Conceive, Believe, Visualize
First, you have to have an idea (Conceive it). It may not even
come from you, it could be a suggestion, but once it takes hold in your head and your heart, it’s yours. If it excites you, it’s a goal worth pursuing. And in your core, you have to Believe it’s possible. Self-doubt may creep in, but that’s different than not believing that you can do it, or that you deserve to. See it in your mind. Visualize. What does it look like when you reach your goal? Not just what does it feel like, or what you think you’ll get. Don’t think about this step: you need to be able to close your eyes and SEE it. That end goal, as much of a pipe dream as it may seem, is your anchor.
Up to this point, these aren’t really goals. They’re dreams. Goals require action, so if you don’t move on to the next steps, what you’re doing is engaging in magical thinking. It’s no longer a dream, or a goal, it’s just a wish. So you have to…
Act. “Take massive unrelenting strides in the direction of what you want. And understand that hurdles, obstacles, and setbacks are just part of the molding process of turning you into the person you need to be to experience what it is you want to achieve. These tests are an important part of the process.” (Chris McCombs)
You have to have some sense of where you’re going, if you're going to set out on a journey. Or you could end up Through the Looking Glass, in Wonderland, having wild adventures like Alice. Fun, but ultimately exhausting and you end up back in the same place you started.
I didn’t consciously start with the end in mind, I didn’t visualize myself 100 lbs lighter, I didn’t do any of the usual goal-setting techniques. But, I’d learned (and taught!) about S.M.A.R.T. goals and goal setting through the myriad leadership courses at camp. Something must have stuck, because as I look back now, I realize that I was actually following that model. I just didn’t write it down, and I didn’t verbalize it to myself.
With swimming it was the number of lengths in a specific time that was my goal. I got there. Well, at first it was just showing up enough days in a row. Once I reached that small goal, I set a new one. Increase the amount of time spent in the pool. Then, I increased that to number of lengths during
that time. With the climbing wall, the goal was clear from the start: reach the
top. Just do it. It was a different kind of goal to set because there was no progression, it was a one-time thing. In each case, it was something concrete – focusing on the action, not the result. I told myself that I was not going to think about weight loss, that wasn’t the reason I was swimming. It was for my health, and my strength. The goal I set was positively framed.
Goals should be positive, if you are going to really stick with them:
"The typically made (and broken) ones -- lose 10 pounds, drop a dress size, make those butt dimples just a bad memory -- don't keep you motivated over the long term, says Philip Wilson, PhD, an associate professor of psychology at Brock University in Ontario. Why? They're external (aka more focused on guilt and how you want others to see you than on having fun and feeling healthier). And people who make health changes to feel good follow through more often than those who make changes to look good, according to his research. Plus, when you don't reach your look-great goals as quickly as you'd like, you get discouraged. Regular victories are vital to wanting to stick with anything, Wilson says. So by resolving to perform a certain action-- rather than get certain result -- you'll get a little high each and every time you follow through.”
Another thing that I did, just because I’m a Type-A detail-oriented librarian-teacher-type, was to track my activity. When I started swimming, I just tracked which days I swam, in a Word document – a green Y for yes, I went, and a red N for no, I didn’t. It didn’t matter for how long, I just needed to see a lot of green, and no red twice in a row. After a few weeks, I started writing how long I swam for (in minutes). After a few months, I started counting how many lengths I did, and included those. It is why I knew the first day I got to 100 lengths in under an hour. I hadn’t started out with that goal in mind, it developed over time as I got better, and only because I was writing it down. At that point, I was not sharing the document with anyone – no accountability – but it was new enough for me that it was like my own little secret source of pride, and commitment to myself, and I wanted to be able to write down that I had gone, and I started to push myself to aim for 100.
