Do you ever feel like you set goals but no matter how hard you try they stay just out of reach? That you just can’t seem to attain them?
How many times have you started something new, diet, exercise, running, selling your art, blogging, budgeting, only to decide a short time later that “it just isn’t working?”
And you settle back into the status quo, with a little more evidence that you just can’t do it.
What if the problem was the process, not your ability? Wouldn’t that be amazing?
Good news. That is exactly the problem. The reason some people achieve their goals and some don’t has nothing to do with willpower or innate ability, it has to do with having the right process. And this process is available to everyone.
Once we know this, we can stop messing around with the goal setting, mental drama, and failure and start crossing some of those dreams off the “to do” list.
So what is the process? What have we missed in our previous attempts?
The process is threefold.
Step 1: Decide what steps need to be taken. No goal is one step, even if it seems like it is one step. Let’s take the example of cutting sugar out of your diet. It sounds like one step, stop eating sugar. The error with this thinking is that when we then eat sugar we decide we have failed. Game over. You lose. But if we decide that not eating sugar has steps then we can re-evaluate.
So what could the steps be to cutting out sugar?
Get rid of the sugar in the house.
Look at when I gravitate to sugar and see if there is something I can change. Is it mid afternoon and I am tired? Am I dehydrated and looking for energy?
Decide how I want to cut out sugar. Maybe I still want sugar in my coffee but will start with no sugar after dinner.
What is my plan for when I do eat sugar (Hint: the answer is not to throw in the towel and have Haagen-Dazs.) How am I going to react after? Maybe I write down the circumstances surrounding the “episode”.
Do I want to plan exceptions?
Every single goal has steps in the process. When you make the goal, write down the steps. As W. Edwards Demming says,
“If you can’t describe what you are doing as a process, you don’t know what you are doing.”
Step 2: Measure your progress. Don’t pretend reaching the goal is measurement. You have to measure the steps. If you need a sticker chart, use a sticker chart. We all carry computers around in our pockets, so that is a way to track it as well. This step is the secret weapon when your brain tries to tell you that you can’t do anything right, when it skews towards the negative. It reinforces what you have done, not just what you haven’t done.
It’s like setting out to do 12 reps at the gym and only getting through 8. Just because you didn’t do 12, it doesn’t mean the 8 are useless. It doesn’t mean you will never get in shape.
This approach of tracking or measuring the steps gives equal airtime to both the positive steps that you take and the ones that you miss which is a crucial set up for Step 3. My favorite one sentence summary for this comes from Gretchen Rubin,
“If you want something to count, you have to find a way to count it.”
Step 3: Reevaluate. I know we all want to be prodigies, to do everything right the first time and not have to practice. Unfortunately, that’s not the way things go. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news. This “evaluation” step is the most critical if you actually want to reach your goals. If your goal is really, truly important to you then you need to set a time to review 3 things.
What didn’t work?
What am I going to do differently?
This process challenges the all or nothing thinking that is so easy to slip into when we want to achieve new things. Look at the steps. What worked? What didn’t work? What do you want to change? Use the info from step 2 to help you figure this out. Tweak the process for the next week. Look for new variables, for unexpected challenges. Strategize a new process based on this data. Make a new sticker chart to measure the steps.
If you don’t search for the problems, you can’t develop the solutions.
You can just stay stuck.
Look at the data, make a plan, leave the drama in the dust. It’s as easy as that. And when you feel like you have done nothing right, look at the chart and see how that is simply not true. Gather the evidence to support yourself. The next change you make could be the one that changes your life for good.