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Don’t Set Goals This Year: Instead, Make Promises, and Take Action.

Don’t Set Goals This Year: Instead, Make Promises, and Take Action.

Most of us are really great at setting goals and terrible at achieving them—just take a look at the stats from 2012:

45% of people usually set New Years resolutions
54% of people fail with regard to their New Years resolution after 6 months
39% of people in their 20s achieved their New Years resolutions last year
14% of people over the age of 50 achieved their New Years resolutions last year

Right now is goal-setting season, with many of you putting this past year behind you and starting fresh now that we’re in January. Let’s take a quick peek at the most popular resolutions from last year:

1. Lose weight
2. Get organized
3. Spend less, save more
4. Enjoy life to the fullest
5. Stay fit and healthy

Now, raise your hand if you made any of those resolutions last year—hell, you may have even made a few of them.Yeah, I’m right there with ya.

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Before making any resolutions, do this:

Before sitting down to set any resolutions, take time to conduct a yearly review for yourself. What went right last year? What went wrong? What were some of the decisions that you made that led to the good and the bad? Where did you hesitate and miss out on opportunities? Spend some time thinking about this, then take out a notebook and pen and break it down month by month.

I’ve found that taking a look at the things that did not go so well for me over the past year and coming up with strategies to overcome obstacles in the future helps me to prepare for the unexpected.

No more goals—only promises, and action

We’ve become desensitized to goal-setting: most of us have many goals in mind, but we’re so used to not meeting them that it has become okay to let them slide. Instead of setting goals this year, make promises to yourself instead: when it comes to promises, you are more likely to limit the amount that you commit yourself to, more likely to hold yourself accountable, and to set promises that are more realistic.

Better yet, try making promises to someone else. Promise your kids you will lose 20 pounds of fat this year and lower your cholesterol; promise your wife you will quit smoking; promise your best friend that you will exercise four days per week for at least sixty minutes a day. Alternately, if you have the kahunas for it, make promises to everyone via a website such as stickK.

I’m not sure about you, but I have a much easier time letting myself down than disappointing someone else. Making promises to others really commits me to the task at hand and keeps me stay highly motivated.

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Promise yourself this:

Whatever it is you decide to promise yourself this year, make sure to promise yourself to be consistent. Many of us tend to turn to motivation as the answer when we are struggling to meet our goals, but motivation is something that is out of your control. It comes and goes and is often short-lived. Consistency, on the other hand, is something that you can control. You can choose to get up at 6AM every day to write 1,000 words for your book. It is your choice to prepare your healthy meals for the next day so that you can stick to your nutrition plan. You can control the extra work you put in on the weekends to grow a side business.

There is a great quote in author Steve Pressfields book The War of Art:

“Someone once asked Somerset Maughham if he wrote on a schedule or only when struck by inspiration. “I write only when inspiration strikes,” he replied. “Fortunately it strikes every morning at nine o’clock sharp.”

Consistency trumps motivation every time, so if you’re looking to guarantee yourself success this year, promise yourself to be consistent in all that you do.

Get specific

Take a look again at the most common resolutions made in 2012—they’re extremely vague. What does living life to the fullest actually mean? When you say you want to be more organized, does that mean at home, at work, in your personal life? If you want to spend less and save more, what do you want to spend less on and how do you plan to save more?

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One reason most resolutions fail is because they fail to be crystal clear. Confusion is the gateway to complacency: the more confused or unclear you are about something, the less likely you are to take action towards achieving it. A great way to clear up confusion and to get clear about what exactly it is you’re trying to achieve can be accomplished through the “by game”:  whatever you promise yourself this year, simply associate the word “by” with it. In this case, “by” is not a measure of time, but instead, a way to clarify things, like this:

“This year I promise to write a book by waking up at 6 AM and writing 1,000 words every day, for the next 3 months.”

Your promise is made clear, delivers actionable steps, and encourages you to hold yourself accountable.

Reward yourself

Oftentimes, promises can be set that are quite the grind: they may take some time to accomplish, and involve a tremendous amount of energy, consistency, discipline, and struggle. A great way to keep yourself on track is to set up tiny milestones in which you receive rewards for your accomplishments.

In the case of our book example above, you could set up weekly milestones: if you found that you were able to accomplish 1,000 words for all seven days this week, maybe a nice day at the spa would do you some good. How about a glass of red wine and some dark chocolate?

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The cool thing about setting up milestone goals is that they keep you focused on the task at hand. Often when big rewards are set up at the completion of a goal, things can become blurred as to what you are actually working so hard for. The big reward should be the completion of the task itself and the fact that you achieved what you set out to achieve, rather than just a prize at the end.

