“In the cycle of nature there is no such thing as victory or defeat; there is only movement.” ~Paulo Coelho
Did you make any resolutions for the new year? Setting goals is a powerful tool. Humans couldn’t have evolved this fast without it. Humanity has been on a tear over the last century. As a species, we’ve surpassed what most would have thought capable, and we only seem to be getting more efficient in our success across the spectrum.
How about you? Have you been as relentless in your pursuit of your personal goals? How many of your 2022 resolutions did you keep? Statistically speaking there’s a good chance it wasn’t many. Which is fine. Failure is never a bad thing when you use it to create actionable data. At least you know how far you goal and what kept you from accomplishing it, right?
If you don’t have a specific record of this, you’re in the majority. But without it, it gets hard to have the type of consistent results that humanity has had as a whole. Be it technology, medicine, science, manufacturing, media, or even athletics, the common theme in the consistent results shown in these fields is a consistent method used to reach these same results over time.
The other common theme between these larger efforts of humanity is that they’re all group efforts. These goals are accomplished by forming companies, governments, universities, and other institutions where individuals come together to serve a common purpose. The good news is, you as an individual can use the key techniques these groups use to guarantee success on a personal level.
“The good life is a process, not a state of being. It is a direction, not a destination.” ~Carl R. Rogers
The first thing that can be helpful, if you haven’t done it already, is to stop looking at your resolutions for the new year as a one-year thing. There’s a reason we often reset the same resolutions every year. The process of setting and reaching goals is rarely a one-time thing. Successful organizations set goals knowing they will fail to reach at least some of them.
While it sounds counterintuitive to set a goal you know you’ll likely fail to achieve, when you look at it from the broader process of setting and accomplishing goals, it makes more sense. There are a minimum of three parts to achieving any goal. The first part is to set the goal. There are entire books on this part of the process alone. We’ll dive deeper into it below.
The second part is to go out and try to achieve the goal you set. Depending on how effective your goal setting was, you may be able to attack your goals immediately, or it may require work just to determine the best way to accomplish the goals. After reading this article, you’ll know how to set goals so you can dive right into this second step without any inefficient additional steps.
The final part is to have a full accounting of your results going back from the end of the period you gave yourself to accomplish the goal, to the time you set the goal. You must be able to reconcile the results with the process back to the setting of the goal itself. This means unless you have a photographic memory you’ll have to take notes throughout. Once you do this, then failed goals become the most valuable part of the process.
“A goal properly set is halfway reached.” ~Zig Ziglar
What goal you set is the most important part of the process. It may seem obvious, but it’s trickier than it seems. Take for instance my coaching customer, we’ll call her Mary. Mary told me every year she set a resolution to go to the gym three times a week every year. Every year without fail she never made it past January.
The first question I asked Mary was, do you like going to the gym? No. Then why do you want to go to the gym so badly? To lose weight. At some point in her life she was programmed to believe that going to the gym was the most effective way to lose weight. After conversing more, we identified the reasons Mary was overweight. As we discussed her behaviors, I identified many weight loss hacks that would be more effective for Mary than going to the gym.
It turned out Mary drove to and from work everyday where she sat at a desk the entire time. When she didn’t go to the gym, she hardly exercised at all. I also found out that she watched Netflix until bedtime every night and when doing so always had post-dinner snacks. During a 5-minute conversation, I found out a lot about Mary she didn’t know about herself. I learned she stopped going to the gym because it wasn’t helping her meet her goal, to lose weight. The primary reason she wasn’t losing weight was a complete lack of physical activity outside of the gym, and because whenever she binged watched she binge ate.
That’s an example of the first part of setting effective goals. Digging until you find out what your goal should be. Once you figure that out, the next step is to tie a process within your control (that can effect the outcome you want) to a desired result. I always suggest starting small and simple. Going to the gym is a large commitment and if you’re too busy with life and work it may simply be out of your control if you can go or not.
For Mary, I suggested she start walking for fifteen minutes a day three times a week and limiting herself to one snack while she watched Netflix. After a month she was running a mile a day and only drinking water with Netflix. Why? She lost seven pounds in the first two weeks and when she saw results, it made her want to put in more work. Tie your goals to the areas you specifically need to work on, not what you think others are doing. Then start small and add on incrementally from there.
It can be hard to know what goals to set, but at least everyone who wants to accomplish a goal knows they need to set it. This next step often isn’t done at all. It’s the biggest reason for failing to keep New Year’s Resolutions.
Many of you reading this will be familiar with it from addressing business objectives at work, yet most of us don’t implement it in our personal lives. When a corporation fails to hit their quarterly or annual goals, the first thing they do is compare the current year’s performance to last year’s performance and see what the variances were. This can look different depending on the organization, but it’s clear, to get where you’re going, you need to know where you come from.
Failed goals aren’t the worst thing in the world. They aren’t even necessarily a bad thing. A failed goal can mean any number of things, but if we’re willing to pay attention, they can do more for us than success ever could. The first thing it can do is illuminate our weaknesses and strengths. Imagine you want to wake up, run five miles, and see the sunrise every morning because it makes you feel amazing. Problem is, you just can’t get out of bed on time no matter how early you go to sleep.
Failing a goal may make it seem unrealistic, and it may be, at least temporarily. It’s likely a sign that the first step is to make smaller concrete goals on how to wake up earlier. Perhaps you start waking up earlier in increments. Perhaps you need to do certain activities after you wake up to help you stay energized for longer. You can work on staying awake after you wake up for longer periods of time incrementally. All of this is possible if you’re recording the process, failures, and successes. We live in the information era and information is power.
Another thing an accounting of goals can do is illuminate whether we are simply targeting the wrong process to get the desired result. It’s fine to fail at going to the gym three days a week this year, so long as you’ve kept a record of when you went the gym, how you felt, how much weight you lost, and when you stopped going. Then, you can use that information to determine what the problem was. Do you need to wake up earlier so you have time to go to the gym? Or, it may be that you don’t need to go to the gym at all. It could be you just need to walk for a few minutes a day and stop binge snacking.
Like everything else in life, once you master it, you can take it to the next level and hack the goal setting and accomplishing process wide open.
Once you know how to set the right goals and you’re keeping track of your progress and holding yourself accountable for your successes and failures, you’re ready for the ultimate goal hack. Whether it’s your annual resolutions or just your normal three-week, three-month, and three-year goals, once you have some familiarity with your goals and your process of working through them, it’s time to bust them wide open.
How? With linking. Goal linking, as I call it, is where you look at all your goals not as individual goals, but as a collective. Together they should be painting a picture. Within that picture there will be areas of overlap. By consciously linking these areas together in your mind, you can create goals that have crossover which ends up supercharging your results.
Let’s go back to Mary. In addition to wanting to lose weight, Mary wanted to start a side-business where she made and sold her paintings. She had a lot of old paintings that she thought she could sell, but putting them in a gallery wasn’t feasible and the thought of starting a website or an online shop overwhelmed her.
By linking the process of watching less Netflix to both the result of losing weight and having more time to learn how to start a website and market her art, we found a super process. That’s a process that doesn’t just tie to one specific result but also to at least one more. As you become better at it and more familiar with your overall goals, you can chain link super processes to desired results and identify single processes that accomplish multiple goals simultaneously.
At that point it not only becomes more effective, it becomes fun. You’ll never have to worry about not keeping your New Year’s resolutions again. In fact, you may get so good at managing your goals all year round, you don’t need any.