Strategy that can help you achieve your personal best

Co-founder of The Life You Can Save, Charlie Bresler, tells why we must set goals, and why they must be realistic but also push us.


As I’ve grown older, I’ve come to really appreciate the importance of having goals – even lofty ones. But achieving our ‘simple’ goals, living our values, is actually a big challenge. 

Accomplishing even our lifestyle goals can often be too difficult. We get angry at ourselves after we have the second piece of cake (sometimes after the first), drink more alcohol than we think we should, get angry rather than ‘turn the other cheek’, drive too fast, prioritise work over family or don’t exercise as much as we should. 

And all of us have failed to live up to our most cherished values – like the value of a human life. Surprising? Let me explain. 

Peter Singer, the famous Australian philosopher, challenges all of us to give more to the least fortunate – and to give more cost-effectively and impactfully. 

Read: How to make an impact with your charity donations

Living simply

Too often, we tend to respond to the emotional pull of those people and causes closest to us, rather than giving to organisations and causes that have a demonstrated capacity to use donations most effectively. 

We could all live a simpler lifestyle in order to have more money to reduce unnecessary suffering and save more lives – and improve the environment. But helping others in the most effective ways poses a difficult challenge. 

There is no single explanation for our repeated failures to ‘do what is right’ by our own standards, or from a strictly rational point of view. As a species, we have an extremely strong tendency to be guided by emotions that move us away from rational decision-making – towards decisions that immediately feel good but do not fit with our longer-term goals or values. 

Read: Why Spring Cleaning is good for your health

So what is the best way to improve in the face of this natural short-term orientation? I suggest a strategy of ‘personal best’, whether we are trying to live a healthier lifestyle or attempting to live according to our highest values.

Most athletes are familiar with this concept of personal best. The idea is that rather than set goals based on comparison to other people’s performance or a lofty and possibly unrealistic ideal, we use our own past performance as the measure for goal-setting. 

Personal best

In order for a goal to improve performance, it must be both a bit of a stretch and attainable. We are pushing our own envelope. 

Thus, by setting a goal just outside our previous best performance, both conditions – attainability and improvement – can be achieved. This strategy works for both lifestyle goals and for living closer to our highest values.

Read: Making saving more personal

For example, instead of trying to shed 10 kilos or dramatically altering your lifestyle to have more money to give to the most effective charities, apply ‘personal best’. Eat a little less of those ‘bad’ foods, give a little more to the most impactful, cost-effective charities than you did last year, and each year keep adding on a bit more than you gave before. An excellent group of these charities can be found on our website, Good luck and good giving –and eat a little less cake too! Strive on for perfection, but not all at once.

Do good. Feel good.

Charlie Bresler is a co-founder and board member of The Life You Can Save.

Receive your free copy of The Life You Can Save today (there’s even an audio book narrated by celebrities Stephen Fry and Kristen Bell) and make your donation count.

Are you good at setting goals? Do you usually achieve them? If not, why not? Why not share your thoughts in the comments section below?

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