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Goal Setting from the Inside Out

Goal Setting from the Inside Out

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.

Go ahead, we’ll wait.

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Last Updated on July 10, 2020

The Power of Ritual: Conquer Procrastination, Time Wasters and Laziness

The Power of Ritual: Conquer Procrastination, Time Wasters and Laziness

Life is wasted in the in-between times. The time between when your alarm first rings and when you finally decide to get out of bed. The time between when you sit at your desk and when productive work begins. The time between making a decision and doing something about it.

Slowly, your day is whittled away from all the unused in-between moments. Eventually, time wasters, laziness, and procrastination get the better of you.

The solution to reclaim these lost middle moments is by creating rituals. Every culture on earth uses rituals to transfer information and encode behaviors that are deemed important. Personal rituals can help you build a better pattern for handling everything from how you wake up to how you work.

Unfortunately, when most people see rituals, they see pointless superstitions. Indeed, many rituals are based on a primitive understanding of the world. But by building personal rituals, you get to encode the behaviors you feel are important and cut out the wasted middle moments.

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Program Your Own Algorithms

Another way of viewing rituals is by seeing them as computer algorithms. An algorithm is a set of instructions that is repeated to get a result.

Some algorithms are highly efficient, sorting or searching millions of pieces of data in a few seconds. Other algorithms are bulky and awkward, taking hours to do the same task.

By forming rituals, you are building algorithms for your behavior. Take the delayed and painful pattern of waking up, debating whether to sleep in for another two minutes, hitting the snooze button, repeat until almost late for work. This could be reprogrammed to get out of bed immediately, without debating your decision.

How to Form a Ritual

I’ve set up personal rituals for myself for handling e-mail, waking up each morning, writing articles, and reading books. Far from making me inflexible, these rituals give me a useful default pattern that works best 99% of the time. Whenever my current ritual won’t work, I’m always free to stop using it.

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Forming a ritual isn’t too difficult, and the same principles for changing habits apply:

  1. Write out your sequence of behavior. I suggest starting with a simple ritual of only 3-4 steps maximum. Wait until you’ve established a ritual before you try to add new steps.
  2. Commit to following your ritual for thirty days. This step will take the idea and condition it into your nervous system as a habit.
  3. Define a clear trigger. When does your ritual start? A ritual to wake up is easy—the sound of your alarm clock will work. As for what triggers you to go to the gym, read a book or answer e-mail—you’ll have to decide.
  4. Tweak the Pattern. Your algorithm probably won’t be perfectly efficient the first time. Making a few tweaks after the first 30-day trial can make your ritual more useful.

Ways to Use a Ritual

Based on the above ideas, here are some ways you could implement your own rituals:

1. Waking Up

Set up a morning ritual for when you wake up and the next few things you do immediately afterward. To combat the grogginess after immediately waking up, my solution is to do a few pushups right after getting out of bed. After that, I sneak in ninety minutes of reading before getting ready for morning classes.

2. Web Usage

How often do you answer e-mail, look at Google Reader, or check Facebook each day? I found by taking all my daily internet needs and compressing them into one, highly-efficient ritual, I was able to cut off 75% of my web time without losing any communication.

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3. Reading

How much time do you get to read books? If your library isn’t as large as you’d like, you might want to consider the rituals you use for reading. Programming a few steps to trigger yourself to read instead of watching television or during a break in your day can chew through dozens of books each year.

4. Friendliness

Rituals can also help with communication. Set up a ritual of starting a conversation when you have opportunities to meet people.

5. Working

One of the hardest barriers when overcoming procrastination is building up a concentrated flow. Building those steps into a ritual can allow you to quickly start working or continue working after an interruption.

6. Going to the gym

If exercising is a struggle, encoding a ritual can remove a lot of the difficulty. Set up a quick ritual for going to exercise right after work or when you wake up.

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7. Exercise

Even within your workouts, you can have rituals. Spacing the time between runs or reps with a certain number of breaths can remove the guesswork. Forming a ritual of doing certain exercises in a particular order can save time.

8. Sleeping

Form a calming ritual in the last 30-60 minutes of your day before you go to bed. This will help slow yourself down and make falling asleep much easier. Especially if you plan to get up full of energy in the morning, it will help if you remove insomnia.

8. Weekly Reviews

The weekly review is a big part of the GTD system. By making a simple ritual checklist for my weekly review, I can get the most out of this exercise in less time. Originally, I did holistic reviews where I wrote my thoughts on the week and progress as a whole. Now, I narrow my focus toward specific plans, ideas, and measurements.

Final Thoughts

We all want to be productive. But time wasters, procrastination, and laziness sometimes get the better of us. If you’re facing such difficulties, don’t be afraid to make use of these rituals to help you conquer them.

More Tips to Conquer Time Wasters and Procrastination

 

Featured photo credit: RODOLFO BARRETO via unsplash.com

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