A typical goal-setting story:
- Get motivated.
- Read about goal-setting.
- Download the latest habit app.
- Take action for a few days.
But you’re not one of them… or are you?
Don’t worry. We all have been there. It’s not your fault, it’s just the fault of the human brain.
But today, let’s change that.
If you’ve read articles about goal-setting before, you might have come across SMART goals.
It’s a framework which says we should keep Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timely (SMART) goals to accomplish our goals.
Although the framework is useful, it’s not always helpful for all the goals in life. So, let me share with you another method of goal-setting which works wonders.
So often, when we are all pumped up and inspired to accomplish big goals, we forget about the daily small actions we must take to reach closer to our goals.
Reaching your goals is the result of your habits. So, instead of shooting for a goal, shoot for micro-habits and set the criteria for success tiny.
For example, if your goal is to read more books, the big goal is to read a book every week. A “SMART” goal is to read for 30 minutes every day at 8 AM. And a micro habit is to at least read a single page today. Once you finish one page, your next goal is to read another page.
A micro habit reduces the friction of accomplishing big goals, banishes ‘all or nothing’ mentality, and makes the criteria for success small. It lets you take the smallest first step towards your goal in the present moment.
There are two ways you can track your progress:
a) Based on your behavior
b) Based on the outcome
An example of the outcome-based goal is hitting a number on the weighing scale. An example of the behavior-based goal is eating a healthy meal.
Focus on the things you can control directly. Yes, you can influence the number on the scale indirectly but to reach that result, you can eat healthy meals, which is directly in your hands.
There is nothing wrong with measuring the outcome but before that, measure your actions.
This way, we can’t blame anyone or anything but take full responsibility for our actions to reach our goals.
Aim high, raise the expectations from yourself but lower the expectations from the results. Raising the expectations from yourself is about raising your standards.
It’s important to have self-efficacy (belief in oneself) to reach your goals. But, don’t stretch the difficulty so much that it turns into a false hope syndrome.
Also, don’t rely on results to feel happy. Many times, it takes longer to reach your goals than expected. So, don’t get disappointed. Slow progress is better than no progress. Let the micro-habits and behavior-based goals be the source of your pleasure.
It’s good to “shoot for the stars” but so often, we raise the bar of our expectations from result so high only to feel unmotivated if we don’t see the result we want. It may lead to a downward spiral of negative emotions and we may quit altogether.
So, if your goal is to become better at your craft, practice it using a micro habit and track your behavior. Now, repeat that without the need to feel happy with the results. You can aim to be the best but know that it will take time and effort. Have patience and keep performing.
Delay the gratification and don’t expect a good result. As you will perform the daily grind, you will see better results, eventually. But first, you must perform with no expectations.
Sometimes, you don’t know what you really want when you set a goal. You may set a goal to lose the extra pounds and start running. But later, as you train your body more often, you may start enjoying strength training.
Similarly, you may pledge to meditate in the evening but you fail to do so often. Here, you can change the timing and meditate right after waking up when you can make sure to get it done.
So, don’t hesitate to change the direction of your goals or actions. Life is a discovery process. We don’t know who we are and what we want. The only way to find out what you want is to try things out.
It’s also okay to change what you want. You may set a goal to earn more money so you can buy a car. But years after when you have the money, your interest may change and you may no longer want a new car.
So, stay flexible with the approach or the goals. There is no need to be rigid with the goal-setting. But you do need to be resilient, which brings me to the next point.
Being resilient in the age of instant gratification is a tough job.
To become resilient, first, you must have a strong reason for your goals. Do you know the core reason you’re doing what you’re doing?
For example, the core reason to increase your productivity could be because you think there is more to life than work. You may want to spend less time working so you can do other things you want to do in your one and only life.
Another reason could be to do better quality work. You may want to make a greater impact on the world with your work or see better results because you want to thrive in life.
Second, you must practice resiliency in your daily life. Make it a habit to persevere and keep at it until you get what you want.
Take full responsibility for your success. Rethink failure. Take setbacks as opportunities to learn and improve.
Circumstances, obstacles or your environment can’t get in your way because no matter what comes your way, you will never give up.
As much as it’s important to focus on micro-habits, it’s also crucial to have a bigger perspective of ‘what’ and ‘why’ of your goals.
Take the time to reflect on a regular basis. Do you short-term goals align with your long-term view? Are you performing the right micro goals? Are you tracking the right behaviors?
Focus on the biggest win by using the Pareto’s 80/20 principle. 80% results come from 20% of your actions. Deconstruct your goal to find out the key habits and the right metrics to measure.
Be intentional with your actions and goals. Don’t do the busy work for the sake of moving in any direction. Educate yourself to move in the right direction.
Your long-term vision doesn’t have to be realistic. A fulfilled life is more about striving than achieving. You will get hedonically adapted to achievements but you will always find meaning in life when you strive for more greatness in life.
Also, don’t worry if you have too many items on your bucket list. Have a long-term vision and think about what you want to do now and what you can do later in life. You don’t need any more tactics to accomplish your goals except the next (and last) one.
Success is not complicated. It’s rare because it takes relentless focus towards the most important thing in life to reach the top.
You have all the distractions in the world. Things like internet, news, social media, people, events, ‘busy’ work, food, shopping, entertainment, etc. try to steal your focus.
It has become an art to protect your vision from such distractions.
To stay focused you can:
- Reflect on your goals daily and weekly
- Put reminders
- Block the calendar
- Write down your goal and habits
- Write a “not to do” list
- Set accountability (personal, friend, community or coach)
- Set stakes — punishment or reward (Do it in the beginning but ultimately, become intrinsically motivated)
Another category of distractions are the ones that look healthy on the surface but can take your focus away from your number one goal. Unlimited information (books, blogs, podcasts, courses), other goals in life, too many ideas are the examples of such distractions.
Lifelong learning is your best friend but you should know what to choose, what to skip, when to fast forward and when to slow down according to your current knowledge.
You may also have other ideas or goals in life you want to accomplish. You can pursue 2–5 goals at the same time if the goals are not difficult or if they lie in different categories. For example, you can lose weight and succeed in your career at the same time.
But for difficult goals, you must choose one at a time in your life. This is where the Follow One Course Until Success (FOCUS) principle comes in.
Goal-setting is much like planting a tree.
To achieve your goals…first, you want to set the intentions, which represents planting the seeds.
Then, you want to water the seeds, which means taking action. When it’s time to take the action, be a hero and silence the lizard brain and the chimp mind.
Last, you want to put your energy into the action which represents sunlight. Taking action is not enough. You must put in your focus and effort into the task. This is why it’s so important to manage your energy on purpose so you can give your best when it’s time to take the action.
Over to you. Go, take the first micro step towards your biggest goal now.