How to align yourself to getting things done—and enjoy success

LA Headers 960x640 (11)I've always been fascinated why some people seem to achieve incredible goals seemingly effortlessly, while others give up along the way, and others may as well have not set any goals because they have achieved very little.

Have you set yourself a SMART goal and still not achieved it? Goal setting, we know is a powerful tool in helping us focus on a specific objective and put our energy and resources towards achieving it. But did you know that human beings align themselves to achieving their goal in one of four ways?

And that the way you align your energy and resources to achieving your goal can be the determinant as to whether you achieve success or not?

What is it about those people who set big, stretching goals for themselves and get there without the fight that the rest of us seem to face?

Even something as simple as making sure everything is properly organised and filed and those minutiae are dealt with. All, effortlessly… or at least that's what it looks like.

I recall my Godfather shared a story about swans gliding along the river, elegant and poised. No trace of the furious effort beneath the water as they paddled furiously against the current in search of a morsel of bread I had thrown.

Is this the secret of those who seem to glide through life to and endless stream of successes?

I tried to master this idea of appearing poised whilst furiously beavering away and, of course, failed miserably. It was exhausting. I was expending huge effort in my work and huge effort in trying to appear that I wasn't working.


Perhaps, I should just let the current take me wherever it would. But then, I would find myself drifting towards the weir of life and the turmoil of burbling rapids and somewhere downstream in the opposite direction.

And, it's not just our long term goals where this matters. We live in a world of busy-ness. There's a constant demand for our attention from work, from colleagues, bosses, clients, family, friends, and beeps from devices, and emails and more all clamouring for immediate attention. In part, this modern life itself distracts us from our plans, so it becomes increasingly important that we keep on top of everything and not drown in a sea of todo lists under a cacophony of beeps.

So let us explore the four different ways we can choose to align our effort, energy and resources towards achieving our chosen goals. I call them, Push mode, Pull mode, Drift mode and the fourth is really a combination, the PushMePullYou mode.

Push Mode

Multi-tasking, endless todo lists and long hours in the office are all indicators that you are in Push Mode

If you have to drive others towards an objective, even drive yourself towards it, I call this being in push mode.

Push mode is typified by focusing your attention on problems that need to be resolved, or things that need fixing. Many people use a ‘todo’ list or a GTD (getting things done) system. Are you one of them? Take a look at yours now and see if it is a list of problems.

The fun, creative or enjoyable things rarely make it onto a ‘todo’ list – rather there is a tendency to say that once the list is done and I have time, then I’ll do the fun stuff.

What’s more, you will already know that the things we pay attention to are the things that grow and the things we don’t pay attention to tend to fade away. So if we focus on problems (call them challenges or issues if you must but they are still the same thing), we will find that the problems grow. So here’s a radical thought, if we focus our attention on interesting, exciting, fun things, they will grow. And our problems, won’t they fade away?

“But you don’t understand. I have to get this report done, I have a ton of emails to clear, I have to attend this meeting, I have calls to make to angry customers, and if I don’t I’ll get fired. I simply don’t have time to talk to people, take it easy, smell the flowers…”

And when your stress levels have made you so sick that you can’t work, let alone afford the hospital bills you’ll feel what exactly? Accomplished? Valued? Important?

Nothing more satisfying than lying in bed recovering from a heart attack knowing how much your contribution is missed.

I’m not saying that these things (some of them anyway) don’t need to be done but that by not focusing on them, they will (and do) fade away. Oftentimes, they just get done. Without stress, without worry.

In Push Mode, we are continuously pushing ourselves (and others) towards our goals relying on our own effort to keep us on our straight and planned track. Obstacles that we face in our way are enemies to progress which may force us to re- plan our route. Our motivation stems from outside forces, the concrete and measurable goal is frequently thought to be motivation enough and any resistance to achieving the goal, self-inflicted or external resistance, is just another obstacle.

In Push Mode, when progress is slow, we re-plan and consider time management a priority. Only, unless you have discovered the secret to warping the space-time continuum, you cannot actually manage time.

Pull Mode

People in Pull Mode appear relaxed, as if life was for living instead of working constantly

People in Pull Mode appear relaxed, as if life was for living instead of working constantly

Pull Mode, on the other hand, is about leadership and paying attention to growth and improvement.

Rather than focusing attention on problems to be solved or fixed or overcome, in Pull Mode we take time to clearly envision our future and allow the goal to pull us towards it. The results of Push Mode and Pull Mode may appear to be the same (that is the achievement of the goal) but Pull Mode takes less effort and allows our unconscious activity to take precedence over conscious linear processing.

The idea of Pull Mode is that you create a vision of the future that is so compelling for you (and perhaps for others) that you cannot help but be drawn towards it. The things that you need to do on the way become minor irritants that simply get done and anything that really is not important is not done and fades into insignificance.

When you focus your energies on remaining in your strengths zone, the things that you are talented at, good at and enjoy doing: everything becomes effortless. You'll be faster, enjoy all of your work and have time to spare.

“Hold on, what if something that is important is not recognised as being important?” Excellent question. Things that appear to need to be done, whether important or not, on your journey are your friends – they are obstacles to your progress but think of them in terms of friends, or learning opportunities.

