How to Set Goals You Actually Achieve (and love along the way) | Jon Acuff

Jon Acuff

How do you think about goals, and achieving things that really matter to you? If you’re like most people, the answer is – you don’t. And when you do, you’re clouded by confusion, overwhelm and a history littered with the ghosts of failure that don’t exactly make you feel awesome about yourself.

What if you could look back on your life and pinpoint the moments and accomplishments that brought you the most joy? And, learn from them. Could rediscovering these peak experiences guide you towards your best future self?

My guest today is Jon Acuff, New York Times bestselling author of the new book All It Takes Is A Goal: The 3-Step Plan to Ditch Regret and Tap Into Your Massive Potential.

Jon is on a mission to help people set and achieve goals they love. He believes the key is ditching external pressures and connecting with what truly lights you up inside. As one of INC’s Top 100 Leadership Speakers, Jon has spoken to hundreds of thousands of people worldwide, bringing humor and practical wisdom to unleashing your potential. And he’s developed and tested a goal-attainment methodology that’s been tested and refined by thousands of people over many years. One that not only delivers consistent results, but that also brings joy and ease and success to the process.

We talk about the role of joy rather than trauma in goal-setting, how fun needs to be a part of it, and how to choose the right “fuel” instead of burning out on fear and crisis. I’ve been studying and building frameworks for achievement and contentment for years and I learned so much in this conversation, where Jon will have you asking: how can I turn up the joy while reaching for my dreams?

You can find Jon at: Website | Instagram | All It Takes Is A Goal podcast

If you LOVED this episode:

Check out our offerings & partners: 

photo credit: Jeremy Cowart


Episode Transcript:

Jon Acuff: [00:00:00] I feel like a goal is the best non-habit-producing, non-addictive form of happiness. Like I rarely meet somebody where I go, hey, I think you could try that and they try it for a month, or they try it for three months and they go, yeah, pursuing that goal made me sadder. Like usually they come back and go, I tried this one thing and it turned into this second thing and this third thing. Start with a fun goal. What would that look like if you gave yourself permission? Don’t make it something really difficult right out of the gate. Make it something you enjoy, because I want you to learn the rhythm of a goal, and then you can do all sorts of types of goals. Once you’re like, nah, I can do this thing. I want to help you find a goal you love so much it makes Netflix boring.


Jonathan Fields: [00:00:40] So how do you think about goals and achieving things that really matter to you? If you’re like most people, the answer is you don’t. And when you do, you’re clouded by confusion and overwhelm and probably a history littered with the ghosts of failure that don’t exactly make you feel awesome about yourself. What if you could look back on your life and pinpoint the moments and accomplishments that brought you the most joy, and learn from them, and then use them to rediscover these peak experiences to guide you towards your best future self. My guest today is an old friend, Jon Acuff, New York Times best-selling author of the new book, All It Takes Is a Goal. The three-step plan to ditch regret and tap into your massive potential. Jon is on a bit of a mission to help people set and achieve goals they love. He believes the key is ditching external pressures and truly connecting with what lights you up inside. And as one of Inc’s top 100 leadership speakers, he has spoken to hundreds of thousands of people worldwide, bringing humor and practical wisdom to unleashing your potential. And he’s developed and tested a goal methodology that has been refined by thousands of people over so many goals literally around the world for years, one that not only delivers consistent results, but also brings joy and ease and success to the experience along the way. And we talk about the role of joy rather than trauma and goal setting. We explore how fun needs to be a part of it and how to choose the quote right fuel. Instead of burning out on fear and crisis, I have been studying and building frameworks for achievement, goals, and contentment for years, and I learned so much from this conversation where Jon will have you asking, how can I turn up the joy while reaching for my dreams? So excited to share this conversation with you! I’m Jonathan Fields and this is Good Life Project.


Jonathan Fields: [00:02:43] Last time we were hanging out together was actually I was living in New York City. We were in my apartment and it was 2015, so too many years have gone by. You were on the road a lot, as you often are, and even back then, I remember your mind wraps around achievement in really interesting ways. It’s, you know, whether you call it striving or potential or possibility or goals like this universe of what am I capable of? It’s a part of your DNA, almost. And we’re going to dive into some of the ideas around that, of course, but I’m just increasingly curious, like, why? Where does this come from in you?


Jon Acuff: [00:03:22] Well, I think there’s been times in my life where it came from an unhealthy place of like, I want to prove myself, or I’m trying to fix something that I think is broken. But over the years it switched to less of I’m trying to fix something that’s broken, and now it’s I’m trying to open the gifts I have. So, you know, that’s kind of that reframed it for me where, you know, because you get to a certain place where you’re like, I, I don’t want to have a goal that’s motivated to try to prove something. I don’t want to have a goal where I’m trying to show I’m a certain way, or look a certain way, or have a certain amount of influence to feel a certain way, and you go, what’s the real reason I would do it? And so for me, there’s only a couple things I do that with writings. One of them, like I love to write, speaking is one of them. I told somebody the other day, I spend my entire year to get on stage 50 times for 45 minutes, so I trade like 365 days a year for like 45 hours. And I feel like that’s a great trait because I love to do it. So the older I’ve gotten, the more it’s become about, okay, what can I do? How can I encourage myself? How can I encourage other people? And it just for me, I feel like a goal is the best non-habit producing non-addictive form of happiness. Like I rarely meet somebody where I go, hey, I think you could try that and they try it for a month, or they try it for three months and they go, yeah, pursuing that goal made me sadder.


Jon Acuff: [00:04:45] Like usually they come back and go, I tried this one thing and it turned into the second thing and this third thing. So the origin of it though was I’m mid-30s, I’m pretty depressed. I’m pretty stuck. I’ve reached a career ladder. There’s nowhere else to go. We have two young kids. Jenny’s stressed. I’ve jumped jobs eight times in 12 years. I’m just jumping, jumping, jumping and I start blogging. And what happened was I didn’t get more discipline because I’m smart. I didn’t get more persistent because I’ve got good willpower. I just discovered something I loved and I wanted to throw more time at it. So, like, the line I sometimes use is I want to help you find a goal you love so much it makes Netflix boring. So that’s what I’m trying to tap into more of now is wow, goals did that for me. Can they do it for other people? And so I get excited about that and I get excited about can I test this? Can I experiment? So now I feel like a lot of it is pursued out of. I think there’s a lot of joy in the pursuit of a goal, and I love that joy. And I want to do it more in my own life, and I want to see other people do it too.


Jonathan Fields: [00:05:45] So you fold the pursuit of goals into like, you almost organically attach a goal to something that’s pulling you from ahead, rather than pushing you from behind, something that you innately are driven to want to say yes to. And it just like it gives structure to it. I don’t think everybody makes that association. I think, like a lot of people almost look at goals as, okay, so, you know, like I’m in sales, you know, I’ve got like my monthly quota. Or when I was a kid, I had to get like X, Y and Z or I had to bring home an A, I had to do this thing. And it was a have to. And you learned how to put your head down and make it happen. But I feel like so many of us, by the time we hit like the middle years of our lives, have negative associations with this.


Jon Acuff: [00:06:29] Yeah. And I’ve had to work to help people find a different word for them, because some people do have a lot of baggage about goals, like they had an overbearing parent, they had a teacher that, you know, they had a drill sergeant, whatever. And so I’ll say, what about a project? What if we call it a project instead? What if we call it I don’t really care what people call it. They call it an intention, an agreement that, you know, whatever it is. But for me, I just see it’s it’s a really fun, easy vehicle. So an example of that would be after Covid, I realized, man, I just feel lonely, like I the joke I sometimes do is like, I know I’m lonely when I overtalk the UPS guy. Like when he’s like, I’m like, hey, hey, how are the kids? How’s Pam? And he’s like, dude, I want to leave this box. That’s the end of our relationship. I’d like to leave. And so I was like, I need I want to connect to people differently. I want to be a better friend. But that’s really fuzzy. So my brain does go pretty quickly to, okay, so what do we do with that? How do we make that real? What does that look like? I think about my brain like a rock tumbler. Like it’s a bunch of different ideas in there just tumbling around. And if I feed it enough ideas, eventually something smooth comes out. And so it was like, well, what if you encourage one person a day for 30 days in a row, like just encourage somebody? And so I made a list of my friends to make it easy.


