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Goal Setting from the Inside Out

Goal Setting from the Inside Out
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It’s so curious how we spend the last weeks of the year in a sugar-plum-induced family frenzy of parties and holiday sweaters, and expect to walk into our lives on January 1 ready to drill down and get things done.

To get our minds focused back on what the year holds in store for us we make these shoulds-posing-as-resolutions and order all kinds of shiny productivity tools and smile at the future coming toward us. Then February rolls around and we glance sideways at our list and hope nobody’s looking over our shoulders.

Straight out, resolutions are dangerous little dragons because we humans need meaning. We need a resonant, compelling context for any goal, wish, or dream to have a shot at making it into our everyday schedule.

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Wait, Come a Little Closer…
So let’s say we’ve teased out a few New Year’s Resolutions by now, and ordered some shiny new gadgets and calendars for 2009. What’s to keep the litany of familiar patterns from grabbing us by the heels as we reach toward our resolutions?

Too many high maintenance friends…loathing the 8-to-5…missing appointments…too much laundry…no time for family…forgetting to back up the laptop.

Those perfectly reasonable sources of frustration provide cover for something deeper. If we look inside the window to our soul and listen, this string of buried refrains actually kills countless plans and goals for getting things done and becoming the high priest[ess] of accomplishment and joy—because we keep avoiding what we really, really want most.

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We Already Know This Stuff
Let’s say you’ve always wanted to go back to school, get a law degree and work in the social justice field. Every year you resolve to put it on your list, apply to schools and set a start date. And then life happens—a broken arm, a big new client, something—and you set your lifelong dream aside yet again. It’s too much. Too costly. Ridiculous, actually.

We already know who we are and what we’re passionate about. We can do all the soul searching and personality tests into infinity, yet they somehow keep pointing to the same things. The longer we dismiss what we already know, no matter what productivity gadget we employ, or how many nannies and assistants we hire, the louder the buried refrain will get. Even though we think it’s the report, or the big meeting that’s keeping us up twisting in our sheets at night, it’s everything we’ve been meaning to do and desiring most that does it. Not your crazy schedule and the soccer-momming and the endless board meetings.

We humans can tolerate just about any circumstance when we’re truly committed to our highest purpose. When we actually give our dreams a committed shot at landing on our everyday schedule, we can tolerate busyness and life at high speed.

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Goal Setting from the Inside Out in 2009
Truth? No matter how much we want to get things done, what we really want is a life that matters. We want the chain of endless doings to add up to something meaningful at the end of the day. So, take a look back at your calendar in any given week for 2008 and ask yourself two questions:

  1. “What’s most important to me?”
  2. “What values did I honor?”

The information you gather by answering those questions will help you percolate what’s next. Declarations.

Create Context and Meaning with Declarations
To give your resolutions or goals heart and soul, take a look at what you most deeply value in each of the four life areas: Life’s Work, Relationships, Personal Wellbeing and Financial Development. Next to each area, you’ll have words like joy, integrity, leadership, and service, and you’ll use these words to craft your declarations.

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Declarations are timeless statements of purpose in the present tense designed to create ongoing quality of life shifts. Much like a mission statement, declarations stem from who you are and what you value, and point to your vision. They may sound bold and completely outrageous, perhaps even a little wild—but not impossible.

You’ll know you’re on track if your declarations make you want to cry or scream or jump up and down. (Go ahead, we’ll wait.) Declarations also act as your truing mechanism when you forget who you are and what you’re up to. Or when your busyness has no connection to what you value. Or when you’ve been saying yes way too much.

Practically speaking, declarations inform your goals, not the other way around. So, once you’ve finished your declarations, listing your top goal in each area (that’s right, just one) should come easily and organically.

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Go ahead, we’ll wait.

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Last Updated on July 21, 2021

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)
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No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

How to Make a Reminder Works for You

Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

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Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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Reference

[1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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