Photo by Wynona Robison
By Scott Young
This article looks at how a deliberate shift in our views on goal setting can net drastic cumulative results in the long run.
Whether it’s career goals or personal goals, we’ve all been there – setting aggressive and sometimes overtly ambitious goals, chasing after it, hitting road bumps and eventually become de- motivated to never see the goal come to fruition.
Nobody likes to be stuck in a plateau. You might spend months working hard towards a goal without seeing any progress. It can be incredibly frustrating to feel your motivations go unrewarded.
How you react to a plateau will decide whether you’re going to eventually be successful. While many people react by burning themselves out or quitting, some people continue showing up, every day. The people that show up, through sheer patience, will eventually break through their plateau.
Why Get-Rich-Quick Schemes Fail
I see this as a blogger. A new writer will start a blog, often with great content, but after 8 months they stop blogging. Some expressed ideas that the blog would become their future business, so they can’t claim they weren’t committed. While they stopped writing, the soon-to-be successful bloggers continued to write, every day.
I see this as a gym-goer. Every January the gym is full. After a few weeks it’s quiet again. People purchased year-long memberships to use them for 3 weeks. Sure, they can claim they were too busy, or that they didn’t really need to exercise, but that’s a rationalization. While they quit, the truly healthy people continued to show up, every day.
I see this as a student. There are a lot more pre-med students than medical students. There are more people at the beginning of an academic program than at the end of it. While some people cram for exams the last minute, other people develop studying habits that last them their entire degree program.
Getting rich quick doesn’t just fail because the methods are scams. They fail because the people they attract were never interested in what it takes to succeed to begin with. They wanted an immediate solution to a problem that requires a lifetime of dedication.
The Secret to Goal Setting: Deliberate Slowness
Instead of offering the fastest path to success, I want to offer the opposite: the slowest path to success. Instead of promising you can get rich quickly, I’d like to suggest that you can get rich over several years or decades. Instead of promising to lose 14lbs in a week, I am suggesting that you can be healthy for a lifetime.
Deliberate slowness to goal setting isn’t a popular mantra these days. In a fast-paced world, everyone is looking for shortcuts. They want to know how the superstar managed to becoming incredibly successful in a few months. They don’t want to hear about the person who meticulously planned her success for a decade.
However, despite it’s lack of glamour, deliberate slowness with goal setting is a more effective mantra. It forces you to stop craving the immediate acquisition of your goal, focus on the process and get down to the doing. This focus on process makes it more likely you’ll keep your goals once you achieve them. More importantly, a focus on process allows you to actually enjoy the path to success instead of viewing everything as an obstacle towards it.
What Are You Going to Master in 10 Years?
Think about your plans in terms of the next decade, and not the next few months. When you think in terms of a decade, your strategy changes. Instead of trying to frantically push effort into the current moment, you focus on the continuous behaviors you need to succeed. Instead of trying to achieve a goal for the moment, you focus on how to sustain it for a lifetime.
Malcolm Gladwell, in his excellent book Outliers, proposes that it takes 10,000 hours to master any skill. Virtuosos and computer hackers alike all need to put 10,000 hours of work in before they reach true mastery of their craft. If you spent 3 hours a day, for almost every day of the year, it would take you a decade to master a skill.
Instead of looking for the quickest route, look for the most sustainable route. Don’t worry about what will get you there immediately, look at what will keep you there in five to ten years.
As a blogger, this means continually outputting content, on a regular schedule. My own website (ScottHYoung.com) has over 700 articles in the archive, most of which still gain traffic and comments to this day.
As a gym-goer, this means sustaining the exercise habit, rather than adopting radical workout strategies. I’ve been going to the gym 3-5 days per week for over four years. Instead of taking on every dieting fad, I try to maintain a simple diet that is both healthy and sustainable.
My goal setting aims for the long-term. I don’t subscribe to the motivational advice saying you should manufacture unlimited confidence in yourself so you can achieve any goal. I think the downside of this approach is that whenever your false confidence doesn’t meet reality (which often happens) you crash and find it more difficult to put in the effort. I’d rather set highly realistic goals and commit to investing the energy in them day after day, year after year.
Building the Foundation
Beneath any skyscraper there is a large foundation. In order to build upwards, you first need to dig downwards, otherwise you’re resting on uncertain ground. The same is true of life. Before you can try to radically shift your blogging strategy, experiment with your gym routine or juggle a double course load, you need to build a foundation.