Jon Acuff: [00:07:40] It’s another one of my big things is how do I make it easier? And so I was like, I know if I try to every morning think of a friend, that’ll be overwhelming. So I’m going to go through my phone, I’m going to make a list of 30 people. And so then I just started sending text messages like to mutual friends like Jeremy Cowart. I said, Jeremy, every time I think about creativity, I think of you like, man, it’s so, you know, like, it’s so fun to know you or hey, Brad, I was thinking about, you know, that time we went to the football game like, they weren’t long. I didn’t write letters. That would have been overwhelming and complicated. And 90% of people, like no one said. I wish you hadn’t told me that today. Today was the worst day to tell me that 90% of them said, you have no idea how much I needed that today. And so then I was like, oh wow, I was a better friend. At the end of that. Like, I felt connected to people and coffees came out of that. So I like to take desires and go, I have this desire. What’s a vehicle that will get me closer to that desire? How can I do it? How can I live it out? And I think people have a hard time with desire. I think a lot of us are divorced from desire. We don’t know how to express it. We say things we think we should like instead of things we actually do like. And so I like taking a real desire and then making it tangible for me to actually accomplish it.


Jonathan Fields: [00:08:53] That makes a lot of sense. I mean, it’s interesting when you talk about the word desire also, because I agree, a lot of us do have some form of negative association with the word. And I think in part because depending on your upbringing, your community, your culture, like whatever your beliefs are, there are often sets of teachings or ideas that kind of say, desire is bad. Yeah. You know, a lot of Eastern tradition depends how you translate it. But there is a notion that desire is a form of attachment. And attachment, especially to like a particular end is a bad thing. This is where suffering comes from in life. So we should dissociate ourselves with both the outcome and the feeling along the way, and just show up and be here and embrace and be grateful for what we have, and be grateful for every breath, every step along the way. And it’s always struck me as interesting because I often wonder, is that a false dichotomy? Like, do we really? Is it an either or thing, or can it be a yes and thing?


Jon Acuff: [00:09:52] I don’t think it’s an either or. I think the older I get, the more I hold two opposite beliefs in my hands at the same time. And I learn kind of the maturity of gray areas where I go, yeah, like I had somebody say to me, well, what do you say about all these leaders who have lived into their potential and chased all their desires and they’ve wrecked their lives? And I would say, well, I don’t think that you have to. I think you can fully open your gifts and fully be connected to the present. I think you can desire other things and still appreciate the moment. Like, for me, I don’t think it’s either or. And I also my background, my faith tradition. Growing up as a Christian, there were kind of teachings like being successful is against the teachings of Jesus, and then you actually read the Bible and it’s full of like, no, ask and knock and receive. And, you know, like your desires are too small, like go all in. So for me, I really had to go, okay, I’m going to be brave enough to desire. And if it leads to suffering, I think that’s a good suffering. My goal isn’t the elimination of me having suffering like my goal is to be vulnerable enough to have a desire. To me, desire takes vulnerability. Like I know like when I’m cynical, I’m not expressing desire when I’m being too cool. I’m not expressing desire. But like for me to go, man, I that thing I want, I really wanted that thing to work.


Jon Acuff: [00:11:11] And it just didn’t work like it didn’t come through. Not that I go, I didn’t desire it. So I don’t feel the suffering. I’d much rather go, man. I poured everything I had and it just didn’t work. And I’m gonna process that and I’m going to grow from that. I’m going to learn from that. But I don’t see that type of suffering as a negative thing. So I think you can be fully content and fully hopeful for other things. I don’t think that a desire has to be selfish. I don’t think that it has to be you taking something from somebody else. I don’t, you know, I have a ton of desires for my kids. I’m also very content with where they are, like I have desires for them. And you open yourself up to tremendous suffering when you have a kid, but it comes with tremendous love. Like that’s one of the hardest things is when a friend is mean to them, or they don’t get into a college or something like they get hurt. But I would never trade that for the feeling of the love I get with these kids. So I think that’s an example of two things in this, you know, two opposite things in your hands. Tremendous love you open yourself up to with a kid, but also the potential for tremendous pain. But I wouldn’t trade it.


Jonathan Fields: [00:12:16] Yeah. So agree with that. I started I don’t know where it popped into my head. I started using the phrase a couple of years back. Grateful, yearning. Yeah, you can yearn for something. Yeah. And also be grateful for what you have and where you are and who you like. Everything that is with you in the moment, at the same time. But that doesn’t mean like one doesn’t subvert the other. You know, you can be grateful and be present and love and still want something different, or still want something more, still aspire. To a different state or place or outcome.


Jon Acuff: [00:12:45] I’m not done like I just don’t. So people will say like, okay, well, when did you know you’d arrived? And I always feel like, I don’t agree with that.


Jonathan Fields: [00:12:52] Do we ever?


Jon Acuff: [00:12:53] No. Like, I want to keep writing. I want to keep having these conversations. Like that’s where you and I overlap on. A lot of the things we believe about is, okay, there wouldn’t be an amount of money where you would stop being curious, like, I know you, you know, I mean, we haven’t seen each other in a while, but I know you well enough that there wouldn’t be an amount of money that somebody could pay for your curiosity where you would go, okay, I got the amount. I’m done with curiosity. Like for you. You want to arrive at the end of curiosity. So that doesn’t mean you’re discontent. It means you’re curious. It means you’re interested. It means you’re alive. So, yeah, I just think that’s a really fun way to live. And it’s not to say that I can’t get stuck. Like, I can get insecure. I can chase things for the wrong reason. Like I’m capable of all that. It’s a daily thing. It’s not like I figured it out and now I’m moving on. I can see myself miss opportunities or get jealous when somebody else gets one, and I have to kind of pause and go, what am I doing? But I just think I love grateful yearning 100%.


Jonathan Fields: [00:13:50] Yeah, a lot of people know, um, researchers no longer with us. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, who really became known as he coined the phrase flow and did a lot of research as a social scientist around this state of flow. But part of his research also was studying where that showed that people are at their happiest, not when they’re kicking back and doing nothing, not when they’re on the couch and watching TV, but when they’re aspiring towards something that is meaningful to them, when they’re actually exerting effort. And it’s counterintuitive because a lot of people are like, I’m going to work my whole life till I get to that point where I get to do nothing. Yeah. And it turns out that research shows that is actually our least happiest state, even though we think that maybe that’s the thing we’re working towards. That’s when things tumble into a dark place in life for a lot of people. So we’re there’s something in us as just beings that is wired to aspire. And that, again, that doesn’t mean in a dominance-oriented way or exploitative-oriented way or like it’s got to be connected to something that’s genuinely like, meaningful to us. But there is something in most people that says we flourish more as human beings when we are striving towards something and we give.


Jon Acuff: [00:15:06] More and we’re engaged more and we’re present more. And the research shows that. But so do every conversation I have with a 68-year-old who’s back in the workforce. You know, like sometimes when you speak at events, you get a car service, like the client will have a car service. And I would say 50% of them are men in their late 60s, that early 70s. They go, yeah, I was a machine shop owner for 20 years, 30 years. I retired, we tried the Florida thing, we tried the me watching and Law and Order all day thing. We tried. The golf thing didn’t work. I miss people and I miss purpose. So now, like this is a fun thing for me. I get to go all over my city, I get to drive and they go, I came for a second chapter. I came for a second thing. So yeah, I really do agree with that. And I think that’s a again, like I’m 48, so I’ve got years left hopefully. But I’m not thinking about what’s the end where I stop writing or I stop whatever. I think things will change, but I hope I’m still curious and I’m still engaged and I still have purpose. I heard a phrase once and somebody said, you need to find your right kind of difficult. And I love that phrase because for me, books are my right, kind of difficult. Now where I get in trouble is when I try somebody else’s right. Kind of difficult. So, for instance, I’m not built to run a business. I get very little joy from that. And where I get stuck is when somebody goes, you’re leaving money on the table, you got to do this, this and this and this.


Jon Acuff: [00:16:27] You could scale da da da da da da da. And I always go back. There’s this great section of a book that Bill Watterson, the comic creator of Calvin and Hobbes, they ask him, they’re like, why didn’t you ever merchandise your stuff? Which is crazy if you think about it. He would have made tens of millions of dollars if he merchandised calendars, stuffed animals like you think for a second. Go, oh, that’s right, there’s no cartoon. There’s no live-action movie, there’s no stickers. He never licensed anything. And he said, when you do that, you change from being an illustrator into a factory foreman. You now run a factory. And I didn’t get into this to run a factory. I got into it to create the story that I felt called to create, even if it cost me tens of millions of dollars. And I love that approach. And so I know I’m taking steps away from my thing when I start trying to do things that really aren’t meant for me. And I can tell it almost immediately, and I’ll still chase it occasionally my poor wife will be like, who did you have coffee with? Now you think you need to scale? Like, who was it? Which CEO? Like who was it? And she’s like, go hang out with artists more. Go hang out with writers. I’m like, okay, you’re right, you’re right. So I think we can all kind of figure that out to some degree.


