January is the month for grand goals, big ideas and hopeful change. February tends to be the month for keeping your head down, getting through it, and trying not to think about the grand goals lying in ruins at the end of January. In this article I look at five tools for getting yourself back on target.
1. Was the goal for you or someone else?
This might seem obvious, but a lot of the time the goals we set aren’t really ours. Do you want to lose weight because you’d like to be able to enjoy more physical activities (goal for you) or because you’re afraid people won’t find you attractive (goal for others)? Are you going for that business qualification because you’re interested in it or because you’re afraid your colleagues won’t see you as competent? Goals based on fears rarely succeed. Think hard about this one, because it’s the most likely reason you’re not achieving your goal.
2. Was the goal realistic?
Most of us don’t look at context when we make goals. “Learn Portuguese in six months!” might be realistic, but not if you’re also working long hours, bringing up three kids and trying to keep in touch with your friends. You need to figure out the daily time requirement for your goal, and see how it fits in with your life at the moment. It might be less than you think, and daily repetition is the key to achieving your goals.
3. Did you figure out what daily change would lead to success?
Organisations are good at long term change because they can break down broad, long-term goals into medium-term strategic targets and then into short-term operational changes. If you’re trying to change something about yourself or your life, you need to do the same thing. This is something a lot of us struggle with, and scaling is a great way to manage this. Score yourself on a scale of one to ten on the thing you want to change. Maybe it’s physical fitness, and you’re only a three at the moment. That’s fine, we all start somewhere. Now, what one thing could you change each day to move yourself to a four? Maybe it’s getting off the bus two stops early and walking the rest of the way each morning, or taking a ten minute walk at lunch. It doesn’t have to be a huge change; in fact it’s better if it’s not. You’re just moving that scale, one point at a time. On that point…
4. Are you trying to multitask?
Despite the fact that multi-tasking is lauded as a critical business skill, most of us just can’t do it well. About one in fifty people have the genetic wiring to genuinely pay attention to several things at once without losing focus. For the rest of us, we work best when we focus on one thing at a time. Goals are no exception. If you spread your attention, you’ll likely fail. Pick the one thing you want to change more than anything else, and make it the primary focus of your life until the daily changes required to make it a reality have become automatic. You don’t even have to have reached your goal; you just need to be on the way without having to direct willpower towards it each day.
5. Did you set a due date? Don’t!
This one’s controversial. You might think having a goal date will spur you on, but what it really does is give you a failure state. “I didn’t achieve my goal in the time I set for myself” can easily turn into “I just can’t change!” after a few missed deadlines. Focus on daily changes, one at a time, and on making each one a habit. You’ll have scaled up to a 10 out of 10, goal achieved, before you know it.