Most people are terrible at setting goals. I’ve repeatedly made promises and resolutions that I break every time. I’m tired of it and am taking a new approach this year.
A ridiculous number of goals go unmet each year.
The problem with setting goals is that we start and stop at the wrong end. We look at the finish line or a mountain and define that as the prize. If we break through the tape we’ve won. If we reach the mountain peak and plant our flag, we’ve arrived.
What we fail to realize is the critical element of setting a goal isn’t the end result, but how we get there.
No matter where you set the finish line, you’ll never cross it without running on a regular basis.
No matter how tall your mountain, you’ll never reach it without climbing one step at a time.In the end, the goal itself is almost irrelevant because the real progress is in the practice.Real progress is in the practice.Click To Tweet
Breakdown your goal
Take writers for example. At least one person you know wants to write a book someday. Maybe they’ve chosen this year to make it happen.
What do you need to do in order to write a book?
Write, of course!
What does that look like? Does your friend need to write the book all at once?
The average book is 70,000 words. The average adult types at 40 words per minute (WPM) That means your poor friend will be typing for…
70,000 Words / 40 WPM = 1,750 minutes = 29.17 hours
That’s almost 30 hours straight! Without bathroom breaks, food, or sleep.
And that’s just the first draft. The editing comes next so that means the crappy draft needs to be even longer.
I don’t care how disciplined and talented your friend is. They aren’t going to sit down and write for more than 30 hours uninterrupted and create anything coherent.
The most successful writers, from Stephen King to Seth Godin, write every day.
Yeah, every day.
They’ve established a daily habit around their creative output so that, over time, they are able to produce book after book at a consistent pace.
And not just books, but bestsellers.
The creative part of your brain, like any other muscle in your body, has a memory.
Fit dads don’t eat right or exercise once a week or once a month but on a daily basis.
After all, as Aristotle once said:
We are what we repeatedly do.
Our routines define our reality.
If we practice laziness with our minds and bodies, our creativity will grow stale and our body gets flabby.
Whatever your goals might be, break them down to a minimum viable action (MVA), and practice that on a daily basis.
Bestsellers aren’t written overnight, and fat doesn’t burn itself.
Aristotle goes on to say:
Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.
Fitness isn’t a finish line, it’s a race you run every day.
Establish a foundation of habits
Writers write.Parents parent.Athletes train.And anyone with kids can tell you, it’s a full-contact sport.Thinking back on the failed goals and broken promises of the past, I settled on a few areas I want to improve on. Things I want more and less of.I want more:
I want less:
One question that helps distill these aspirations (and others) to a minimum viable action is this:
What does that look like day-to-day?
Example: What does it look like to “learn more” day-to-day?
For me, a minimum viable action of “learn more” looks like reading for 10 minutes each day.
Am I going to read every day this year? Probably not, but in the end, I’ll read more than I did last year, and that’s a win.
The same goes for your fitness goals.
“Lose weight” is a popular one, but what does that look like day-to-day? Here are some suggested MVAs:
- Walk for 20 minutes
- Jump rope for 10 minutes
- Go to the gym (getting there is half the battle)
- Strength train 3 times a week
- Do a HIIT routine 4 times a week
- Drink water instead of soda
Dos and Don’ts
The simpler you can keep something, the more likely you are to do it. We like to make things complicated because then it’s easier to blame failure on not having enough time, energy, money, etc.
For daily habits, I like the minimal nature of dos and don’ts. It kinda reminds me of how parenting can feel like constantly telling your kids “do this” and “don’t do that”.
Here’s how the areas of more and less (see above) breakdown to daily habits:
- Read for 10 minutes
- Write 500 words
- Take vitamins
- Workout for 20 minutes
- Do a chore
- Floss teeth
- Drink soda
- Buy lunch
- Eat after 7pm
- Swear (if I’m being honest)
I’m using a spiffy little app called Streaks to track my progress. Whenever I complete a task, I just tap to check it off. The app does all the work of reminding me each day to keep the “streak” going.
Take it one day at a time
Whether you make it 1 or 100 days in a row with your habit, you’re going to mess up. This is where the Newton’s First Law of Motion comes into play.
An object at rest stays at rest and an object in motion stays in motion… unless acted upon by an unbalanced force.
When you miss 1 day, it’s easy to miss 2, 3, or 25 days.
When you fall off the proverbial horse, get back on.
When you miss a day, the next day is still fair game.
The more days you show up, the easier it is to show up the next day.
Super Bowl champion and Seattle Seahawks quarterback, Russell Wilson, is fond of saying his team is always 1-0 going into any game regardless of what happened on the field the week before.
No matter how many days you “win” in a row, check your ego and have the humility to show up and practice again the next day.
You can do it.