This is a guest post by Carol Lynn Rivera.

*That was a lie.

Just like it is every time you read it in a headline or on a blog or in an email and every time you hear it in a webinar or hinted at in a sales pitch.

But did I get your attention? Ok, I admit to a teensy bait and switch, but I’m counting on you being way too smart to fall for that anyway, and besides, I promise to follow up with real ideas instead of big, empty promises.

I know exactly what the problem is: you want to think someone has the secret. You want to think someone else knows something you don’t, so they can tell you about it and you can quickly grow your business into a money-generating machine and fly off to Tahiti to sip umbrella drinks all day.

(Wait, maybe that’s just me…)

Come on, raise your hand if you’re enticed just a little bit by anything that promises big results, a secret sauce or “the one thing you must know…”

Trust me, I want it too. I want someone way smarter than me to tell me how to do this stuff right. So I can stop making mistakes. So I can see bigger results, faster.

Alas! This business thing is hard. There’s stuff like work involved. And patience.

And if anything were really a secret, it would be locked in a vault along with the recipe for Coca Cola.

So before you go hanging your hat on slick-sounding schemes and fast-talkers who make their way sound really easy and worth whatever they’re asking you to pay for their super-duper amazing never-before-seen eCourse, training or program, take a breath and tell yourself this: I already have the answers within my reach.

Get Right with Your Goals

Have you read the studies that prove that people who write down their goals are significantly more likely to achieve them?

You may also have heard that in one study, the 3% of people who had clear, written goals ended up earning ten times as much as the other 97% combined.

Pretty staggering, eh? I’m going to take that one step further and tell you that if you physically write your goals down – not just type them on your laptop, iPad or some other electronic device, you’ll be even more successful.

Why? Well, I haven’t conducted any studies but here are a few things I do know: Writing takes longer. Even two-fingered, I can pound out a whole-lotta-words per minute. There is a lot less time for my brain to process what’s coming out. I make big, big typos, sometimes to the point where I can’t even understand what I was trying to say! It leaves very little time for thinking, which is kind of important when it comes to goal-setting.

Writing makes a tactile connection with your brain. There is evidence to support the idea that the act of writing letters, as opposed to just hunting-and-pecking them on a keyboard, creates a different type of neural pathway to your brain. It reinforces learning and makes a longer-lasting connection.

Paper is not nearly as distracting as a computer. Let’s be real here. When was the last time you sat down at your computer and didn’t check your Facebook page for just a second? Or scan your emails to make sure nothing really, really important was happening? Blank paper. Or the entire world wide web. What do you think would allow you to focus more?

So what’s the point? Nobody can help you set goals any faster or easier. It takes time and thinking and knowing what you want to achieve. (It should take time – this is important!) There’s no secret to setting goals and nobody anywhere on the planet or even in the magical world of pixies and fairies can help you reach them until you can define them.

Make Your Goals Big, Small, and Real

Maybe you’re thinking you’re sooo over the whole writing-down-goals thing. But have you really done it? Can you tell me right now, without thinking about it, what your biggest driving goal is for your business? For the year? For this month? How about for today?

If you’re like me, you always skip the “exercise” part of the book. You know what I’m talking about… you read a bunch of really great stuff then get to the end of a chapter where there’s some homework you’re supposed to do so you can start making all those great ideas work for you. And you think yeah, yeah, I got it

But if you truly want to succeed you can’t skip this part. You can’t “think it” instead. Write down, on paper (or your computer if you must) what your very literal goals are. S

tart big. “Retire to Tahiti in 10 years.” Narrow that down. “Make $100,000 this year.” Keep going. “Finish my eBook by Friday.” I realize those goals aren’t even in the same ballpark, but you need to have a long game and a short game; your big aspirations and driving “why,” and the things you can achieve on a regular – almost daily – basis to propel yourself along and prove that you can do it. Nay, that you are doing it!

So what’s the point? If you’ve skipped this exercise or **think** you know what you’re doing but can’t prove it by presenting a piece of paper with your goals clearly outlined, then stop what you’re doing right now and do the homework. Having goals on paper not only gives you something to focus on and commit to, but it helps you filter out the shiny objects or one-of-a-kind-act-now opportunities that don’t help you meet those goals.

Because Stuff Requires a Lot More Work than You Think

Lustrous Wooden Cabinet with Recipes File Label in Dramatic LIght.Did you know that your to-do list is sabotaging your success?

The problem is that lots of things you think of as “to-dos” are really projects. And until you realize that, your brain is going to automatically throw up a barrier to doing them.

You see, your brain is smarter than you are. It knows your to-do is really a major-do and it will resist doing anything until it knows what all the pieces are and how to go about putting them together.

Pick something simple and small that you keep pushing to the bottom of your list because you’ll get to it “eventually.” Think about it for a moment and see whether it’s actually a single task or something that requires a series of tasks. Go on, I’ll wait…

I bet you’ll find it’s not as simple as it first seemed!

“Put photos into photo album.” I’ve always wanted a book I could put on my coffee table that people would browse when they visited. During the time that “put photos in album” has been on my list, the digital camera was invented and “the cloud” became a thing you use to store photos and not just something that rains on you.

