New Goals Mandate New Behaviors

Tomorrow in Conscious Growth Club, we’re having our quarterly planning review call. This is a group video call where I review the quarterly goals that some members have shared in our forums, and I look for potential issues as well as noteworthy items to share with them.

It’s similar to a code review, where one or more programmers look over another programmer’s code, looking for bugs or security flaws, calling out good practices, and noting areas for improvement.

We all have blind spots, but our blind spots aren’t the same. Having a second pair of eyes to review your goals or plans can help spot potential issues that you may have overlooked. Another person may also spot hidden opportunities that you could be missing.

Having gone through this process multiple times with the same people, I’m becoming more familiar with the patterns. The bright side is that many people do achieve their goals, usually not all of them, but they do make meaningful progress. It’s great to see people chipping away at their goals quarter after quarter.

I’d say the number one challenge that people have is being able to focus on their goals consistently enough with action, day after day, week after week, till the end of the quarter. Setting a goal isn’t enough of course. We also have to set ourself up for consistent action, and that part tends to be more difficult than many people expect.

The hardest part is usually getting the right habits in place to support our goals. This includes answering questions like:

  • What will I do to move this goal forward each week?
  • Which days will I work on this?
  • How will I work on this?
  • How will I track my progress?
  • How will I bring my focus back if I start getting distracted?

Perhaps the most important question is actually this:

How will I prevent myself from falling off track?

Goals need rails. They need scaffolding to support them. They need structure to back them up. There has to be something in place so that when the initial motivation fades – and it almost always fades – we’ll keep going and going and going until the goal is achieved.

Even modest goals can take incredibly tenacity to achieve. It’s just so easy for a goal to go off course when the habits to support it aren’t strong enough.

Progress logging helps. Social support helps too. But character-wise it all comes down to self-discipline to keep moving a goal forward to completion. Reconnecting with the purpose and meaning behind a goal can rekindle some motivation, but it takes discipline to do even that.

It’s nice to think that goals are achieved with thoughts and feelings, but the reality is that goals are achieved by behaviors. It’s the habitual actions that move a goal forward. Even if a goal requires a series of unique and varied actions each day, it still takes a behavioral habit to get yourself to engage with those actions consistently.

Turning a goal into a collection of habits is a bit of an art form. For me this is one of the most challenging yet creative aspects of personal growth. I never get it quite perfectly, but it’s so rewarding when I’ve finally locked in the right behaviors, and I can see that a goal will be achieved by keeping those behaviors going.

New goals mandate new behaviors. And that’s the part we tend to resist. It’s where we drop the ball most often. A goal could be well-formed. It could be clear and achievable. It may be deeply purposeful. But it won’t become a reality unless we reconfigure our behaviors to transport us there.

Recognize that each goal represents a significant behavioral change. Getting the right behaviors in place is difficult, and it’s so easy to underestimate just how difficult it is. Most commonly we set too many goals. This is easy to do by making estimates for what we can achieve based on assuming that we’ll instantly change our behaviors to align perfectly with our goals. But of course that doesn’t happen. Developing the right behaviors is a major goal unto itself, perhaps the biggest one of all.

Instead of setting a dozen goals for a quarter that all require significant behavioral changes, it may be better to just set 3-5 goals or even 1 or 2 sometimes. Then put a lot more effort into the behavioral changes needed. Once you’re doing a good job with those behaviors, then consider adding more goals to the list.

Alternatively, you can set several goals for a quarter, but then just focus on creating the behavioral shifts for one or two of those goals during the first month. Then work on behavioral changes for a few more goals once those new habits feel stable.

Self-discipline is a limited resource, so you’re likely to burn out if you try to use it for too many changes at once. It’s wise to use it sparingly, first to design a new habit and then to practice the habit sufficiently till you can continue mostly on autopilot, and less discipline is needed to maintain your momentum. Then you’ll have the capacity to tackle more changes.

You can also frame some (or all) of your goals as behavioral changes, which can make you more aware of the work involved. Then you may discover ways to accomplish multiple goals with similar behavioral changes, such as training yourself to follow a morning routine that could help you achieve a few different goals.

If you’ve noticed the same goals coming up for you repeatedly and you find your rate of progress unsatisfying, consider looking at your goals from a behavioral angle or even framing them primarily from that direction. This will help you become more away of the real changes needed as well as the self-discipline demands that you’re placing on your character.

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Read New Goals Mandate New Behaviors by Steve Pavlina