Is it Better to Focus on Achieving the Goal or on Having Achieved it?

Strategist, coach and author, Tony Inman discusses effective goal-setting

A friend asked this question of me today:

I need some help. I recently read a report where it was postulated it is better to use positive action statements, rather than self-fulfilment statements.
I am (doing this – motivation)
I will (be doing this – commitment)

rather than
I have (done this – visualisation)

The reason is the sub-conscious cannot differentiate between actual and visualised outcomes, so the pleasure derived from the visualised achievement will go a long way towards satisfying your desire to reach your goal.
Your ability and drive to really get to your goal will be lessened. This leads to many failing to achieve their goals and not being overly disappointed because their emotional experience had been largely satisfied.

The report was related to self esteem vs self acceptance and better ways to achieve your goals.

I would love your comments on this, as a motivator and coach.


It seems that the fundamental question here is whether imagining yourself ‘having already achieved’ the goal, rather than imagining yourself actively ‘going through the process of achieving it’, would lessen your drive and motivation to follow through with the actions required for you to get the result.

I’ll just put in my disclaimer here that I’m not a psychologist, but I am a coach and business owner with many years of experience in helping people to find the motivation to set and achieve goals.

Let’s look at a couple of examples…

Goal-setting made easier by strategist Tony Inman1. Athletes who aspire to win gold at the Olympics are taught to imagine in both realms. They are firstly instructed to visualise crossing the finish line at the front of the pack.

Then they are coached to imagine themselves standing on the dais with the gold medal around their neck.

Using NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming) techniques they are taught to bring all of the senses to bear on both of these constructs, i.e. in the former case (doing) to see the finish line; to hear the cheers of the crowd; to smell the grass of the stadium; to feel the rhythm of their moving body; to taste perhaps the adrenalin in their saliva (?) or perhaps the taste of victory (!).

In the latter case (having done) they might see themselves standing on the dais (probably in the third person (disassociated); hear the applause and the national anthem; smell the flowers of the winner’s bouquet; feel the pride and joy of their achievement; and taste the dryness of the lump in their throat as they think of their loved ones rejoicing at their triumph.

In this example, the sports coaches prepare the athletes for victory by imagining as vividly as possible, both the process and the outcome.


Buying a home is a great example of goal-setting in action2. My partner and I recently bought a house in the hills even though the odds seemed stacked against us. We had begun looking but weren’t ready to buy as we didn’t have our ‘ducks in a row’.

From the moment I saw the property, I knew that we would somehow achieve our goal of buying it. The real estate agent had featured a walk-through video of the home on the internet advert. As soon as my partner took that virtual tour she said, “I want that house”.

Here’s the interesting difference though between our house purchase and the gold medal winners. We focused more on imagining the ‘having done’. We didn’t have to focus so much on imagining the ‘doing’, because I just worked through the process of doing it and got on with it. That said, there were still stages of the process that required some visualised mini-outcomes on the way to the endgame, but they couldn’t really be imagined in such great detail because we didn’t know who the ‘opponents ‘would be.

For example, we didn’t know who the broker would be, because the first broker we approached told us to forget it and that there was no way we could get the finance – that just made me more determined to prove him wrong. We didn’t know who the lender would be – it ended up being a bank we had never previously used. We didn’t know the vendors, at least until we had met them and befriended them.

What we did do however, was to develop our belief that we would make this dream come true, whatever it took. I printed out a photo of the home and hung it up above and to the right of my PC, so that my sub-conscious mind would go to work on making it happen. It’s the same reason I use a vision board, which is a wish list or bucket list of wishes and dreams that I intend to turn from a concept to a reality.

At every stage, I planned what needed to take place to get us to the next step in the process and I pushed myself to chase up that mini-outcome – e.g. gathering the financial information that the broker would need and responding to his requests as rapidly as possible; keeping the vendor’s agent informed at every step; preparing our units for sale and chasing up our agent to find the buyers we needed as quickly as possible; double-checking that all of the players in the game, from real estate agents to settlement agents to finance people had received everything that they needed to keep the process moving along as it needed to. I was like a dog with a bone. I never assumed that anyone had passed on their piece of the puzzle to the next player – I called; I cc’d them in emails; I spoke with them and I made sure that they had what they needed.

Meanwhile, my partner, Joanne began visualising which of our possessions would go in which rooms in the house; which paintings would hang where; and what missing pieces we might need to buy.

Together, we discussed and imagined what it would be like once we had taken possession of our new home. We imagined ourselves sitting on the decking, enjoying the taste of a glass of red wine at sunset as we took in a spectacular Perth sunset. We heard the stillness of the gentle breeze and the slight swaying of the plethora of trees around us. We felt the touch of sparkling water in the swimming pool and we imagined ourselves entertaining our friends who would come and stay over in our guest rooms at weekends.

The strength of this vision was so powerful that we were able to navigate the many obstacles we encountered on that three months’ journey from discovering the property to owning it.


To go back to my friend’s question, in both examples we see the practical application of both the positive active and the self-fulfilment intentions.

The athlete uses:

I am winning the race (doing this– motivation)


I will be receiving the medal (be doing this – commitment)


I have won the race and am now standing on the dais (done this – visualisation)


We home-buyers used:

We are buying this home (doing the processes to get the finance – motivation)


We will be selling our units and packing up our possessions (be doing this – commitment)


We have bought the home and are now drinking wine on the deck as the sun sets (done this – visualisation).


In conclusion, my response is that the question is not ‘Should I use one method or the other?’ but should rather be ‘How can I best stack the odds in my favour of achieving this goal?’

Here’s an interesting twist to the techniques…

When the Manchester United football team were about to win or lose the European Cup Final in 1999 against Bayern Munich of Germany, the brilliant man-manager and team coach, Sir Alex Ferguson inspired his players to go out and give everything they had got to win the match with some clever psychology.

Inspired goal-settingHe told his players that as they went out onto the pitch they would have to walk past that trophy, mounted on a stand on the touchline. He pointed out that they needed to imagine how bad it would feel if, at the end of the game, they would have to walk past it again knowing that it was that close, but that they would have to watch the other team experience the joy of picking up that trophy instead of them. He asked them not to let that happen and he reminded them that on this night of destiny, they had the chance to make history by finalising an incredible treble of League Champions, FA Cup Winners and now European Champions. They went one-nil down. With incredible determination, they equalised in the last minute of the game, when the other team’s ribbons had already been tied on the trophy by the off-pitch officials. Then in a moment of sublime brilliance they won the match with practically the last kick of the game and they made history.

To achieve your goals you need: inspiration; motivation; visualisation and commitment. Of course, having a great coach can really clinch it for you, so that you both engage in positive action and achieve self-fulfilment. If you’d like to discuss your dreams and goals with someone who can help, feel free to contact me here. Seize the day!

by Tony Inman

TONY INMAN is the CEO of Club Red Inspiration. An entrepreneur who has set up over 20 businesses, Tony is a business, life and mindset coach, consultant, mentor, presenter and trainer. A former mentor at Curtin University’s Centre for Entrepreneur-ship, he has coached hundreds of business owners and executives across the globe. Tony is the author of several books including ‘If Life’s Worth Doing, It’s Worth Doing Well.’ He is passionate about helping people to fulfil their potential and follow their dreams.

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