Just a few weeks into the new year, and it’s usually around this time that we start to guiltily look at those hastily bought gym memberships and fridges full of fruit and kale.
I’m no exception to the rule either, I have a pair of boxing gloves I bought specifically for competing that’s sitting besides me right now, gathering dust.
If this is how you feel about your year end resolutions, you’re not alone. Only some 8% of resolutions succeed according to one study. We want to get that raise, quit smoking, drink less, read more, start that business or side hustle, make more money, save more money. You might even be one of those people who make huge lists every single year, only to throw them away a few weeks later.
It would be laughable how every year, people make the same goals and every year they break them, if it weren’t for the fact that setting and reaching goals is actually a really important skill to master to be successful.
But don’t feel too bad, it’s actually been scientifically proven that we humans are bad at setting goals for ourselves and actually following through with them. After all, it’s hard to concentrate on a goal set in the distant future when there are so many things battling for our attention right now.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. There are proven techniques that can help us, from start to finish, to set, consistently work on, and achieve our goals.
So now that the afterglow of New Year’s parties, and bold proclamations of how this is finally going to be one where everything changes, are starting to wear off, it’s time we get moving. Otherwise all we’re going to be left with is a plastic noisemaker and a to-do list that we’re just going to put off forever.
So let’s tackle 2016 together and make sure that this is the year we do goal-setting strategies right.
Time to get SMART about goal setting
Many of us shoot ourselves in the foot right out of the gate, because we make that classic mistake of not setting the right goals.
Just think about any time you’ve fallen victim to the common planning fallacy in which you give yourself a doomed, self-imposed due date for a project. You’ve got the general idea of how to make sure your project is done on time and it seems pretty easy to do, all things considered, until the moment you realize you’ve severely underestimated the amount of time and work needed to go into it.
Multiple studies have proven that the human brain is just terrible at judging how much work is needed for any task, and that’s just for things that are due next week. Just imagine how bad your bad your brain is when it comes to achieving goals at the end of the year. The further away the result is, the less likely your brain is going to be able to comprehend the amount of work it will require.
So don’t be surprised when you’ve got the caffeine jitters pulling an all-nighter and cursing your past self for choosing to spend time with friends and family instead of productively working.
Stupid once-in-a-lifetime magical moments with family
Now before you start thinking the solution is to become a closed off and emotionally distant family member, what you need to understand is that this isn’t about working harder, it’s about setting the right goals so you can work smarter.
Which is why I am a huge fan of setting S.M.A.R.T goals. Goals that are, in just one sentence, specific, measurable, actionable, relevant, and timely. While this seems easy enough to do, it’s actually incredibly surprising how few people take take this approach when setting goals. Here’s why each component is important:
Specific – Has a clearly defined objective, so instead of something like “getting fit,” it turns into “lose 15 pounds.” A specific goal should be able to answer the five “W’s” of Who, What, When, Where, and Why.
Measurable – Being able to measure your progress is vitally important when it comes to achieving your goals. So using the previous example of losing 15 pounds, you can easily measure and keep tabs on how close you are to reaching your goal.
Actionable – When you look at your goal, ask yourself if there are any specific actions you can take in order to achieve it. For example, “be happier” is a goal that is not actionable, unless you pin it down or break it up into something more specific, like “devote 2 hours a day to X activities that make me happy.”
Relevant – Most people are bad at goal-setting in part because they don’t actually consider what problems the end result actually solves. Rather than just pursuing something that seems like a good thing, really consider why you want to achieve this goal and how it will ultimately benefit you and/or your business.
Timely – Set yourself a deadline for this goal. Research has found that setting a definite time and date makes you 91% more likely to complete your goals.
Take a look at your list of goals for the year. Are they looking a bit too vague? Maybe a little too open-ended with no set deadline?
Do yourself a favor and start setting yourself some SMART goals. Once you do you’ll finally have specific targets that you know you can work toward, instead of vaguely worded statements with no plan of action.
Breaking it down with Goal Pyramids
As an entrepreneur, you probably have the type of personality where you want to do everything at once. While that attitude can be a strength, it can also easily be your greatest weakness.
The double-edged sword of having a can-do attitude is that you naturally have the motivation and drive to follow through with all the goals you set for yourself. However that attitude also means that you’re more than likely the kind of person who gets discouraged very quickly if you don’t see early results.
Fact of the matter is your type-A personality makes you bite off more than you can chew by making you want to change everything at once. In the end you get overwhelmed, you get demoralized, and then you give up.
“Stop setting goals. Goals are pure fantasy unless you have a specific plan to achieve them.” – Stephen Covey.
Think about it this way, if I invited you over to dinner and cooked you a massive pie to eat all by yourself, what would you do? If you refuse, then you have successfully insulted me, so get out of my house and never be invited to another dinner party again. Especially after I slaved away all day to make this pie for you! And take the slides of your vacation with you too, no one here wants to see you 150 photos of you awkwardly posing in marginally different backgrounds!
You are now officially “that” guy
However if you decided to relax and take it “one bite at a time,” then you are a qualified entrepreneur.
The reason many people don’t succeed or even get started as entrepreneurs is because they only see the end result. They only see a huge online presence, thousands of customers, and the dedicated audience. All they see is a humongous amount of work and feel like they won’t be able to achieve their goal because of it.
