Your Goals: Think Journey Not Destination

JourneyAh, a new year, a fresh start. Well, start yes. Follow through, not so much. Statistics show that of the people who make New Year’s resolutions, about 65% abandon them after just one month. What’s even more remarkable is that the resolutions made have amazing consistency across groups of people and over time. 

Here are five of the 2014 top ten New Year’s resolutions:

  1. Lose Weight.
  2. Getting Organized.
  3. Spend Less,
  4. Save More.
  5. Enjoy Life to the Fullest.
  6. Staying Fit and Healthy.

See what I mean about consistency? And if you look at the other five, you’ll find no surprises there either.

I don’t know about you, but I always find myself amused and amazed by this annual ritual. Why do so many people follow the same cycle of resolution, attempt, and failure? [Tweet this]  And why do they tend to do this repeatedly, despite all the advice that’s available.

 New Year’s Resolutions: Just Another Bad Habit

Now, I’m no expert, but having recently finished Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit, I have a new insight. It seems to me that the whole resolution dance is itself a habit. A bad one. [Tweet this]  It starts with a cue (New Year’s) that prompts a routine (set new goals) and ends in a reward (false sense of action).

Fortunately, you can change the habits that keep holding you back. And if you don’t have time to read Duhigg’s excellent book, he has posted a helpful book excerpt on the process at his site. It’s a great place to start.

Specific Is Better

Perhaps the biggest problem with resolutions, and even with the goals people typically set, is their lack of specificity. So, how to change that? I’ll bet you already know. SMART objectives. Because these are focused on time,action, and results, they allow for ongoing evaluation of progress and refinement of actions.

Specificity is powerful. And it’s pretty easy to create SMART objectives in place of New Year’s resolutions. [Tweet this]  Then, if you make a genuine effort to take the needed actions and measure your progress, you’ll most likely reach your objective. So, for example, better to shoot for “dropping 10 pounds in six weeks by reducing calories from carbs” than it is to lose weight by “eating less.” And yes, people do set these very general goals! An actual goal I read, recently, was this one: “To do the hard work to get the kind of body society regards as beautiful.”

SMART objectives help. Yet, even though I use them, I often find myself thinking that there is a kind of fallacy in the way we think about goals. In fact, on some level, I continually find myself drawn to no goals as a better option. Frankly, the way Leo Babauta talks about it, a no goals life seems so attractive! He says:

“In the end, I usually end up achieving more than if I had goals, because I’m always doing something I’m excited about. But whether I achieve or not isn’t the point at all: all that matters is that I’m doing what I love, always.”

Therein, I think, lies the secret.

Goals Reimagined

In reimagining success, I think goals have a place, but it’s a bit different from what you might expect. Generally, a goal is chosen because it represents some desirable future state of being. Usually something intangible. So, no, getting a new MacBook Pro really isn’t a goal. But being more physically fit is.

Once set, a goal usually unpacks into a series of activities we feel obligated to take in order to reach our goal.  Want to lose weight? Fine. Just make whatever sacrifices the latest fad diet requires. You may not enjoy it, but you’ll see results. Maybe so, but then what?

So, in the typical approach, your goal establishes a set of rules for living that you feel obligated to follow to achieve that future state. Yet, as I see it, make yourself a servant to a set of rules, and you risk losing sight of what really matters. [Tweet this]  What really matters? Living your life in a way that’s meaningful, fulfilling, and grounded in your own sense of purpose.

So, how do you do that?

Let’s start by reframing what a goal represents. Basically, your goal starts  your journey toward a desirable future. As such, it means you need to follow a series of steps, or a path, to “get there.” Yet, when it comes to journeys, it’s worth remembering the wisdom of a well-worn aphorism:  All roads lead to Rome. So, when it comes to goals, it’s not so much the destination. It’s the journey that matters most. [Tweet this]  

In my view, then, when you establish a goal, don’t think about what you have to do. Consider what you want to do.  It may seem counterintuitive, but the reality is there are many ways to “get there.”  Different Paths

So, if you want to lose weight, find a way of eating that you enjoy, happens to help you shed pounds, and becomes the basis for a long-term eating plan. Doesn’t matter if it’s Weight Watchers, Vegetarianism, South Beach, Paleo, or Smoothies!

