‘Success’ has different meanings for different people — fame, fortune, love, money, freedom and so on. The definitions might be different, but the goal is the same – happiness. We believe success will bring us happiness. This success, we imagine, will come after we find our passion.

Most people have an idea of what might help them find their passion and become successful. They follow a tried-and-tested formula to pursue it. Here’s how it goes:

  1. Zero in on a goal.
  2. Read how experts achieved it.
  3. Try everything until something clicks.

There’s just one problem. This formula doesn’t work.


Once in a while, you might get lucky and find a long-term goal worth pursuing. But such instances are rarer than outrage-free days on social media.

For a long time, the above formula was my Bible. But each time I followed it, here’s how my story would unfold.

I picked a goal. I tried many things to achieve it. When I didn’t see quick results, I felt disheartened and quit. Then I found a shiny new goal and history repeated itself.

But I know one thing for sure. I’m not the only one who suffered (suffers?) from this predicament.

Many people experience the futility of the above formula first-hand. Yet, they stick to it. At work, while dating, for personal goals like losing weight or building a business, and so on.

Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. — Albert Einstein.

If above formula is so popular, why doesn’t it work?

Because all we see is the outcome.

The once-overweight-now-healthy friend has already lost weight. The bestselling books we read have already been written. The stand-up comedy events we attend involve artists already good enough to be on stage. The investment experts we see on TV have already made their millions (and billions).

In his book The Talent Code, Daniel Coyle wrote that we think of such people as “exceptional — mysteriously gifted outsiders, destiny-kissed Kids from Nowhere.”

But what we don’t see is how these ‘exceptional’ people got there. Their effort, their sacrifices, pains, failures and tiny victories — everything gets covered under the mythical blanket of being ‘gifted.’

Take the example of renowned Renaissance sculptor Michelangelo. Until he was twenty-four, people knew he held promise. But when he sculpted the Pietà, people suddenly started calling him a genius.

Pieta by Michelangelo
Michelangelo’s Pieta (source)


But Michelangelo begged to differ. “If people knew how hard I had to work to gain my mastery, it would not seem so wonderful at all,” he said.

Here’s how Michelangelo’s life before the Pietà unfolded.

From ages six to ten, he lived with a stonecutter, learning how to handle a hammer and chisel. Then he apprenticed under the great Ghirlandaio where he sketched, copied and prepared frescoes in one of Florence’s largest churches. Next, he got tutored by master sculptor Bertoldo and other luminaries until he was seventeen. At twenty-four, he produced the Pietà.

Doesn’t really sound like a ‘genius’ now does he? Or like someone who had a “Eureka!” moment while searching for his passion.

So how did Michelangelo and all the ‘gifted’ people achieve remarkable expertise and success?

By focusing on what’s important. Their tunnel-vision and relentless focus on this aspect made them accomplish remarkable feats.

When you imbibe these traits in your life, nothing can stop you from achieving your long-term goals.

Whenever you want to achieve something, keep your eyes open, concentrate and make sure you know exactly what it is you want. No one can hit their target with their eyes closed. — Paulo Coelho

Are you feeling a tad bit anxious because you don’t know which tasks are important for you to achieve your goal?

Don’t worry. The rest of this post will show you how to identify and stick to them for the long run.

How to Identify What’s Important

In their book The 4 Disciplines of Execution, the authors elaborate on two types of metrics to measure success — lag measures and lead measures.

Lag measures “record what happened and describe what you’re trying to improve.” They’re outcomes of your actions and spotlight the distance between you and your goals.

For people trying to lose weight, a lag measure is how much weight they lose at the end of a month. For a freelancer, lag measures include the revenue she generated. For an author, it could be how much of the book’s manuscript she completed. For a startup, it’s the number of new users onboard.

Most people focus only on lag measures while pursuing a goal. It’s natural. But it’s also a colossal blunder. Here’s why.

Lag measures don’t change our behavior by much. They merely record how we’ve done. That’s why people do the same things over and over again or do too much without truly understanding what they’re doing.

The result? They make poor progress. They lose focus and turn their attention to other ‘urgent’ things in life. Then they find another goal and, well… déjà vu.

Then there are lead measures. According to the authors of The 4DX, these metrics “influence change and measure behaviors that lead to success on the lag measures.”

For people trying to lose weight, lead measures include their daily calorie intake and exercise duration. For a freelancer, lead measures include the number of leads prospected and proposals sent. For an author, they’re the number of ‘usable’ words written per day. For a startup, they’re the number of daily customers who signed up for the trial offer and more.

Lead measures are the important tasks, the ones you must stick to every day (or week).

Lag measures describe the outcome. Lead measures describe what you must focus on to achieve it.

Lag measures are the destination. Lead measures are the tools to clear a path to get there.

“Anything worth doing is worth doing every day.” — Grant Cardone

5 Steps to Identify and Stick to Lead Measures


Now that you’re convinced about the importance of lead measures, let’s discuss the steps you can take to identify and work on them.

Ready to put in the work? Good. Let’s begin.

a. Set Tiny Goals

“A glorious failure leads to nothing; a petty success may lead to success that is not petty.” — Arnold Bennett

The step of setting goals is where most people falter.

According to research, 92 percent of people fail to achieve their New Year’s Resolutions. It won’t surprise me if the statistics are similar for other goals too.

Why? Because most people want to run before they can stand.

People set outrageous goals for themselves. They want to move mountains, change the course of rivers, or colonize Jupiter (since Elon Musk has already chosen Mars).

