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The Missing Piece of Setting Goals

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Scott Miker is the author of several books that describe how to use systems and habits to improve.  This free blog provides articles that to help understand the principles related to building systems.  

The Missing Piece of Setting Goals

Scott Miker

Setting goals is an important aspect to business and personal growth.  Plenty of articles, books, and videos go into how to craft the perfect goal.  Some emphasize that they need to be written down while others focus on setting precise dates.

But trying to create the perfect goal is completely useless unless you understand and focus on the process of achieving that goal. 

Even when goal-setting gurus talk about setting goals they tend to gloss over this part.  The reason is that this is the difficult part.  It isn’t the fun, cool, sexy part.  It is the part that is hard and tends to be boring and long. 

But the reality is that reaching a goal has more to do with the steps you take than the specific goal you set.  If you miss a specific goal by date or number but are making progress you should view that as success.  And if you hit a specific goal but make unnecessary sacrifices or take short-term shortcuts you may not have actually improved.

This is why get-rich-quick schemes don’t work.  This is why diet pills or the new exercise fad doesn’t last.  It glosses over the extremely difficult part and only shows you the end result. 

A better approach is actually to stop setting these types of goals.  Instead look at goals as directions.  What direction do you want to head?  Then put in place the difficult steps needed to make improvement in that area.  Finally, learn to fall in love with the process, not the results.

That is really the key.  Can you get to a point where you enjoy the process and keep momentum going because you are motivated to keep going rather than because of some carrot dangling in front of you? 

This is where so many people slip up.  They set goals that seem realistic but they are unable to even get started.  They may start up briefly but can’t follow through. 

If you find yourself in this place don’t worry.  It isn’t you!  It is actually the same for most of us.  But the key to get out of this mindset is to start to focus on the process.

Recently I wrote an article that goes into detail about something I call setting the minimum.   The idea is that you have to start to change your habits.  To do this you have to start small.  But it isn’t just about starting small and then building and building to succeed. 

We all have slip-ups and get off track.  And while human nature seems to rely on guilt to try and get us back on track it usually doesn’t work.  Guilt isn’t motivating for most of us and we just want to get rid of the guilt.  Occasionally this means getting back to you but most of the time this means finding a reason or excuse that allows us to stay off track but remove the guilt because of some other reason.  And if we stay off track long enough the guilt will probably subside anyways.   

Setting the minimum addresses this by setting a very small recurring step.  This step is done over and over again until it becomes very ingrained in our natural behaviors.  Then you can work to build the minimum, but only AFTER you have done it for so long that it becomes second nature to do. 

Here are a few examples of how to do this.  If you want to start an exercise routine, start with a small, easy exercise and number of minutes (such as 5 minutes) on an exercise bike every day.  Now, everyone can probably do 5 minutes on an exercise bike.  It sounds very easy and that is the point.  But by doing this every single day it will become very natural and you won’t have to keep fighting yourself everyday to do it.  And if you want to do more than 5 minutes you can, but you can only decide whether or not to do more AFTER you complete 5 minutes.  And if you do 45 minutes today, tomorrow the minimum is still only 5 minutes.     

If your business wants to improve retention, create a new policy that says that sales people have to put a note on their calendar and call or email those that purchased from them in 3 months to check up on them.  Very few companies do anything like this but it will show customers that you care about their finding a solution beyond the initial sale.  It will also naturally uncover new areas to help that may result in another sale.  This may seem small but over time as you get into this routine and then add more small steps you will start to build a company that provides great service. 

It doesn’t matter what the first step is.  That is for you to determine.  But the key is that this gets us away from spending all of our time trying to predict where we will be and when through extensive goal setting.  It shifts our focus to be on how we can make progress in the right direction to see improvement. It gets us to take action.  And it focuses on taking CONSISTENT action. 

While having goals and being ambitious is important, the truth is that setting a goal alone will not result in success.  You have to be able to take consistent action in order to improve.  You have to set the direction and focus on the process and then make progress.  If you take your current goals and add this missing piece you will find that the goals you set are merely milestones along your path to improvement and success.