It is a few days after the new year, and by now, most New Year’s resolutions will have already fallen by the wayside. What happened to all those goals for the new year?
The problem is goal setting doesn’t work. At least not in the way we tend to go about it. The end goal is too far away, it seems like too big of a journey, and we tend to be too judgmental of the outcomes along the way. Even if the goal is really important or meaningful, and we understand why we must do it, it still doesn’t always happen.
The way you get results is through consistent action. It doesn’t always have to be right action, but it has to be action. And the hardest part is getting started.
I’ve never loved working out, so getting into shape is something that I struggle with. When I was playing varsity basketball at university, I took a year off between my fourth and fifth years of eligibility to get my head on straight as I’d had fallen out with my coach. When I decided to come back and play my fifth year, my coach made it quite clear to me that if I didn’t come into camp in great shape, I would get cut from the team.
I had let my conditioning slide during my year off, and knew that I had to get back into shape if I was going to make the team, but the days started turning into weeks and I wasn’t doing anything to get fit. My goal of getting into shape just wasn’t helping me. Finally, with about ten weeks before training camp, I drew up a large calendar and put it on my wall. Every day I had to do something physical to put a big red “X” on that calendar, and it didn’t matter what. It could be 30 seconds of skipping, it could be anything at all, but an “X” had to go on the calendar.
Just get started
In four days, I had four “X”s on the calendar, and I didn’t want to break the chain. I felt good about that, at least I was doing something. Then I noticed something else. I was working out longer than I had planned. Once I had my running shoes on, it was just as easy to run for an extra five minutes or to try to beat my time from the previous workout. Although there was the odd day that didn’t have an “X”, I hated that blank space on the calendar, and never let it get to two days.
Focus on process
Three weeks passed, and all of a sudden I realized I was running for 30 minutes, some days at a decent pace and I was ENJOYING it. It wasn’t about the goal of getting into shape anymore, although that was the original motivation, and I was indeed getting into shape. That string of “X”s had allowed me to create enough action to get over the hump and start enjoying the process. It didn’t even matter if I was doing the ‘right’ workout. As I got into better shape, I started to develop more of a plan in terms of what I wanted to work on, but I also didn’t beat myself up if it didn’t happen. All I needed was my “X”.
You could argue this is goal setting, and it is, but it is a form of goal setting that creates action, rather than judges outcome. You can have the grandest plans in the world or an incredible vision, and that might be the initial catalyst, but if you can’t get started, if you don’t have consistent action, you don’t have anything. Most people set goals too big with not enough little steps in between. They focus on outcome and not process. Try setting your sights on something that seems too small, but is very doable, and make it measurable. Find some way of creating accountability like work with a friend, hire a coach, put an “X” on a calendar.
Don’t judge the action
When you find yourself getting stuck (which happens to everyone at some point), it’s often because you feel overwhelmed, don’t know the next step, or are judging what you are creating. What you need is a kickstart. Create accountability for action… any action. Go back to small, so small it feels too easy. Don’t judge it, it doesn’t have to be good, it just has to happen.
Walk before you can run
The better you get at something, the faster and easier you do it, and the bigger your vision becomes. You get more focused, are less overwhelmed by the big picture, intrinsically know many of the steps necessary, and you make fewer mistakes (or actually, different mistakes). But you have to walk before you can run. Start with process. Don’t judge and don’t compare. Just do.
And yes, I came into training camp in the best shape of my life, made the team and had a final year that dreams are made of. Thanks to a big red “X” on the wall.