Jonathan Fields: [00:17:35] Yeah, I mean, it’s that blend of the right aspiration and the right hard thing which generally go hand in hand, you know, but the law can. Be. So when when you see that it’s possible, when you see that there’s something out there and something the little voice in your head says, I’m capable of doing that. Yeah, it’s really hard to then say, but it’s actually not for me.


Jon Acuff: [00:17:56] Well, the little voice to me, it says I’m capable, but it changes the negative and goes smarter. People would be able to figure it out. You should do that. If you don’t do that, you’re going to be in a green room someday and somebody’s going to go, how big is your team? You want to say three people? Wouldn’t you rather say 50? Like the negative kind of that comes in too. So the voice that comes in and goes, it’s not only capable, but you should do it. You have to do it. Great people do it. Other people would be able to figure it out, and I have to pause in that moment and go, ah, I think that’s my insecurity. I think I’m chasing something that’s not meant for me. And the other thing that’s not easy is that people will tell you it is easy. People come up to me all the time and go, no, like, you just do this. It’s pretty simple, like you just why don’t you do it? And and the best example I have of that is business owners who hate writing books, who use ghostwriters will tell me, why are you writing so much? And I look at them and go, well, that’s my thing, right?


Jonathan Fields: [00:18:51] It’s like what I do, it’s what I do.


Jon Acuff: [00:18:53] Like, you hate it, I love it. So I can’t take your advice because your goal is to do it as little as possible. And you hired a ghostwriter, and I know some amazing ghostwriters. That’s not a criticism. That’s just a different thing. You’re playing a different game. I’d be like somebody who plays in the NBA, going to somebody who plays golf and go, why aren’t you dunking more? You should be dunking more. And they’re like, but I, I’m playing golf. That’s my whole thing. Like just because they’re both sports. And so I have to be careful about that. That’s what I run into sometimes. Yeah.


Jonathan Fields: [00:19:20] No. Same exact thing. As funny as you using the example of like being in the green room, I had an immediate flashback to a conversation. It was a small gathering of just wildly accomplished founders and entrepreneurs that I was at last year. And during a break, we’re kind of like, there are a bunch of us kind of like standing around and one of them who is wealthier than I would ever dream of, like, I mean wildly accomplished and genuinely like nice human being. Also, he kind of goes around just out of curiosity. He’s like, I’m so curious, you know, like I’m starting to learn about all your different businesses, how big your teams. And everyone’s going around like 25 people, 50 people, 100 people, 17 people. And I was like, how big is your team? I was like one person. And it was the exact opposite of everything. I expected to come out of this person’s mouth. And the person was like, really proud of this. And I was like, I’m at a point now like, I don’t want more than that. Like, this is, this is my good life. Yeah. And that that’s great. That like, you all have like all these massive teams and, and it comes with complexity and lets you do all these amazing things.


Jonathan Fields: [00:20:22] But it comes with stress and complexity and all this stuff. And that’s not like your you just described. That wasn’t this person’s hard thing or aspiration at that moment in time. Yeah. I want to get into some of your methodology, because you have been dipping into the process of exploring and achievement and striving towards and completing goals for, for literally as long as I’ve known you in different forms and different shapes, teaching and inviting people into community. The new book, which really focuses on a methodology and the way that I haven’t seen you lay it out this way, all it takes is a goal, and certainly in the opening pages, you sort of throw down a gauntlet and you take on a little bit of a sacred cow, which is this notion of like vision walls, things like this, which has become really popular as like the make it visual, but everything you dream of, like up on this thing, put it up on. That is the thing that is going to, quote, motivate you to actually make this thing happen, or depending on your sort of metaphysical belief systems, that will be the manifestation source that will like make these things, you know, almost magically present in your lives. You don’t really buy into that.


Jon Acuff: [00:21:30] I don’t buy into the idea. I think we’ve misinterpreted great ideas like Stephen Covey’s Begin with the end in mind, because from my practical experience of teaching people about goals for the last decade, there’s a lot of people, myself included, that if you go, hey, what’s your long term plan? Tell me the end. Like, what do you want to do ten years from now? It’s a paralyzing question. I don’t know. I have to know that before I start. I just wanted to try a little blog and see what happened. I just wanted to, you know, like, I really like flowers. I want to get into flowers. And that’s as far as I’ve. And so I don’t like the pressure, the okay, you have to have a perfect vision for a year from now, two years from now, five years from now, that’s what I disagree with. And so for me, I stopped on that and I was like, why does everybody teach that? Because it doesn’t work to the people I’m teaching. Like if I sit down with somebody who’s overwhelmed or feels stuck and I go, oh, you feel stuck, you just got to have a plan for the next ten years. What’s it? And they go, I don’t know what’s going to happen this weekend. I definitely don’t know. I didn’t see Covid coming. I couldn’t have predicted that. I have to predict the future. And so what I like to do instead, and that’s the methodology for me, was what lights you up. I feel like one of my core beliefs right now is we’re obsessed with sadness and trauma.


Jon Acuff: [00:22:45] Like, I personally believe that 20 years ago, nobody talked about their feelings. And like every other overreaction we went from never to all we talk about is sadness and trauma. The study I quoted was for every 100 scientific studies on sadness, there’s only one on joy. And as somebody who likes to take the counterintuitive approach, especially if it’s working with the people they’re working with, I go, man, I think joy has value because I’ve gone to every type of counseling, like I’ve gone to marriage counseling, individual counseling, group counseling, like, you know, extensive whatever. And there were so much of the well, let’s just talk about trauma. And very rarely would somebody go, hey, what lights you up? Let’s study your joys. Let’s study your past. Even we say things like, don’t look back, you’re not going that direction. So I was curious from a counterintuitive perspective of what if I looked at my past? What if I gave myself permission to think about the things that light me up? Is there a lesson there? Is there something I could learn there? And that’s what was so surprising about writing this book, was how rich the experience of looking back is, and what it does to set you up for looking forward. So I was fine to look forward, but first I had to do that part, because then I felt like I had a roadmap to actually look forward versus just this intimidating vision wall of I have to figure out my life before I start.


Jonathan Fields: [00:24:01] Yeah, I mean, it’s interesting also because I think so often when we either are tasked with or task ourselves with looking back, often it’s in search of what are the things that have in some way broken me, that have in some way led me, and not that it’s completely unimportant to revisit those and identify them and process them in a healthy and supported way, 100%. But so often when we look back, that is largely the reason that we do it.


Jon Acuff: [00:24:28] Now. We look for the skeleton key. And I’ve done this and I think there’s value there. I would never tell somebody, don’t process your trauma. Like, of course, but I think we sometimes look for it as the skeleton key to the future and the pain hurts. So we go, if I can find the one thing and then turn the dial, get the key, the rest of my life will work. Like if I can go back and find that one situation with my dad, or that one situation with whoever, then it’ll. And so what I wanted to do is say, okay, I wanted to give my head and my heart permission to go back through my history and go, what were the things that lit me up the most? What were my best moments? So all I did was write a piece of paper that said Best moments. And I started to collect them and I was overwhelmed by it. Taught me gratitude. Like everybody says, gratitude is important. And I always go, well, okay, but how do I do it? And all of a sudden I was grateful. And then it was like, man, I’m really self-aware because when you ask your head in your heart to look in your past for joy, they automatically start looking in your present.


Jon Acuff: [00:25:24] You start to go, I’m in a best moment right now. I’m going to add this to the list. So it started to really change how I thought. And then the cool thing was I was able to go. Well, what does this mean for the future? Because what happened is everyone who took this exercise and I did it with hundreds of people. They’d always write more than I told them to write. I’d go do 30 and they’d do 100. They’d do 200. So it was like an exercise you really get into. And then everyone had the same response where they go, I want more of this, I want more. And that’s where a goal to me is such a great vehicle because you go, man, these are the things that lit me up. And there are some things I left off the list. Like, for me, the only times I mentioned skiing on my list was when I was by myself, and it was a great reminder that I’m actually more of an introvert than I let on. People think I’m an extrovert because I stand on stage, but that’s an introverted activity in my opinion, because I’m the only one with the mic. It’s not a conversation like you talk about controlling a scene like I control that scene.


