Goals – Do they even matter?

“Focus on the process, not the outcome”

Goals are important because they are markers for success. They can help motivate actions that lead to change. But setting goals is just the first step.

In this article I’ll walk you through the process of moving from goals to building the skills and actions necessary to accomplish them.

You are not in control of whether or not you accomplish your goals. You can only control your actions.

Outcomes, while influenced by our actions, are the result of combination of things outside our control and our actions.

Fixating on the outcome will lead to a roller coaster of emotions while focusing on action and behavior leads to consistent improvements that put you in position for positive outcomes to occur, eventually.

5 Steps to move from goals to action

Step 1 – Reflect on your values

Goals that don’t reflect your values will never be accomplished. For example, starting a successful business is a great goal. But if things like spending a lot of time with friends and family and pursuing hobbies are of greater importance than your business, you’re likely to fail.

Your behaviors are a reflection of your values. So, your goals must reflect your values or you’ll ever accomplish them.
Write out your values. An easy way to do this is just write down what’s important to you. Here are my values, in order:

  1. My health and well being
  2. Relationships with my family and friends
  3. Health and success of my business and professional life

Step 2: Write out your big goals

Now that you know your values think about each of these areas and write out goals for each of them.

Think big, really big. Where do you want to be in 1 year or 3 years?
Don’t sell yourself short. It’s better to fail forward than aim too low. We’ll get reasonable later in this process. For now, think big and write our where you want to be in as specific of detail as possible.

A note on failing forward:

Recently, I spent some time reflecting on my 3-year goals I wrote in 2013. I fell short in pretty much every area. However, I also moved forward in every aspect of my life – physically, emotionally, professionally, relationships, monetarily. I aimed high and missed; but I also moved forward in every aspect of my life.

Step 3: Turn large goals into smaller goals

Go through each of your big goals and ask yourself what is the smallest step that would signify you’re on your way towards accomplishing the bigger goal?

Example:

  • Big goal = Ski all fifty two 14,000 foot peaks
  • Smaller goal = Ski ten 14ers this winter/spring

mountain-biking_goals

Step 4: Turn goals into action through behaviors

Now that you have your small goals go through each one and ask yourself the following questions:

  • What skills do I need to possess in order to accomplish each goal?
  • What behaviors make up each skill?

Example:

  • Smaller goal = Ski ten 14ers this winter/spring
  • Skills =
    1. Ability to safely navigate up and down 14ers in the winter – fitness and ski mountaineering skill
    2. Knowledge of routes – when they are skiable and how to get to them
  • Behaviors =
    1. Repeat avalanche course in early winter to refresh skills so I can stay safe
    2. Research easier 14ers and routes and make a short list
    3. Create list of partners with more experience who are willing to go with me
    4. Set aside 3 weekends per month January through June to attempt one 14er per weekend – weather and conditions permitting
    5. Backcountry ski at least 1 day per week and do cardio 2-3 other days per week to make sure I’m fit

Now some of these behaviors are one off events – these are easy to accomplish and I’d set out to accomplish them first. Some require more regular tracking, but most don’t. Once I’ve crossed off a, b, c, and d all I have to focus on is one behavior. I took a complex goal like skiing all fifty-two 14ers and boiled it down to exactly I needed to do to accomplish it.

This isn’t a theoretical example – I did this exact thing last winter and skied ten 14ers.

Step 5 – Are Ready, willing, and able

Now that you have some more manageable goals and behaviors it’s time to make sure you’re actually going to be able to follow through on them.

Making any change is hard, and you’ll never accomplish a goal by continuing to do all the same behaviors or you’d likely already have accomplished them.

  1. How ready are you to change?

Are you tired of the where you’re at, or are you comfortable with where you’re at right now?

Score yourself using the question below for every behavior:

On a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being “I’m not ready right now” and 10 being “Now is the time” how ready are you to change the behaviors you listed above? Score each.

  1. How willing are you to change?

Are you willing to struggle through the process of change and seek help where needed, or are you do you feel resistance to the behaviors listed above?

Score yourself using the question below for every behavior:

On a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being “No change, I’m not ready to struggle” and 10 being “I’m excited to dive into this process”, how willing are you to trust the process and let change occur?

  1. How able are you to change?

What’s preventing you from changing right now — a tough work schedule, new parenthood, an unsupportive environment…?

Score yourself using the question below for every behavior:

On a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being “I have too much in my way to change right now” and 10 being “I have everything I need to make change”, how able are you to change?

Look at your answers for every behavior. You might be ready, but not able. You might be ready and able, but not willing. Or, you might be ready willing and able.

Now you’re ready to get started.

Track Behaviors

Write down your 2-3 behaviors and track them religiously with a simple tracking sheet (like the one below). If you are not complying at least 80-90% of the time, you can’t accurately determine if your plan is working.

Tracking Sheet

Think of it like a scientific experiment; if you don’t control the outside variables there is no way to know if the outcome was influenced by other factors (i.e. lack of needed daily calories to sufficiently recover).

A few other things

Do you believe you can succeed?

That seems like a silly question but belief is a fundamental aspect of long-term success. Many people set goals because they feel like the need or want to but don’t actually believe the can accomplish them. Belief fuels action and resilience.

Even if you’ve failed in the past and don’t 100% believe you’ll accomplish your goals fake it until you make it. Tell yourself that you will and eventually believe it. That belief will carry you through the ups and downs of life towards your goals.

Make Time

I work for Precision Nutrition, which has coached 30,000+ people through a yearlong nutrition-coaching program and the first habit it starts with is ‘make time’. And, as I’ve explained in other blogs (hyperlink) you have to cut something out now to add new behaviors.

Making time is always the first step in creating any new behavior or building any new skill. Review this blog on steps for making time.

Embrace the grind

You’ll have ups and downs and the process will likely be slow. Setbacks will happen. You’ll likely enjoy great initial progress and then the grind will start.

logarithmic-growth-curve

And once you get started on the upper half of the image above it will turn into something like this:

progress

Stick with it. Setbacks are part of the process. Learn to enjoy the process and the outcomes will come in time.

Mental Toughness

Grit, mental toughness, willpower or any of the other terms that people like to throw around aren’t gifts from the gods or innate traits that a lucky few receive. All of these things come from a combination of mental skills that are trainable. For now, focus on having a clear sense of your values and a believe in your ability to succeed.

Wrap Up

We’ll dive into topics like mental toughness and resilience in future blogs but for now focus on clarifying your values and building belief in yourself. Review your goals weekly and track your behaviors soon you’ll be building momentum towards your goals through consistent action.

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