Many of us setting goals severely underestimate the value of our potential and our ability to aim higher.
By the low expectations we have and the lack of self-belief in ourselves mean we are living a life of constant underachievement.
We seethe in the corner as people we perceive as ‘arrogant’ get all the breaks – all the power, all the wealth and all the success.  We dwell on those people – and think “they haven’t paid their dues.” But the over confident have something in common, which we can learn from – the ability to aim higher.
It’s time to stop selling ourselves short.

The science of selling yourself short

Lack of success in individuals is brought about by their lack of ability to think and aim higher.
When you start setting quantifiable goals it’s really easy to set a target that is too small or not challenging enough.  As a result more time is spent on doing something for less results.

Imagine that you have an interview.  Things are going really well – then you get pushed on how much you should get paid.  You don’t want to scare them off so you give them a pathetically low amount.

Your fear that by giving them a high amount would be a deal breaker, but this actually ruins the interview.  The average person doing the role earns a lot more – they start to wonder why you gave such a low amount.

The interviewer goes back through your originaly application and starts picking holes in it.  Bu now they seriously doubt your abilities – perhaps you don’t have the confidence to do such a high level job and feel you are not experienced enough for the role.  In the end you don’t get it.

“Most people fail in life not because they aim too high and miss, but because they aim too low and hit.”
Les Brown

In the meantime another applicant ‘John’ gets an interview and thinks he’s all that – he tells himself that the job is his, even though on paper he lacks the knowledge and skills.  He is asked how much he thinks he should get paid, he goes for a reverse strategy and gives a ridiculously high amount.  His view is “You don’t ask – you don’t get.”

With the arrogant confidence they see something they didn’t see in you – potential.  They decide to offer him the job and to top it off he gets the wage he agreed.  In this scenario Aiming Higher worked.

Sure the situation could easily turn bad for John, he could start his job and realise he is over his head, doing a job that is a struggle.  But how many times have you wished that you had pushed yourself a bit harder?

Getting the balance

So to aim higher means having a good balance – you must not aim too low otherwise you will never feel like you have achieved enough.  But aiming too high you have to be prepared for a lot of failure, but you should get greater reward than having low expectations – a nice by-product for over ambition.
If you go to the gym you will have a number of goals of what you want to achieve.  Quite often these can be aimed a bit too low and what is expected to take months can be achieved in half the time.

“Aim for the moon.  If you miss, you may hit a star”
W. Clement Stone

The opposite side of gym results is you aim too high, don’t quite get what you wanted and feel like a failure.  In this situation as long as you are not pushing yourself to cause injury it’s likely you will have achieved much more than you originally planned to.
The best compromise is to actually stick with aiming higher, it will be more difficult and challenge you beyond your comfort zone, but will extend you beyond the limits of what you originally intended to achieve.
With this mindset we have to realistically expect failure is an option, but not to feel bad about it.
The ‘Johns’ of the world who we perceive as arrogant and lacking humility who got that job you wanted have lived a life of rejection, failure and being put back in his place.
But because of John’s mindset he is tolerant to failure and bounces back ready to see the world as his for the taking.  All you see is the chancer who found success against the odds.  His mindset will keep him winning more than you because he has the belief that he deserves more.

“If the highest aim of a captain were to preserve his ship, he would keep it in port forever”
Thomas Aquinas

How can you aim higher?

 What areas of your life have you sold yourself short?  How could you aim higher?
 Examples could be:
  • Writing 3000 words a day rather than 1000.
    • If you average 1700 a day you are doing 700 more.
  • Aiming to pursue 100 business leads instead of 20.
    • If you get 24 leads that is a benefit of four.
  • Deadlifting 200kg rather than 120kg.
    • If you lift 140kg that’s 20kg more.
  • Running 5k in 20 minutes rather than 25 minutes.
    • If you run it in 24 minutes, that’s still a minute faster.
  • Aiming for a 1st class honours at University rather than a 2:2.
    • You achieve a 1st class honours because when you were at 2:2 level you told yourself to aim higher, so you dedicated the time and effort towards studying.
All these examples show that although technically there is failure in the final intended result, all of them have some sort of benefit to the under-ambitious goals.
By aiming too high we have to expect that failure is a possibility and embrace it.

Abraham Lincoln: Aiming Higher

In the face of history Abraham Lincoln is looked on as a prudent statesmen and successful ruler with a sense of fairness and liberty.

But how does a man extend to such greatness?

If you look back at Lincoln’s background you might get a glimpse of some of his greatness, partly which was created by his ability to aim higher.

But during the road that led to him becoming the leader of the United States you see a story of hard work, struggle and failure.

Lincoln had some big ambitions which often resulted in failure, but along that path despite many times missing the mark he made massive gains, that he wouldn’t have achieved if he had never aimed higher.

Lincoln himself described his parents family background as “undistinguished” and grew up in the wilds of Kentucky and Indiana – he had very little education with only the ability to read, write and cypher.

But he wasn’t content with this position and made efforts to aim higher, so while working on a farm he made time to read whatever he could get his hands on – The Bible, Aesop Fables, Shakespeare.  A friend said that he got to a point where he had “read through every book he had ever heard of in that country, for a circuit of 50 miles”.

With this reading mastery he went on to become a Lawyer after a 1933 Illinois legislation that said to become a lawyer an individual had to “obtain a certificate procured from the court of an Illinois county certifying to the applicant’s good moral character.” 

