Every year, especially around New Year’s Eve, people notice something about their lives that they don’t like. Maybe someone doesn’t like seeing the extra inches around his waist. Perhaps someone else doesn’t like the size of her savings account. Whether it has to do with health, wealth, or quality of life, these people identify something they don’t like and decide to do something about it.
They set goals such as:
- I’m going to lose 25 lbs by summer.
- I want to have half a million dollars before I retire.
- I want to live in a bigger apartment.
When people set goals, they have good intentions. They may even write down their goals. For a weight loss goal, perhaps that goal is placed on the fridge as a reminder. Perhaps that first week might be filled with exercise at the gym, and the goal setter might be filled with energy and motivation.
Too often, though, what happens for many people is that they soon forget the goals they set. The person who wants to lose weight might find that he has a hard time waking up one morning, and so he skips going to the gym that day. And he might go to the gym the next day. But soon enough, another tough morning comes. And then another. And he might find the habit of going to the gym daily gets scaled back to only a few days a week. Eventually, without realizing it, he won’t be going to the gym at all, and he’ll be back to living his life the way he did before he set the goal.
And the same goes for any goal. Perhaps the person who wants to save $500,000 gets excited about saving a bit of money each time she gets paid, but it’s possible that there are plenty of bills that need paying and the morning coffee isn’t too much money and someone’s birthday is coming up. She might find that saving money is just too hard, and eventually she falls out of the habit.
A year later, these people might look back and realize that they haven’t made any progress on their goals. And for some people, they might have a lot of goals that they are failing to achieve at once. Insert guilt and frustration here. I’ve been there, and odds are, you’ve been there, too.
So what can you do? I recently realized a few ways to make goal achievement easier:
- Focus on only a few goals, not a billion!
- Make those goals vivid!
- Keep your attention on those goals!
Focus on only a few goals!
This one was tough for me to internalize. I have a billion interests. I have a day job. I have an indie video game development business. I write for this blog. I play soccer. I have friends and family I want to spend time with. I am the Charter Executive for the Association of Software Professionals Games Special Interest Group. I want to weight about 15 lbs less than I do. I want a nicer apartment. I have a ton of papers I want to shred, a set of online business courses to finish taking, books to read, a ukelele to build and learn how to play, a printer to setup…Yeah, I’m busy! B-)
I used to keep all of these projects on a list, which is good in that they won’t fall through the cracks or become forgotten, but I always felt like I wasn’t making progress. One day I’d write a blog post, but I wouldn’t have time to work on my game development projects. I’d go to the gym and run for an hour, but then I’d be too tired to read that business book I’ve been meaning to finish. I’d do some actions related to one project, such as taking the online business course, but then feel like other things weren’t getting done, so I’d switch my focus to something else.
Eventually, I realized that my approach wasn’t working. My attention was spread too thin, rendering me ineffective at everything. I felt frustrated, and life just wasn’t fun. I felt like I needed to constantly be “on”. Watching TV, playing video games, reading for leisure, spending time with friends: they all felt like ways I was procrastinating doing all of the work that I knew had to get done. As the psychologist William James once said, “Nothing is so fatiguing as the eternal hanging on of an uncompleted task.” And I had a lot of those!
If I was going to accomplish anything meaningful, I needed to focus on it until it was done. After all, if it was the most important thing for me to do, why spend time on anything else? Isn’t that just procrastination?
At the start of the new year, I identified a few major goals that I wanted to accomplish this year. Not 50. Not 100. I came up with four goals, and I have since reduced them to three. At any given moment, I know that if I should be doing anything, it is in service to to accomplishing those three goals.
Why so few? Because I need focus if I want to see these goals accomplished. Focusing on a billion goals is the same as having no focus at all.
Make those goals vivid!
There are good ways to define goals, but there are also bad ways to do so. If you search online for tips about setting goals, you’ll inevitably come across the acronym SMART, and you’ll also come across articles suggesting that it is outdated. Whatever you decide to do, write your goal so that it gives you energy to think about it. Boring goals won’t motivate you.