Jon Acuff: [00:26:18] A panel is 100 times harder for me than a keynote. I can do a 90-minute keynote all day, a half-hour panel. That’s extroverted to me because it’s conversation. The list just started to teach me about what I really care about, and then it flips into I want to put more of that in my life. And that’s where goals go. Cool. Let’s let’s make that happen. Like those joys, some of them that were accidental, let’s make them happen on purpose, you know. All right. Cool. And then like, what’s not on the list? Let’s stop doing that. If you wrote 100 things you love and something you’re spending a lot of time doing right now didn’t make a cameo. Your heart just said, like, hey, just want to be clear, we don’t love this. We stopped loving it like ten years ago. We’re still doing it. It kind of reminds me of, like in a marriage. Sometimes it’ll happen. You’ll have old couple friends and you’ll hang out with the couple, and you think you’re doing it for your wife, and she thinks she’s doing it for you. And then, like, finally, in a moment of honesty, as you leave a terrible dinner.


Jonathan Fields: [00:27:11] Nobody relates to that at all, right? Yeah.


Jon Acuff: [00:27:13] They go, I can’t go to dinner with those people anymore. And your spouse goes, oh, I was doing that for you. And you go, no, I was doing it for you. And that it’s like this moment where you go, we’re freed. We never have to go to dinner with those people again. Neither one of us loves that. Like, great. So I just feel like that’s what was fun about this list, is that it gave me so many insights into how I wanted to live the rest of my life.


Jonathan Fields: [00:27:37] Yeah, here’s my question about that. And this all makes sense to me. What I’m wondering is, because you’ve done this with so many people now, have you had the experience of sharing this exercise with somebody and then them going off to create the list and coming back hours later, days later, whatever it may be saying, Jon, I really tried, like I really racked my brain. I sat with this, I went for walks. I was like, all this different stuff. I went all the way back to when I was, you know, six years old, and you told me like, let’s do 30 or 40, whatever it may be. And I literally only have like a small handful of these things, like, what’s wrong with this? What’s wrong with me?


Jon Acuff: [00:28:14] Yeah, definitely 100%. And I wouldn’t trust anybody who said the opposite. You know, like, I listen to a business book the other day, and I was like, the person’s fifth business book. And they had written over a period of like 30 years, and they had a Q&A section in the back of the book. And one of the questions was, did any of your new research disprove your original research? And he said, no, not at all. It actually proved it even stronger. And I was like a 30-year win streak. That’s amazing. Like and it felt like the fakest question ever, because it was like, hey, did this book prove that your books are awesome? And he was like, it did prove that. What do you know? Like, I would have much more trusted that author if he had said, yeah, man, a lot of things can change in 30 years. And here’s where we grew. So I definitely saw people. What would often happen is they’d go, I tried and it was really hard, or they’d have some sort of block. They’d go in my family like, I feel guilty if I take any time for myself. So sometimes, like, say like a busy working mom would go, the last thing I have time to do is sit and think about what makes me happy. Like my job is my kids, my job is my husband, whatever. And they’d feel even guilt doing the activity because it was so foreign to go. What do I care about? What do I love? So I saw some of that, and then I saw somewhere it was like, I’m pessimistic.


Jon Acuff: [00:29:28] Or the other thing that I’m really passionate about right now is this idea of it all counts. So a lot of times when people invest in goals, they get really legalistic and they start to measure them in ways that are really unfair to themselves and unkind. I’ll give you an example. I’m I’m doing this thousand hours outside challenge. There’s this woman named Ginny Yurich who’s really, really amazing. She has this movement called 1000 Hours outside about getting you and your kids outside. And it’s really, really fun. And somebody who’s asking me about what counts as an outside hour and, like, does camping count when you’re in the tent? And I thought, that’s amazing like that. As if she would go stop. She has an app. Like as if she’d go stop your app. When you go inside that tent, you’re under half an inch of fabric. Don’t you dare. And so for me, I saw some of that too. They’d go, I don’t know if this counts. It’s so minor to me and I so part of my job, I feel like as somebody who’s trying to encourage other people is like, it all counts. And so my list, I’ll share and go, yeah, hitting the New York Times best sellers list. That was an awesome moment. It was. But also I have things on mind, like getting a new notebook like.


Jon Acuff: [00:30:33] I like opening a new notebook and it’s blank and it feels like there’s possibility, like a new set of like, I use $10 pens from Office Depot, but like when I get a new pack and they’re like super blue, like, that’s fun. So some of the things I had to do on the back end, when somebody came back and said, I tried, I couldn’t do a single thing, I tried, I only did five was I would try to expand their definition of what counts, because they’d often gone and said, well, Jon, I’ve never hit the New York Times. I don’t have a big business. I haven’t done anything that’s spectacular, and I would have to pull back and help them go. Like, if you’re a parent, you’ve done something spectacular. Like if you’re in a marriage that’s healthy and growing, like you’ve done something spectacular. I never met somebody that said I never could get a single one, but I definitely had people that would say, I tried it, I got stuck, I’m frustrated. And then hopefully if I actually was able to interact with them either via writing or conversation, I could say one of these three problems. What if you try it again and then it would open up and it doesn’t mean it opened up and they came back to 300. It often meant they opened up and they came back with 20 or 15, but they were able to do the exercise easier with a couple tweaks.


Jonathan Fields: [00:31:40] Yeah. That line, it all counts I think is just it’s very freeing because it’s like, oh, you mean that tiny little thing that I did over here? Or that tiny conversation that I had in passing with this person about this topic that counts? Yeah, yeah.


Jon Acuff: [00:31:54] And that’s the opposite. Like, I’m trying to, like, the people I like to encourage are our normal people. That’s part of from a, you know, you talk about not staying in your lane because I think that can be limiting. But speaking to the people you’re trying to speak to, like, I know I’m not a run a thousand miles a week, like, like get up at 3 a.m. like I’m not a hardcore dude, like, so I have a wider definition of what counts than maybe some people do. But in my experience, the kinder you are to yourself, the longer you continue the goal. So I even like I have a goal this year to work 1000 hours total on my goals. So all goals. So running, writing everything one number. And I told some people I’m giving myself at least a 5 to 10% error range, like, and 5% of 1000 hours is 50 hours. That’s a pretty big because I want to know say like on day ten, I forget to do like mark something down. In the past, my perfectionism would have stopped the whole thing. I would have quit right there and now the again, the older I get, the more I go, oh yeah, I was off by like two hours.


Jon Acuff: [00:32:57] I got 50 hours to play with. I’d rather know I’m going to do the 950 than stop at 100 hours, because I got perfectionistic and legalistic and I lost the joy of the goal. Like, these should be fun. Like these should. Nobody’s making me do these. Like, there’s no boss, there’s no jury. And so sometimes when people come to goals, they get really serious, they get really legalistic, and they lose the joy of it because again, it goes back to they have a mentality of, I have a problem to fix in my life. I feel out of shape and that’s bad. So I should fix that, or I’ve got to declutter my garage because I’m a mess and I got to fix that versus, oh, I think I have a gift. I think being outside for a half an hour today will be a gift, and I’ll love that. And you’ll spend more time in the pursuit of gifts than you will trying to fix a broken thing, because nobody wants to constantly go back to a failure and fix that again and again and again. It’s just not a good experience, right?


Jonathan Fields: [00:33:48] Tell me what happens then when somebody comes to you and says, I’m really interested in your approach to to goals. I had my annual physical and my doc said to me, you know, like your blood pressure is up, your cholesterol is up, you must lose X amount of weight or, you know, change your body composition and you must start moving your body like 3 to 5 times a week, or else you’re going to have a profoundly scary health outcome in your life that is not a positive frame. And generally the things that that they feel like, okay, these are the things I kind of I’m being told I have to do and I want to remove whatever, like the scary things are, but the things themselves and the pursuit of it is not something that I’m intrinsically drawn towards or excited to do in any meaningful way. Yeah.


