Think, Set, Crush: Beating your Goals

Getting from where you are now, to where you want to be is obviously going to be a multi-step process, regardless of where “here” is and what your goals are. You can benefit by carefully considering each step of the process, and defining goals that actually reflect what you want.


Where can I improve? Am I willing to go the distance to get there?

Setting goals often begins with envisioning the “Success State” that your goal requires. Some success states are easy to determine, and some are more complex. 

While it may be important to understand what you’re striving towards, often a more useful question at the outset can be “how much can I spend on this?”

In some cases, the spending may require actual funds, but more often than not you’ll be spending your time and energy to attain your goal. The challenge is not to determine what you want, but how much you’re willing to sacrifice to get there.

Do you actually want the lifestyle that your goals will require? It’s safe to say that most people wouldn’t mind winning a marathon, but few are willing to train like a champion runner.

It's not just important to consider what you want, but also what you’re willing to sacrifice to get there. This helps us set goals that are both specific, and attainable. This is a big part of setting goals that you can actually meet.

What are my tools?

Once you know where you’re going, and how much you can “spend” in getting there, you’re free to pick the tools you’ll use to get there. A useful analogy is a boat: the rudder represents your goals, they steer the ship to where you want to go. 

The tools or processes you’ll use to get to your goal represent the oars, sails or motor on the boat. Your choice of tool set will determine how fast you’ll arrive to your goal, but also it’s “cost”.

Knowing the distinction between goals and processes is key. Goals determine where you are heading, and the processes to get there indicate your progress. Simply holding onto the rudder isn't enough to start sailing.

Considering how much you’re willing to invest at the outset makes it much easier to choose your process to get to your goal. If it’s a small, casual habit that you’d like to break, it probably won’t require the same investment as a goal that’s much larger. This is also an important thing to bear in mind when you're working towards multiple goals at once - if you spend all your gas headed towards only one goal, it can make it impossible to achieve any others. 

2. Managing Multiple Goals & Long-Term Goals

Having multiple goals at once may seem more complex, but is almost always the most realistic scenario. A life dedicated entirely to writing a book or getting your degree can be empty and unfulfilling. Instead, choose a few goals that don't interfere much with each other, and try to balance them with the tools below:

Goal Competition

In Psychology, goal competition is the idea that your goals are constantly competing for your time and attention. Pursuing a new goal takes resources from other goals you might have on the go.

One of the fastest ways to achieve progress on a goal is to divert much of your effort to that goal specifically. However, it's important to resist tunnel vision here - don't burn through your gas on one goal only, and take care not to let progress towards other goals go to waste. It's a balancing act, but can be helpful if one goal or task is more urgent than others.

A useful analogy here would be rose bushes. A healthy rose bush needs pruning to produce it's best, both in terms of appearance and yield. By pruning off a few good buds, it lets the great ones achieve their full potential.

Our goals are the same - by restricting the number of goals we have at any given time to a manageable number, the end result are goals that actually get accomplished, with less stress.

Pair your goals

If the goal we have is meant to become a habit, it can be helpful to anchor those goals to existing habits that we do everyday. For example:

"While I wait for my morning coffee to brew (EXISTING HABIT), I will do 3 sets of 20 pushups (NEW HABIT)"

It's also important to be specific with these goals. Researchers have found that you can be 2-3x more likely to actually follow through with your plans if they indicated a time, place and details about the habit. For example:

"I'll workout after I get home from work"

is a much harder goal to follow through on than:

"I'll go to the 5pm weight-training class on my way home from work on Tuesdays and Thursdays"

Once the goal is attached to specific activities in your calendar, it's much easier to keep up. Psychologists call these "implementation intentions". The finding that these specific intentions help us to keep on our goals is well documented.

Going back to our earlier example about rudders and motors on a boat, our goals tell us where we are headed, and our habits each day are how we get there.

Set a max

We are often taught to shoot for the stars with our goals. While this can be helpful for "big-idea" goals like writing a novel, they are much less helpful on a smaller scale, like weekly goals.

Setting a max that we want to achieve can help us budget our resources between our different goals well. Building in an upper limit to your investment in each goal helps to ensure that you have enough left in the tank to achieve the rest of what you want. In my experience, setting an upper bound also increases the quality of the result, as you're able to better pace yourself. For example:

"I want to write at least 50 pages today, but not more than 100."

Setting goals this way is also a great method to ensure long-term success. Being able to manage burnout is an important bonus here. Just because you can write 100 pages in a day a few times, doesn't mean you can do it regularly.

Making your goals realistic and attainable goes a long way towards making them into consistent habits. In the beginning, showing up and making the activity a habit is often more important than the actual result.


3. Meeting your goals consistently

Tailor your surroundings

Aligning your surroundings with your goals can be a key technique for managing impulses and bettering small habits. You're much more likely to pick an unhealthy snack if the pantry is stocked with nothing but chips.

This can also work the other way as well - for example, putting a chin-up bar above an often used doorway, and setting a goal to use it every time you pass underneath can make the exercise seem natural.

Making small changes that can reduce the number of possible options to a few, positive ones can help us achieve our goals without us even noticing it. The cues and influences that surround us in the short-term have a lot to do with whether we achieve our goals in the long-term. In Psychology, the concept is called "Choice Architecture" and shows us that good habits are hard to form in a bad environment.

Measuring your goals

We all love to get feedback, and the positive reinforcement we receive when we see evidence of our progress is a powerful tool. THe habits that we track are often the habits that we improve, and collecting data on our habits can be helpful in a few ways.

For example, if we count the number of pushups we can do in a row, and record that number every day for 2 months. We will not only be able to see our progress, but also be able to tell if we're showing up everyday for that goal. It's important to realize that the value of the data is not really the result on paper. Measure your progress to understand if you're showing up, which can tell us a lot about whether the goal is actually important to us.

As we move forward with the New Masculinity series, we'd love to hear from you guys. If you have any goals for yourself in the next few months, we'd love to hear about them below!

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