I’m a big believer in beliefs and in setting goals. I’m also a big fan of making lists. In fact I could probably make a list of ten reasons why you should have beliefs and goals. Or ten reasons why making lists is a good idea.
I’m not necessarily talking about religious or spiritual beliefs, although some of my comments would apply to those beliefs too. And I’m not talking about those lists which exist more for the existence of the list than to help us remember something, or to make our day more efficient. You know the kind of lists I mean:
- Wake up
- Get out of bed
- Clean teeth
- etc etc
Brilliant! Five minutes into the day and three items ticked off already. Fortunate the first one was achieved or the day would probably not have turned out quite as productive.
The beliefs and goals I’m talking about are the things you think, the things you tell yourself, regardless of whether you would openly admit to believing them.
How do you speak to yourself and what sort of things are you saying? Those are two very important questions which you’ve probably never considered before. You hear the things you say to yourself more than the things you hear from anyone else – including nagging partners – because you can keep repeating things to yourself long after others have stopped talking, in your sleep at times.
If you are constantly telling yourself you won’t be able to do something there’s a wealth of evidence to prove you’ll be right – you won’t. That doesn’t mean just repeating something as a mantra will automatically make it happen but it’s more likely to. See my comments about positivity in my last post – Ashes to Ashes.
It’s also more likely to happen if you make yourself accountable, tell a friend or family member about your goal, write it down, set a deadline for it to be completed or if it’s a long term project, set progress milestones. These are all common, and well-known techniques for project management which can be applied to our lives. But thought should also be given to the kind of targets or goals you’re setting yourself.
For Christmas 2013 I wanted – and was bought because I’m a luck boy – a Nike Fuelband. That’s a bracelet which monitors your movement throughout the day and gives you a score based on your activity levels. It can prompt you to move if you’ve been inactive for too long and you can set a daily goal which is your target for the day. (Other similar devices are available :-)) It doesn’t get you fitter but it’s a painless kick up the backside to remind you to move.
What was interesting to me about using the device in the context of goals and targets was that if you do something like play golf or run, you are almost certain to hit a daily target of 3500 (don’t worry what the units are – they are a Nike creation). However, if you’re not able to do any sport that day, or are travelling for most of the day, it’s difficult. There have been many days I’ve found myself running up and down stairs at 2300 or walking round and round airports to get the last few points to hit my target.
The dilemma is where do you set the target? Set it too low and it doesn’t really push you to achieve – so it’s not really an incentive. Set it too high and you are certain to fail on some days. What I found as my streak of days of achieving my target grew into months was that the target had become the main goal, not the activity which led to it. And so after about six months I reduced the target to 3200. This made it slightly easier to hit on non-sporty days but believe me it’s still a reasonable target. As a result I managed to complete a year of hitting my target everyday.
I accept I am a little obsessive about some things – I prefer to call it driven – but the goal of getting a full 365 days of my target simply took over from all the other purposes of the device. For the record I still wear it and try to hit my target but I’m not stressed is I fall short some days when normal life takes over and makes exercise difficult.
A similar example of the process taking over from the purpose and resulting in me feeling trapped is my approach to the lottery. I have been doing the lottery since it started – you’ve got to be in it to win it, right? How else is my life going to change into the hedonistic ideal I’m fantasising about? And I’ve used the same numbers. I know them off by heart and it makes renewing my entry very simple. But now I can’t stop because I would know if those numbers came up and I hadn’t entered that week. How gutted would I be to see my 14 million to one chance disappear because I took a break or saved a couple of pounds? A perfect client for Camelot.
You may think these are very ‘first world problems’ and I’d be the first to agree but I’ve used them because I think they are typical of the kind of things we can get ourselves trapped in, as well as some far more important things.
Do we continue going to this society or this club because we’ve been going every month without missing for x number or months or years? I’m sure there are similar examples in your life. But what if we simply did what we wanted, without adding the pressure of habit then we’d have more time and we could use the positive benefits of habit for other things to create real worthwhile change in our lives. I think it’s important to keep sight of the purpose – the destination – and don’t let the process or journey become the main goal. Sure you need to enjoy the journey and not simply be fixated on the destination but we need a clear idea of where we’re trying to get to, or who knows where we’ll end up.
It’s about making manageable changes, slowly and constantly, because then it’s sustainable. I hear people say they are going to start a positive habit and instead of saying they are going to do it five minutes a day, or do it three times a week – which is manageable and sustainable – they go at it like a bull in china shop and try to do 30 minutes a day or do it for 6-7 days a week. And then they are surprised when they lose steam and give up after a short period. Diets fall foul of similar pitfalls – but you know my thoughts on diets too.
So in my experience the lists and goals which work for people are when they break up their long term goal into daily or weekly targets which are achievable but not easy, they write them on a list to keep track of their achievements and they make themselves accountable in some way to achieve the goals. But perhaps most importantly is they make sure the daily or weekly list is not overwhelming, and if they achieve it sooner one day then they reward themselves rather than adding more tasks for the day. And if one day or week there are some unachieved goals, that’s not a failure. Simply rewrite your list for the next day or week to accommodate those tasks. It’s important for you to see achievement and progress however small because it’s those small incremental steps that lead to real change. As World Record endurance athlete Stu Mittleman said:
“I never ran 1000 miles. I could never have done that. I ran one mile 1000 times.”
The Barefoot Bohemian.