Jon Acuff: [00:34:36] So the first thing I would do is I’d say, tell me about a goal that worked in your life. I would automatically get you in a positive spot where you’re thinking about a win. So I would say, tell me about something that did work. I would take all your attention off the mountain you just received in a doctor’s office or the challenge. So I’d get you to go. You know what? We paid off a credit card bill. Like we had a debt. We. And we cut up our credit cards, and we like. And we did it, and we did it. And so I would get you to remember, number one, you’ve already done hard things. Part of my job is to help you see, you’ve already done hard things because fear comes in and goes, this is the hardest thing you’ll have ever faced. There’s no way you can do this like every other, every other diets failed. There’s no way. So I try to get you to understand something you’ve already done well at. And then I would try to get you to figure out what was helpful in that situation. So part of the problem is we have a hard time relating previous wins to current challenges. And what I mean by that is people go, let’s use your example. I got to lose £50 and I’ll say, well, tell me about, you know, something that worked well. And they’ll say, I paid off my credit card, whatever. And I go, well, what did you like? What did you do? And they’ll say, well, we were in a Dave Ramsey group and it met six weeks and we read a book and I had envelopes, and we had my wife and I had a weekly budgeting meeting, and we had a visual of our car.


Jon Acuff: [00:35:47] And every time we paid off a piece of the car, we and they’ll have all of these things and I’ll go, well, which of those are we going to bring forward into this new goal? Like, okay, then maybe you do need to read a really good book about this. Maybe you do need to find a Weight Watchers group. Maybe you do need to, you know, have some reward. Like I would try to give them the tools that are going to help them the most. So my whole thing is like, I need a lot of tools. I’m a naturally negative person. I’m a naturally pessimistic person. Like I’m cynical by nature. I’ve just tested positivity. And I’ve tested negativity, and positivity has a much better ROI, so it means I have to work hard on it. So like right here, next to me are 70 different soundtracks that are encouraging to me. So that’s one of my tools. Like I have post-it notes that have reminders on them. I read a lot of positive books when I run. I listen to positive audio. For the first 30 or 40 minutes, I listen to a hardcore rap song that’s very angry at the end. I want to be honest, to get across that finish line, but I’m feeding myself positivity because that’s a tool that helps me.


Jon Acuff: [00:36:47] And so I would try to help that person go, what are the tools? And then you and I have talked about this, this is I’m going to quote you to you because it really impacted me. You’re the first person that mentioned there’s two types of motivation approach and avoidance. So an approach motivation. If I do these three things I approach this reward and avoidance motivation. If I do these three things I avoid this negative situation. And some people are motivated by approach. But if you told me I’m not, the doctor scared me. I would go, well, let maybe you’re motivated by rewards. So what’s a small reward? Let’s come up with a small fun reward system. What does that look like? So I would just try to help that person have as many of those as possible. And then I would help them make the easiest goal ladder possible. So the metaphor I like is most people have a goal ladder and only has two rungs. It has a bottom rung that says day one or first walk, and then the top rung is lose £50 and there’s no rungs in between. And if a neighbor said to you, you live in Colorado, if a neighbor said, hey, here’s my ladder, if you want to clean the gutters and they had two rungs, you’d be like, I can’t do anything. And so that’s what most people do. So what I like to do is go, how do we add some rungs to that? Let’s just brainstorm some actions.


Jon Acuff: [00:37:57] Not even about you. What are the type of actions somebody in shape would take? Okay. Like let’s come up with some rungs on this ladder so you can actually start to climb it, actually start to enjoy it. So that’s how I would break it down. And I would never be dishonest about the work. I would never sugarcoat like, oh, it’s going to be super easy. That’s not helpful long term, but I would do everything I could to figure out how are they motivated, what are the tools they need, how do I surround them with lots of tools? That’s why I try to share that. I use a lot of tools, because I think that often people in my position online don’t share that. And it’s disheartening to people. People go, man, they just get it done. And I’d much rather go like, no, books are hard for me. Like they’re really. And I have to use a lot of tools to finish a book. And it’s my right kind of difficult, but it’s still really challenging. And here’s the 50 tools I use. And some people go, man, that’s a lot. I’m like, yeah, it takes a lot for me. Like maybe other people don’t need this many. It takes me a lot. Maybe some people are born naturally positive, but I don’t happen to have been that way. But I want to be positive. So I work at it and I enjoy the benefits of the work.


Jonathan Fields: [00:39:00] Yeah, and I think that’s really good folks to hear also because they look and they’re like, okay, so he’s written what, 9 or 10 books at this point. And as you’ve shared, like, this is the thing that you love. You like you wake up, you love writing books, and yet it’s also your hard.


Jon Acuff: [00:39:13] Here’s the thing. I was thinking about this today. The older I get, the more I’m learning that for me to live the life I want to do, the things I want to do is about wrestling with two things how I process stress and how I process excitement. So in essence, a cortisol and a dopamine conversation. That’s what I’m constantly having with myself. And so the dopamine an example of that would be I realized recently when I’m stressed and anxious about writing a book because it is hard work. Like I don’t feel like I love doing it, but it’s a difficult love at times. I will run to Instagram or social media for a quick dopamine hit of instant feedback from people, because I’m addicted to that short-term gratification. Where a book is two years out, I don’t get gratification for that from an audience for like 1 to 2 years. That’s a long wait. And so when I’m in an unhealthy place, I’ll stop the book and I’ll run to something that gives me a quick, shallow dopamine hit to satisfy the fear, the desire, or whatever. And so now I’m learning to go, no, that’s not how I want to do it. I want to have systems that help me not do that. Oh, I noticed myself doing a behavior that is not serving me long-term. I need to change that. And I wish that happened at 28 that I had the thought. But at 48, I’ve got enough years of experience to go, man, when I opened that door like.


Jon Acuff: [00:40:33] Not great things happen. So I need to figure out a system to keep that door closed. Like not in a rigid, legalistic way, because I’m going to slip up and spend an hour scrolling Instagram or whatever. But for me, that’s the wrestle. And then the other wrestle. That cortisol side is not getting so intense that I can’t perform. So, like I know now, I can’t add hype. I can’t add hype to already things that are already hyped. I started a nine. I’m a very I’m a high-stress person. I have a lot of anxiety. Like I wouldn’t have known that five years ago, but now I’m like, oh no, like I used to say, I run hot like, oh, I run hot and like, no, I have the anxiety of like ten men. Like, I have a lot of anxiety, so I know I can’t if I have a big thing coming up like, say, World Domination Summit. Like, say Chris brought that back and he was like, hey, I want you to come keynote World Domination Summit. I can’t be like, dude, this is going to be a huge thing. This is going to be a big opportunity. I got to crush this. Like, I can’t add hype to that because it’ll overwhelm me. I’m already there. I already got the energy. I’m good. I have to chill, that I have to kind of chill that level of cortisol out. So I think part of my process is kind of dialing those two things in and being smart about them.


Jonathan Fields: [00:41:43] Yeah, I mean, it’s interesting also because there’s a relationship between that balance you’re talking about, you know, like, and what you describe, and you write about this in the book when you really sort of exploring what’s your fuel. Yeah. Like the difference between crisis-driven motivation, sustainable fuels that you seem to center around are impacting craft. Yeah. And I think for a lot of people they can relate to those things. You know, because it’s either like I want to make a difference or there’s something that I’m, for whatever reason, compelled to do more of. And wouldn’t it be amazing if I just kept getting better and better at it? It would like, give me a feeling of just competent. Yeah, that I aspire to. Like I want that and we’re both writers. Like I will read a sentence from a writer who I admire deeply. I literally I’ll find myself laughing out loud or crying not because of the content of the sentence, but because of the quality of the writing that was in that sentence. And for a heartbeat, I’ll be like, wow, you really suck. Like you’re so not there. But then like, right after that and this is, this is a train thing because it doesn’t come naturally to me. And I think it’s same with you. Then I’ll be like, but if I keep doing this for another decade, maybe in a decade, I’ll be able to write a sentence like that. And wouldn’t that be awesome? And that’s my kind of hard, because I will keep writing, because I want to be able to write the sentence, like at that level a decade from now, and 100% for me, like that will drive me to invest incredible amounts of effort.


Jon Acuff: [00:43:08] Yeah, my thing with that, I don’t know if you’ve seen Nate Bargatze his latest special, but he does this story about his sister, long story about his sister, and then he’s moving on to the next content, and he stops and goes, oh, wait a second. Yeah, I have a brother too. And it’s so good. It’s so good because every family member can be like, oh, we all have like a family member that occasionally we’re like, we leave them off the group chat, like, or whatever. And I knew how hard he had worked at that and it was so subtle and so perfect. So I think about that. And then like we joked before we started recording, like, we’ve been doing this for a long time and I’m so convinced that, like, so much of this is two things. One, you stay at it like you keep creating content or keep selling paintings or keep whatever your thing is the craft like, you stay at it like I’m ten years in or 15 years in whatever the number is. And I tell myself all the time, I’m just getting started. And I don’t mean that in a shameful way. I mean, like, look how much growth is possible. Like, look, you read this sentence and you go, oh, I can’t do that sentence yet. But I can see how it’s structured and I want to work on that kind of sentence, and I’m going to practice that.


