by Niall Doherty

There’s an item on my to-do list 56 days overdue. It reads: Pitch a newspaper or magazine this week.

For almost a year now I’ve had this dream of becoming a paid columnist for a national print publication in Ireland. I took a step in the right direction back in May when the Irish Examiner published my feature-length article entitled Diary of a Dream Chaser.

But since then I’ve been slacking. I followed up weakly (not weekly) with the Examiner to see if I could write more for them, and I’ve yet to contact any other newspapers or magazines about writing gigs.

These are the inactions of a man who’s not serious about making his dream come true. I no longer want to be that man.

So, time to get serious.

“How can I make success inevitable?”

The above is a good question to ask yourself when it comes to goal achievement. What regular actions can you take, what habits can you build, that will inevitably lead you to success? What few key things can you do every day or week, that, over the long haul, can’t help but deliver the desired result?

Last October in Amsterdam, I wanted to get better at flirting. So I announced my intentions publicly, then went out every day for two weeks and made myself flirt with at least five attractive women each day. Improvement was inevitable.

A couple of years ago, I wanted to finish in the top one percent of a 10k road race. I utilized the SMARTER system of goal setting and stuck to a solid training schedule. Inevitably, I finished in the top one percent.

For my goal of becoming a paid writer, I’m going to combine two techniques that have worked well for me in the past:

  • Public accountability
  • SMARTER goal setting

Public Accountability

Announcing your goals publicly isn’t right for everyone. In fact, there’s plenty of research out there to suggest that telling others about your goals actually makes them less likely to happen. But as I’ve noted before, there’s what works for most people, and then there’s what works for you.

Over the years, I’ve discovered that public accountability works well for me, so I’m going to leverage it once again to help me achieve my latest goal. I know that publishing this very post will increase my chances of success tremendously. Two reasons why…

  1. I gain extra motivation from my desire to avoid failing publicly and thereafter having to explain to everyone why I came up short.
  2. Making the goal public increases the amount of people who know what I’m trying to do and may be willing to help in some way. For example, perhaps someone reading this has a friend working for a national publication who could put in a good word for me 😉

SMARTER goal setting

SMARTER is an acronym you can use to help set a strong goal. There are a few variations of this (see them all at Wikipedia), but I’m just going to run through the version I like best. I’d also encourage you to check out this YouTube video on the subject by Tim Brownson, who does a great job running through the SMARTER method in less than five minutes.

S is for Specific

The goal needs to be specific. “Become a paid writer” isn’t specific enough. I could always write meaningless articles for some spam blog, get paid peanuts and call it mission accomplished.

But I don’t want to become just any old paid writer. I want to become a paid columnist for a national print publication in Ireland. That means I’d have an article published in the print edition of a national newspaper or magazine every week, fortnight or month, and get paid for it.

And it would have to be a respectable publication, one that doesn’t use a pun for every headline or consider a celebrity break-up story front page news.

M is for Measurable

You should always have some way of measuring your progress towards your goal, some way to regularly check in and make sure you’re on track.

If, for example, your goal was to lose 20 lbs of fat in two months, you’d know halfway through that you should have lost at least 10 lbs. If you hadn’t lost that much, you could then adjust your weight loss strategy accordingly.

My goal is a little tricky when it comes to measurement, though. I won’t have any way of telling when I’m halfway there. Unfortunately, success in this case isn’t fully within my control. Ultimately, it will depend on whether or not an editor will give me a shot.

That said, there are many things I can measure as I work on this goal. There are actions I can take — actions listed below — which I expect will give me an excellent chance at achieving my goal, and those actions themselves are measurable.

A is for Actionable

This involves breaking down your goal into manageable and practical action steps. What specific actions can you take to move you closer to your goal?

