3 Essential Ideas for Starting a Successful Online Business Part 2: Goals and Habits
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How do you reach your goals?
Starting a successful online business is a really ambitious goal.
In the first part of this series, we talked about approaching it with a growth mindset – believing you can reach that goal no matter how far away it may seem at the moment.
But how do you actually get there?
How do you go from someone stuck in a boring job (at best) to someone who runs a successful online business that lets them do something they love while travelling the world?
At some point in our lives, we’ve all heard someone say “If you want to be a success, you’ve got to set goals.”
The problem is for most of us, it’s pretty easy to set goals, but hard to actually reach them.
Even if you’re already pretty good at reaching your goals (and especially if you’re not), I highly recommend you adopt an identity-based, habits-driven mindset in order to set goals you actually reach.
First, a story about you
The only way to create deep, lasting change in your life is to change who you believe you are – to build a new and better identity for yourself.
And the only way to do that is through small, repeated actions.
A classic example of this, one we’re all familiar with (even if we don’t remember it): learning how to walk.
Let’s fast forward to a few months after you were born, and you’ve already learned how to crawl.
At this stage, without even knowing it, you’ve already used the growth mindset to change your baby identity: you’re not a completely helpless little blob anymore: you’re a crawler.
You can get places just about any time you want (except every once in a while when someone puts up one of those pesky baby barriers).
But you want more.
You see all these big people around you walking on two legs, arms free.
Think of all the things you could grab if you didn’t have to use your arms to move around!
So one day, you decide to crawl up to a wall, and with all your baby strength, pull yourself up onto your legs.
You’re half way there, the next step is obvious: step away from the wall.
And immediately fall over.
Maybe that first time leads to some crying, but you keep trying, using anything around to stand up and balance, until eventually, you can take three whole steps before falling.
Then four, then 10, then 100, until one day you’ve become a champion walker.
Next up: running.
How actions change your beliefs
Something as simple as learning how to walk can teach us a lot about how to reach our goals later in life.
In the story above, and the story of our lives, at some point we all start out as crawlers.
It’s who we are, it’s how we think, it’s how we solve problems.
When we see something over there we want to touch, we crawl over to it.
But seeing other people do things we can’t inspires us: what if there was a better, faster way to get around?
What if we became a walker?
Well, as you can imagine, it’s not as easy as just saying yourself (using your super secret baby language) “I’m a walker now.”
It takes a lot of work, to build the balance and strength you need, and to prove, step-by-step, that you actually are a walker.
Now I know what you’re thinking: this is a really simple example that doesn’t really apply to you; you can already walk just fine thank you very much.
It is a bit simple, but what’s the difference between that and starting a business?
Both of them require clearly seeing something you want to do or have.
Both require a growth mindset, a belief that can reach that goal.
And both require practising the skills you’ll need to get there.
Really, the only thing that reaching goals as an adult adds is a better sense of identity.
By that I mean, who we believe we are gets in the way.
When we’re young, we don’t think so much about what we can and can’t do; when we want to learn how to walk, we just keep trying until we can.
As adults who want to start an online business, though, fear and doubt creep in.
Who are we to think we can do something as awesome as starting an online business and travelling the world?
We don’t have the time to make it work anyway.
We’re used to thinking with a fixed mindset, and we’re used to doing things that are comfortable, things we know we can do.
When we get older, we know people can lie, can tell stories about who they really are and what they can do.
And we know that applies just as much to us as anyone else.
We want to believe we can do something as awesome as starting our own business and travel the world, but do we really have what it takes to make it?
As adults stuck in our old ways of doing things, getting inspired to do something new, to set a goal we don’t know how we’re going to reach isn’t enough.
We have to prove to ourselves we’re the kind of person who can actually do it.
We have to prove we’re a walker, not a crawler.
Okay, but how does that work in the real (adult) world?
Like I said before, to really make a lasting change, especially one as radical as quitting your job and starting your own business to travel the world, you have to start with a growth mindset: you have to believe you are (or can become) the kind of person who can do something so seemingly crazy.
And that means thinking about goals a little differently than we’re used to, and using habits to get us to where we want to go.
Let’s take a more grown-up example you may even have experience with yourself.
Imagine it’s January 2nd, you’ve recovered from New Year’s Eve (mostly) and are excited about your New Year’s Resolution: this year, you’re going to get healthier.
Perhaps you’ve even dug a little bit deeper than that and decided you want to lose 20 lbs, and to do that you’re going to start jogging.
Not a bad start to making a change, but you quickly run into a couple of problems.
Maybe you try jogging “every once in a while.”
Then once in a while becomes once.
So what went wrong?
The problem with (some) goals
First, your goal was what James Clear calls an “appearance goal” – it’s based on looking better to other people.
The problem is, you haven’t proven to yourself you’re the kind of person who can lose 20 lbs, so when the going gets tough, you’ll be more likely to give up.
