We like goals. We like setting them, envisioning them, planning for them, and thinking about all the things we’ll get to do once we achieve them. We even have an entire holiday dedicated to goal – setting … maybe as a cure – all for all the crappy decisions we made the year before.
Why is it, then, that halfway through the year our goals are typically long forgotten? Actually, experts surmise that date comes much sooner; research shows that the average American ditches their New Year’s Resolutions by January 12th. January 12th! No matter how juicy the goal or appealing the outcome, we seem to only have about two weeks to make good on our aspirations.
So what then? Are we not as smart as we think? Or not as motivated? I don’t think that’s our issue. I propose that our shortcomings are more indicative of the direction of our focus, than the adequacy of our ability. In other words, I think we focus on the wrong things.
It’s only natural … you set a goal, and then you focus hard on that goal. Take losing weight. Say your goal is to lose 15 pounds in the first 3 months of this year. Great. You set your parameters … your diet, movement routine, supplementation, and restrict yourself from that enticing pint of Ben & Jerry’s Late Night Dough ice – cream in your freezer. Two weeks goes by. Perfect. You’re rockin’ and rollin’, and likely seeing some results. And thennn BAM! Like a freight train, some unseen force knocks you off course and you’re left wondering what happened and why you couldn’t follow through.
THE GOALS WE DON’T TALK ABOUT
Most of the time, that freight train is actually our other goals … the ones we don’t talk about. Let me explain. You want to lose weight … sure. But you also want to have a good time with your friends at SweetWater brewery, be the youngest marketing exec in your firm, and hold your spot as your friend group’s unofficial expert on all things Game of Thrones. Sadly, copious amounts of beer and overworking are competing for your attention to lose the weight (and keep it off). Heaven forbid you forgo the GoT premier so that you can hit your workout early Monday morning. The goal that we once thought we so clearly wanted, is now secondary to these other goals, and we might not even be aware of it.
I’m not saying you can’t have a great career, social life, and maintain a high level of fitness. What I am saying, is that we rarely take into account our ecosystem of goals and it may be costing us. We don’t need to lock ourselves down, we just need to be more aware. All the dreams, aspirations, and clearly defined goals you aspire to weave a web … an ecosystem … in our subconscious and dictate most of our decisions. In order to make good on our goals, we first need to understand the ecosystem (which is a lot easier than it probably seems right now).
THE LOUDEST “WANT” IN THE ROOM
“What do I really want?”
Go ahead. Ask yourself. What do you really want? The answer to this is the loudest “want” in the room, and will likely determine which goals stay and which ones get put on the backburner for next New Years. Let’s see how this works out in the wild.
Go back to that goal of say, losing 15 pounds. What you want is to lose 15 pounds.
Buuuuut perhaps what you really want is to be accepted by your friends. This is a much deeper, juicier, want. All is well as you track towards your goal. You’ve lost 7 pounds, almost halfway there, and your motivation to get in the best shape of your life is only increasing. Until the louder want clears its throat and speaks up.
A friend asks, “Hey, why haven’t you been drinking with us lately? You’re a lot more fun when you’re here to partay.”
Now aside from this comment being downright offensive, it speaks to your loudest want: the unspoken goal of being accepted by your peers. Instead of thinking about your next vegan meal, you’re now spinning, worrying about whether you’ve just been excommunicated from the group. It would have been easy to simply let your friend in on the goal you’re trying to accomplish, but the stress and fear of the moment shielded you from seeing a solution.
Will your friends actually banish you from the group for wanting to lose a few pounds? Probably not (and if they do that’s a whole ‘nuther conversation we need to have). But all it takes is a thought that threatens your deepest desire that encourages you to question your priorities in the first place.
There is a way out, and it’s way less intuitive that you may think.
PLANNING FOR FAILURE
We fall short at the margins of our willpower by failing to plan for when we don’t follow through.
Failing. Eww. If you grew up like I did, “failure” is almost a curse word. We don’t like talking about it. And we especially don’t like planning for it but here’s why it’s important: research shows that people that intentionally look for where their motivation breaks down, and plan for it, are more likely to follow through on their goals. Those that are more optimistic… well they tend to fail. The less we pay attention to when, where, and how we might fail, the more likely we are to put ourselves in the way of temptation.
In essence, by avoiding failure we increase our chances of it.
Tim Ferriss, well – known tech investor, entrepreneur, and host of The Time Ferriss Show podcast popularized this way of thinking in a TEDTalk he delivered in 2017. He coins this practice “fear – setting”, rather than goal – setting.
So where do we go from here?
LAND THE PLANE TREVOR
Ok … landing now.
As we mentioned earlier, start with asking yourself, “What do I really want?” If the big, juicy want is in – line with your goal … great! If not … also great, it just may take some more planning! You’ll see why in a second, but either way, it’s important that we first become hyper – aware of our ecosystem of goals. So start with that question.
Second, imagine where you might fail. What might trip you up? Is there a time of day? Or a group of friends? Or a setting or event? Think through all the obstacles rooting against you accomplishing this goal. Embed yourself in that future scenario mentally, emotionally, and even physically (to the extent that you can) to really see the full picture. This is especially important if what you want and what you really want aren’t in alignment. Picture where these competing wants will interfere and pre – determine your course of action.
“What do I do if I don’t know what to do when my “wants” collide?”
Great question, so glad you asked. Shoot for a win – win scenario. Is it possible that you can lose the weight and be accepted in your friend group? I’d be willing to bet the answer is yes. Thinking in terms of “both – and” as opposed to “either – or” will help us navigate our ecosystem of goals and open up a fullness of life previously hidden.
We would love to help. STAT Wellness is putting together a workshop on motivation and how to get more of it, so if this interests you please let us know! We’d be happy to include you in this conversation.
Until then, be well. Because wellness feels good.
Coach Trevor Woodward