I used to have a serious problem with goals. I have always been a bit of a perfectionist and that can be painful when you set goals. Because if you set goals that stretch you, you are bound to fail sometimes, if not often. That does not sit well in the over-particular brain of a perfectionist. I became so frustrated with goals several years ago that I decided to stop making them altogether. I figured that I was a hard worker and I would just simply get the results I would get, which would likely be good since I am naturally a hard worker.
There is some truth to the belief that hard work will get you through, however there is a major problem when you just work hard. A previous boss of mine used to say that most people get caught up in “pain-relieving, non-productive work.” This is work that makes you “feel” like you are working but is really just wasting time. Hard work without direction can be full of non-productive work or at a minimum ineffective work.
Goal setting is a Decision
The way I came to terms with goals was by learning that goal setting is a decision I can make to focus my time, thoughts and energies in the pursuit of something particular. That focus makes me more effective and more likely to accomplish what I want or to at least move in that direction. Without that direction I am a rudderless ship just putting out fires and not going anywhere in particular and I have no control where I end up after all my hard work.
I remember one year I created a large goal at work. To go along with that goal I had a large banner printed with 5 thermometers across it, representing 5 pillars of business through which we could generate revenue. All of the goals were going to be a stretch but I was committed and so was my team. As the year went on, two of the pillars were performing poorly and two were performing well. The two that performed poorly were aspects of the business that were struggling overall and needed some major changes for the future, and the lack of performance made that clear. The two that performed well were on target to reach our goal. However, there was a fifth pillar. This pillar had not produced very much revenue the year before and was a bit of a dark horse. We were performing incredibly well in this pillar. We were not only surpassing our goal but we had to create several extra buckets along side the thermometer to catch all the overflow as we exceeded this goal by a large amount. By putting this 5th pillar up on my goal board, we started to work on it and it paid off. We might not have focused there if we hadn’t made it a goal, and the year would have been otherwise disappointing.
This is a great example in my life where setting goals maybe didn’t turn out how I had envisioned, but it did give me concrete things to focus on and made life better because I had set goals. I was able to stay focused on the positives even though some parts of the goal were not achievable.
I was riding my mountain bike a couple of years ago, just 2 days after some heavy rain. The first 2 miles of the trail were dry and it was beautiful; we were having a great time. I woke up that morning excited with anticipation of having a great workout and a beautiful ride. We decided to go down a new trail that we hadn’t hit before. This section of the trail happened to be under heavy cover of trees and was still quite wet. After only about 100 yards, we had to stop, completely bogged down by thick clay- like mud that had grabbed onto the tires and then lodged itself in the fork, gears, shifters and basically everywhere that allowed the bikes go. The wheels wouldn’t even turn an inch. For the next hour or so, we stood ankle deep in a creek and tried to wash the thick mud from our bikes. It was totally caked on and it seemed that it would not come off no matter what we did.
When I finally got enough mud off so that the wheels would actually turn again, I got on my bike and started down the trail again. Mud was flinging everywhere and all of a sudden, a huge glop of mud flew up in the air and hit me right in the eye. Again, I was over to the side of the trail and stopped because of something getting in my way. This will happen sometimes when you set goals. I could have decided that I would never ride my bike again, thinking, “What if this happened again?” But of course that would be silly. I knew it was unlikely and that I could avoid those days that are directly after a rain storm, or at least tree- covered trails.
The Power of Commitment
Another key factor in goal setting is your commitment to the goal. Some set goals that they either have no true intention of pursuing or are only committed enough to stay with the goal if everything works out perfectly. I have a friend who decided at age 35 to change his life and he quit smoking and drinking cold turkey. He never returned to those bad habits and never looked back; he committed and made it happen. This mental commitment is the key difference between those who accomplish their goals and those who do not.
When we decide something in our hearts, have no doubts and live our lives as if it has already happened, something magical happens. Nearly ten years ago, I had the privilege of carrying my young daughter Elly to bed. She was four at the time. I noticed something that moved me. She wasn’t sucking on her index and middle finger.
