressing. Pain is not always physical pain, it can be the pain of not having enough time, being too tired, etc.

    Reading the quote from your post made me realize that my specific pain is the process of death and rebirth. And I never thought about that and probably wouldn’t have if I hadn’t decided to click the link and read this post.

    So…thanks. I’m writing my letter to me tonight, when everyone’s in the bed, and my future self and I can have some time to talk in private.

    Awesome post.

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