Jon Acuff: [00:44:11] So I think that’s the first thing. The second thing is you just don’t blow up your life like you don’t get lost in drugs. You don’t have ten affairs, you don’t whatever. And if you do those two things, like it’s really hard for you not to have it work out because you just keep doing it. Like, I know I’m a better speaker than I was the time you saw me at World Domination Summit, because I’ve done X amount of things and I’ve done X amount of practices, and I’ve loved them. I thought about that one day. I had 3:05 a.m. flights in the same week, and that was more than I ever had in 15 years of working at a corporation. And my wife was like, man, if a boss made you work like you, make you work like, and I can shift over into bad boss territory when I’m driving too hard, definitely. But I love it like I genuinely am. Like, man, this is going to be fun. Or like, hey, like I did a joke to like 3000 optometrists that killed and wood bomb in every other room because it was so specific to eyes. And I loved going like, can I write an eye joke? Can I understand what it’s like to be an optometrist well enough that I can then write a joke that they will go like, that was a great joke.


Jon Acuff: [00:45:17] And so like, that challenge was really fun for me and nobody other. They all laughed and it was great, but like, nobody geeked out on that. Like I geeked out on it in the privacy of my office, like. And I was like, oh man, that was going to be a good eyeball joke. Like, and that’s craft and you. Won’t stop. The problem is like money as a fuel. You eventually get the money, potentially. And then what? Like then you have to move the goalpost. Then you have to like like you eventually accomplish the thing. And then what? My life didn’t dramatically change hitting the New York Times best sellers list. Like it? Really? It really like. I was so glad I did. I’m so grateful. But it didn’t feel like an ending point. It felt like like, oh, that’s that’s amazing. That happened. I’m grateful. There was a ton of people that worked at the team at Penguin that helped make that happen, but it wasn’t a stopping point like I. One of mine is like, I want a book I love enough that I’m like, man, I’ll send this to Malcolm Gladwell for an endorsement. Like, and I like I feel like I’ve crafted the sentences in a way that he’d be like, oh, that’s a good sentence. And that, you know, so things like that keep me motivated.


Jonathan Fields: [00:46:16] It’s funny as you’re describing it. Also, you know, we’ve talked about this in the past, but your aspiration has never just to be become like a great speaker. You’re also you have a lifelong passion and love for humor, for comedy. Yeah. So like there’s a very particular way that you’ve always wanted to show up on stage. And it was to deliver like wisdom and insight, but also with just amazing humor and comedy and bring lightness to what you’re doing. So it’s interesting because what you’re describing, like the way that I’ve seen you embody that, is as you build, you know, like into being a truly phenomenal speaker. And you might not say that yourself, but I’ll say it from over here is that you found the things that you could study fiercely and practice over and over the parts of it that you also had a complementary passion for. Oh yeah. And you’re like, let me go all in on this, because that’ll make the hard work. I mean, I can’t imagine how many hours, thousands of hours of, of stand up that you have watched and deconstructed and trying to figure out at this point. And for a lot of people, that would be brutal. Yeah. But for you, because there’s this underlying passion for that very particular thing. And then you made the connection and said, if I do this like, this is the part of it that I love investing time and energy in any way. So let me make that the center of the hard work that I have to do to become good at this thing. And then you figured out a way to do the work in a way that was deeply passionate for you, rather than saying, oh, this is something that I want to be funny. I’m not all that interested in comedy, but I want to be really funny on stage. So I’m going to have to study comedy for 1000 hours.


Jon Acuff: [00:47:59] It’s interesting you say that because I’m in a go-all-in moment right now. I’ve kind of messed around being a CEO, and it’s like there’s some things I’m like admitting like, oh, it’s too much time. The writing’s getting pushed to the side. I need to focus on the writing. So like I’m in this season, it scares me because there’s, you know, there’s things I’m going to have to say no to that have money attached to them. There’s things. But I’m like, man, if I could schedule it where I had more time to write more, I think I could create longer-term content that lives and and so, like, I’m in this go all-in moment right now, which is what made me think about it. But I really one it took a while. You know, I always want to tell people it’s not like I figure that out. And then I did it like, I don’t like when somebody goes, you’re about to start a business. You should just figure out your niche. It’s like saying to somebody, what’s your favorite ride at Disney World? And you go, I’ve never been. And they go, no, no, but what’s your favorite? You have to pick one ride that you only ride. But I haven’t been to any of the parks and they go, I’m sorry. This is how like I think you discovered along the way in the act of doing, you know, for me, anyway, that’s how it worked. And then the reason I don’t do YouTube is because I don’t love it. So I tried YouTube for a year and I was like, it doesn’t make any money. I hate doing it, and I’m terrible now. It’s one thing if you’re terrible and you love it because then you’ll do it.


Jon Acuff: [00:49:19] And guess what? That love will fuel you to get better. So I always tell people like the trifecta of things you should quit as fast as you can, or things that don’t make you money you hate. And you’re terrible. Like it’s hard when you’re good at it and you hate it. That’s a career crisis for a lot of people where they’re like, here’s the thing, I’m actually kind of good at it. It’s what makes me money. Like, you have to kind of answer a different set of questions then. But no, the humor I really love and is something I’m curious about. And I like to go, man, Gary Goldman, he set up that punchline in a different way, and here’s why he set it up that way. You know, that was really smart. So yeah, but I do love it. And that’s where the fuel thing comes from. Is the fuel. Like I enjoy it. Like I told somebody, when you find something you love, your hours become like logs and you want to throw as many of them into the fire like. And so I didn’t stop watching as much TV because I was disciplined. It just wasn’t giving me anything. When my wife goes out of town for like a girlfriends trip or whatever, I’m not like, man, now I can watch all the guy movies where people shoot them up. Like I go, oh, my oldest daughter goes to bed at ten. Like I could write from 10 to 12, like, oh, like I get to do it. Like. So I think finding something like that is really, really fun. And it takes a while and. I think there’s different ways to kind of back into it.


Jonathan Fields: [00:50:35] Yeah, I think you can’t really think your way into that. You have to just do it. You have to try, try, try. And then something’s going to be like, ooh, that.


Jon Acuff: [00:50:41] And pay attention and pay attention to like, oh, wait a second. It’s not like I love flying. I trade a million difficult things for the 45 minutes on stage. And so once I was like, man, I missed my flight. I’m sleeping in Milwaukee. I wasn’t supposed to be in the state of Wisconsin. And I’m still kind of smiling. Huh. I wonder what that means. Like, oh, it means you love this thing. Like. And you know, oh, the hardest part is getting off the stage. I could stay up there forever. Huh? I wonder what that means. And so, yeah, I think you pay attention to the stuff that lights you up that way. Yeah.


Jonathan Fields: [00:51:14] Totally agree. So one of the other parts of your methodology that was very much on display, because as we’re having this conversation, you know, we’ve turned the page into a new year, which tends to be, you know, like it’s resolution time for everybody. It’s a new goal, time for everybody. And you basically and this is part of like your approach is let me make a promise and first to myself. But then if you actually, like, are open to doing it and make it more publicly or make it to somebody else who make it to other people who know it, and then let me actually use the word guarantee. I guarantee this is going to happen. So if you looked at your Instagram, you would see these panels that say like, yeah, these are the things that I guarantee are going to happen this year. Like you read 13 times more books than the typical person this year reads. And there was like a list of things that but you didn’t say, like, these are my goals. You didn’t say, this is what I want to accomplish this year. You said, I guarantee this is going to happen. Yeah. Take me into like the psychology of this.


Jon Acuff: [00:52:15] But it’s also not my first time. That’s the other thing. Like so I read 100 books last year, and I know that because I tracked them all on Goodreads. So when some when I say like, I’m going to crush books this year, like it gets back to that ladder, I’m in the middle of the ladder on a lot of goals. So like one of the goals I talk about is I’m going to sell a million books. I didn’t say that book, one that would have been the cockiest dumbest thing, but I got into the middle of it and I was like, man, I’m really enjoying this. Like, I’m not going to stop. I love serving people in a community. I’m going to keep talking about these ideas. I think this is going to happen. I’m in the middle of the ladder enough to see like, good luck stopping me. I’ve got too much momentum to like. I could still stop me with stupid decisions by all means. Like, I could still make bad decisions, but I just look at it and go, I’ve got evidence of results. I’ve got momentum, I’ve got joy in buckets. I didn’t pick goals that I hate. What I’ve been telling people is I couldn’t have put the guaranteed goals idea in book number one, but I can definitely put it in book number nine, because if I tell you, like, hey, if you do these things, they work out in book nine, I can go, like, I didn’t write the first nine books via magic.


