In the spirit of the pending holidays and the coming new year, let’s talk about goals. Not coals in your stocking, but how you’re planning to hit the ground running in January or even before then with concrete goal setting.
There’s a bottomless buffet of advice for how to set goals. When it comes to my personal experience around school, fitness, and my career, I have 3 factors to which I can attribute lasting, fulfilling success. Here they are:
- Clarify your ideals and direction.
- Take action and stay motivated.
- Surround yourself with people who inspire and support you.
Before You Set Goals, Start with an Ideals Framework
First, and most importantly… Ideals. Have them.
There is no glory in effort alone. If effort is just being cast into the world around you frivolously, there is no guarantee that life will return what you want. You are not entitled to anything just because you “tried really, really hard,” Hard work does bring success, true, but what is success to you? For all your hard work to pay off, start by defining your personal, specific vision of success.
Ask Yourself: What Is My Ideal Life? Then Match Your Goal Setting to Your Answers
In fitness, specificity training is important, especially for endurance events like marathons, century bike rides, or long swims. For the sake of a familiar example, let’s talk about a marathon. Whether you’ve participated in one or not, entertain me here.
If you need to run 26.2 miles straight, then where is the effort going for most of your training? Swimming? Biking? Weight training? No, running. Running is what you’re trying to do, so running is what you need to do more of, get better at, and devote more of your energy toward. (Yes, alternate exercises like weight training, swimming, and stretching are valuable as part of a well-rounded running regimine, but these are accessories to your running practice, not your area of focus.)
The takeaway is this: Practice who you’re trying to be by being that, now. (In this case, a runner.)
Similarly, our goal setting should reflect a level of commitment and consistency.
Next, Match Your Actions to Your Goals
This ideal goal of 26.2 miles is what sits in the back of your head as you sweat your ass off on a treadmill or cramp up during a neighborhood jog. The ideal inevitably becomes your intrinsic motivation. So, let’s pause for a reflection moment: What ideals have stayed dreams for too long?
Ask yourself: What specific actions I can take today, right now, to execute this dream?
Once we’ve established our ideals, we have to center ourselves back in the present. Now we’re charged with taking our first steps toward making our ideals our reality. To do this, we have to act.
No dipping your toes in the water, either. Our actions should be big, bold, and consistent. Go all in. I bring life to this idea in an episode of my podcast, which you can listen to here.
There will always be a reason to quit. At anything. A sport, school, on family, your marriage, your friends, your job. Yes, it’s critical to draw boundaries and know when it’s time to walk away from something if it’s toxic or simply no longer serving you. But if you’re looking for a reason to quit just because something is uncomfortable or challenging, you’ll certainly find it. Do your best to eliminate those reasons. Keep going.
Chasing a Goal? Burn Your Boat
Fight as if everything rides on accomplishing this goal, which it does. Vikings, upon entering the west, had a tradition of burning the boats as they arrived. In doing this, they eliminated even the tangible possibility of retreat or failure at conquering the land they’d just entered. They believed a warrior couldn’t give a 100% effort while knowing there was a way out. How well do you work when distraction is close by?
We Don’t (Usually) Reach Our Goals Alone
Lastly, similar to your motivation and conquering mentality, consider the direct influences that persuade you and shift your wind. These are your people. The people around us sway us off our path on accident or sometimes maleficently. Which way are the people in your life moving you? And how much is this impacting your goal setting or your motivation and actions that follow?
Do you have a friend who is always spilling the tea, eating fast food, gets you to drink too much at the bar, or maybe straight up discourages you? Who knows what that person’s motivations are. Maybe it’s insecurity or fear. Maybe it’s something else. You cannot control how another person acts or feels or what they say. You can only control how you react. Control what you can and leave the rest. As my uncle once told me, “You can’t change the people in your life, but you can change the people in your life.” Maybe it’s time to make some hard decisions and uncomfortable concessions toward renovating your social landscape.
We have all heard the sayings like “You’re the average of the five people you hang out with,” or, “You are who your friends are.” And plenty of others. These ideals are based on Harvard studies of socioeconomic studies and cohorts, current social/positive psychology research, and lifetime longitudinal studies of people. A lot of extensive work has been done to drive home this takeaway: Who you surround yourself with matters a lot. The people in our community affect how we act, how we spend our time, how we eat, and even in some ways how we think. This goes on to affect how healthy, happy, and successful we are.
A Formula for Productive Goal Setting
A concept that I think brings us full circle today is: Gleicher’s Formula for Change.
A timeless business and life concept similar to the brilliant philosophy from Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, which gave us Hegel’s dialectic (thesis–> antithesis–>synthesis). Beyond the years of philosophy and science in which this is based, there is a simple formula for how we change when it comes to goal setting and staying motivated to work toward those goals. We move directly from what is, to what is not, to a new what is, and then repeat.
- The first thing that encourages change is dissatisfaction. How dissatisfied are we with the status quo (that’s the “what is” or thesis).
- Next is vision. Our vision, which is the antithesis to the status quo, is what we compare to our ideal.
- Lastly, we have our first steps. Our massive action, action plan, and confidence as we step into a part of the world and a part of ourselves we don’t know yet. A synthesis of our dissatisfaction and our goals. Sustaining this is what builds our motivation.
The formula has one last element, however, and that’s resistance. The three pieces above must outweigh any resistance to the change we’re going to make. Resistance obstacles could be a lack of commitment, fear, insecurity, bad friends, close-minded family, limited support, you name it. Just as you can augment the side of the equation for the better, you can decrease the resistance against your plans too.
As we head into the new year, use this time of renewal to engage in some goal setting. What’s making you dissatisfied, and what actions can you take to bring yourself closer to your vision?
Need a guide for practical goal setting? Use this SMART worksheet for identifying goals:
Looking for more comprehensive coaching for clarifying your vision, goals, actions, and community? Learn more about our programs here.