Let me take a personal example if I may. Two things about running a business that I personally do not enjoy:

  1. Filing,
  2. Doing the accounts.

I appreciate that some people just adore filing and doing the accounts but I don’t. In Push Mode, I resist doing them until I absolutely have to or, usually, risk a penalty. It is the penalty that drives me to do it. I still hate doing it but I dislike paying a penalty more. In Pull Mode, these things still come across my path but now I see them as friends – the chance to look again at scraps of notes, letters or offers. I have learned to change my mindset from doing the filing to my enjoyment of a clear desk and in-tray and just do it. It’s no longer something I resist. Do I enjoy doing it? No, I don’t if I think about it consciously, I just let it happen.

Let me stress here, that I am strong at doing these things but I do not enjoy doing them.

“But what if it should be done and its not that critical or important?” The chances are, for me, that it won’t get done. Importantly, if I find myself resisting doing something, I stop, tune into my thought processing and ask myself why I am resisting it?

For example, keen observers may have noted that I didn’t talk about doing my accounts in Pull Mode above. You’d be right. It is something that I continued to resist – I can’t really explain what it is about doing the accounts that I just don’t want to do, and I found this quite strange considering that I do enjoy building spreadsheets of budgets and am quite au fait with P&L and Balance Sheet – and then it occurred to me that I like thinking through future scenarios, but what’s done is done. I honestly can’t be bothered about it. Now, of course, there’s legal compliance… and I realised further, I really don’t like to be told that I have to do something. So what did I learn from this resistance? I learned that I am quite happy considering the future and do not wish to have to create organisation of the past.

Decision? Outsource to someone capable and trusted.

In Pull Mode, you only do the things that you want to do that move you towards your goal such that the work you are doing is effortless. Obstacles that need to be overcome that meet with your own resistance are a warning flag to you that something else is going on – stop and allow yourself to consider what the resistance is trying to tell you.

“Isn’t it possible then that you’ll go into Pull Mode, and miss the important things that need to be done?”

Sure it’s possible, but unlikely to be important in the achievement of the goal. Things that are a requirement in your society but have no direct relationship to the achievement of your goal. Yet there’s a third mode of being that is neither Push nor Pull, and that’s Drift Mode.

Drift Mode

Drifting along may seem like a good alternative to push mode, but where do you end up?

Drifting along may seem like a good alternative to push mode, but where do you end up?

The stresses of Push Mode, always making things happen and forever coming up against obstacles and ‘time-wasters’, causes many people to fall into Drift Mode rather than Pull Mode.

Drift Mode is quite different to Pull Mode, somewhat ‘New-Agey’ in influence where one just ‘lets things happen’. call it karma, fate, life forces, whatever – it generally involves emptying your mind of worries and anxieties and just letting life happen to you. Whatever way the wind blows, you drift along with it.

You might end up on an agreeable shore when you allow yourself to drift over the seas of life, or you might end up somewhere unpleasant, or. most probably, you’ll just continue drifting along.

Pull Mode is different because there is a clear and articulated vision of your compelling goal that is pulling you towards it. The aimlessness of Drift Mode may be refreshing for a while, but the anxieties of life will soon catch up and cause as much stress as Push Mode already does for the vast majority of people.


Pushing yourself and forever pulling others towards your goal, is like herding cats. Frantic, chaotic and essentially, useless

Pushing yourself and forever pulling others towards your goal, is like herding cats. Frantic, chaotic and essentially, useless

This mythical creature in Dr Doolittle provides a metaphor for how many leaders feel about leadership. They are in Push Mode for themselves, driving the agenda and encountering resistance of their ‘followers’ who have to be pulled, some suggest dragged kicking and screaming, in the chosen direction.

No wonder many leaders are exhausted. Many drive themselves to an early grave or opt-out entirely and fall into Drift Mode.

“How do I know which mode I’m in?”

  • Do you take pride in hard work? Do you brag about working more than 50 hours a week? Do you use ToDo lists? Do you think that in order for things to happen, that you have to make them happen?
    • If you answer yes to most or all, you’re in Push Mode.
  • Do you have a compelling vision of your future self? Find your work effortless? Know that everything that needs to be done will be done?
    • Sounds like Pull Mode.
  • Have a sort of idea what I want in the future? Take it easy whenever possible and avoid unpleasant tasks? If things happen they happen, if they don’t ‘they don’t?
    • Drift Mode.

“Surely it’s better for your health to be in Drift mode than Push Mode?” Sure, if you have a lot of savings or a rich family to fall back on. But if you have no goal in life, just what are you doing here?

  • Do you find that you drive yourself and pull everyone else, kicking and screaming along?
    • You're in PuhMePullYou mode.

Those who enjoy life effortlessly and get things done are in Pull Mode. They focus on a clear, compelling goal and stay in their strength zone.

Professional Leadership Caddy

I help people unlock their talent, unstuck their potential and unleash their own (and their team's) performance through behavioural neuroscience based coaching and mentoring.

Most whip smart independent contributors, technical specialists and managers get frustrated trying to be heard and understood by their business leaders and they lack enough time and inclination to develop the skills they need to move into management and leadership positions.

Proven systems. A personal coach and mentor.

I combine time-tested systems, behavioural neuroscience and psychology research and practical tools with the accountability and guidance of a 1:1 coach and mentor to UnLock your Talent, UnStuck Your Potential and UnLeash Your Performance.

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