Check out this handy graphic James made:
Graphic by James ClearLooking at this we can see there are really three layers of behaviour change, each with its own kind of goals: your appearance, your performance, and your identity.
In our fitness example, losing 20 lbs is definitely an appearance-based goal; other people will see you as someone who’s 20 lbs lighter, and some of the good feelings you’ll get from reaching it will be from the ego boost of looking thinner.
A similar performance-based goal might be to run a 5k race in 30 minutes.
This is a little bit better: it’s nice and specific, and you might be able to squeeze out enough motivation from having the deadline of an upcoming race to actually stick with your jogging for a while.
But what happens after the race?
What if you don’t make your target time?
Most likely: you’ll stop.
You’ve reached your goal or failed, so why keep going?
That’s one of the problems with appearance and performance based goals: once you get to them, what keeps you from going back to your old life and habits?
Another problem is things like your running speed and body weight are complicated, and you can’t really control them very well.
Maybe it was a really hot the day of the race, so you got tired quicker and couldn’t run as fast as usual.
Maybe you started to lose some weight from jogging, but got stuck after a pound or two (which can happen for so many reasons).
Because we have a lot less control over how we perform and look, and want to stick with our goals as we achieve more and more, it’s super helpful to pick identity-based goals.
So what would a really awesome, identity-based goal look like?
Well first, what would your new identity be?
What if you became the kind of person who exercises every day?
You could start by doing something as simple as walking for 5 minutes a day; super easy, super doable.
And when it comes to reaching goals, starting with small steps is key.
Then your goal would be simple: don’t quit.
Go on that walk, every day, even if it’s only a little bit, just don’t quit; prove to yourself step-by-step that you are the kind of person who exercises every day.
Keep adding another 5 minutes, then another, then start jogging, maybe add in some weight training and eventually you’ll be able to reach that 5k time if you want, or lose weight, or get one of the 100 other benefits of becoming healthier (including losing weight).
The problem with relying on motivation
So the first problem was that “lose 20lbs” goal is that it was based on something too far out of your control, and too shallow to lead to a lasting change.
Even getting more focused on something like running a 5k race has its drawbacks.
But another big problem is that both of those goals relied on the motivation you had when you decided to go for it.
It’s well known that a tonne of new people sign up for gym memberships in January.
And most of them have stopped showing up by February because they were hoping that motivation would carry them to their fitness goals.
Which never works because, just like starting a successful online business, getting healthy is hard.
That’s why it’s so important to not only choose identity-based goals, but to support them with identity-based habits.
So in our fitness example, we know that rather than having the appearance-based goal of losing 20 lbs, or the performance-based goal of running a 5k in 30 minutes, we’d be much better off choosing a similar identity-based goal like becoming someone who exercises at least a little bit every day.
Hidden in that goal is an identity-based habit: we’re not just going to exercise once, or when we feel motivated, we’re going to exercise at least a little bit – every day.
And we’re going to start with something that’s small and easy, something we can definitely do, even if we don’t really feel like it.
Something like walking for just 5 minutes.
This way, day after day, we’ll be building a habit of exercising that makes it easier to keep doing, and easier to add to.
Which will prove we’re the kind of people who can lose 20 lbs.
Which will build the skills we’ll need to reach that goal.
How you might start your successful online business
The truth is, it’s your daily actions that will change what you believe about yourself, which leads to becoming the person you want to be, who does the things you want to do.
It’s about setting a schedule, showing up, and sticking to it.
It’s about focusing on changing your identity rather than changing how you look or what you can do.
It’s about proving you can change (growth mindset) rather than focusing on getting a specific result (fixed mindset).
So let’s end by coming back to what you’re really looking to do: start a successful online business doing something you love.
Let’s say you’ve gotten a little more specific than “start an online business:” you’re going to start a blog to build an audience who you’ll sell ebooks to.
That’s a good start.
But that’s a performance-based goal: you have to be able to do the all the work involved, and then you have to actually do that work.
Which, trust me, is actually a lot of work.
But what if we start smaller.
Do you even write regularly?
I mean, in a blogging sense: posts about interesting topics, filled with helpful hints and/or stories?
So start there: write one paragraph a day.
It could be about anything.
You don’t even have to post it anywhere if you don’t want to (but if you’re brave enough, sites like Medium, Tumblr, and WordPress.com make it super easy to do, without having to set up your own website first).
After doing that for a week or so, do two paragraphs.
Keep going and eventually, you’ll be writing 500-1000 words a day, which is a good sized blog post.
And as you do that more and more, not only will you be building the skills you need to actually be a blogger (and eventual ebook writer), you’ll start to notice you like writing.
You’ll want to take the time to set up your own website.
And then keep writing, and promote it, and grow your following, and keep writing until one day you’ll turn around and have that successful online business that today you just want.