Jon Acuff: [00:53:26] It wasn’t because I was particularly talented or like, particularly smart. It was, you know, like, I figured out some systems and then I stayed faithful to the system. And so my plan for this year is I’m going to stay faithful to the system and even like encouraging people 30 days in a row. At the beginning of that goal, I could have said, Jonathan, I guarantee at the end of this 30-day period, I’m going to be connected to people in a deeper way. And then all I did was encourage people and connect with them. And then guess what happened at the end of the 30 days? It wasn’t a mystery of like, I wonder if you’ll be more connected. It was like, no, I guarantee this is going to work. And so that’s what I mean by guarantee, because I think sometimes the challenge for me is I’m trying to hold two things in my hands.


Jon Acuff: [00:54:07] I’m trying to hold really wild optimism and really true realism. And I think you need both. And so like I look at goals, I always tell people if there’s four stages dream, plan, do review. So you dream it, you plan it, you do it, review it. When you dream, you need wild optimism, but then you have to quickly move into planning, which is very honest realism. So I’ve got both in my hands, but the guarantee looks like it’s a lot of optimism, but it’s based in a lot of realism where like, I don’t believe necessarily in the like, here’s a crazy thing that I’m disconnected from reality and I’m just going to do it because I’ve seen so many people fail when they did that and get hurt when they did that. Like we did a study where we asked 900 people to cut their goals in half. Me and this PhD, Mike Peasley, and the people cut their goals in half were 63% more successful because they had so grossly overestimated what they were capable of, and they actually got it done. So I’m a very realistic guy, but once I’ve got some evidence like, oh, like, then I’m more than happy to be wildly optimistic.


Jonathan Fields: [00:55:07] I mean, that’s such an interesting study of those 900 people also, because you kind of say, well, weren’t they bummed because it was only half of what they originally wanted, but they achieved it? And how much more bummed would they have been if they had this sort of like, you know, like Sky in the pie thing that was just completely abandoned. They would be a lot more bummed. Here’s the.


Jon Acuff: [00:55:25] Thing. So again, back to that woman, because I interviewed her on my podcast. That’s why she’s fresh in my mind. Ginny Yurich, who does 1000 hours outside. She said, people tell me it’s the best challenge they’ve ever failed. And I said, oh, that’s an interesting sentence. She said, yeah, because they shoot for 1000 hours and they only spend 400 hours outside, but they say those are 400 hours. I never would have done with my kids unless I tried this goal. So I don’t look at that. I got an F technically if I got 400 out of 1000, got an F, but it feels like a huge A plus because of the 400 I got to enjoy. So yeah, my thing is I want you to be successful long-term. There’s a lot of sexy stuff I’d like to say on Instagram because it sells really well. There’s a lot of stuff that you go like, it’s great, I’m going to 100 X this overnight. There’s one sentence that changed and I wish I could say that, but I also want to be really honest in the long. Term. I want to see you win long-term. And so I have to temper that with excitement to get you started, realism to keep you going, excitement to get you to do it. Realism to review it like it’s a dance back and forth. And I want to try to do that as honestly as I can. And then also, like my kids are watching, I’m teaching these ideas. My kids like my daughter, uh, who’s in London. So we talk about soundtracks a lot in our house, like repetitive thoughts that we tell each other.


Jon Acuff: [00:56:44] She texted yesterday. She’s been in London two days. She said, I got two new soundtracks for London. The first is, um, tired is better than regret. Meaning she’s going to go do the thing. She’s not going to sleep in the study center, watch Netflix. She’s like, If I’m in London for three months, you better believe I’m going to Wales instead of watching a TV show. Like, or even if I’m tired, I’m going out for the extra thing. And then to the second one, she said a snack fixes a lot of problems, and she realized when me and my girlfriends are kind of getting snippy on each other like a snack fixes, and then another one from her sophomore year, first semester of college. She wrote me and said, dad, I’ve taught all my friends the soundtrack. Sophomores don’t get embarrassed. That’s what we say. Sophomores don’t get embarrassed. We’re not freshmen anymore. Like, we’re going to do things like brave things and big things. Sophomores don’t get embarrassed. And so a lot of times when I’m teaching things, I’m like, man, I want my kids to learn this. I want them to have the best shot at these two. So I try to temper it with, again, wild enthusiasm, but also practical realism so that it actually works. And sometimes that means you say things that aren’t sexy, like cut your goals in half. But I’d rather say that and you work it, then go. The sky is the limit and there’s never work involved. And that sets somebody up for instant hurt, not long-term success.


Jonathan Fields: [00:57:56] Yeah, and that makes so much sense to me. You know it’s dream on a level that then even if it feels like it’d be really hard and take a lot of work and maybe the time is going to be a while, like there’s something in you that says, but I can make it happen. It’s doable.


Jon Acuff: [00:58:10] Yeah, it’s all doable. Reminds me of what Steven Wright, the comedian. Speaking of comedians, he said everything is in walking distance if you have the time, and I loved that. Like it’s such a simple little. So for me, like one of my soundtracks when I write is three pages is plenty because I have this insecurity or fear that comes up when I sit down to write a book, and it’s like, you should finish the book today. You should be able to finish the whole book today. And that’s wildly not true. But I still feel it. And I get discouraged. And three pages. Nobody saw them. I’m 300 pages away from finished. That’s discouraging. So I have a note on my wall. It says three pages is plenty. And I go like, no, that’s my success. I did the three pages a day. I did the three pages a day because I’m not a consistency isn’t one of my strengths. Like, I think there’s some people that are like, I love to do the tiny thing over time and see, like that’s a learned behavior for me. I’m regularly having to relearn that, and I relearn that with tools like post-it notes that say, three pages is plenty, three pages is plenty. And I also remember I had a marathon coach tell me you never run a marathon. And I was like, what do you mean? She said, first you run like when somebody’s doing 26.2. I teach them to run in the race. Race day, you run  a 5K and then you run to five miles, and then you run to a ten K, and then you run to. And like she said, you run many races because if you try to run a marathon, it’s too discouraging, it’s too overwhelming. So I’m always just collecting little tricks and tools and, and trying to help people discover them too.


Jonathan Fields: [00:59:32] I mean, it just helps you psychologically say yes to something where your brain says, it’s possible. So I’m going to I’m going to keep going. I’ll take the next step. Um, as we have this conversation now and a lot of people are looking forward to what they want to make happen, what would be a sort of a universal first step in that you would invite people to think about and or do.


Jon Acuff: [00:59:55] Yeah. I mean, I would say get curious, get curious. I like to think about goals kind of in five big-ish buckets. So it’s like career, financial, relationship, health fun. So I would probably say like, can you start with a fun goal? Don’t try something that’s already difficult with a difficult thing. Unless again, your doctor’s like, hey, you have to do this. Like certainly outside forces. But if you’re talking about a personal goal like start with a fun goal, what would that look like if you gave yourself permission? Like, and if you said, okay, I want to learn how to knit. I want to learn 100 Italian words. I want to read three books this year. Whatever it is, I love to tell people, write them down. One of the things I say is paper shrinks fear. I think fear is really powerful in our heads, and I think it’s really afraid of paper. And so you put it on paper. And so I would say, like if you wrote down 3 to 5 goals, or if you wrote down 5 to 10 goals, and maybe you can’t even do that. And so the soundtrack exercise I give people is I say, write down a goal and then listen to your first thoughts.


Jon Acuff: [01:00:54] Are your first thoughts positive or negative? Because your reaction to that is an education. Every reaction you have is an education. So if you write down, I’m going to lose £10, what happens next? Is it? Who are you to do that? You’ll never do it again. You know, like you’ll never be able to do it. Then you might have some broken soundtracks that you need to go, oh, these are standing in the way of my goals like no wonder. But I think it’s a. A great place to start is to just be curious. Start with a fun goal. Don’t make it something really difficult right out of the gate. Make it something you enjoy because I want you to learn the rhythm of a goal, and then you can do all sorts of types of goals. Once you’re like, nah, I can do this thing. But if you say you’ve been avoiding something really difficult in your life and you go, okay, I’m not good at goals and now I’m going to attach this to that hard thing I already don’t want to do. That’s going to be really hard to do.