If you want to increase your level of fitness, pick a fitness regimen that works for you over the long term. Whether it’s running, lifting, competitive sports, CrossFit, or Zumba. Do it because you enjoy it, and the results will often take care of themselves.

The really cool thing about this approach is that you are establishing desirable changes for today. And after all, isn’t that what it takes to live the life you want? So, when you set goals; ask yourself, “How does this create a better way to live my life, starting now?” [Tweet this]  

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What goals are you setting, and how do they change how you live today? I’d love to know. Just leave a comment.

Comments

  1. says

    A friend, on another social platform, responded, in part with the following:

    “I’m not sure I agree with your take on goals. I think writing down a set of well thought out goals for the new year (FYI: I’ve read that only 3% of the population actually writes down their goals, which is essential for meeting them), with concrete actions to achieve them, and then actually taking action, is a great way to make sure that we progress from year to year in the areas of our lives that meter the most to us.”

    I thought he made a great point and it prompted a clarification from me that I want to share here. I said:

    “Thanks for reading my post and for taking the time to comment on it. I’m glad it was thought provoking!

    “Actually, I do actually agree with you that writing down goals and action steps is a very necessary ingredient for success. Hey!! I do that … and I make sure all my objectives are SMART!! Actually, there is also evidence that people who review their written goals regularly (even daily) are more likely to reach them!

    “Sure, I can see how it may look like I’m “throwing out the baby with the bath water.” I’m not. Even though I do think Leo Babauta makes an attractive argument!

    “What I am trying to say, though is that people aren’t thoughtful enough about how they set their goals and develop their action plans. They don’t consider the multiple paths that are open to them. So, too often they settle on a set of action steps that don’t reflect their values and that they aren’t truly committed to, decreasing their likelihood of success.

    “I’m glad you challenged my thinking on this, my friend!! It is a great opportunity to provide this clarification!”

  2. says

    Walter- Really enjoyed your post. Regardless of what you call them (goals) or the specifics concerning how you go about achieving the outcome you desire, it’s all about moving forward each and every day. It’s about adjusting, taking action and continuing to move forward. I think you nailed it by focusing on the journey. Nicely done!

    • says

      Thanks, Mitch!! I’m glad you enjoyed the post!!

      In my work as a coach and as a business owner, I spend a lot of time developing and pursuing goals. I think they’re critical to success. And yet, what I so often see happening is that goals, no matter how desirable, can overshadow the day-to-day reality of reaching desired future state. What that often means is that people aren’t particularly thoughtful about what they’re ready to commit to every day. So, yes, you’re right, it’s all about taking action and continuing to move forward. And if we are thoughtful about the actions we take, we get to enjoy the journey!! Happy New Year!!

  3. says

    I can see your point here Walter. Many people create goals and set very restrictive action items. I think you can still reach your goal while having fun.

    My goal is to finish whatever I’ve already started. How will I do that? I will put some concrete deadlines in place and have check-in points with my network to make sure I’m on schedule. This is important. I start a lot and finish little. Time to make a change.

    Thanks for sharing this info. Helpful as always!

    • says

      Thanks for sharing your observation and kind words, Charlean!! Yes! Exactly the point!! People do set restrictive action plans that seem logical but may not be enjoyable. Often this is because they look for guidance in what others do … well, that and the fact that they already expect the process to involve some sacrifice and pain!

      I think if people are more thoughtful about their action plans, the process could be way more enjoyable. This doesn’t mean that deadlines and checkpoints are unimportant – they absolutely are. Choosing a path that has its own daily satisfactions can make SMART objectives even SMARTER … where the E = Enjoyable and R = Rewarding!

      Happy New Year!!

  4. says

    Thank you, Walter! Great content, as usual. Happy and Fulfilling are high on my list, so I really appreciated your position that taking steps we actually enjoy and want to do in fulfillment of our goals/resolutions/dreams will help us to achieve them because we’re more likely to employ them over the long-term. Thank you again.

    • says

      Thanks always for your kind words, Kimberly!! Why does it not surprise me that Happy and Fulfilling are high on your list?! Knowing you as a positive and optimistic person, I think you have great insights into making each day a joyful part of journey toward fulfilling your goals, resolutions and dreams!!

