Tag: goals

Why we fail to reach our goals and what to do about it

If you’ve ever read a personal development book, I’m sure you’ve come across the importance of goal-setting. Everyone and his brother seems to lament the importance of setting big goals, shooting for the moon and going all in.

This might be one of the dumbest things I’ve ever heard.

Not only does this not work, but it is actually counter-productive and demotivating according to this study.

Humans are creatures of habit, and our habits are most often based on what’s easy for us to do. What this means is that if we want to accomplish anything, we need to make sure our goal is something which doesn’t take an enormous amount of effort to do, and that it is mostly within our own control.

For instance – you can’t control whether or not you become the next Jimi Hendrix, but you can control whether you practice playing the guitar for 30 minutes each day. Playing for 30 minutes each day is achievable, within your control, and adds up over time, and those elements are the keys to achieving anything worthwhile, so let me repeat it for good measure.

If your goals areĀ achievable and within your controlĀ they will add up to a lot over time. The reason why so many fail to do this, is because we overreach – we want to achieve our goals tomorrow, and become the greatest in the world within an unrealistically short time frame.

This is also the reason why we’re so fascinated by the people who achieve outsized success, because we subconsciously recognize that what they have achieved is super-human, insofar that they have had to circumvent their natural wiring in order to get to where they are today.

While we may not see the thousands of hours in the gym, or the frustrating hours in front of the computer trying to write something worthwhile or excel at making spreadsheets (sorry), we recognize that the people who have truly mastered a given subject have put in an immense amount of effort in order to do so, and the whole point here is that so can we – as long as we take sufficiently small steps, and practice our craft diligently and persistently

You might already be at a point in your career where you are well on your way to mastering a subject and you just need a little nudge to make the final leap to complete mastery. Or maybe you are in the beginning of your journey and you’re feeling all jittery or excited, or maybe you’re in what Seth Godin calls the Dip – the point where you’ve achieved some progress and then stalled, because the effort required to reach the next level is more than you’re able or willing to put in right now.

Whatever your case, keep in mind that making your goal achievable and within your control is the first step to making enormous progress, but it is going to take a long time, and we must realize this if we want to achieve anything worthwhile.

As long as we’re stuck in the mindset that we have to achieve large goals in a short period of time, we will keep falling into the same trap and give up every time we encounter adversity, because we feel like we should be able reach our goal almost effortlessly.

In reality however, overcoming adversity is one of the best indicators for high achievement, but that’s a subject for another post.

For now, suffice it to say that when you know what you want, you have to figure out one action you can repeat day in and day out that will move you closer to your goal.

Forget about Big and Hairy – set Small Micro goals

Can you do one push up today?

Great.

Go and do it right now.

You’ve just accomplished the first step in your new fitness routine.

Do it again tomorrow and you’re well on your way to starting a fitness habit.

Do you think you can write five sentences about what’s on your mind today?

I’m sure you can.

If you can – and you did – you’ve accomplished the first step to becoming a writer.

Too often we get caught up in these long term goals – I want to be a millionaire by 30, I want to make partner at Deloitte by 35. These goals are all well and good, and if they turn you on and inspire you to show up and put in the work each day, then all power to ya. But I don’t believe this is how humans are wired. I believe humans are by nature short sighted, and I have the science to back it up. Kahneman & Tversky won the Nobel prize in economics by proving that humans are inherently biased, and one of the main biases we suffer from is myopia – short-sightedness.

That’s the reason why I believe that unless you are very un-average – which by the very nature of the word most of us aren’t – you won’t be turned on by long term big hairy and audacious goals. In fact it might be holding you back.

What we humans are really good is doing things on a day to day basis and most of us can do one thing today, as long as it’s not too overwhelming.

In the interest of illustrating my point, let me tell you about the time I went to fat camp. Today I’m smack dab in the middle of the fitness spectrum, and I would consider myself in fairly good shape. I’ve run a marathon (slowly) and can lift a fair amount of weight, but I started out barely being able to walk for 15 minutes. But in fact, that was just what we started with. Walking for 15 minutes, until it became routine. Then walking for 20 minutes until that became routine. Then we’d start going for short runs. Before we knew it, we were exercising and eating healthily as a matter of habit, and it all started with the tiniest of habits – the most manageable of tasks.

That’s why I propose that instead of making a plan to become Mister Universe, make a plan to do a push up a day. Instead of making a plan to become the next Ernest Hemingway, make a plan to write a few sentences every day.

Once you lay the foundation for a solid habit, you can build on top of that day by day. Small chunk by small chunk.

Big and hairy has nothing on small micro goals.