“I want to lose weight” is a lame goal. It has no energy behind it. There’s no vision. It’s just a weak prayer. A better version: “I want to lose 15 lbs in three months.” It’s better partly because of the details, but it could be improved. How about this one?
“I am achieving a healthy, optimal weight that makes me look sexy and feels vibrant. I easily reach a weight of XYZ lbs.”
Achieving! Healthy! Optimal! Sexy! Vibrant! Easily! These words make the goal FEEL awesome! Just think about the way that goal is written in the last example. It’s a lot harder to forget than “I want to lose weight”, isn’t it?
You want your goals to fire up your imagination, and you want to imagine what success looks and feels like. It might sound silly, but this activity is key. I allow myself to enjoy the good feelings that come from immersing myself in these goals as if they are already achieved. This isn’t just fantasy or navel-gazing. Imagining that your success is already accomplished actually helps you accomplish those goals! If you can convincingly feel that your accomplished goal is real, your subconscious can go to work making it happen.
Of course, if you do the work to create a goal that inspires you, it would be a shame to forget about it.
Keep your attention on those goals!
I’ve had a problem declaring goals and not following up on them. For example, when it came to making time for regular game development each week, I have historically been pretty bad at it. Tracking it through the Thousander Club, I could see just how bad it was, and at the start of each year, I would say, “This is it! This is the line in the sand! I did badly before, but I will change my ways completely!” The next thing I know, it’s December, and I realize that I am nowhere near 1,000 hours of game development.
If your goals are important to you, you need to dedicate the time to thinking about them. It’s too easy to forget about your goals when you’re drowning under obligations and interests pulling you in multiple directions.
Some people suggest writing down your goals every day. I don’t like the idea of throwing away hundreds of index cards throughout the year, so I wrote them down once, but every morning I make an effort to think about those three goals. I read the statements, and because they are vivid and striking, it is easy to imagine them being real. I’m healthy and look great. I’m living in a comfortable, secure home. My business is successful and profitable.
Every morning, I make the time to quietly think about my three main goals for the year, and it is time well spent. These are goals I really care about, and I don’t want to forget them just because urgent tasks distracted me. And the more I think about them, the easier it is to remember them. It’s a nice feedback loop. And as I make progress on these goals, they just get further reinforced.
So make the time! It can take mere minutes each morning to visualize your goals. Set up reminders. If you don’t need reminders to accomplish your goals, that’s great. If you are like me, get into the habit of setting aside time to think about your goals daily.
Does this visualization really work?
To give an example of how amazing it is to focus on a vivid vision, one time I allowed myself to imagine what it would be like to own a Lamborghini. I never really cared about cars before, and this was purely for fun. These cars cost as much as a house, so it would feel pretty wealthy to own one. They turn heads. I could wear shades as I drove down the street. I could show up at parties, and the valet would be excited to get the opportunity to park my car. I didn’t really want such an impractical car, but as far as pretending I was rich enough to own one, why not? It was just for fun.
But you know what I started seeing a lot more of? Corvettes. I saw them everywhere. Sometimes I would see four or five before I’ve traveled a mile! People around me talked about Corvettes. I learned that there were some for sale near my home. I went to a bed and breakfast in the middle of the countryside in Wisconsin, and even there I saw a yellow Corvette outside of the restaurant I went to eat at! It turned out that there was even a Corvette car show in town. It was surreal.
I’m not saying that I manifested Corvettes by thinking about cool cars, although some people will talk about the Law of Attraction at work here. I personally think that I was merely noticing these cars more since I had trained my subconscious to look for awesome cars. They were probably always there, but I hadn’t cared about them enough to notice before.
Regardless of what you believe, making it a habit to vividly imagine your goals will help you recognize opportunities to make those visions a reality. Now, the three points I described above aren’t enough to get you to achieve your goals, but if you’ve ever experienced the frustration of realizing that goals you set a year prior were completely forgotten, they should help you keep your goals at the forefront of your mind, show you how realistic they are, and make it easier to achieve them.