Make sure it means the world to you

Lastly, if you do decide to make yourself some promises this year, I hope that they really mean something to you. Don’t make promises to yourself simply because it is something you feel you should be doing, someone asked you to do, or that you are pressured into doing.

A great way to clear up any confusion as to whether or not a promise this year is right for you is to look to your emotions. Does your promise make you laugh? Cry? Does it give you goosebumps? Excite you? Get your heart racing?

What will you be promising yourself this year? What is the first step you plan to take in achieving it?

Featured photo credit:  Silhouette of a photographer in the nature via Shutterstock

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Justin Miller

Healthy Lifestyle Architect, a Fitness and Nutrition Coach

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Last Updated on March 21, 2019

11 Important Things to Remember When Changing Habits

11 Important Things to Remember When Changing Habits

Most gurus talk about habits in a way that doesn’t help you:

You need to push yourself more. You can’t be lazy. You need to wake up at 5 am. You need more motivation. You can never fail…blah blah “insert more gibberish here.”

But let me share with you the unconventional truths I found out:

To build and change habits, you don’t need motivation or wake up at 5 am. Heck, you can fail multiple times, be lazy, have no motivation and still pull it off with ease.

It’s quite simple and easy to do, especially with the following list I’m going to show to you. But remember, Jim Rohn used to say,

“What is simple and easy to do is also simple and easy not to do.”

The important things to remember when changing your habits are both simple and easy, just don’t think that they don’t make any difference because they do.

In fact, they are the only things that make a difference.

Let’s see what those small things are, shall we?

1. Start Small

The biggest mistake I see people doing with habits is by going big. You don’t go big…ever. You start small with your habits.

Want to grow a book reading habit? Don’t start reading a book a day. Start with 10 pages a day.

Want to become a writer? Don’t start writing 10,000 words a day. Start with 300 words.

Want to lose weight? Don’t stop eating ice cream. Eat one less ball of it.

Whatever it is, you need to start small. Starting big always leads to failure. It has to, because it’s not sustainable.

Start small. How small? The amount needs to be in your comfort zone. So if you think that reading 20 pages of a book is a bit too much, start with 10 or 5.

It needs to appear easy and be easy to do.

Do less today to do more in a year.

2. Stay Small

There is a notion of Kaizen which means continuous improvement. They use this notion in habits where they tell you to start with reading 1 page of a book a day and then gradually increase the amount you do over time.

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But the problem with this approach is the end line — where the “improvement” stops.

If I go from reading 1 page of a book a day and gradually reach 75 and 100, when do I stop? When I reach 1 book a day? That is just absurd.

When you start a habit, stay at it in the intensity you have decided. Don’t push yourself for more.

I started reading 20 pages of a book a day. It’s been more than 2 years now and I’ve read 101 books in that period. There is no way I will increase the number in the future.

Why?

Because reading 40 to 50 books a year is enough.

The same thing applies to every other habit out there.

Pick a (small) number and stay at it.

3. Bad Days Are 100 Percent Occurrence

No matter how great you are, you will have bad days where you won’t do your habit. Period.

There is no way of going around this. So it’s better to prepare yourself for when that happens instead of thinking that it won’t ever happen.

What I do when I miss a day of my habit(s) is that I try to bounce back the next day while trying to do habits for both of those days.

Example for that is if I read 20 pages of a book a day and I miss a day, the next day I will have to read 40 pages of a book. If I miss writing 500 words, the next day I need to write 1000.

This is a really important point we will discuss later on rewards and punishments.

This is how I prepare for the bad days when I skip my habit(s) and it’s a model you should take as well.

4. Those Who Track It, Hack It

When you track an activity, you can objectively tell what you did in the past days, weeks, months, and years. If you don’t track, you will for sure forget everything you did.

There are many different ways you can track your activities today, from Habitica to a simple Excel sheet that I use, to even a Whatsapp Tracker.

Peter Drucker said,

“What you track is what you do.”

So track it to do it — it really helps.

But tracking is accompanied by one more easy activity — measuring.

5. Measure Once, Do Twice

Peter Drucker also said,

“What you measure is what you improve.”

So alongside my tracker, I have numbers with which I measure doses of daily activities:

For reading, it’s 20 pages.
For writing, it’s 500 words.
For the gym, it’s 1 (I went) or 0 (didn’t go).
For budgeting, it’s writing down the incomes and expenses.

Tracking and measuring go hand in hand, they take less than 20 seconds a day but they create so much momentum that it’s unbelievable.

6. All Days Make a Difference

Will one day in the gym make you fit? It won’t.

Will two? They won’t.

Will three? They won’t.

