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4 Questions That Set You Up for Success

Achieve your goals with a successful mindset.

Key points

  • Respect your limits even as you set your sights on ambitious goals.
  • By asking yourself about your goals, you can remain self-aware in a way that can help you achieve success.
  • Compassionate self-awareness can enable you to enjoy the moment even as you strive for more.
Dimitris Vetsikas/Pixabay
Source: Dimitris Vetsikas/Pixabay

By aiming high and judging your success based on meteoric accomplishments, you might be preparing yourself for great things to come… or you might be setting yourself up for cataclysmic failure. The difference is all in your approach.

This very human dilemma was explored by ancient Greeks in their myth of Icarus. In a brilliant plan to escape their imprisonment on the island of Crete, Daedalus makes wings of wax and feathers for himself and his son, Icarus. Before they took to the sky, Daedalus warned Icarus of two deadly mistakes: Do not be complacent. If you fly too low, the sea might pull you down. And do not lose yourself to overconfidence. If you fly too high, the sun will melt your wings! But overcome by youthful zeal, Icarus soared upward and was, in a short time, shark food.

You might think that the lesson is to avoid arrogance and to live with humility. There is something to that. But the story also warns against giving too little effort. So maybe the meaning is more about moderation. Again, there is something to that. But there is another way to think about the story.

Four questions to ask yourself:

On a deeper level, the myth teaches the importance of remaining aware of and respecting the limits of yourself and your circumstances. Ambitious goals can help us achieve great things, but only if we approach them with care. Even as excitement builds, keep your sights on your goals and what you need to do to move in that direction. Each day, consider the following:

What do I want to achieve?

What else is important for me to have in my life?

Where am I along the path to my goals?

What do I need to do now and in the future to get there?

For example, Sam wants a career as a chef, as well as to get married and have children. Her friends and family are also important parts of her life. She has applied to culinary school, gets together with friends on weekends, and is happily engaged to be married. At this point, she is nervous about starting school, but she’s committed to following through with it. She also knows that this will take a lot of time and effort, so she’s conscious of wanting to make time for all of her close relationships.

Whatever your dreams, the journey will not be smooth. So, these questions can help you avoid the deadly mistakes that Daedalus warned about. There will be times when you feel the downward pull of the forces that you are trying to rise above. You might be overcome by pessimism or self-criticism or just a loss of motivation to keep moving forward. Armed with these questions, you can help yourself maintain motivation, optimism, and the sheer will to persevere. (For more on goals related to creating healthier habits, see this brief video.)

By contrast, there may be times when you feel giddy with excitement for what you are achieving. You might become so filled with the headiness of success that you lose your bearings as you focus single-mindedly on attaining a dream. At those times, you don’t see the risks or dangers of your situation. You minimize the potential downsides of your decisions.

For instance, you might not notice how poorly you are treating colleagues or loved ones who have supported you along the way. Though you might succeed, this could make it a very lonely achievement—and, thus, not really a success. By committing to keeping the above questions in mind, you can help yourself attend to the very factors that are carrying you forward and to what might jeopardize you attaining your goals.

The path to success:

As you struggle to remain on course—or to return to your path when you’ve strayed—be sure to recognize the difficulty of your challenges and to relate to your experiences with empathy and compassion. Otherwise, you may become critical of what you’ve done and angry with yourself. In this state of mind, you will be unhappy even if you achieve external success.

Instead, with compassionate self-awareness, you can understand that your struggles are a very human thing. You will be more open to offering yourself support and encouragement to carry on. This might come in the forms of supportive self-talk and actively doing something to comfort yourself, like reaching out to friends or taking a weekend to get some R&R. You will also find that compassionate self-awareness enables you to enjoy and appreciate the current moment.

So, take the time to get to know yourself and your goals. Then regularly (and with compassion), reflect on where you are along your journey toward a successful life. This will make it possible for you to truly enjoy both inner and outer success, now and in the future.

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