How many goals do we set and never achieve? Why do we fall short so often?
We set goals to give us a future that is better than our present. A goal represents our aspiration to change in some way: finances, health, influence, adventure, family. Regardless of the area that the goal is in, or what our intended outcome is, the one commonality that ties all goals together is this: change. And therein lies the key to success with goals.
Goals can only be achieved when we change our behavior and maintain this change, consistently, for as long as it takes to meet the goal. After all, if we were to set goals based on our current behavior, things might not turn out as we would like.
No one says, “by the end of this year, I will have twice as much credit card debt as I do now.,” though that might be the direction of their current behavior. Eliminating debt, as an example, requires that a new set of actions be taken consistently.
Consistency in action comes when we build a habit. To build a habit, we must deliberately perform an action the same way repeatedly, until it becomes second-nature. This is where rituals come into play. Rituals, as I’ll get into below, can be a powerful way of building habits in a deliberate, methodical way.
Now, armed with the ideas of goals, habits, and rituals, I’m going to show you a relatively new system I use for tackling goals, using rituals to build habits that lead me to the end I seek. As a case study, I’m using an actual goal I have from this blog.
If you’ve ever read anything about setting goals, this section won’t be new. Stick with me, though, because it’s always good to get a refresher on the basics. If you’d really rather skip this, click here to get to the next section.
I’m not sure where it originated, but I personally like the “S.M.A.R.T.” acronym for goal-setting. S.M.A.R.T. stands for:
Specific – “I want to be healthy” is a worthy aspiration, but as a goal it needs to be more specific. How about, “I need to be 165 pounds, have blood pressure at 100/65, and have a resting heart rate of 70 beats per minute by July 2013.”
Measurable – Another reason “I want to be healthy” or “I want to be rich” are poor goals is that they are not measurable. By being specific and including measurable values, we know when we have achieved our goal, and how close we are to it in the meantime. One reason health and financial goals are so useful is that they are very measurable. You can measure in pounds and inches, or dollars and percentages. The time which should be attached to any goal is measurable and extremely important. See “Timely”
Attainable – A goal needs to be attainable – seems obvious enough. I personally like to set goals that are just outside of what I consider to be attainable. This way I get a chance to stretch my abilities and assumptions about what is possible. Some people believe that nothing is impossible [link: blog of impossible things]. If a goal is too far from your current capabilities though, you’re likely to get discouraged and stop working toward it.
Relevant – A goal needs to have a real meaning to you. It needs to be something that will make a real and positive difference in your life. Without relevance, why should you care?
Timely (or Time-based)- I don’t like setting goals that are too far out. I keep them to a year or less, generally. It’s too hard to see where I’ll be beyond that. Also, I set a specific date by which to achieve the goal. Setting a date keeps the goal from stretching on and on and never being reached.
Of course, we need to write down a goal, preferably somewhere we will see it frequently. When I write out a goal, I tend to use a format such as this:
“My goal is to help 4,500 email subscribers improve their lives by February 28, 2013, by spreading the message of Jump!, which I believe in, and to be a source of income, which I need to be able to continue running the blog. This goal is attainable by finding 100 more subscribers each month than the month before.”
It’s Specific and Measurable: “4,500 email subscribers”
It’s Attainable: “by finding 100 more subscribers each month than the month before” – after studying blogging for nearly a year, I’m certain that this growth is possible.
It’s Relevant: “spread the message of Jump!, which I believe in, and be a source of income, which I need to be able to continue running the blog”
It’s Timely and Time-based: “by February 28, 2013″ and “100 more subscribers each month than the month before”
So far, so good. But many people, myself included, tend to stop there. The next, vital step is to consider what changes I need to make in my life to accomplish this goal:
- I’m going to need to write a lot more, specifically as a guest writer on other blogs, in blog comments, and on social media. These activities help get my name out in the world and provide something of value which some people want more of.
- I’m going to need to reach out to bloggers, coaches, speakers, teachers, and researchers in my niche. This will build my network and provide opportunities for me to grow my knowledge, interview experts, and introduce people to Jump!
- I’ll need to adhere to a schedule of regular posting on the Jump! blog and podcast, which is coming soon.
Since I’m big on taking action…
…let me ask you to take a moment and do this exercise with a goal you recently set: Write down what changes you need to make in your life to bring that goal to reality. Be specific and in-depth. Once you’re done, come on back and finish the rest of this post.
Consistent Change Requires New Habits
Now, taking the changes we know we need to make, the next key is turn them into habits. By making our goals into something we work toward habitually, we virtually guarantee our success.
For my goal, I’ve identified these habits, none of which I currently do consistently:
- Write first thing in the morning.
- Use Google Calendar to schedule what I’m writing about and when to publish it.
- Comment on good posts at related blogs, no more than 30 minutes per day.
- Spend 30 minutes per day on social media platforms finding and connecting with interesting people.
What habits do you need to form to make the changes necessary to achieve your goal?
Take a few minutes and write them out.
Use Rituals for 21 Days to Solidify Habits
It’s all fine to say we’re going to start a new habit, but how do we actually get started? How do we practically guarantee success with it?
Make it a ritual and carry out that ritual with consistency for 21 days.
Rituals are specific, prescribed actions that we perform in the same order, the same way, at the same time, on a regular basis. They are routine with purpose. Rituals are everywhere – religion, politics, law. You may have a morning ritual to get you ready for your day. Now it’s time to put the power of rituals to work toward your goals.
My research, including my own experiences and others’, has shown that to build a solid habit (or to break an old one), you need a few weeks of deliberate, consistent, regular action. To make this easy, I round it off to 21 days, or three weeks. Tougher or more complex habits may take longer, say 28 days.
To help me get in the habit of writing every morning, I’m going to use the following ritual. I’ve based this on what I already know works well for me.
[I add one little thing to every ritual I create: a trigger. The trigger is what sets me on the path of starting and completing the ritual. You'll see what I mean.]
Alarm goes off [trigger]:
- Get out of bed immediately, splash some cold water on my face.
- Drink a glass of water while the pan heats up for my egg.
- Cook and eat an egg and some toast.
- Brush my teeth.
- Open my computer and check my writing schedule
- Brainstorm and outline on the scheduled topic for about 15 minutes.
- Write. Do this until the post, or podcast outline, is completed.
- Send a link of the finished draft to my wife for proof-reading and critique.
I’ve created other rituals for the remaining habits, which I’ll be glad to share if you ask me to, but I think you get the idea.
Take a moment now to expand one or more of your new habits into rituals that you will perform every day (or at whatever frequency is necessary). Set reminders for yourself to perform this ritual. All you need to do is stick with it for 21 day – just 3 weeks! – and you’ll have developed a habit that will serve you well for life.
- Write down your S.M.A.R.T. goals.
- Decide what changes you need to make in your behavior to achieve these goals.
- Determine the habits you need to develop to make those changes.
- Make a ritual out of each of the habits.
- Perform the rituals consistently for 21 days.
P.S. – a couple bonus tips: most habit-building experts recommend taking on only one new habit at a time. Feel free to experiment with this, but keep in mind that it may be very difficult to build two or three habits at once. Also, find a partner, mentor, or peer who can help you by holding you accountable and offering feedback, suggestions, and encouragement.
P.P.S. – I mentioned in this post that I have a goal of reaching 4,500 subscribers by February, 2013. The start of that goal is to reach a total of 100 subscribers this month. I’m not doing this for fame or fortune, but mainly just to make the world a great place to spend our lives. I believe very strongly in the message I’m delivering here on Jump! and would ask you to subscribe, (click here if you haven’t yet), or to share this post on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, or your favorite social platform. Thanks!