      We can all chose our path. So, given the options why not choose the one that leads to daily practices that have their own rewards – even as they move us to a better future!!

      Happy New Year!

  5. says

    Great post Walter as always. I am a big fan of The Power of Habit. I reference it often in speeches. Over lunch today, I was talking with my friend about this same topic. Small world! I like your take on New Year’s Resolutions as habits themselves (albeit short lived ones). Great observation. In the end, I conclude that the majority of habits (some productive, others destructive) carryover from one year to the next. They will eventually run their course in our lives unless we are committed to changing the routine that follows the cue. Or perhaps change the cue itself!

    • says

      Yes, small world…and (ahem)… great minds!! ;) I appreciate your great observations, Brent!!

      I have to admit, it took me a couple of chapters to warm up to _The Power of Habit._ Yet, it turns out to be one of the most amazing and informative books I’ve read!! I’ve also been reading Gladwell’s David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants. So, I think it was both books that drove my insight….

      …which is: Too many people believe that to be successful they need to do what society tells them to do. So, if they want to get fit, they do what everyone else does. Yet, in a no-one-size-fits-all world, what accounts for this behavior? Well, I think it’s habit.

      So, yes, I believe you’re right about how habits (good and bad) carry over from year to year. And if we don’t change the loop that sustains bad habits, they can ruin the course of our lives.

      Happy New Year!!

  6. says

    Walter, great post! I learned about the SMART objectives in a behavioral change class this year. I have to say I’ve never been one to make New Year’s resolutions and I like your idea that they are habits as well. Thank you for sharing your perspective.

    • says

      Thanks for your comment, Yolanda!

      Yes, SMART objectives are very helpful …. provided you know what to be smart about!! In the end, achieving goals really is more about changing the way we live now … and that often means changing our habits!! 

      Happy New Year

  7. says

    Hi Walter,
    I am obviously a first time visitor on your blog and really enjoyed your post and your writing style.

    I do believe in goals although not so much in resolutions and probably for the reasons you mentioned here. Goals are specific, goals are SMART and it does make a huge difference. I set not just a yearly goal but I review my goals, monthly and break it down to weekly goals. For me, this method seems to work great.

    I think it boils down to moving forward one step at a time day after day, isn’t it? It’s about adjusting, taking action everyday, a small one each day.
    Thank you for a very well done article loaded with some awesome tips!

    Regards,
    Kumar

    • says

      Thanks, Kumar, for visiting my blog!! I appreciate your kind words about my writing style!

      What you’re saying about your goals process makes good sense, and it’s a process I’ve used with much success for most of my career. In fact, the combination of specificity, clear action steps, and timeline are powerful ways to stay on track. And yes, it does boil down to moving forward one step at a time day after day.

      Still, I believe in choosing daily actions that are a true fit for ourselves, as opposed to doing the things that we *think* we need to do. This, of course, requires some personal insight. Still, the effort is worth it. As fitness expert, Adam Bornstein, says:

      “It’s much more effective to create a world where every action in and of itself is an achievement. This is about building positive habits, feeling good about your life, and taking a step in the right direction. The more steps you take, the better you’ll feel and the more motivation you’ll have.”

  8. says

    “Think Motivation Is the Answer? Think Again!” As in fitness, so in life.

    Here is a great read from fitness expert, Adam Bornstein. Essentially, he’s making a similar case about daily choices that lead to enjoyable habits. He says, “Life is about happiness and fulfillment. In fitness and health we oftentimes lose sight of that because we try forcing actions–like going to the gym or eating well–that feel like a burden, rather than patiently creating habits.”

    http://bossfitmag.com/motivation-is-bullshit/

  9. says

    This year I am focusing my goals on actions and not outcomes. Similar to your journey vs the destination idea.
    For example, not losing weight but run every day.

    I am not sure if this is a better way to achieve more in my life, but figure it is worth a try.

    • says

      Awesome, Jason!! I appreciate your comment and applaud your approach!! I think if you focus on actions that are enjoyable, you’ll live better– and achieve what you aspire to in the process!!

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