I am always interested during the beginning of each year to hear about individuals’ New Years Resolutions. It is an extremely popular topic around January 1st and it seems that many are hopeful and confident that they will succeed.
For some reason though, February seems to be a very difficult month. All of us have probably felt the cabin fever associated with long, cold nights and snow-covered streets. Instead of motivating, it seems the only motivation is to sit on the couch watching TV.
For years I fell into this routine. I found it extremely difficult to move past the initial stages of goal-setting and actually execute on my new plans.
In hindsight, a big problem was that I overlooked the little things. I focused on the big goal and assumed my sheer motivation would propel me towards the finish line. But the small steps that I ignored would soon take over and leave me again wondering how to turn potential into production.
In Leadership Lessons of the Navy SEALS, authors Jeff Cannon and Jon Cannon talk about the importance of the little things that too often get overlooked.
“SEAL teams conduct uniform inspections. There is not a direct correlation between the amount of starch in summer whites and the ability to shoot a moving target at a thousand yards. However, the care given to a uniform and the crispness with which a salute is rendered are direct indicators of professionalism, attention to detail, and adherence to a warfare culture. And there is a direct correlation between these and the ability to shoot well.”
Why is it that we focus so much on the large goal? Is it because it represents the prize, the award or the accomplishment? The reality is that these things are not nearly as powerful as we might think. There are several things that can truly catapult your success and they explain why we tend to drift from a highly motivated mindset to one that leaves us wondering what happened.
1. Hot-Cold Empathy Gap
The Hot-Cold Empathy Gap is a psychological concept that says that the emotional state that we are in plays a major role in our actions. If we set a goal to stop eating red meat just after finishing a delicious meal it seems easy to do because we are in a cold emotional state. We are not directly facing the challenge and instead are far away from the hard aspects of reaching the goal.
The difficult part will be during that moment when you are at your favorite restaurant and have to decide on another item from the menu when your favorite burger is sitting right in front of you. The temptation is strongest during these hot emotional states. These are the moments that matter and will ultimately decide success yet we spend all of our goal-setting energy focused on how great success will be and what exactly it will look like. Except success doesn’t actually look that way.
Success is finding a way to plan for those hot states and having enough willpower to overcome those obstacles. This is the crucial piece that gets ignored. But this small aspect can mean the difference between success and failure.
2. Process Goals versus Outcome Goals
Knowing the importance of the Hot-Cold Empathy Gap, the logical questions is how can you get around it? One way is to shift how you set goals. Who cares about trying to be specific and guess the exact number that you will end up at? Getting specific here is pointless. Being realistic is difficult because you don’t even know how it will look.
I have led several product development teams and this area is always difficult. The board wants concrete projections yet we don’t even know how it will be received in the marketplace. Being specific here does not help us to be successful. If we only focus here we will likely not be able to create a product that is profitable.
Instead of setting goals based on the outcome we hope to attain, set goals based on the process that needs to change. Process goals address the small things that you need to be successful. They point to the how part of the goal-setting process. How will reach this level? How will you do the right thing? How will you overcome obstacles? Then measure to better understand the effectiveness of the various process changes.
3. Set the Minimum
Years ago I created a technique that utilizes process goals and an understanding of the hot emotional state that we tend to overlook. It shifts the focus from the outcome to that very moment of truth that really matters. I call it setting the minimum.
Setting the minimum is a way to create new habits by only creating a small process goal that will help move you towards success.
If you want to exercise in the mornings to get in shape, don’t start with 4 hours. Start with a very small minimum such as 10 minutes. Some doctors have even said that as little as 60 seconds of exercise is enough to start building a positive habit. Regardless of what number you choose, make sure it is very small and easy to achieve. Then put all of your effort into making sure that you work out every day for the minimum amount of time that you set.
What this does is it takes that difficult moment, such as when you have to decide to start pedaling on the exercise bike or start running on the treadmill, easy to do. It becomes easy to get started instead of a challenge each and every time you have to workout.
As you strive to achieve the minimum understand that at the end of the 10 minutes, you can do more if you like. But tomorrow the minimum resets to 10 minutes. This way if you get a great workout in today, tomorrow you aren’t thinking that you have to outdo that workout. Instead you simply say that you will do the minimum.
Over time this will build confidence and solidify the habit. Once it is habitual, then you can work on adding more (slowly and in steps) until you are reaching your goals.
This works in a lot of areas of our lives. I quit smoking by saying each time I was craving a cigarette that “this isn’t going to be the time that knocks me back to smoking.” Suddenly I was only trying to resist this one cigarette, not quitting forever. It has been years since I last smoke and when I get the urge to have a cigarette I still say “I may not quit forever but today isn’t going to be the day that knocks me back to smoking.”
Adjusting spending habits can be done this way also. Whether you decide that you only pay cash for clothing, resist going to restaurants for lunch by packing a lunch the night before, find an inexpensive item on the menu, or have 10% of your paycheck automatically deposited in savings, the focus is on small steps that can become new positive habits.
I even used this technique to eat healthy. I looked for very small adjustments that I could make. I started eating oatmeal instead of waffles for breakfast. Then I started to make healthier lunches. Then I focused on finding snacks that were healthier options that I enjoyed. I kept looking for ways to improve and once I found something that worked I turned it into a new habit. Then I moved on to another area always focusing on improvement.
In order to reach your goals and be successful you need to attack that moment that determines whether or not you do the right things that will ultimately determine success. Use the information here to start to attack that moment. Review your New Years Resolutions and determine if there are ways to set the minimum for each goal. If all that stands in your way of success is that moment, then put all of your focus in overcoming that moment. Don’t get distracted with potential results because if you are able to do this, you will be amazed at what you can achieve!