Friday, February 16, 2018

How to Keep Your Goals Without Stupid Tricks

So we've reached the point in the year where most of us have abandoned our resolutions, the gyms have started to empty out, and the first twenty or thirty pages of the wonderful novel we set out to write have started collecting dust. No problem! We can just Google "how to keep goals" and find an easy 1, 2, 3 method with all kinds of gimmicks and tricks for making sure we are back on track.

In fact, I have a lot of tips and tricks on this site that I use to try to hit my goals.

And sometimes I do. Sometimes I don't.

So as we round the middle of February, I started to wonder, how can we go about keeping our goals, when all the lists of quick and easy methods have failed to keep our interest and we've failed to make progress? As I've come to grips with why I've missed some of my own goals, I think I've figured it out for myself, at least: it comes down to some tough truths.

Drop Kick The Stupid Goals

When wondering why you are not hitting your goals, first ask yourself, "Is this goal stupid?"  When setting a ton of goals in some annual resolution or planning session, we tend to have lofty opinions of what we can get done and how much we can transform in a year. Maybe some of those are too ambitious. Maybe some of them are just plain dumb. Give yourself permission to boot anything you deem stupid and unimportant off of your list.

If you have not been working on your goal or really trying to keep it, perhaps it isn't that important to you.

That may hurt to hear, because you know deep in your heart that you were destined to be a concert cellist, and so you set that goal to learn twenty pieces of music on the cello this year, but here in the middle of February, you cannot honestly say you have practiced once. Or even purchased a cello.

There's a quote on my desk from Gandhi that says "Action expresses priorities." I used to have a boss that would say "You vote with your feet." Both express the same thing. What you determine to be important actually gets your attention and action.Take a few seconds on the goal you are not accomplishing and ask yourself if you have not spent time on it because it just is not that important.

If it's not, kick it to the curb and focus on better goals.

You only have 8,760 hours in a year, and I'm guessing that you'll probably sleep for 2,000-2,500 of them. So don't waste time on goals that you do not really care about. Focus on things that matter. And focus on things that are important to you. The clock does not stop ticking.

Stop Making Excuses

"I've been too busy to focus on this" means "this really is not that important to me." "This other activity got in the way" means "I chose to work on this other activity first." "I need these things from other people to be able to start my goal" means "This was an unreasonable goal with dependencies outside my control to prevent me from taking accountability."

If you want to accomplish your goals, you have to stop making excuses.

Ask yourself why you have not made progress on your goal. Write your answer down. Read it and realize it is an excuse. Either it is a reason that you made an unattainable or bad goal to begin with, or it is a little story you tell yourself to make you feel better for failing.

Excuses are lies that hide our accountability in failure.

If you want to keep your goals, you have to stop allowing yourself to excuse the behavior. Have you ever been on the end of a "non-apology apology?" I know I've received and given them. Take this scenario. Bob says to Jane, "You look horrible today." Jane gets her feelings hurt. Bob says, "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to hurt your feelings." Do you think that apology makes it less hurtful to Jane? No, it doesn't. It doesn't matter what Bob meant, the results matter.

You know why that is? Reasons for behavior don't change the results of the behavior.

Knock that through your head, and then think about excuses. Does it matter why you didn't work on your goal? No. It doesn't. What matters is that you didn't do it, and that you start working on it instead of not working on it. So every time you justify it in your head, you absolve yourself somehow of blame and make it easier to skip working on it next time. 

As an exercise, try to reframe your thoughts about your progress on goals with a total accountability mindset. Accept accountability for the choices you made that led to these results. So instead of "I did not have time to work on it last week," you should say "I chose to go out to a long dinner and watch seven hours of television instead of working on it last week." Just that change in thinking lets you view your actions in the context of their impacts on your goal. And you might just decide that your goal is not important. If that's the case, go back and drop kick it. Otherwise, change your behavior.

Do The Work

This next sentence will sound dumb, but it is not only true, it is the core understanding you need to start accomplishing things on your goals: The reason you are not making progress on your goals is because you are not working on your goals.

Got it?

If you want to make headway towards completing something, you have to work on it. Again, this sounds like something that you should follow with "duh," but it's worth reading it here in print to try to let it sink in.

This also means that you have to stop talking about your goals so much.

I'm not going to go to the extreme that Derek Sivers does in this TED talk about goals and say that you can't tell anyone about your goals, but you do need to spend a disproportionately larger amount of time working  on your goal than talking about it.

Writers often like to talk about their novels, because they have this world and swirl of ideas careening around their head so much they feel they will explode if they don't talk about it. People obsessed with other goals or ideas do the same. But the outlet needs to be work, not talk.

Talk doesn't get that book written or exercise done.

This may also mean you need to stop reading about why you are not completing your goals. I'm OK running the risk that you stop reading right now and go work on your goal. But if you aren't going to go do that and you will get distracted by Facebook and that episode of your favorite show on Hulu that you haven't watched yet, then keep reading (and then go work on your goal).

One last excuse-buster for you. If you are thinking you don't know where to begin, just begin.

There's an old joke that is supposed to explain the concept of conquering giant goals. It goes something like this:

    Q:  How do you eat an elephant?
    A:  One bite at a time.

The moral here is you have to break your larger tasks into smaller and smaller ones until the impossible seems (and is) doable. Sometimes the magnitude of tasks can scare us, but it's easier to think not of "how I can do this" but instead of "where can I start" and "what can I do next."

Even individuals that get that concept of decomposing goals down and working smaller chunks can get stuck wondering where to start. Do you start at the head of the elephant or the tail?

In the interest of getting away from consuming endangered species, I'll switch to another metaphor, eating a 20 ft x 20 ft pizza. So what happens if you get stuck wondering where to begin consumption of 400 square feet of Italian pizza pie? Just start eating. And then stick to it. And if you stop, start again.

It does not matter if you eat the crust first and work your way in. It does not matter if you slice it into bite size pieces. It does not matter if you pick all of the pepperonis off the top first and eat those. Or even if you roll it up like an area rug and start gnawing on a giant burrito-end of the thing. What matters is you start and don't stop.

So long as you move from one task that makes progress onto the next task that makes progress, you keep getting closer to the goal.

Seems simple, right?

It's not as easy as it seems, but you have to get out of your own head. Just keep going. And if you miss a date or deadline or task, just pick up where you left off and keep going.

Want one more example? This post was supposed to hit the blog on a Monday. After all, I had a goal of putting posts out at a certain interval. But I got started late and editing took a while, and so it did not go out until later in the week. But it went out. And that's the important thing. I kept writing and editing until I could publish it, so you can read this exact sentence.

So, the time has come. Stop reading. Stop talking. Start doing. Get out there and make some progress. Then let me know about it!