Using this simple loop-hole he went on to practice law in any area there was a case and was said to have a talent for simplifying his cases into key points and give logical arguments to the jury.

In his political career he suffered a number of defeats noticeably in 1855 where he did not get chosen by the Illinois legislature to become a U.S Senator and in 1856 Lincoln lost out on becoming the Vice-President nomination for the Republican party over William L. Dayton.

Lincoln had expected the defeat in 1856 to Dayton and although this plunged him into a fit of depression, he had managed to boost his profile with several prolific speeches and vigorous campaigning, making him the top Republican for Illinois.

“My great concern is not whether you have failed, but whether you are content with your failure.”
Abraham Lincoln

Perhaps at this point doubt could have set in and Abe could have told himself “I am being too over ambitious here”  But he didn’t let his failure from past high expectations stop him.

In 1860 Republicans chose to bypass a number of experienced powerful contenders in favour of Abraham Lincoln the Illinois lawyer with only the one congressional term experience as the Republican candidate for President of the United States.

The humble background of a man with a pioneer father and only one year of education as a boy went on to become the the 16th President of the United States and more famously for his role in leading the North to victory in the American Civil War.

Lincoln always aimed high and had the defeats to go with it – but with each failure he made improvements and increased his standing firstly to become an educate lawyer and then as a politician.

Imagine how different the world would be if Lincoln had not aimed higher – aspiring to be a businessman, a lawyer and politician and said to himself – “Let’s be realistic – I’m just a farm boy!”.

Aim High – What are the alternatives?

There are a number of arguments that we shouldn’t aim too high.  These approaches I discuss below.  The first is compromise.


This entails having high aims but also accepting a compromise of what you would be happy with.
For example you might want to lose two stone in three months.  But during your efforts you might be content losing just one stone in three months.
The risk is that you start slacking off when you get to the one stone mark, because in the back of your mind you keep telling yourself you have done what you intended.
Another approach is to set what I refer to as “Underwhelming goals”

Underwhelming goals:

In theory this seem a safe approach to goal setting.  In the book Raise your game by Suzanne Hazelton, the author recommends setting “underwhelming goals” – to achieve little and often so that disappointment is avoid.
Although there is merit to this strategy to build confidence there is little benefit for growth in the long-term – it’s a relatively low risk strategy.

Still aim higher:

Both these approaches seem nice in theory, but by following these ways you will always live a life of feeling underwhelmed and frustrated – that you could achieve more.  And when you keep seeing the Johns of the world getting more than you could even aspire to, you will start to think “there must be another way.”
To prove this think of a time when you achieved something when you overcame the odds?  I bet you felt great and wanted to go on and achieve more.  Therefore it’s better to endure and embrace a number of failures by aiming higher rather than living in a comfort zone where you achieve small, but relatively meaningless goals.
Unless you have confidence that will be shattered by the slightest failure the best approach recommended is always to aim high with failure when you quantify goals.

Take Action

  • Think of a situation recently where you felt underwhelmed at an achievement – what would you do differently?  Write these down.
  • Review the goals that you currently have.
  • If they don’t have a number to measure your end result apply one.
  • If it’s not easy to quantify, aim higher with your goal by adjusting the time period (for example achieving result in three months to one month).
  • Look at the amount you have and increase it to an uncomfortable amount.
  • Ensure that your goals are as robust as possible to ensure the best success with aiming higher (Use SMART objectives to help develop these).
  • Apply your learning from the previous achievement with underwhelming results and use this knowledge to aim higher.

Reversal of the situation

 In some situations you may want to apply unambitious targets if you have other people relying on your delivery.
This is something that many businesses apply when dealing with customers.  For example Amazon may promise you a package delivery within seven days.  Imagine your delight when you receive it in three.
The secret is Amazon had zero intention of your delivery taking seven days, but it was a safety net for delays and most importantly to look like they go above and beyond their promise.
Look out for this strategy – you will see it everywhere from Call Centre waiting times to restaurant service – businesses deliberately lower your expectations so that in the long run they look better for giving standard expected service.
Apply this approach to your real life – if you have a project or task to complete for a manager give it more time than you actually need.  Then apply the aim higher principal to the task and impress by finishing earlier than planned.

Aim high – fail more, achieve more

The intention of this strategy is that you will fail by aiming higher, but in the long run you should achieve more from the journey taken, rather than aiming low and being content with the destination.
Don’t worry about setting goals that are too high or ambitious where failure is a likely probability and don’t worry yourself with other people doubting your ambition – there are always naysayers who say it isn’t possible.
In a world where the children’s book market was oversaturated and publishers played it safe by sticking to established names stop J.K. Rowling writing the first Harry Potter book?  No she aimed high.
Did Michael Jordan’s constant failure, doubts about his height and being cut from his High School Basketball team stop his ambition to play in the NBA?  No he aimed high.
In all professions, there are people who underachieve because they lack the self-belief in their abilities while the confident, more determined and arrogant see the benefits.
Therefore take action to get more of what you want and ask yourself “How can I aim higher?”
How have you aimed higher in your life to achieve more than you realised you were capable of?

Further reading:

Aim higher:

Abraham Lincoln:



8 thoughts on “Aim Higher

    1. Exactly, I have learnt the hardway and sold myself short so many times that it made the success seem quite bitter when I knew I could have strived for a lot more and got better results 🙂 Thanks for your comment.


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