That foundation is your habits. The things you do, regardless of your motivation or feedback, every day and every week. I write articles for my website twice per week, regardless of whether my traffic spiked or it crashed. Regardless of whether I made a thousand dollars or a dime. I write because writing is the foundation of my work, and it comes before everything else.
If you can build the proper foundation, you can build almost anything on top of it. Because your foundation will continue to put effort in for you, even when you’re stuck in a plateau, too busy or exhausted, it is the most valuable part of your goal setting strategy. With a foundation, you can then try all the experiments and tricks you want to use to speed your success.
Figure out what you would need to do, every day or every week, in order to sustain your goal. What’s the bare minimum output level you’d need to meet. Once you define this level, make it a habit. Commit to it for at least thirty days without stop. Then commit to continuing it for another ninety days.
Once your foundation is set, you are far less likely to quit out of exhaustion or frustration. You can experience virtually any setback, and continue to show up, every day.
Goal Setting Motives – Lifestyle? Or Means to an End?
One major difference between people who continue and those who quit, is the way they approach their goals. The people who continue see the path to their goal as part of a lifestyle. The people who quit see the path to their goal is just a means to reach their objective.
If you go to the gym, is that because going to the gym is part of your lifestyle, or only because you’re trying to lose thirty pounds? Are you blogging because writing every day is part of your life, or is it just a stepping-stone in order to become wealthy?
Integrate your goals into your lifestyle. While part of this is the same as setting habits, it’s also an attitude. Ask yourself whether you would continue to work this hard, once you’ve reached your goal? If the answer is no, then you probably won’t be able to continue in the long run. If you get stuck or your goal takes longer than you realized, you may never reach it.
Set Aggressive Goals, Realistic Deadlines
Set big, world-changing goals for your life. Just be patient with the deadline. I’d rather have world-changing goals for myself that I foresee taking decades, than minor goals I anticipate accomplishing well ahead of schedule.
Your deadline is more than just a motivational tool. It also frames how you view your goal. Setting longer deadlines forces you to pick sustainable, deliberately slow strategies for success. Setting unrealistically short deadlines forces you to cut corners, take shortcuts and scam your way to the top.
Goal Setting Sustainability
Sustainability is a popular word for the environment. It means choosing solutions that will continue to work in 50 years, just as they work today. But, sustainability also applies to your life and goal setting. If you take on paths that aren’t sustainable, you’re violating the principle of deliberate slowness.
Ask yourself how long you can continue this current path. When will you give up after not seeing any results? If the answer is less than “forever”, your strategy isn’t sustainable. If there is a clearly defined quitting time, you aren’t pursuing a sustainable strategy.
I’m not saying you need to continue the same strategy forever. But, if you have the potential to do so, then you greatly increase the odds that you won’t quit for the wrong reasons.
Don’t Pursue Half-Committed Ventures
The side-lesson of deliberate slowness is that you shouldn’t pursue half-committed ventures. If you want something, you should be committed to realizing it whether it takes only a month or a decade. If you aren’t willing to wait ten years to complete your goal, then you probably don’t have the persistence it takes to see it through to the end.
When Deliberately Slow is Surprisingly Fast
In my life, I’ve taken on goals from a deliberately slow perspective. When I started my business, I set my first important income goal for three years, not six months. When I started exercising my fitness targets were measured in months, not weeks. When I set out changing habits, I did so, one at a time, for at least one month each.
Talking to a short-term thinker, and my approach seems painfully slow. They will point out how I might be able to double my business in a few months, or increase my strength within a week.
But if you actually look at the track record, deliberate slowness is the faster approach. If you only focus on one habit change per month, you can completely rewrite the behaviors of your life in less than a year. Three years to build a business looks painfully long in the future, but after it’s done, people comment on how amazing your success is.
Just Do It. (Every Day)
The current motivational mantra is “get started.” Nike says, “Just do it.” Guy Kawasaki’s book focuses on the Art of the Start. But I think a better mantra than get started would be to “show up, every day.” Instead of just trying to get started, show up every day so that you have a chance to finish.
* What are your goal setting secrets to achieving your dreams? Share your thoughts and stories in the comment section. See you there!
- Powerful Web-based Goal Setting System
- Goal Setting for Kids
- How to Set and Achieve a Goal
- Book: Outliers: The Story of Success
- Book: The Art of the Start: The Time-Tested Guide for Anyone Starting Anything
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