From an early age Elly sucked on her first two fingers upside down like some children suck on a thumb. The thumb can cause long term damage to teeth and bite, but those two fingers were causing major shifts in her teeth and it was happening fast. She had the habit from when she was very young, in fact nearly from birth. It was an action of soothing and she typically used it to fall asleep.
The impressive part was that a couple of weeks before, I decided that we had waited too long to break her of the habit. Considering putting foul tasting medicine on her fingernails or using other habit-discouraging techniques, I opted first to talk to her and let her know what was happening to her mouth and teeth. Surprisingly, she listened and responded. She told me after this serious conversation, as I sat at her bedside, that she would stop sucking her fingers…and she did. She decided and never looked back.
I remember looking at my beautiful daughter as she slept in my arms that night and I was so thankful for her and her example. People often set goals but then do not follow through on them. I sometimes wonder what could be if people were able to accomplish their goals. What amazing talent or art has not been shared with the world because someone gave up on their goals? How many people almost wrote a great novel, almost started an amazing company or almost invented something that could impact the world. What have we missed out on because someone was almost? Don’t be almost! Instead follow the example of my friend and my daughter and Decide to Be! Make a decision and change what you need to change or pursue what you need to pursue. It will make all the difference in the world.
In the book the 21 Indispensable Qualities of a Leader, by John Maxwell, it lists the qualities of someone who decides to be. “Commitment separates the doers from the dreamers. To the boxer, it’s getting off the mat one more time than you’ve been knocked down. To the marathoner, it’s running another ten miles when your strength is gone. To the solider, it’s going over the hill, not knowing what’s waiting on the other side.”
A word of warning, this is the part that actually discouraged me and made goal setting difficult for a time. I was always so committed to my goals that I became discouraged when I didn’t hit them. I would doubt myself and bemoan how I wasn’t good enough or committed enough to hit them. Commitment is still key but in order to come to terms with goals, I had to make a significant discovery. Goal setting is a mechanism of aiming your weapons more than a statement of success or failure. That is how I was able to reconnect and start setting goals again. Today, I make goals consistently. I decide what I want and then I set to work making that happen. Does it always work? No. It doesn’t always work. But for me, looking at goals as the aim I set for myself to work in, has helped me not get so tied up on failure that I quit setting goals. Which in turn gives me a little more control in the results of my hard work. It does often look different than I thought it would, but I control the direction of my trajectory by setting and pursuing goals.
Some Days Need a Reset
One final thought as you hopefully sit down to set your goals for 2019: you will have great days and terrible days. On those days that nothing seems to go right, when everyone and everything seems to be fighting against you and your goals, my advice is to use the 5 minute rule. Sit down and take it all in. Wallow in your miserable situation and the terrible day you are obviously having. Sometimes it might even be the second or third day in a row that things are not going well. So stop and sit on a chair you don’t normally sit on. Complain internally about how frustrated you are and how things just are not going well and do it for a solid 5 minutes. Set a timer, make sure you take the whole time. When the timer goes off, stand up and drop it all. Move on and leave all that was frustrating you on the chair behind you. Don’t bring it up again –just have a fresh start.
In boxing, coaches often teach their athletes to have a mental reset. A series of movements or body touches that they practice that resets them mentally. This is important to boxers because you can imagine that when you get hit really hard in the head, you might forget about the game plan you made before the match. Boxers might touch their nose, their forehead and then their nose again and this resets them mentally after a hard hit. It gives them a chance to go back to the game plan they had before the match started and the other guy started punching them back. The 5 minute rule has been that reset for me. It allows me to get back on track pursuing my goals even after a hard blow … or two.
I wish for you success and happiness in 2019. May your new year be bright and may you be able to steer your personal ship to the beautiful vistas you always imagined you would find. Decide to Be!