Posts Tagged goal tracking
If you would have asked me in 1988 how I would arrive at my high school reunion thirty years later, I would have offered some grand vision that involved wealth and excess. I certainly wouldn’t have said bald and walking with a cane.
Though I am blessed with an incredible life and a family beyond my wildest dreams, life hasn’t worked out for me in the exact way that I originally thought it would, and that’s OK. Life works out in the way that it’s supposed to, and it has no particular allegiance to our plans. It’s up to us to learn from and adapt to the realities we encounter.
If we pay attention and do things correctly, we stand a very good chance of being successful at life. You notice that I didn’t say simply “successful,” because many of us attach far-fetched definitions to that word, and when we fall short, we feel unsuccessful. The concept of success should inspire us to reach higher, not push us into a hole. Unfortunately, when we attach immature ideals to our concept of success, we often trigger regret and melancholy when we don’t achieve those ideals.
Among many other things, my grandfather taught me that being successful at life is almost always attainable, regardless of the advantages or disadvantages we’re blessed with. You just need to snag the blessings that come your way and then nurture them. For him, being successful at life meant having a big, thriving family, which was something that he wasn’t born into.
My grandfather’s mother died when he was four years old, when most of his older siblings had already left the house. His father did the best he could, but when the Great Depression hit Central Nebraska, there weren’t enough resources to support my grandfather and his next older brother. Realizing this, at the ages of 14 and 16, my grandfather and his brother dropped out of school and headed to a life of labor in the sugar beet fields of Western Nebraska, stowing away on trains during their trip.
A few years later, he returned with $700 that he managed to save by living frugally and working hard. With that, he started farming. Eventually, he met my grandmother, and started a family that grew to eight children and 23 grandchildren. He never earned much money, but he lived a comfortable life by prioritizing family over possessions and status. I can’t imagine a rich man being any happier than my grandfather was with his family-focused life.
I’m slowly turning into my grandfather. Instead of what I drive or where I live, the family I’ve built with my wife is my biggest source of pride and fulfillment. It’s not that I gave up on my financial goals – I like travel and hunting too much to get complacent – but if everything stayed just like it is right now, I would feel successful at life.
That’s a change from where I was thirty years ago and probably even five years ago, and it’s a change that I’d like to attribute to maturity and recognizing what’s truly important in life. We don’t need to earn more than our friends or to have bigger houses and fancier cars than them, in order to prove to ourselves and others that we are successful. We just need to do the best we can with our blessings.
No, I didn’t drive a Mercedes to my high school reunion, but it wouldn’t have mattered anyway. No one noticed, and my 18-year-old self wasn’t there to impress.
Many people wake up a day or two after New Year’s Day with a familiar but different type of hangover. They often experience the same hangover each year at the same time, but do nothing to prevent it. While headaches and upset stomachs are symptoms of alcohol-induced hangovers, the hangover I’m talking about is marked by regret and resolve, and it’s caused by misusing the previous year.
People suffering from this type of hangover call my office seeking a professional change, and they clog up my gym as they seek a physical change. Both happen much more frequently at the beginning of the year and all but disappear by summer. Why is that?
New Year – New Day
Despite the weather in most locales, January is a time of hope and optimism. Many have just spent at least a few moments in introspection through the holidays, and few are completely happy with the results of the past year. The new year represents an opportunity to erase past failures and to make positive changes. That’s what drives people to pick up the phone and call me.
My role as a recruiter, AKA headhunter, is to find my clients the talent they need in order to be successful. This puts me in touch with highly talented and successful people every day of the work week. Most tell me that they’re not interested in a professional change, but I believe that many of them are being dishonest. They might desire a change, but they aren’t ready to commit to one. Often, when are ready to commit to a change, weeks, months or years later, the opportunity I brought to them isn’t available.