What they forget is that everyone has to start somewhere, and the human brain has an impressive ability to exaggerate the possibility of failure and the feeling of fear. The best way to achieve a big goal isn’t to try to do it all at once, but take it one step at a time.
What you’ll quickly find out is that your one big goal is like that monster in your closet, once you actually take a close look you realize it’s just an lumpy green sweater. Your big goal might seem scary if you’re just looking at the end result, but once you take a closer look you’ll realize it’s just a series of smaller goals that add up to the result you want.
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Be sure to check out our business breakdown with Matthew where he shows a member of the Foundr community how to properly use the Goal Pyramid to achieve success.
The ritual behind hitting goals
Raise your hand if this sounds anything like you:
“I’m really good at starting things, but sometimes I lose focus and and I don’t follow through all the way.”
Is your hand up? Because my hand is up.
You know the scenario, you start off all motivated and write down a list of all your goals and what it is you want to achieve by the end of the year. Then, usually by the second or third week, you’re just not that passionate about it anymore. You’ll start to think “Wow running in one spot every single day is actually really boring” or maybe even “It’s raining outside, I can skip a day.”
One missed day turns into a missed day here and there, which then eventually turns into you not achieving any of your goals. You end up demoralized and thinking that something’s wrong with you because you couldn’t stay motivated the entire time.
Let me stop you right there, because you immediately need to get something into your head.
Anyone can work hard when they’re motivated. The difference between successful people and everyone else is that successful people go to work everyday regardless of how they’re feeling.
“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” – Aristotle
People love to think about the final result, but we rarely think about all the work that it takes to get there. Because in our minds, it seems so easy to just lose 20 pounds, or get that big raise, or come up with a new startup idea, but in reality it takes a whole lot of hours and hard work to get there.
In reality, it’s more than just having enough passion or motivation, it comes down to just practicing the same thing over and over again.
So instead of focusing so much on the result, switch your mindset and focus on the ritual.
Think of things you do every day, like brushing your teeth or washing dishes. You don’t do it every day because you consciously consider some long-term achievement you’ll reach by doing so.
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It’s just a thing you do every day and night, because you’ve ingrained it in yourself that it’s a necessary part of your daily routine.
That’s exactly the kind of mindset you need to have when it comes to achieving your long-term goals.
You need to turn working toward success into a habit.
A study by the European Journal of Social Psychology has found that, on average, it takes 66 days for a habit to become automatic. That’s just a little over eight weeks of doing the same thing every day before it becomes a natural part of your daily life. If you can make it through two months of discipline, then you’re much more likely to achieve your long-term goals.
I highly recommend apps like Streaks and Momentum in helping you track your progress with your daily habits. You can even just get an old-fashioned calendar and draw a big X for every day you complete your habit. Turn it into a challenge and see how long you can keep an unbroken streak going.
For the more gamer-centric readers out there, I suggest HabitRPG, an app that literally treats your life like a fantasy role-playing game. If fantasy isn’t your speed than you can try SuperBetter to further gamify your life and track your progress to becoming a better you.
Priming your environment
Let’s start here with the example of dating. One of the most important factors in a date going well is the scene you set. I don’t care how charming you may be, it’s not going to go well if you’re at an open mic night and the guy on stage is doing a furious slam poetry reading about his Oedipus complex.
But what does dating have to do with entrepreneurship, other than the fact that as a startup founder you’ll probably never go on one again? It’s the fact that half the battle is in setting the scene.
If you’re serious about achieving your goals and making a change, then you have to change the environment you work in.
It’s impossible to eat healthy when you’re surrounded by unhealthy food, just like it’s impossible to be more productive when you’re constantly bombarded with distractions. In short, it’s impossible to make a change unless you have an environment that allows you to change.
According to writer and designer Jack Cheng, every object in the world emits a habit field, meaning that every object contains a certain set of attitudes, memories, and habits that we associate with it. Which is why it’s difficult to work from your bed, compared to working at your desk, because your brain naturally recognizes your bed as a place of sleep and relation. It’s harder for your subconscious to switch gears when it comes to working in that kind of environment.
Remembering that our previous point is all about how setting up the right process and having the right habits is the key to achieving your long-term goals. Part of that ritual is setting the right triggers for ourselves.
Learning how to manipulate your habit fields is a major step toward becoming more productive and crushing your goals. Armed with this knowledge, start creating environments where your positive habits can flourish.
Find out what kind of work environment works best for you if you want to be more productive with work, or find some unused corner in your home and designate it as the workout space. But, and here’s the tricky part, you have to make sure that you only use those areas for your designated tasks.
Master your environment and you’re well on your way to being the person you want to be at the end of the year.
Anyone can set a New Year’s resolution for themselves, but it really does take someone special to grit their teeth and find that mixture of strategic planning, persistence, and willpower to push past it all and actually follow through. After all, talk is cheap. But by following these methods, you’ll be able to do more than just talk the talk. If you use all of the tools at your disposal, I know for a fact that it is possible to set and achieve whatever goals you give yourself, no matter how lofty they may be. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to set a specific, actionable plan to put those new boxing gloves to good use.
So what are you going to accomplish in 2016? Tell us your goals in the comments below and let us know where you want to be at the end of the year. And if there are friends you want to support as they work to better themselves, share this advice with them!