The discipline to stay on track when we set a new goal is important. Most people have a hard time sticking with a new exercise routine, diet, budget, strategic plan etc. yet they never really stop to think “How can I make this easier on myself and how can I make sure I am making the right decision?"
It seems that most of the books and seminars on goal setting spend 90-95% of the time talking about how to set goals. They give specific instructions and expect you to accurately predict where you will end up. They need numbers right away.
But most of us probably have found that it isn’t that simple. There isn’t a magic law of attraction that will take us to the exact point we hoped to reach. There isn’t an easy path where we get to skip over the hard work and discipline required to improve.
But because the hard work portion is uncomfortable, most of us want to focus on the other stuff. We want to buy a product that makes it easy or we want a quick and easy fix.
The truth is that it takes hard work and discipline to reach a goal. There are certainly tactics to make it easier to keep going such as setting the minimum, focusing on progress over perfection, or setting process goals instead of outcome goals. But there will still come a point where we have to make a difficult decision to stick with it.
In self-discipline expert Rory Vaden’s new book, Procrastinate on Purpose he brings up a very important aspect of goal setting. He is specifically mentioning a time-management issue but it reveals more about goal setting and discipline that simply managing our time.
He says, “And yet where in all of the ‘time-management’ classes is the section that teaches you how to manage your emotions? Which book on systems strategy addresses the human element of our decision making? And what productivity professor has a technique for how to respond when your beautiful two-year-old girl-whom you love more than anything in the whole world- says, ‘Daddy, please no work!’”
This is an area that I know very well. My daughter is about two-and-a-half. To me this represents an even greater need to make sure we are managing our time effectively and purposely. If we simply “go through the motions” the habits we develop will probably not be ideal for our family or for our work.
I remember reading a story when I was younger about a man who had a great deal of anxiety. He just never seemed to be able to relax. He was at work and constantly thought of his family. Every minute at work he felt guilty that he wasn’t with his family. But when he was with his family all he could think about was all of the work that he had to do. He was constantly moving through life feeling guilt and anxiety and never seemed to get through it.
The reality is that there is a time for work and a time for family. One of my favorite verses in the Tao Te Ching states:
“So sometimes things are ahead and sometimes behind;
Sometimes breathing is hard, sometimes it comes easily;
Sometimes there is strength and sometimes weakness;
Sometimes one is up and sometimes one is down.
Therefore the sage avoids extremes, extravagance and excess. “
Another interpretation says that:
“Just as you breathe in and out,
there is a time for being ahead
and a time for being behind;
a time for being in motion
and a time for being at rest;
a time for being vigorous
and a time for being exhausted;
a time for being safe
and a time for being in danger.
The Master sees things as they are,
Without trying to control them.
She lets them go their own way
And resides at the centre of the circle.”
It is crucial to first understand that both the positive and negative emotions are part of it. Understand that regardless of the immediate pleasure or pain, you have to confront the direction that you are heading and whether or not it is taking you where you want to go. You have to move towards your purpose in life.
Another area where this emotional tug can sabotage me in my success is with diet. I know I should eat healthy but too often my emotions are screaming at me to get the bacon cheeseburger instead of the salmon; or order the fries instead of the broccoli.
Again the choice is to delay satisfaction now for a future contentment from being healthy, or to skip discomfort later to indulge now. Both options have a positive and a negative and neither is 100% good or bad. They both contain happiness and struggle. The only thing I can really control is when these emotions occur.
Jim Tressel is a famous football coach and has also written and spoke on what makes a winning team. One aspect that I find fascinating is how college athletes at big schools can control their emotions to achieve a goal. How can they take a relatively insignificant math test the day before playing a game that will be viewed and judged by millions?
Tressel talks about discipline and being able to focus 100% on the task at hand. Being able to compartmentalize aspects of our lives to make sure we are giving our all at the current task is incredibly valuable for college athletes, but also for all of us.
If we have a bad day at work and bring it home to the family we are now magnifying the negative situation. If we have an argument with our spouse and then head off to work and then are not productive, we are letting that argument hurt other areas of our lives.
It can be extremely difficult but whenever I find myself in that situation I think about Tressel’s comments and immediately think of the college football player. They have to keep personal issues away from their performance on the field and keep their performance on the field from interfering too much with their personal life.
Another college football coach that comments on how to focus and remain disciplined when there are many competing factors is Lou Holtz. Holtz used a technique to teach his players to focus, which he called WIN or What’s Important Now.
The idea is to determine what is the most important factor at this moment. What can we focus on to maximize our time right now? How can we assure ourselves we are giving the right amount of focus to the current task and working towards our goals in the future? By quickly determining what is most important we can then move towards action and finding a way to improve.
When my daughter says that she wants me to stay home from work, I can simply determine what’s important now. It is logical that I need to go to work and if I miss work every time my daughter asks I won’t have a job for long. But I also know that I need to make sure I spend enough time with my family.
For me using WIN helps to evaluate the systems and habits in my life. If my daughter wants me to stay home from work because she never sees me because I always work late hours, this can clue me into significant habit and system changes that I should work on. WIN becomes creating the changes and improvements in the way I spend my time.
If she is simply being a two-year-old and doesn’t understand that I have to work in order to pay for the things that we need to live, then it becomes easier to focus on WIN, which is to continue to make a living. I can be confident that I am not neglecting her or avoiding time with my family.
Life comes with challenges. Often we all know what we should do but we also know that what we want to do might be different. We have to be able to stay focused and moving forward towards our purpose, which requires that we have the right habits and systems in place. This doesn’t necessarily make the decisions easier or get rid of the tough choices in life but it does give us the confidence that we are making the right decision in order to improve and grow.