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The big lie about setting goals for a new year

The period between December 26th and January 2nd is utterly confusing for most white-collar, first-world types.

Am I working?

Am I supposed to be working?

What exactly am I supposed to be doing?

Where am I?

Who brought all this charcuterie? 

Etc. You’ve seen the memes.

Into this period rushes a lot of discussion about goals, strategic planning, and all that. Here’s a dirty little secret: if you are beginning your strategic planning for 2018 on December 28th, you are fucked. You are also not very good at whatever you do. Someone who competes with you probably began on August 1st. I don’t 100 percent buy into “first-mover advantage,” but advance prep gives you more room for adaptability, and that’s where strategy lives and dies.

So we’re in this period where everyone is supposedly reflective and thinking about goals.

But you know how it goes: on Tuesday, January 2nd after work? The gym will be packed. Good luck getting a machine.

But on March 2nd?

Take your pick.

Why does this all happen?

It’s because we lie to ourselves about goals.

“Have-to” goals vs. “want-to” goals

I assume you can figure out what this means, but if you can’t, the opening anecdote of this article should help. Here’s a paragraph from the same article that may help:

Studies show, for instance, that two people with the same goal of losing five pounds will see that same serving of chocolate mousse very differently depending on their motivation. The person with a want-to motivation will physically experience it as less tempting (“The dessert looks nice, but I’m just not that interested”) and will perceive fewer obstacles in sticking to the goal (“There are other, healthier options on the menu”). Once she’s tweaked her motivation, she no longer feels like she’s struggling against irresistible forces.

The gym is often the crossroads of this whole deal. Many people think they have to go to the gym. When they want to go, everything changes. I was like this for about 25 years. What changes is thinking of the gym as a “sense of community.” Then you will want to go because (a) you have friends there and (b) you don’t want to let down your community. “Have” dies out by March 2nd. “Want to” lives forever.

What about goals and work?

Same deal applies with “have-to” vs. “want-to.” Most goals at work are given to you. You may get to develop some, sure, but a lot of that is lip service bullshit that your manager could care less about. Every silo, and corresponding silo leader, has goals. Those become the goals that everyone is running in circles trying to prove their involvement in/connection to. You could have a super noble goal for yourself or your department. It doesn’t matter. What matters are the goals of those at the top. This is how hierarchy works.

The other issue is kind of captured in this article called “Stop Setting Goals You Don’t Actually Care About.” Simply put:

Many people fail on their professional development goals for the year because they take on a lot of goals — goals that they feel they “should” do but ultimately don’t energize them.

Another way to look at this:

So what do we do? What’s the path through?

Find 1-2 things you care about personally. Then find 1-2 professionally. Your goals go through those.

Here, I’ll do an example for you.

Personally: I wanted to drink less and keep losing weight. This would also save me money at bars. So I figured “What’s something I could focus on that would require me to take a bunch of nights off the table in terms of going out?” I got it: I’ll run a marathon. So that’s a goal for September 2018. It’s going to be hard, but it’s doable. It changes up the other stuff I need changed up. Goals set. Just finish. (I’m not adding time yet.)

Professionally: Just want to stay ahead of my bills more effectively. Also want to reduce clients that I dread working for/with. So I decided to create some new packages and focus on getting more work from core people, up to almost full-time remote levels. My goal was to be more content and financially stable, so I designed action items around that. I modeled this off some other research.

I have micro goals, too, like “Do a strict pull-up” or “Kick my legs up to the wall on a handstand” (I’m 6-8), but I won’t bore you with all those.

The goals bottom line

It’s all inherently personal. It’s gotta come from you. “Have-to” goals aren’t going to stick it out. You need to want to do these things. It needs to excite you. Now stop listening to the bullshit and go get it.

Ted Bauer

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