Jonathan Fields: [01:01:44] Yeah, that makes so much sense also, because if you start with something which is fun and which is like doable and you perceive as the action you would need to take actually would be joyful and maybe bring other people into it too. And then you make it happen and then maybe do something else that’s kind of like similar. And then you just keep.


Jon Acuff: [01:02:02] Building on it. You build on it, so you come up with a goal, and then you brainstorm a list of actions, and then you schedule a couple of the actions. That’s it. Right. Brainstorm, goals, actions.


Jonathan Fields: [01:02:11] And then over time that starts to create a shift in identity to, oh, I’m the type of person who says this is meaningful to me. I want to make it happen. And then I make it happen. And then it’s it’s less of a just a this is a thing that I do, and it’s more of a like, this is who I am, which makes it easier to then continue with that type of of process.


Jon Acuff: [01:02:35] Yeah. You’ve got some evidence. What are goals you’re working on right now?


Jonathan Fields: [01:02:38] Uh, so many. I mean, part of my goals is probably to have fewer goals because I one of my my mantras, one of my soundtracks is fewer things better.


Jon Acuff: [01:02:47] Ah that’s good.


Jonathan Fields: [01:02:48] As a human being, I’m at my best. I do my best work. I have the greatest impact. I improve on what I’m trying when I’m doing fewer things better.


Jon Acuff: [01:02:56] What gets you beyond that? Like what’s your temptation to do more things?


Jonathan Fields: [01:03:00] Possibility. I just I opened my eyes and I’m a maker and I’m just like, I could make that, I could make that, I could do that, I could, and I see needs. I see things that would be potentially really fun, really enjoyable, impactful potential business opportunities. I’m like, ah, like, I know I could do it. And something inside of me, maybe it’s it’s it’s ego says I’m capable of doing it. I could pull this off. Yeah. So for me, it’s a matter of looking at the universe of possibility and saying so almost going back to the beginning of our conversation not only is like, it’s, oh, that’s not my heart, but that’s also not my possibility. Yeah, because everything comes with a certain amount of cortisol stress complexity. And the more I do things simultaneously, the more complexity becomes a part of my daily experience, and the more my stress becomes a daily experience. And I don’t want that in my life for all the different reasons.


Jon Acuff: [01:03:54] What are the canary in the coal mine for you when you know you’ve gone past your capacity?


Jonathan Fields: [01:03:59] Oh my body. I mean, it’s interesting because I’ve had very long-standing mindset practices that what I’ve learned allow me to feel psychologically and emotionally okay, even when there is a metric ton of stress and complexity swirling around me. My body always is the canary in the coal mine. Like Bessel van der Kolk, like your body keeps the score. My body will tell me when it’s like, nope, you need to actually change what you’re doing. It will bring me to my knees. What about for you? Like, what’s your tail?


Jon Acuff: [01:04:28] Well, I mean, that’s part of it. Learning to listen to my body sounds like woo woo, but I’ve learned, like, just. Oh, I’m at the point. Like, I feel thin emotionally. Like there’s a thinness to my. Another one is at least writing. When I just start making typos, I start making mistakes like my body is like, now we’re out. We’re out of words. So you can keep typing like, keep banging away like a monkey. But we’re not giving you any more words. And I have to go, oh, okay. So that’s one of them. I would say my wife is a canary in the coal mine. As somebody who I’ve been married to for 23 years, she’ll be like, hey, that thing you said yes to, I don’t think you’re supposed to say yes to it. Or and sometimes she’ll go, and I notice you didn’t talk to me about it first, which means you knew you were supposed to say yes to it. Yes. And I’m like, oh, she’s right. Like. Because if I’d said yes, if I’d said to her before I said yes, she would have gone, what? No, that’s not who you are or what you care. Like, why would you even entertain that?


Jonathan Fields: [01:05:23] Yeah, totally similar dynamic with me. It’s like, I think my wife is definitely that person who’s like, hmm, okay. Let’s talk.


Jon Acuff: [01:05:29] Yeah. And then I think the I have like so I would say those are my canaries. What’s something you did like the camp so was shutting down. You shut the camp down years ago, right? Yeah. Was shutting that down a process of, hey, I’m supposed to focus on other things?


Jonathan Fields: [01:05:45] Yeah. I mean, to a certain extent, you know, we. So for those who don’t know, we ran this adult summer camp for four days the last weekend of every summer for five years, and it was amazing. We take over kids sleepaway camp and 400 something. People would come and learn and play and laugh and leave with just incredible friends. And we kept raising the bar of what we were doing every year. Like, how do we do this at a higher level? How do we delight at a higher level? How do we bring people to this, you know, collectively effervescent, ecstatic place? And by five years, we couldn’t figure out how to raise the bar on what. Were doing simultaneously. We kind of felt like we just needed to hit pause and really take some time to reimagine how we wanted to bring our community back together. And the third thing was that our daughter was actually about to leave for college that following summer, and our priority was we wanted to be as present in her life as he wanted us to be for that summer, especially in the time leading up to the time where she was going to head out. And and if that meant putting a really big thing like a part of our business, something that was very successful, something that our community loved on hiatus, that was okay, you know, and it was a matter of figuring out like what really matters to us at the end of the day. It’s interesting making calls like that, but I think you really just have to tune in, you know, like what makes me come alive, what matters to me like and what makes most sense for this particular season.


Jon Acuff: [01:07:06] I think there is a challenge and a wisdom to accepting limits too.


Jonathan Fields: [01:07:11] Yeah, 100%


Jon Acuff: [01:07:11] Say like I that’s the other sign for me is when my quality goes down to a spot that I’m not comfortable with. And so like, I have to go, I can get a lot done. Like I’m very productive. I have a lot of energy, but I have a limit where I phoned that thing in because I didn’t physically have the time and I wasn’t what I wanted to be in that moment. So I can do that ten more times and have the same exact feeling, the same exact knowing, or I can shut it down and then say, okay, I can focus on other things. But the challenge for me is like when I shut some of the things I’m going to shut down in the next year is staying faithful to the writing, staying faithful to the quiet, staying faithful to the thing that you said you shut everything else down to protect. And then other stuff. Because I asked, did you ever run into Adrian Zackheim?


Jonathan Fields: [01:08:01] Yeah, sure. Yeah. No, we published a book with portfolio.


Jon Acuff: [01:08:05] Genius. 


Jonathan Fields: [01:08:05] Yeah.


Jon Acuff: [01:08:06] Genius. I asked him, I was like, where do writers get in trouble? Like, we went out to lunch. I was like, where do writers get in trouble? And he was like, when they forget they’re writers. And I was like, what do you mean? He was like, they forget the thing that got them to the place, and they start doing 50 other things that are not writing high-quality books. And I’ve always thought about that because you get opportunities, you get whatever it is, and they’re kind of adjacent. You can Kevin Bacon your way to thinking they’re the right thing, but they’re not really the right thing. And you go, okay, I should, you know, do something else. So that’s curious that, yeah.


Jonathan Fields: [01:08:39] I love that. It feels like a good place for us to come full circle as well. So in this container of Good Life Project, if I offer up the phrase to live a good life, what comes up.


Jon Acuff: [01:08:49] To live a good life? I would say know what success means to you and not anybody else.


Jonathan Fields: [01:08:55] Mhm. Thank you. Hey, before you leave, if you love this episode Safe bet, you’ll also love the episode where I share what I call my Success Scaffolding framework. You’ll find a link to that episode in the show. Notes. This episode of Good Life Project. was produced by executive producers Lindsey Fox and me, Jonathan Fields. Editing help By Alejandro Ramirez. Kristoffer Carter crafted our theme music and special thanks to Shelley Adelle for her research on this episode. And of course, if you haven’t already done so, please go ahead and follow Good Life Project. in your favorite listening app. And if you found this conversation interesting or inspiring or valuable, and chances are you did. Since you’re still listening here, would you do me a personal favor, a seven-second favor, and share it? Maybe on social or by text or by email? Even just with one person? Just copy the link from the app you’re using and tell those you know, those you love, those you want to help navigate this thing called life a little better so we can all do it better together with more ease and more joy. Tell them to listen, then even invite them to talk about what you’ve both discovered. Because when podcasts become conversations and conversations become action, that’s how we all come alive together. Until next time, I’m Jonathan Fields, signing off for Good Life Project.

Don’t Miss Out!

Subscribe Today.

Apple All Players Castbox Spotify RSS