What even is a goal?
A goal is an idea of the future or desired result that a person or a group of people envision, plan, and commit to achieve.
How can we learn more about goals?
Google always has answers 🙂
But I prefer a more “old school” approach of reading (and sometimes listening to) books and articles written by others much smarter than I am.
A few of the books I have enjoyed have led me to believe that the sustainability of goals comes not in the big, grand actions we think are required to achieve a specific outcome but in our daily habits.
Author James Clear has written extensively on goal setting. I love his article entitled “Goal Setting: A Scientific Guide to Setting and Achieving Goals”.
In this article, he notes a strategy he learned from a friend, author Mark Manson, in which he asks a different question about goals and goal setting.
Often we begin by asking what we want to achieve and what success would look like. Clear proposes that what we should really be asking is, “What kind of pain do I want?”
Nearly all of us want to achieve the result of more money or finally losing weight, but are we willing to do what it takes to achieve those results? Are you willing to sacrifice what it takes to reach that end?
It is not just about the prize at the finish line but the cost of the endeavor overall.
And while goals are what determine the direction you are heading, it is the systems that you put into place to move you toward your goal that actually create your progress.
For example, I had a “goal” to run a marathon. The “system” I had to achieve the goal was a training program/schedule that lasted the entire year. I probably could have achieved my “goal” sooner but I knew that I had the time to work on my “system” for that long so it worked for me.
It is the system that you put into place that is actually how you achieve the goal. Habits are the microsystems that we can develop to move us toward our goals.
In his book, Atomic Habits, Clear says, “You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems.” With systems in place, small 1% improvements will lead to remarkable results.
In the book Tiny Habits by B.J. Fogg, he shares his model for behavior change. Fogg suggests that for every behavior you need a trigger, or something that signals the behavior, along with ability and motivation. If one of those parts is not present the behavior will not be executed.
Clear and Fogg would agree on the idea of a trigger. And they both suggest “habit stacking”. This is the idea that you choose a cue that is something you already do and add your desired habit to that.
“After I brush my teeth, I will do 10 push-ups.”
“After I run out of something, I will add it to my shopping list.”
“After I step into the shower, I will take 3 deep breaths.”
Whatever triggers or cues you decide on, research shows that you are 2x or 3x more likely to stick to your goals if you make the action very specific.
Rather than saying I would train for a year to prepare for the marathon, I got specific. I would run 3 mornings each week after waking up, making my long runs on Saturdays when I had more time available. I added riding my bicycle two mornings a week for cross-training, leaving Wednesday and Sunday as rest days.
Knowing what days, what times, and how I would train took the ambiguity out of it so I had fewer decisions to make each day. It was already determined. I just needed to follow the plan.
Once you have a goal and a system in place, you can work on the boundaries within those systems. Maybe in the beginning you are doing something that takes less than two minutes as James Clear might suggest.
Maybe you are looking at the least amount of effort we are willing to offer.
” I will make at least 5 offers today.”
“I will call at least 3 new contacts each day.”
“I will lose at least 5 pounds this month.”
While these thresholds may get you started, the idea follows that if you can do more than the minimum, keep it going!
Clear suggests that along with the minimums in our systems, we should also put an upper boundary on our actions to avoid burnout and sustain our long-term growth.
I’m Michelle. I am learning how to minimize my overwhelm, perfectionism, and people-pleasing and I am ready to help you do the same. I’m a certified Life Coach and a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Come with me and learn how.
This is the area I made my mistakes in when I first decided to run a marathon nearly 15 years ago. I pushed myself to the point of injury and I could not sustain the training I was doing.
This last year I used an upper limit along with a lower threshold. I would run the suggested length of time, but if I wanted to do more I would add no more than 2 miles to the total distance. I wouldn’t add more training days only a little more distance.
This allows you to keep showing up which is especially vital in the beginning when the progress seems slow because as James Clear says, “If you don’t build the habit of showing up, then you’ll never have anything to improve in the future.”
Finally, I believe in the idea that what we measure improves. Karl Drucker said, “That which is measured improves. That which is measured and reported improves exponentially.” Even if it is only reported to ourselves.
Our brains love feedback. Measuring our progress can be one of the best motivators as we work toward our goals. It is the measuring that shows us how we are progressing. In my training I could measure the total distance, the pace I was running, the length of time I took for walking, how much I was drinking and eating for fuel, etc.
With all the data from the very beginning of my training, I could see how I was progressing as the year went on. When it came to race day, there was no question in my mind that I would achieve my goal because I had the data to prove it.
I really enjoy the science of goal setting and the studies that show the most effective practices for progress and long-term growth and sustainability. That is the type of results that really interests me.
It is not just the result that I can achieve, but more importantly, the person that I become along the journey. That is the purpose behind my goals for me: to see the person I can become in the process and discover what is possible for me.
So even if I don’t achieve the results I was after, there is always the benefit of growth and self-awareness along the way. I have not failed until I give up on the result. And in that awareness…..It’s ALL good!!