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Last Updated on January 20, 2021

Plan for Chaos: How to Stick to Your Health Goals When Life Gets Crazy

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Plan for Chaos: How to Stick to Your Health Goals When Life Gets Crazy

I played baseball in college. During the offseason, my teammates and I would battle through friendly Strongman competitions where we would flip a giant tractor tire, drag a sled full of weights, and generally push, pull, and throw heavy, oddly-shaped things. Occasionally, there would be an event where someone would complain about “not being built for this” or about “not training for this type of thing.”

Eventually, my roommate responded to the whining with a simple phrase: “Train for chaos.” “Train for chaos” was a simple way of saying, “Don’t tell me that the circumstances aren’t ideal. Tell me that you’re going to make it your responsibility to be better prepared next time.”

You may not find yourself flipping tractor tires anytime soon, but you can adapt this philosophy from “train for chaos” to “plan for chaos.” I find that this mentality can be incredibly useful when it comes to sticking to your goals and living a healthy life — especially when life gets busy.

Here’s how you can use this idea…

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Plan for Chaos

Let’s say that you have a goal that you want to stick to consistently. For example, working out three times per week or meditating for five minutes each morning. If everything goes as planned, then sticking to your goal isn’t too difficult. If you wake up on time, then you should have the extra five minutes to meditate in the morning. If rush hour traffic isn’t bad, then you should be able to make it to the gym before going to your kid’s performance tonight.

Basically, if there aren’t any unexpected interruptions, then it just comes down to getting started. But when life gets busy and chaos starts to happen, that’s when we start to come up with excuses. Phrases like “I wasn’t expecting this to happen…” start creeping into your life and you end up pushing off the goals that you said were important.

The chaos and unpredictability of life is one of the factors that makes sticking to your goals difficult. Which brings us to the important questions…How can you stay consistent when day-to-day life is so unpredictable? How can you plan for chaos?

Reduce the Scope, Stick to the Schedule

My personal goal is to stick to a writing schedule that involves publishing a new article every Monday and Thursday.

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Last April, I was traveling internationally when I had a terrible case of food poisoning. I wanted to publish a good article that day, but this unexpected sickness made things difficult. So, I told myself, “If I don’t have a post written before 11pm, then I’ll publish one letting people know that it’s coming later this week.”

A few hours later, I published an article that said, “This post is coming!” I hated publishing something that wasn’t useful, but I still proved to myself that I could stick to the schedule even when the circumstances weren’t ideal. I’ve written previously about adopting the mentality of “reducing the scope, but sticking to the schedule.” The basic idea is that on any given day it is more important to stick to your schedule than it is to meet your expectations.

For example, my expectation is to write a useful article every Monday and Thursday. But it’s more important that I stick to the schedule and maintain my habit for the long-term than it is for every post to be incredible. In my experience, the If-Then Technique is one of the best ways to stick to your schedule when life gets crazy.

The If-Then Technique

The If-Then Technique is the perfect way to plan for chaos and stick to your goals even when life gets crazy. Why? Because it forces you to create a strategy for reducing the scope, but sticking to the schedule before you actually need to do so.

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All you need to do is complete this phrase: “If [something unexpected], then [your response].”

For example…

  • If I don’t wake up in time to run tomorrow morning, then I’ll run after work.
  • If I can’t make it to yoga during my lunch break, then I’ll take a stretching break this afternoon.
  • If I buy something unhealthy for lunch, then I’ll cook a healthy meal for dinner.

The If-Then Technique forces you to consider the unpredictable circumstances that so often enter our daily lives. And that means you have fewer excuses for doing nothing and more options for sticking to your goals.

You can also use this technique as a way to plan for poor performances as well. For example, a basketball player could say, “If I miss 10 free throws at practice, then I’ll visualize myself making 20 free throws before I fall asleep tonight.” It’s a useful way of forcing yourself to consider how you will practice deliberately rather than just putting your time.

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Where to Go From Here

Having a busy day, dealing with unexpected delays, getting sick, and traveling for work are just a few of the thousands of tiny emergencies that prevent most people from sticking to their goals. It doesn’t have to be that way, though.

If you choose to plan for chaos and use The If-Then Technique to outline ways that you can “reduce the scope, but stick to the schedule,” then you can find options for staying on-task even when your day gets off-course.

When you can’t do it all, do something small.

This article was originally published on JamesClear.com.

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Featured photo credit: Larisa Birta via unsplash.com

More by this author

James Clear

James Clear is the author of Atomic Habits. He shares self-improvement tips based on proven scientific research.

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Published on September 16, 2021

What Are Process Goals? (With Examples)

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What Are Process Goals? (With Examples)

Ready. Set. Go. For years, this was my three-step mindset when it came to goals. I would reach for the moon and hope to land among the stars without feeling the pain of the fall. This approach was all or nothing, and as a result, I experienced loads of burnout and almost zero productivity. In short, my task list was filled with high-level intentions, but I hadn’t taken the time to create a map to reach the destinations. I was lost in the planning stages because I didn’t understand process goals or have any examples to follow.

Since then, I’ve learned how to embrace the journey and break my outcome goals into smaller and more manageable process goals. This approach has improved my focus and reduced frustration because I’m now working towards a surefire strategy that will take me where I want to go––I’m creating a plan of action with achievable daily targets (a process goal).

What Is a Process Goal?

A process goal is not a destination, it’s the path you plan on taking to get there. For example, if you want to become better at writing, your process goal would be to post one blog article per week and learn from the feedback you receive. The destination is a monthly goal of 12 articles.