Here’s what I plan to do:

  • Create a spreadsheet listing all the print publications in Ireland I’d like to write for, along with contact information (phone and email) for the relevant editors of each. Each time I reach out to one of the editors, I’ll leave a note in the spreadsheet.
  • Since I’ll mainly be pitching myself to these newspaper and magazine editors as an alternative travel writer, I’ll publish an alternative travel article once a week here on the blog throughout July. By doing this, I’ll end up with several appropriate writing samples to accompany my pitches.
  • Each week this month, I’ll send no less than five emails to editors of national print publications in Ireland, inquiring about the possibility of writing a column for them.
  • On top of those emails, I’ll also make no less than three phone calls per week to those same editors. A call doesn’t count unless I actually speak to the editor, or make a solid attempt to do so on three separate occasions.
  • I’ll also reach out to existing columnists for national print publications in Ireland and ask them if they can offer any advice or assistance to help me reach my goal. I’ll focus on one columnist each week.

R is for Realistic

The goal must be realistic. If I had never written much more than the odd text message in the past few years, this goal of mine would be completely unrealistic. But given my writing experience, both with this blog and that article I had published in the Examiner, I know that becoming a paid columnist for a national print publication in Ireland is well within the realm of possibility for me.

T is for Time-bound

Nothing like a deadline to get your ass in gear. I’d been putting off trying to land this column for too long, telling myself that I’d get to it someday. But as Sean Ogle reminds us, there are seven days in the week, and someday isn’t one of them.

Hence the aim to get this goal accomplished by the end of the month. With that looming deadline, I know I’ll be more focused on making things happen.

E is for Ecology

Ecology is how things relate to and interact with one another. When setting a goal, you need to consider the effect it will have on you and on those around you. I like the example Brownson gives for this: If you’re a smoker who wants to quit, you may need to stop socializing with smokers for a while until you get over the hump. You’ll need to consider the effect that might have on certain relationships and ask yourself if the payoff is worth it.

I usually underestimate the ecology factor, so I need to be careful here. I have three other significant demands on my time and energy this month that I need to consider:

  • My freelance web design work. I usually aim to earn €1k per month, but I’ll be aiming for much more than that in July so I can afford to spend a few weeks offline in August.
  • My muscle-building experiment. This will finish mid-month, but is taking up more of my time nowadays since I started incorporating cardio to lose belly fat.
  • Romantic times with a special lady friend. This is usually where I underestimate my time and energy investment the most :-/

Despite the above priorities, I’m pretty confident I can muster the time and energy required to work towards this new goal of mine.

R is for Reward

Last but not least: Make sure your goal is actually something you want to accomplish.

This sounds obvious, but it’s very important that you take some time to consider what your reward will be, what your real motivation actually is. People often think their goals are their own, but much of the time the goals actually belong to their parents, their peers or even society. Such influences are not always bad, but it’s important to be aware of them nonetheless.

I have a few reasons for wanting to accomplish my goal, several rewards I’m aiming for:

  • Much greater exposure of my message, which will hopefully inspire a few folks back home to question their assumptions and think more for themselves.
  • A steady paycheck earned from writing, taking me a significant step closer to making a full-time living from my words.
  • A higher public profile in Ireland, likely opening up other opportunities down the road.
  • Continuous improvement of my writing skills on account of hitting publish more often and receiving more feedback.
  • Hopefully some groupies 😛

That’s it. This mission is already underway. I’d appreciate any advice or assistance you can provide to help me make this happen. But, more important than you helping me…

Get your own ass in gear!

There’s a good chance you also have a goal you’ve been putting off for too long. Well, why not join me in finally making it happen this month?

If you like, you can also use public accountability (via the comments or on your own blog) and the SMARTER system to increase your chances of success, or try something else that you think will work better for you.

If in doubt, just do something — anything! — and correct course as you go. The only sure path to failure is to avoid taking action altogether.

So, who’s in?

P.S. Do me a favor and share this post on whatever social network you fancy. If Twitter is your weapon of choice, it would be super-legendary of you to cc the likes of @independent_ie, @irishexaminer, @IrishTimes, @rte_guide, @SunTimesIreland