When we talk about goals and new year’s resolutions, the inherent structure of our hopeful nature is to make them big, audacious, and difficult to attain. It’s a weird mental habit for humans to actually project goals that are difficult, because then we believe they are worth doing. After all, if it was easy we would have done it already, right?
When we make our goals and resolutions big and difficult, the early enthusiasm quickly wears off. Losing 20 pounds, running a marathon, or increasing our traffic numbers by 100% is too big, and we don’t know where to begin.
The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.
This oft-quoted saying may seem inapplicable, because we can wrap our minds around taking a physical step. But how do we begin with a less tangible goal? The same way, we just have to dig a little deeper…
1. Write It Down
Give a name or title to your goal, what you hope to accomplish. Don’t just keep it cooped up in your mind! Write it in your journal, planner, on Facebook, or email your friends. Goals that stay in our brain tend to leave one way or another, better to end up in physical proof than forgotten dreams. I’ll go back to your journal, a personal place not many people (if any) see. Simply naming it for yourself is huge step, so don’t neglect it.
2. Deconstruct It
Take your goal and break it in to smaller sub-goals. This is really where the action process begins, the first step on the journey. For instance, if I wanted to start podcasting this year, it may look like this:
Goal: Start a Podcast
- Research cheapest and fastest way to produce & publish
- Define audience
- Mind-map topic ideas
- Write specific show titles
- Outline show titles
- Contact people to interview, line up dates
- Write specific talking points & outline for episode 1
- Record 1st take
- Listen, edit, be generous with yourself
- Record 2nd take, if it’s not awful then PUBLISH
- Review, ask for feedback, plan episode 2
There are a few other steps to take, the usual hosting, payment, design, blah blah blah. But these would be the basic sub-goals or tasks I can name to accomplishing the goal of starting a podcast. Deconstruct the goal to find the fastest way to test and accomplish what you want to do.
You’ll notice I wrote two related sub-goals that seem a bit out of place; be generous with yourself and if it’s not awful then PUBLISH. We tend to keep pushing back releasing our new self or product to the world because we feel it’s not ready, or not good enough. I’m saying you should produce crap, but you’ll learn more by producing something good and fast, and then gathering feedback.
3. Regular Small Wins
Deconstructing your goals in to sub-goals or tasks you can do every 1-2 days makes it easy to create small wins, the feeling of momentum that you’re moving in the right direction. This momentum is infectious, and will instill a habit of being able to take each step towards your ultimate goal. In fact, your final goal is simply another small win, in a long series of successes.
In Charles Duhigg’s book The Power of Habit, he tells how Olympic gold medalist Michael Phelps used this technique to help win a record 8 gold medals in the 2008 games. Phelps always ate the same meal, listened to the same music, practiced the same warmup, got on the podium the same way, and then won the same way. The final goal of winning the race was a by-product of several small wins he had already accomplished that day. You may not win every game or nail every presentation, but the habit of small wins help relieve the anxiety and stress which can often derail a performance. If you have a small win of eating 1 healthy food to start your day, the next ones will be easier to come by, and make your slip-ups more of a bump in the road instead of a full-on breakdown.
Another way to do this is to start each day by naming your 5-6 most important tasks. These can be your sub-goals, or even smaller goals that have risen from the work. Do these as quickly as you can to start your day, spending 30 minutes on each one (more on that in the next step). Hopefully you have the ability to work uninterrupted for at least 30 minutes at a time, and let your co-workers know when you’re buckling down.
4. Small Batch Times
Don’t plan your small wins over long periods of time. Try and have at least 1 per day. In production and software development, engineers will often encourage their teams to work in small batches with short turnaround times. This allows them to test whether or not a feature is working, if customers like it, and if anything needs to be changed. Be flexible enough to know that if your goal of a morning run doesn’t mesh with your schedule, you can adapt and make it an evening run.
You can also help your batch time by assigning a specific short time frame. In the podcast example, I would say I have 1 hour to focus on mind-mapping topic ideas and headlines. After that, I need to re-assess my progress, what I’ve written down, maybe get some feedback, and see if I need to spend more time on it. I like to keep my work batches small enough that I can reasonably do something in 30 minutes. I’ll pick that task, set a timer (I use the 30/30 iPhone app), and do NOTHING but that task for 30 minutes. Being singularly focused for that time can be difficult, and still is for me, but keeping it lower helps. After 30 minutes, I can stretch, get water, and re-assess my status. In our hyper-connected, distraction-filled world, more than 30 minutes is tough. If you are in a position to change that for your workers, please do!
5. Assign Stakes
The final and perhaps most effective method.
Put yourself out there, tell people about your goals and then ask them to hold you accountable. This has shown to be incredibly effective, because our tendency to want to look good and successful plays right in to our hands. Ironically, we can also use the emotion of hate to kick-start our goals.
- Weight Loss = Take weekly pictures and post on Facebook
- Craft project = Post regular updates and pictures
- Writing a Book = Promise the 1st chapter to email readers, or setting a hard publish date
- Running = Sign up for a race at a challenging distance
- Work Project = Post your weekly task list on Monday, then review on Saturday
All of these examples create stakes where we will look foolish if we can’t plan and deliver. The accountability we create for ourselves is a powerful motivator. The motivation of hate or spite can also be of service, which is rather intriguing. StickK, a service created by Yale Professors Dean Karlan, Ian Ayres, and Barry Nalebluff, mediates “commitment contracts” by putting a price tag on your goal. You choose a referee and a supporter, and then set a financial goal. Example: If you want to lose 20 pounds in 20 weeks, you commit to 1 pound/week, and $10 each week. If you miss your goal all 20 weeks, you’re out $200!
Some StickK’ers send their money to charities, while others will ramp up their incentive by pledging money to a cause they do NOT believe in. For instance, I would pledge money towards the Florida State University scholarship fund (I’m a Florida grad). Days I didn’t feel like working towards my goal, I would motivate myself by simply not wanting to contribute to FSU! A common practice during the election year was to pledge money to the campaign you were NOT voting for. You get the idea.
If you haven’t already, set aside 30 minutes this weekend to consider your goals for this year. Don’t consider them too big or too small, just get them down on paper. If you have time, spend another 30 minutes and do a preliminary de-construction in to sub-goals that lead to small wins. I’ll be doing the same thing and will post my notes on here on the blog, as well as social media. I’d encourage you to do the same, and I’d enjoy all of us helping keep each other accountable. If anyone is interested in forming a small group to discuss and support our 2013 goals, send me an email and we can see about getting it setup on Google+ or Facebook.
Finally, thank you all so much for continuing to read Life, Prioritized and make it a special community. It’s been a great year of learning, writing and forming connections with people. I really appreciate it and enjoy getting to talk with everyone. Have a great weekend and I’ll have a new post up by Tuesday!