This distinction is important because it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that these types of goals are not all or nothing. Think about it. You’ve heard it said: it’s not about working hard but working smart.

Well, a process goal is an actionable target with what we call SMART criteria:

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  • Specific – The more detailed your goal, the better. For example, instead of “I want to be fit,” you would say, “I want to lose five pounds.” Make sure your goal is crystal clear.
  • Measurable – You need a way to measure progress and success, so it needs to be quantifiable. This is where you decide what “fit” actually means for you (more on this later).
  • Achievable – If your goal isn’t challenging, then it’s not going to be motivating. On the other hand, there must be a steeper mountain to climb if you want substantial results.
  • Realistic – “I want to run a marathon” is not practical for most people. Ensure you have the time, energy, and resources (e.g., training program) required to achieve your goal.
  • Time-Bound – Your goal needs an assigned deadline or it’s just a pipe dream. There’s nothing wrong with dreaming, but what happens when the fantasy ends?

To summarize, these are the essential components of any process goal: specific, measurable, achievable within a certain time frame, and realistic.

What Is a Destination Goal?

A destination goal is a point in time when you plan to be at a particular destination. For example, if your goal is to get to represent your country at the 2025 Summer Olympics, you right need to focus on smaller increments to attain that success. On your way to that goal, you need to focus on smaller destinations. First, make the national team. Then, compete in a few events and so forth.

If you try to make it to the Olympics from the very start without any milestones along the way, it would be too daunting. On the other hand, if you focus on each milestone as a destination goal, it will all seem possible and achievable.

Process Goal Template

Let’s say you want to become a better cook. Here is one way of writing the process goal: “I will save $100 per week by cooking all my meals at home for 12 weeks.” This would be your destination (monthly), and the steps required to achieve this goal (weekly) would be:

  1. Spend one hour on Sunday planning my meals for the week.
  2. Shop for groceries after work on Monday and Tuesday nights.
  3. Cook all meals at home on Wednesdays through Sundays.
  4. Pack my lunch for work on Mondays and Tuesdays.
  5. Save $100 per week in cash by cooking at home.

This process goal will help you become a better cook by teaching you to save money through planning, shopping, cooking, packing your own lunch, and trying new recipes. It also includes a weekly reward (saving $100 in cash) that will help you stay motivated.

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Process goals encourage you to reach your ultimate goals. When you feel like you can accomplish smaller goals along the way, you gain sustainability and confidence to move forward.

In many ways, process goals are a lot like faith. Each accomplishment brings you closer to seeing the fullness of the life that you desire––it breaks through the fog and makes things clearer.

What Questions Helped Me Find My Process Goals?

After several years of setting lofty goals and becoming increasingly frustrated when I wasn’t getting the results I wanted, I decided to take a closer look at my approach.

Now, there are many ways you can do this, but here’s how I went about it. Last year, I asked myself the following questions:

  • What am I doing right now?
  • How can I get better at this?
  • Is this process goal leading me closer to my ultimate goals?

The choices I made from the answers to these questions became my process goals. They were the driving force that kept me motivated and moving forward when I wanted to give up and throw in the towel. Since then, I’ve been able to accomplish lifelong goals that I had given up on years ago. For example, I’ve been able to obtain a publishing contract, create more digital products for my business, and enjoy the moment.

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Before I broke down my goals into smaller ones, I was struggling to just get out of bed. The thought of my endless list kept me stagnant. Now, I look forward to each morning and taking on smaller projects to reach profitable outcomes.

What Are Some Process Goals You Can Try?

So, now that you understand the importance of process goals, let’s get you started with some examples that you can utilize this week:

  • Sign up for a new class.
  • Complete one portion of your project by Thursday.
  • Start walking around the block instead of running a mile.
  • Improve your writing by spending 30 minutes everyday journaling.
  • Practice your interview skills.
  • Read at least one book from the library this week.
  • Do ten push-ups each day before you leave for work.

You get the idea. These process goals don’t have to be complicated. If anything, you want to break down your plans to the point of them feeling easy or at least doable without needing a week’s vacation. By breaking your goals down into smaller pieces, you can accomplish a lot more in a shorter period. You’ll also feel more confident that you’re able to accomplish something within the moment.

It isn’t easy to continue towards your goal if achievement feels too far away. You need to celebrate the small things and embrace the process.

What Do You Need for Process Goals?

Think about how much time and money you’ve spent on new clothes, books, technology, etc. Many of us want to keep up with the latest trends and purchase the best gadgets from Apple or Microsoft. But all of these extra investments come at a steep price.

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To find your process goals, you may have to face some difficult emotions or situations bravely and confront them head-on. You might need to forgo the new outfit or the latest Mac book to meet your overall objectives.[1] Remember, process goals not only protect you from feeling overwhelmed, but they also keep you from being distracted.

Final Thoughts

You may feel overwhelmed at first when trying to set a process goal. Sometimes, just thinking about change triggers stress hormones, which only leads to more worries and anxious feelings. However, if you keep yourself focused and take small steps in the right direction, you’ll soon realize that goals don’t have to be complicated.

You can achieve your process goals one day at a time, and you can start today by breaking down your larger goal into smaller steps. It doesn’t matter if the process takes a week or six months, what matters most is that you’re moving forward and doing something to make yourself better.

Now, go on out there and achieve one of your process goals!

Featured photo credit: Kaleidico via unsplash.com

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