If writing details down is not your sort of thing there are other options. Apps like Habit Goal on smartphones, for one thing. If you’re a more visual kind of person, you may like my friend’s red-green-gold star sticker method. A gold star means clean eating AND working out. A green star means one or the other (working out but not having a perfect eating day? Still an accomplishment. Celebrate good food choices even if you don’t work out). A red star means you did neither. Visually seeing how many days a week, or in a row, you hit the green and gold stars helps to keep you on track, even when you have those red star days.
Keep Adjusting Your Sails As The Horizon Shifts
At the end of last year, I floundered. I had no clear goals to work towards, and I was mentally adrift. I’d lost the 100 lbs and knew I wanted to keep going, but that big round number had come and gone. I hadn't re-set my goals in awhile, so I didn't have an anchor. Nothing to focus on but the vague "weight loss." Tying a goal to my weight, to what my body looks like, tends to send me into a pretty negative headspace. But when I set goals that are based on actions? I get excited. It seems manageable, attainable. I tell people about it. And it boosts my mood and attitude, overall.
I was facing a huge gap between my unrealistic and vague end goal, and what I could do in the present. I had to readjust, and I went back to the basics and re-set my goals to much easier ones to reach, so that I could achieve something. No matter how small. Getting back to the habit of consistency was the new goal, because I needed to feel successful again.
Our natural tendency is to overpromise and underdeliver, especially to ourselves. One of the easiest (and most counter-intuitive) ways to stay consistent is to do the opposite. Underpromise and overdeliver. Consider every promise you’re about to make to yourself a rough, first draft. Before truly committing, ask yourself, “On a scale of 1-10, how confident am I that I could do this every day for the next 30 days?” If your gut reaction is anything other than “9″ or “10″, find a way to make that promise smaller or easier.
E.g., turn “I’ll cut out sugar every day” into:
- “I’ll stop eating each meal when I’m 80% full.” Eat what you’re already eating, just slightly less.
- “I’ll eat one (more) home-made meal a day.” Focus on mindfully creating a single meal.
- “I’ll eat one big salad a day.” Focus on eating one more well-chosen meal, even if you have to buy it. Even fast food chains have salads with chicken these days.
And turn “I’ll go to the gym every morning at 6AM” into:
- "I’ll do 40 air squats at home, right after waking up.” Do something with no travel or equipment required.
- “I’ll get 2 solid workouts in per week, scheduled in my calendar, and go from there.” Reduce the commitment to something you can always stick to; do more only if you can, making it entirely optional.
- “I’ll park further away from work / school and walk the rest of the way.” Even easier.
Those are just examples, of course. You’ll find one that works for you.
Keep reducing the commitment until it feels too easy for you. Until you can answer “9″ or “10″ without even thinking about it. Those are the things that you can actually do consistently.
If you can do more on any particular day, then great, go for it. But don’t commit to it. Your daily accomplishments can be big, but keep your commitments relatively small. This way, you turn predictable disappointment into daily, pleasant surprise.
- Nate Green (Precision Nutriation blog)
Think about each goal in both the short and long term, and in big and little increments. I have a big goal to work towards: the Badass Dash in September. From the February vantage point, that’s still a long way away. Which is why this Megathon challenge, in just a month, is a great short-term goal. I will be keeping my eye on that ball, focusing like a laser beam. And in order to get to that goal, I know that I have to do something specific every day. I started by just trying out the push-ups to the song. Established the base line. Now, I do it each morning, and try to get further than the day before. Even if it’s just by one push-up. Ideally, with that kind of progression and practice, I’ll be able to reach the goal of finishing the song. But I also have a fitness coach in my accountability network, to help me work on strengthening the right parts in the right way, so that it’s a truly “smart” way of reaching my goal.
I lost focus when I had no goal to work towards, and when it was tied to what my body looked like. I’m feeling better and more excited these days, and it’s because I have both short and long term goals, which are based on actions, not results. They are actions that I can control – like training and practicing. I'm not worrying about the outcome, just what I need to do to prepare myself for each day.
And that's making me feel pretty S.M.A.R.T.