The problem with that task is that it’s a project in disguise. First I’ve got to find the photos. They’re in boxes somewhere (nowadays they’re in a folder somewhere)… then I’ve got to decide how I want to organize them. By event? Chronologically? Which ones get a place in the album and which don’t? That’s a lot of sorting and thinking.

And I’ve got to buy the album. Which means choosing a store, making time to get there and shop, choosing the album style I want.

Then there’s the time I need to actually get them into the album.

And what about labels or captions?

Can you see how easy it is to go down this rabbit hole? And why my brain might resist starting? Especially without knowing all the steps?

How about that email newsletter you plan to send out? There’s the template you’ll need, the intro you have to write, the content you have to create or curate, the photos you want to include, the decision you need to make about what day and time of day to send it…

When our brains meet a project disguised as a task, we feel immediately overwhelmed and don’t know where to start, don’t know what to do, aren’t convinced we can do it… and we start hunting for the “how-tos” that someone else must surely know.

So what’s the point? Stop thinking in terms of tasks and start thinking in terms of projects. I like to use a mind map to outline every minute thing that needs to happen in order for me to accomplish my goals, even if it’s something as seemingly absurd as “sharpen pencils” (hey, if you’ve ever stood around wondering why they’re all broken and where the heck the sharpener went, you know what I’m talking about. Add “find sharpener” to your mind map!)

Turn your tasks into the projects that they really are and write in action verbs. It will take time to do this and may seem silly at first, but once you do it, you’ll have your own roadmap to follow and you can spend a whole lot less time wondering what to do and a whole lot more time knowing what to do… and doing it.

There’s Nothing Wrong With Small and Slow

Not every marketing effort needs to bear fruit tomorrow. Not every business needs to grow into a multi-billion dollar enterprise. There’s a phrase for getting rich quick and it’s called “winning the lottery.” That’s not exactly a business plan.

I’ll be honest with you. I don’t actually want to retire to Tahiti. It sounds cool, but in reality I’m one of those “grow roots” kind of people. I like my couch a whole lot and even though I wouldn’t mind a house with just one extra room, I actually dream about buying my neighbor’s house so I can continue to live in mine, but use my “other” house when I need the extra room!

“Get rich” is not really necessary and isn’t in my definition of success. “Fast” is not necessary either, because I actually enjoy working in my business.

The process can be trying, discouraging and sometimes requires more eating of brownies than might strictly be considered healthy, but I like what I do and I’m not sure I want to stop doing it. It’s that thing about the journey.

I bet there are a lot of solos and small business people who feel the same way. Not everyone is in it to build a startup that’s going to get bought out and shut down by Facebook just so you don’t disrupt the ecosystem. Hey, if that’s you, that’s great. It still isn’t going to be either fast or easy, but go for it! But if that’s not you, then take a deep breath and enjoy the journey.

So what’s the point? It goes back to goals. You don’t need big, save-the-world goals. You only need to be true to yourself and what you want. It also goes back to how granular you’re being about creating that roadmap. If you’ve got small, totally achievable baby steps laid out, you’re going to see a lot more progress every single day. You won’t get as frustrated, and even when things aren’t going so well you’ll have a long list of accomplishments to prove you’re doing just fine. And you’ll stay focused on what matters to you – not what matters abstractly or what a slick-sounding seminar tells you that you want.

And It Doesn’t Matter What Other People Say

Remember that study about how people who wrote goals down were more successful?

Funny thing about that study… it never existed.

It turns out the whole thing is a bit of an urban legend. Where did it originate and why? Who knows! The world is a funny place. So does that mean I’ve just negated everything I said in this post? Was this just another bait-and-switch?

You’ll be interested to learn that one psychology professor wasn’t satisfied just to read about the results of the study – she actually decided to conduct her own.

Guess what she found? People who wrote down their goals were statistically more likely to achieve them than those who did not.

Phew! I told you that story for a reason… two actually.

First, not everything you’re told is true. This “research” was circulated for years before anyone thought to challenge it or even dig deep enough to find out whether it was true.

Until recently, business coaches and marketers everywhere have used a non-existent study to support their teachings and practices. In this instance, research upheld common sense, but that’s not always the case.

That guy selling you the super-duper never-before-seen revolutionary one-of-a-kind secret instant business growth kit? What if he hasn’t bothered to vet his sources? What if he’s selling you a great idea based on faulty (or no) research? What do you suppose he really knows that you don’t?

I’ll tell you what, which is point number two: he knows what he’s tried. You don’t need to take anyone’s word for it or learn anyone’s system or program. You need to get out into the weeds and try things for yourself.

I’m not telling you not to learn. Learn away! Learn from people who have “been there.” Learn all the basics, fundamentals and best practices there are.

But when you find yourself searching for that one last secret, that thing you’re sure is out there if only you could attend the right webinar or connect with the right person… then your school days are done and it’s time to start thinking for yourself.

Your best teacher and your finest lessons will come from your own experience. Will it be fast? Probably not. Will it be easy? Nope. But will you be successful?

I’ll let you in on a little secret: that’s totally up to you!