Goals, Motivation, and the “HOW”

Happy New Year! Welcome to 2019, a fresh new slate…the year that is going to be YOUR YEAR! You had that conversation with yourself, right?

  • “This year is going to be DIFFERENT!”

  • “I’ll become the superhero version of myself I’ve always wanted to be!” (obviously with a chiseled jawline and visible abs!)

  • “2019 is the year I stop doing X, Y and Z” (smoking, drinking, chewing, general couch-potato-ing?)

  • “During this trip around the sun I’m going to start doing A, B and C” (eating vegetables, taking vitamins, exercising, writing to grandma?)

  • All those statements sound a lot like goals; and it’s a lot of background noise about WHAT you’re going to do or not do. However, there is a very important item missing from that noise—the HOW.

A large percentage of the population makes resolutions for the brand-new year, but very few of those people follow through and achieve their goals. Why do you suppose that is? First, most people poorly formulate their goals and fail to create action steps to achieve the goals. And second, nearly all those people also rely on motivation as their main tool. This motivation can be drawn from the mere fact that it’s a new year, an impending tropical vacation or the desire to perform well on a test of skills (consumption test anyone?). But regardless, simply having the motivation to achieve a goal does very little to ensure that the goal is realized.

Also unfortunate: motivation is an easily depleted natural resource and once it wanes, we revert to our old habits. “Most of the time, what we do is what we do most of the time” (Townsend and Bever). You may be able to trust your motivation to drive past the gas station without stopping for a pack of smokes for a couple weeks, but just wait until something stressful happens at work and you’re a little bit tired and crabby. Driving past that gas station just got way harder!

Because health and fitness tend to get a little personal for people, let’s zoom out and use a different example. Let’s pretend my goal is to retire at the exact moment that I’m eligible to do so. What are the moving parts that need to be put into place for that to happen? I love bullets, so let’s make a list.

  • Put enough money into my 457 account that I will have the ability to withdraw up to $1000/month for 20 years

  • Make plans for post-retirement health care (both insurance AND the cash to cover deductibles)

  • Pay off my house so a mortgage payment is not a stressor for me

Is that all I need to do? Just make a list of what needs to be done and forget about it? Of course not! There is a LOT of work that needs to be accomplished. And further, each of those items probably has sub lists and sub-sub lists under each bullet point. And, I’ve likely missed several important bullet points in the first place.

I’m sure that you can see the logic behind breaking the end goal (retire as soon as I’m eligible) into small and actionable steps. That makes perfect sense, right?

Why then, do you think that simply stating “I’m going to lose body fat” will result in actual fat loss? What actions are you going to take to make that happen? Back to the bullets!

  • I’m going to get 8 hours of sleep on non-duty nights

  • I will drink 100 oz of water every day

  • Protein is a priority and I will make sure to consume 1 gram per pound of body weight each day

  • Sugary fatty treats like donuts and brownies will not help me lose body fat so I will limit those items to 1 treat 1 time per week

The first thing you should notice about that list is that the statements are definitive and strong. Use of action words such as am and will imply success. Notice how “I will try to eat vegetables” is much easier to worm out of? The statements are also specific: I will drink 100 oz of water each day as opposed to I will drink more water. More than what? More than zero? More than usual? More than a camel?

You should also notice that the list is lacking the HOW. And therein lies another great issue with goals. Even well-worded sensible action-oriented goals will fall apart when the HOW hasn’t been included. Watch this:

I’m going to get 8 hours of sleep on non-duty nights.

  • I will go to bed no later than 9 pm

  • I will put away my phone at 7 pm and avoid other blue-light sources after that time

  • I will limit my water intake after 6 pm so that my sleep isn’t interrupted by bathroom trips

  • I will make sure my thermostat is set to a cooler temperature and that I replace the blinds in my bedroom to ensure light doesn’t leak in

The likelihood of getting 8 hours of sleep has just increased exponentially because now you’ve got a PLAN!

“A goal without a plan is just a wish!” -Antoine de Saint Exupéry

Friends, there is nothing wrong with resolutions and goals. Set yourself up for success by doing the work behind the scenes to figure out HOW you will systematically crush those goals when that fickle little beast, motivation, wanes.

Until next time…