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Be inspired every day with Living North
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Health and beauty
December 2022
Reading time 5 Minutes

Living North columnist Dr Maurice Duffy explains how goals give our lives meaning

‘To control the mind is like trying to control a drunken monkey that has been bitten by a scorpion.’ Indian Proverb

#Goals. This powerful word seems to be everywhere today. #relationshipgoals #businessgoals# #couplegoals #squadgoals #lifegoals #bodygoals …and the list goes on.

The world is full of goals, but more than 80 percent of us fail in our ambition to achieve the goals we have set for ourselves. Yet our lives are highly dependent on the goals we set and the internal emotional mindset and management skills we deploy to achieve those goals.

Most of our thoughts and beliefs about the world are formed on a subconscious level and are the unconscious drivers of our success, or failure, in achieving our goals. 

In this mad chaotic world, if we want to drive our performance, achieve our dreams, deal with personal issues, develop relationships, make changes, or find emotional peace, we must understand that our mindset controls our success or failure. Because if you do not consciously adopt the right mindset, and build the discipline to sustain and deliver that mindset, then there is little hope of real success in achieving your goals.

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So, what is mindset to me? Mindset is the combination of one’s thoughts and beliefs, which in turn shapes one’s mind mood, self-image, behaviour, and habits. Mindset impacts how one makes sense of the world and sense of one’s own self. Your mindset shapes your mood. Your mindset sets your attitude. Your mindset creates your beliefs. Your mindset develops your self-image. Your mindset drives your mental and physical health. And critically, your mindset sets your performance in achieving any of your life’s goals.

My Mindset teaching is based on 5Ms: Mental Reflection, Mental Re-Direction, Mental Affirmation, Mental Meditation and Mindset (Think: Feel: Do).

I seek to increase in people their mental inclination or disposition, or frame of mind that shapes their thoughts, habits and behaviours, so enabling them to build elite performances and winning outcomes

The winners I work with understand that it’s their commitment to understanding their mindset that enables them to achieve their mental and physical goals. 

Let me share with you the goal setting strategy which is one part of the 5Ms described above, and which many top performers use.

Read More: Dr Maurice Duffy Explains Why it’s Important to be Honest With Yourself and With Others


Step 1. Go to future. Most change strategies, be they business or personal, are fundamentally flawed. We tend to pick a goal or change and then decide to go for it. Many do it without planning or thought, and fail. Others plan forward and yet fail. 

In fact, 80 percent of the changes that we try to implement fail, even in a business when they have teams of brilliant people focused on the problem. They fail not because they are not bright/intelligent or committed to task, they simply fail because of flawed thinking. 

That flawed thinking manifests itself in an escalating commitment to a failing course of action. By this, I mean they build forward on unstable or weak foundations. They do not address the very immunities to the change which are hard wired into their present position. They do not unlock the chains that tie them to their present position. 

The contradiction in their thinking is that change can only be understood backward but must be lived forwards. Therefore, our first step must be to set out any future goal vision clearly.

Step 2. Own the present. The questions we must ask from the future are: what do we see in our present that we don’t need to achieve our future goal? What unlearning do we need to achieve? What behaviour do we need to redirect? What strengths can we stretch? What immunities hold us back? What will motivate us to sustain the effort?What thinking about previous failures do we need to bin?

It’s only when we have established a base camp of unlearning the things we need to bin, the behaviour we need to change, the immunities we need to unlock for change, that we can really move forward

The future result is a direct result of your action today. 

Step 3. Action smart goals. Now let’s take that goal. Let’s really understand that goal. People cannot hit what they do not aim for. Setting goals is the first step in turning the invisible into the visible. Everyone now knows about smart goals. What everyone does not understand is that smart goals on their own will not achieve the change you want to see but are an important step in the journey. The goal must be specific, clear and well defined. It needs to be measurable and include precise amounts to value the degree of success, attainable so it is possible to achieve, and relevant. You need to keep goals aligned with your career or life and they must be time-bound, in other words have a deadline in terms of achieving those goals.

Step 4. Lean into your immunities. Every day you must unlearn the ways that hold you back. You must rid yourself of negativity so you can learn to fly. There is a phenomenon we call ‘the immunity to change’, a hidden dynamic that actively (and brilliantly) prevents us from changing because of its devotion to preserving our existing way of making meaning. You might think that your mind is protecting you by not letting you change but it is harming you, so we must learn to lean into these immunities.

Step 5. Sustain by small steps. Goals are not achieved by impulse but by a series of small steps in one direction. Small steps may appear unimpressive, but don’t be deceived. They are how perspectives are subtly altered, mountains are gradually scaled, and lives are drastically changed. Success is small, sustainable steps repeated day in day out. So do not be afraid of growing slowly but be very afraid of standing still.

The three things to take away from this:

In all things that you do, consider the end.

To reach a new port we must pull up our anchors and sail, sail, not drift.

In absence of clearly defined goals, we become strangely loyal to performing daily acts of trivia and repeating everything that has gone before.

Dr Maurice Duffy is Visiting Professor at Sunderland, consulting coach to the NHS, the Australian cricket team, Durham Cricket Club, international golfers, rugby and many sports people, and also coaches many senior FTSE 100 business leaders and politicians around the world. Find out more at or follow him on twitter @thebeaksquawks

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