REAL TALK Q&A WEDNESDAY: How to set goals you can actually reach OR why your New Year’s Resolution doesn’t work and how to fix it
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If you have trouble setting and sticking to goals this Real Talk Q&A Wednesday is for you.
I never do New Year’s Resolutions. Since I am a business owner in charge of 3 events plus my freelance career as a marketing consultant who needs to set and exceed goals in order to be employed– this often surprises people. The real deal is that I set goals every day/week/month/year as an overall life practice so it makes New Year’s Resolutions a moot point.
New Year’s Resolutions are mostly marketing. I should know because I am a marketer. It’s great to sell people gym memberships and $65 planners but as far as sustainability and success the positive outcome tends to be low for many people. There’s nothing wrong with gym memberships and $65 planners, but if you give up in 2 weeks you’ve wasted your time and money. I’m going to tell you how you can set goals and win.
The most important thing to understand is why most New Year’s Resolutions fail.
You fail to reach your goals because you fail to understand how the human mind works when you are setting them.
Oh man, that’s a problem. But guess what? Every problem is an opportunity.
I am ALWAYS telling my staff this because it’s the truth. I’ve achieved to where I am solely because I was able to take negatives about my situation, personality, and behavior and then transmogrify them into positives.
In my case, I have the ability to hyper focus on 1 thing. It can be a big problem because the house could be burning down and I’ll still not want to get up to stop what I am doing. I figured out how to trick myself to turn this on and off. Similarly the problems I face in life, every time I’ve solved it something better came along later.
So let’s ignore the problems for now and talk about strategy. Let’s use the problem of not understanding how the human brain works to actually understand it and use it.
Here is an example: If you wanted to lose weight and your normal diet was to eat a lot of crap food and drink a gallon of soda every day you might be tempted to say, “Next week I am going to immediately stop consuming bad food and I’ll only eat lean protein and vegetables from now on!”
No, dude. You are probably gonna fail.
The person that does not fail in this example is an exception that probably makes up a tiny percent of the population (major congrats to them). People don’t like change. In my MMA and bodybuilding days every January the gym would be flooded with people incorrectly using the machines and by the end of January the gym would just be the regulars again. Did those people suck? No! They just set themselves up for failure by not understanding how the human mind works.
People exist on various vibrational levels and none of them are bad – just different. To move from your starting level to a higher vibrational level is like jumping from Canada to Texas or becoming an Olympic athlete in 1 week. You just can’t do it. The distance is too wide.
The idea of a New Year’s Resolution puts a lot of communal pressure on people to “get it right”. All eyes are on you. Everyone is doing it. Peer pressure! But guess what? When we make mistakes our brains want to give up and go back to what we used to do. How do we fix this?
1. Make goal setting a daily and weekly part of your life no matter what time of the year it is.
2. Create small, realistic goals that add up to bigger goals.
Weekly / daily task review:
If you know what you want to achieve you won’t need to spend much or any time on revisiting your big picture, but if you are still shaky and finding your path you may want to make a list of what you want to accomplish this year and even for the next 5-10 years. If you have trouble staying focused on the big picture you may want to keep this list visible in your workspace. If you don’t know your big picture your goal can simply be to experiment with several things that you enjoy to see if your big picture reveals itself this year.
I review my task list and strategy every night and/or morning for each day. Once a week I meet with Harknell to discuss bigger picture items that we have to collaboratively solve for my business.
Perfection doesn’t exist. Manage change instead:
Understand that these goals WILL change a lot – and sometimes even completely. That’s why I’m looking at them at least once a day and adjusting them. In theory I could have a day where I have to go into NYC on business (like this week) where I lose an entire day. Or like last year where I lost almost the entire year to eye surgeries and recovery. Obviously when I had eye surgery my task list changed almost completely. I had to get help from people to do things I would have normally done. It sucked but I still pushed forward the best I could with what I had.
Your goals are only guides to give you a baseline of what’s up. Your job is to manage change, not to be a robot. This is not about “getting it right” or being perfect.
You fail because you focus on perfection.