Which means that a single gym session won’t make you fit. But after 100 gym sessions, you will look and feel fit.

What happened? Which one made you fit?

The answer to this (Sorites paradox)[1] is that no single gym session made you fit, they all did.

No single day makes a difference, but when combined, they all do. So trust the process and keep on going (small).

7. They Are Never Fully Automated

Gurus tell you that habits become automatic. And yes, some of them do, like showering a certain way of brushing your teeth.

But some habits don’t become automatic, they become a lifestyle.

What I mean by that is that you won’t automatically “wake up” in the gym and wonder how you got there.

It will just become a part of your lifestyle.

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The difference is that you do the first one automatically, without conscious thought, while the other is a part of how you live your life.

It’s not automatic, but it’s a decision you don’t ponder on or think about — you simply do it.

It will become easy at a certain point, but they will never become fully automated.

8. What Got You Here Won’t Get You There

Marshall Goldsmith has a great book with the same title to it. The phrase means that sometimes, you will need to ditch certain habits to make room for other ones which will bring you to the next step.

Don’t be afraid to evolve your habits when you sense that they don’t bring you where you want to go.

When I started reading, it was about reading business and tactic books. But two years into it, I switched to philosophy books which don’t teach me anything “applicable,” but instead teach me how to think.

The most important ability of the 21st century is the ability to learn, unlearn, and relearn. The strongest tree is the willow tree – not because it has the strongest root or biggest trunk, but because it is flexible enough to endure and sustain anything.

Be like a willow, adapting to the new ways of doing things.

9. Set a Goal and Then Forget It

The most successful of us know what they want to achieve, but they don’t focus on it.

Sounds paradoxical? You’re right, it does. But here is the logic behind it.

You need to have a goal of doing something – “I want to become a healthy individual” – and then, you need to reverse engineer how to get there with your habits- “I will go to the gym four times a week.”

But once you have your goal, you need to “forget” about it and only focus on the process. Because you are working on the process of becoming healthy and it’s always in the making. You will only be as healthy as you take care of your body.

So you have a goal which isn’t static but keeps on moving.

If you went to the gym 150 times year and you hit your goal, what would you do then? You would stop going to the gym.

This is why goal-oriented people experience yo-yo effect[2] and why process-oriented people don’t.

The difference between process-oriented and goal-oriented people is that the first focus on daily actions while others only focus on the reward at the finish line.

Set a goal but then forget about it and reap massive awards.

10. Punish Yourself

Last two sections are pure Pavlovian – you need to punish bad behavior and reward good behavior. You are the only person who decides what is good and what is bad for you, but when you do, you need to rigorously follow that.

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I’ve told you in point #3 about bad days and how after one occurs, I do double the work on the next day. That is one of my forms of punishments.

It’s the need to tell your brain that certain behaviors are unacceptable and that they lead to bad outcomes. That’s what punishments are for.

You want to tell your brain that there are real consequences to missing your daily habits.[3]

No favorite food to eat or favorite show to watch or going to the cinema for a new Marvel movie- none, zero, zilch.

The brain will remember these bad feelings and will try to avoid the behaviors that led to them as much as possible.

But don’t forget the other side of the same coin.

11. Reward Yourself

When you follow and execute on your plan, reward yourself. It’s how the brain knows that you did something good.

Whenever I finish one of my habits for the day, I open my tracker (who am I kidding, I always keep it open on my desktop) and fill it with a number. As soon as I finish reading 20 pages of a book a day (or a bit more), I open the tracker and write the number down.

The cell becomes green and gives me an instant boost of endorphin – a great success for the day. Then, it becomes all about not breaking the chain and having as many green fields as possible.

After 100 days, I crunch some numbers and see how I did.

If I have less than 10 cheat days, I reward myself with a great meal in a restaurant. You can create your own rewards and they can be daily, weekly, monthly or any arbitrary time table that you create.

Primoz Bozic, a productivity coach, has gold, silver, and bronze medals as his reward system.[4]

If you’re having problems creating a system which works for you, contact me via email and we can discuss specifics.

In the End, It Matters

What you do matters not only to you but to the people around you.

When you increase the quality of your life, you indirectly increase the quality of life of people around you. And sometimes, that is all the “motivation” we need to start.

And that’s the best quote for the end of this article:

“Motivation gets you started, but habits keep you going.”

Keep going.

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More Resources to Help You Build Habits

Featured photo credit: Anete Lūsiņa via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Sorites paradox
[2] Muscle Zone: What causes yo-yo effect and how to avoid it?
[3] Growth Habits: 5 Missteps That Cause You To Quit Building A Habit
[4] Primoz Bozic: The Lean Review: How to Plan Your 2019 in 20 Minutes

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