Making a change is difficult. Try sitting in a different spot at church or in a classroom or meeting room. Most of us, myself included, don’t want to do it. We sit where we sit, and that is it. Moving from our traditional spot exposes us to uncertainty, and uncertainty is almost always uncomfortable. When we struggle with a discomfort as benign as switching seats, how are we going to do when facing a much more daunting discomfort, like switching jobs? Most of us are going to say that we’re not interested and continue on our not-so-merry way.
When we resist making changes that we think might benefit us, we might successfully avoid discomfort, but we can’t dodge regret. We might condition ourselves to live with regret, but it doesn’t go away without change. Most of us will wait until the discomfort of regret exceeds the discomfort of change before we will commit to change.
The people who call me in January seeking a professional change didn’t just wake up and realize that they needed to do something different in order to achieve their goals; they have likely been contemplating the call for months or maybe even years before they actually pick up the phone. The new year on the calendar simply amplified the discomfort of regret. We shouldn’t have to wait for a new year to create a better situation for ourselves.
Each day represents an opportunity to make positive changes, and there are many more new days than new years. Instead of setting a New Year’s resolution, consider setting a New Day’s Resolution. If you woke up this morning still suffering from the regret hangover, do something today to make tomorrow’s morning better. You won’t regret it.
After my sophomore year of college, I set a goal to graduate magna cum laude. I had done the math, and figured out that I could make it if I did everything right. To remind myself of that goal, I created a big sign saying “MAGNA CUM LAUDE” and hung it over my desk. When I was tempted to take a shortcut or not work as hard as I should, the sign reminded me of my goal.
I wish I could say that I achieved that goal, but an over-ambitious 21-credit-hour semester knocked me off track. I earned six A’s and one C+ that semester. Damned poetry class! I still remember the disheartening experience of calculating my maximum GPA after that semester and learning that magna cum laude was mathematically impossible, even if I earned A’s in my remaining classes. However, instead of giving up, I took the sign down and used a pair of scissors to create a sign that said “CUM LAUDE.”
* Magna cum laude was a GPA of 3.7-3.8. Cum laude was 3.6-3.7.
My daughter’s bulletin board, pictured above, reminded me of that sign and how visuals motivate the efforts necessary to achieve goals. Seeing our goals on paper flips a switch in our brains that paints a picture of the goal and a path to it. Through this mental exercise, we actually project ourselves to the place we want to be, and because we were there once in our minds, we know where we’re going. That’s why it’s easier to drive to familiar locations than it is to go some place new to us.
In an oft-cited study, Dr. Gail Matthews, a professor of psychology at Dominican University in California, found that goal-seekers are 42 percent more likely to achieve their goals when they write them down. You don’t have to create a sign, like my daughter and I did; you just need to put pen to paper.
Writing your goals makes them much more tangible than just thinking about them. While it’s still important to mentally visualize your goals; physically seeing them reinforces that visual. Goals kept in solitary mental confinement can get lost in everyday clutter, like worry and doubt. When goals are isolated in our thoughts, issues, both pressing and otherwise, can shove their way past the goal, until it is simply forgotten or conscientiously abandoned. That’s usually how many New Year’s resolutions die. We want to drop those extra 15 pounds, but paying the bills takes precedence over diet and exercise.
When a goal is in your head AND in front of your eyes, it’s much more difficult to neglect or ignore than when it’s kept secretly in your mind, but writing it down is just the first step. Place the written goal in a spot that can’t be ignored, like the corner of your computer monitor or on the mirror you stare into at the beginning and end of each day. The more times you see that goal, the stronger the image your mind creates around it.
You can also take it a step further by sharing your goals with other people, creating an accountability contingent that will ask you about your progress. Before long, you’ll become known as the guy who wants to run a marathon or the girl who wants to own a restaurant. It takes some guts to put yourself out there like that, but courage is an important part of successful goal pursuit, and it’s helpful to have others supporting you.