But within a week, the sheer size of the project overwhelms them and pushes them over the precipice. The result? They give up.

Don’t try to lose 50 pounds in six months. Focus on losing just five pounds each month. Don’t try to write a 100,000-word manuscript in a year. Focus on writing just 500 words each day. Don’t set a goal to earn $30,000 in a year as a freelancer. Focus on earning your first $1,000.

Start small and scale up from there.

b. Identify Your Lead Measures

Once you set a small goal for yourself, it’s time to figure out which actions will make you achieve it, and set daily targets for them.

For instance, I want to increase the number of my email subscribers. That’s my lag measure. To achieve it, my lead measures are:

Reading a book — 30 pages a day
Writing — 500 words a day
Publishing — twice a week

Setting targets doesn’t just make me focus on what’s important. It also forces me to reduce useless activities like watching television and browsing the web.

But wait. Before you set targets for your lead measures, here’s a caveat.

Just like your goals, you might feel tempted to set outrageous targets (remember colonizing Jupiter?). Be careful. If you give into this temptation, you’ll set yourself up for failure even before you begin.

Instead, set ‘just manageable’ targets — ones that push you close to the edge of your competence.

“You don’t want to be succeeding 40 percent of the times. That’s flailing. You don’t want to be succeeding 95 percent of the time. That’s too easy. You want to constantly be toggling, adjusting the environment so that you’re succeeding 60 to 80 percent of the time.” — Daniel Coyle

c. Track Your Progress

“What gets measured gets managed.” — Peter Drucker.

Don’t dust your hands after setting targets. That’s just ten percent of the work. Tracking and sticking to these targets is the remaining 90 percent.

Here’s why.

Despite setting the right goals and having the right intent, chances are you’ll lose track of what you do. Because, well… life. And each time you lose track, restarting demands twice the effort.

When you track your goals, you win in the long run because of two reasons.

One, you remain on course to achieve your goals.

Two, you achieve small wins.

Each time you reach your daily (and weekly) goal, you experience a small win. These wins wield an influence almost as disproportionate as achieving the victory itself.

A Cornell professor wrote that “small wins are steady applications of a small advantage. Once a small win has been accomplished, forces are set in motion that favor another small win.”

Small wins make Newton’s first law kick in. When you keep doing what’s important, you put yourself in motion. The result is momentum, which is more important than talent or hard work to achieve your goals.

“It doesn’t matter whether you win by an inch or a mile. Winning’s winning.” — Dominic Toretto

d. Accept Bad Days

“On particularly rough days when I’m sure I can’t possibly endure, I like to remind myself that my track record for getting through bad days so far is 100 percent and that’s pretty good.” — Unknown

You wish for things to go as planned. You wish negative feelings didn’t exist.

But here’s some news for you. They will exist no matter what you do. On some days, all hell will break loose.

Just like a year has as many nights as days, life has enough moments of sadness and joy. If your life has no moments of sadness, anxiety or anger, happiness will lose its meaning.

You’ll experience negative feelings. But how much you let these feelings affect you… well, that’s up to you.

You can let these experiences eat away at your self-esteem. You can believe that the universe had conspired against you. And wallow in self-pity.

Or, you can learn from these days. You can examine what went wrong, what you could’ve done better, and how you’ll apply those lessons in the future.

The more you accept adversity, the stronger you become. You train your mind to choose positive thoughts over negative ones. And this is mankind’s greatest weapon against stress.

e. Enjoy Yourself

“Turn the work into a kind of game, in which you focus closely on each aspect and try to figure out how to make it better.” — Mihaly Csíkzsentmihály

Even the most productive person will lose focus.

How long can you keep exercising mindlessly? Or work on customer feedback without getting distracted by a feature your competitor has added? Or on your manuscript without getting tempted to do something ‘more fun’?

‘Fun’ is the key here.

The human mind loves to play. According to research, play offers cognitive benefits like improved memory, enhanced learning skills and creative problem-solving. It also offers social benefits like cooperation, team building and controlling impulses.

Bring back the ‘play’ in your life. Stop being serious and start having fun.

Here are two ways to do it.

One, think about how you can gamify each lead measure. Experiment with food types to identify the ones that help you lose weight faster. Experiment with writing at different times of the day. Conduct small experiments to optimize your output and reach your daily targets quicker.

Two, give yourself small rewards each time you achieve your targets. For instance, you can reward yourself with an episode of Game of Thrones after you’ve met your calorie and exercise target. You can browse Instagram for thirty minutes after you’ve written your targeted number of words for the day.

Small rewards set off dopamine — the pleasure-seeking chemical — in our brain. When the brain yearns for such feelings again, we push ourselves to return to the important task. And we can enjoy ‘time wasting’ rewards without feeling guilty.

Bringing It Home

You might be searching for your passion. But passion keeps changing. What you’re really looking for is meaning.

Meaning doesn’t come after you’ve reached your destination. It comes when you embark on the journey towards improvement. It comes when you focus on what’s important.

This involves a lot of time and effort. Many people can’t put in either. So they give up midway or at the beginning itself.

Giving up is easy. But easy never made you better. And it never made you feel good about yourself. Challenging yourself to be a little better than yesterday – that’s what makes you better and happier. It makes you the person you want to become. It makes you the go-to person when the going gets tough.

Arm yourself with the right tools to become that person. Use them every day.

You deserve the life you want to live. But you’ve got to go out there and build it for yourself.

originally appeared on aryatra.com