List out all the stuff that you want to accomplish this week and imagine that they are in a reserve pool that you can flow out into the next day or week of free time depending on how your life is going. Realize that you are probably going to have to double the amount of time you think you need for most of these tasks. You might have to move some of those tasks to next week – that’s why I look at it as a pool. It allows for flexibility within a real life. To start you may want to test how much you ACTUALLY get done for the first week so that you don’t overload yourself and set yourself up for failure.
There’s no shame in starting with just 1 thing for the first week. We all have lives and unpredictable events in our lives. Some of us work day jobs in order to be able to afford to go for their actual job that they want. All of these things can impact or destroy our goals for the week. Be at peace with that. If your tasks have to go back into the pool because your day job forced you to work 80 hours of overtime simply slide the task into your next available free slot, repeat the weekly strategy meeting and readjust your timeline. This is reality. Life happens. There will never be a perfect time to start this. If you think that you are just making excuses to not move forward and that’s the topic of another post entirely.
Life will happen. Plan for that and be flexible with small, achievable goals.
EXAMPLE: If you want to lose weight your tasks would look something like this:
1. Stop drinking soda. If this is tough stop drinking it for 1-3 days per week and work up to 7 days a week.
2. Stop eating fast food. Feel free to use the same 1-3 day duration to start and then work that up to 7 days.
3. Exercise. This can be a short walk once a day, moving up to a workout in your home once a week.
4. Increase exercise level. Work out at home 2 and then 3x a week. Consider joining a gym but only do that if it will help you exercise more and won’t be a deterrent. (I work out 5 days a week and don’t have the time to join a gym anymore because doing it at home means that I will do it. Understand your quirks and work with them instead of trying to make yourself some impossibly perfect automaton.
No one gives a crap how you achieved it, they only care that you did it.
You are building a house, not making it magically materialize in a second:
Imagine your biggest goal is like building a house. Your small goals = molecules of each brick. Your bricks = bigger goals or milestones. You don’t start out achieving a brick. That’s too big and almost impossible. You get the molecules and build your first brick, then your second brick, then before you know it you have a house. Your work processing this along the way is CRITICAL TRAINING for you being able to handle the increased responsibility that will inevitably be your reward for success.
Your process is more important than the actual goals.
Your process will have evolved your brain toward making good habits and it will also hard wire achievement into your personality. When you get to a more advanced level you’ll actually have the ability to handle the pressures that come with it. I can tell you right now that the me of 7 years ago could not handle the me of today’s life. The process was more important than the actual tasks. I had to go through all of that to be able to get through all of this.
People might be shocked today to know that I was a chunky kid with no athletic capabilities whatsoever. That chunky kid evolved into being fit and the first female black belt from the police training facility where I founded multiple self-defense classes. I didn’t do that overnight, nor did I have access to the best food and equipment.
I used to drink 3-6 cups of soda a day as a kid. As a very fit adult soda smells and tastes disgusting to me. You will almost never see me drink it because I just hate it. I vibrate on a different level that that now. When I was a kid I would have thought you were insane because it was what my entire family drank – I rarely drank water. The act of seeking out small goals distracted my brain from the length of the journey. I made those bricks and then made more and more bricks. I evolved myself from being an overweight low achiever to a very fit habitual overachiever.
This transformation could not and did not happen overnight.
If you focus on how great it feels to achieve something small that adds up to something large you will lose track of time and notice you’ve achieved a big thing before you realize it. Start small. DO NOT start large. Realistic achievement motivates the human brain to keep going – not trying to climb Mount Everest in a day. I actually knew someone who wanted to start hiking and decided to go on a 2 week long hike as their first hike. They ended up failing badly. The came home needing surgery because because they were not in the physical shape needed to accomplish this.
Start small. Your process is the most important thing.
This is the main concept you need to grasp before you can do anything. If you keep chunking your tasks into tiny things, resetting your expectations every day when you review your list, and focusing on your process rather than how much you’ve achieved you’ll be empowered to adjust your plans for the amount of willpower and stress level that you may be experiencing in life. That’s when you will really start to shine.
You are not where you are. You are how far you’ve come. Keep going and keep it Real.
Oni Harstein is an New Jersey-based entrepreneur that is obsessed with Marketing, Art, and Technology. Please direct all business inquiries or technology review requests to the "Contact" tab on the top nav bar.
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