I did graduate cum laude, though it came down to the very end, and I barely made it. I was so close that I am convinced that, without that sign, as altered as it might have been, I wouldn’t have achieved my goal.
Try writing down a goal that is important to you. If it’s that important, it’s worth writing down. Even if you have to get out the scissors and modify it later, you’ll be closer than you would have been otherwise.
Did you already blow your New Year’s resolution? Didn’t even bother to make one this year? You’re not alone, but it’s not too late.
According to a study by the University of Scranton, published in the Journal of Clinical Psychology in 2014:
- 25% of people who make New Year’s resolutions maintain them less than one week
- another 4% make it just one more week
- by the end of the first month, 36% have given up
- at six months, just 46% are still adhering to the promises they made to themselves at the beginning of the year
- only 8 percent remain committed to their resolutions for the entire year.
Fewer than half of us even try.
If you have beaten the odds, and your resolution remains intact, congratulations! Don’t quit. If you haven’t made a resolution or it hasn’t worked out for you, hope is not lost, if you don’t let failure intimidate you into a resolution-free year.
While the beginning of the year is a good time to start a self-improvement mission, it’s not the only time, and just because you dropped the ball early, the game can continue, if you pick it back up. 300-plus days is too long to wait to try again.
First, we need to acknowledge that failure isn’t exclusive to us. The statistics above bear that out. When we try something that is new to us, like dieting or budgeting our money, we’re stepping away from the comfort of familiarity, we’re pushing our boundaries and we’re exposing ourselves to failure. These are good things, because they help us grow and enhance our experiences.
In strength-training parlance, this is called the last set (* explanation below), and I’ve been teaching my son about it. When you have pushed yourself hard in previous sets, it’s tempting to take it easy on the last set, which is exactly the wrong thing to do, because the last set is when the most development happens. The last set should have a success rate of less than 50%. This is when you add more weight than you know you can lift, and though you’ve never done it before, you convince yourself that you can lift it.
Patrick gets mad when he doesn’t get all the reps in his last set, but I assure him that he accomplished more by trying and failing than he would have by lifting a comfortable weight. Besides, he can try again during the next workout. When he does get all of the reps, the sense of accomplishment motivates future workouts. He experiences growth and success when he exposes himself to failure.
Second, we need to accept that failure isn’t synonymous with defeat. Famous inventor Thomas Edison was fond of saying, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” If you didn’t exercise three times per week, like you said you would at the beginning of the year, don’t give up. Just figure out why you didn’t exercise as consistently as you would like. Do you need to do a better job of scheduling your time? Do you need to go to bed earlier? Do you need to work on your motivation? Repeat the cycle of planning, trying, evaluating and trying again, until you are successful.
Lastly, find some way of optimizing accountability. Many of us find it much easier to make excuses to ourselves than to make them to others. I’m guilty of this one, so I tell my wife what I have resolved to do, and you better believe that she holds me accountable. Not only will she quiz me about my progress toward my goals, she has trained our kids to do it too. I often write, even when I don’t feel like it, because I know that someone is going to ask me about it during dinner that night, and it’s a lot more pleasant to talk about progress than it is to make excuses.
If you are more comfortable keeping your resolutions private, it’s still important to optimize accountability. Writing down your goals and tracking your progress in writing is a very good way to do this, and my good friend Jeff Beals has some excellent advice to help with this, in his recent column, This Is Why You Don’t Accomplish All Your Goals.
New Year’s resolutions have helped many achieve goals that were previously out of their reach and to achieve them more quickly than they otherwise would have. The self-improvement opportunity that a resolution provides is much too powerful to limit to an annual event or to abandon because of an early mistake. Make this year as good as it can possibly be by resolving to do something that you know you need to do.
* Most strength-training sessions consist of sets of repetitions of a particular exercise, with short rests between. As an example, an athlete might do two sets of ten repetitions of a leg press, i.e. he does ten leg presses followed by a break, followed by ten more leg presses.