I’m Not Setting Goals in 2019.

David Burkus
Jan 1 · 3 min read

I’m not setting any goals for 2019.

Seriously. I’m not setting a single one. And you shouldn’t either.

Towards the end of this year, I noticed that I set less goals in 2018 than I did in 2019. And I noticed I hit even less. It’s not that it was a bad year. It’s that my January 1st self had no idea what my December 31st self would go through. And when I looked at my list of goals, most of them remain incomplete and for reasons outside my control.

That got me thinking about why we do and don’t achieve certain goals and reminded me of two important lines of inquiry in psychology.

The first is known as the “intention-behavior gap.” We know that there’s always a gap between people’s expressed intentions and their actual behavior. We also know that when people set big goals, and in particular when they announce big goals, they actually pursue them with less intensity. (The theory is that the small emotional reward of announcing the goal is satisfying enough and leaves the goal itself un-pursued).

The second is known as the “goal-gradient hypothesis.” As you get closer to a goal or a desired activity, you pursue it with greater intensity. It’s why rats in a maze run faster as they get to the reward and it’s why people are more likely to fill up a loyalty punch card when they’re given two stamps to begin with rather than one. In my mind, it’s why we have sayings like “the journey of 1,000 miles begins with the first step. Because the first step (or two) are the hardest, after that psychology takes over and we get more focused the more we walk.

I like to think of the goal-gradient hypothesis as the science behind Woody Allen’s famous saying: “Showing up is 80 percent of success.”

Because when you show up, you’ve gotten an extra punch on your punch card. If you just announce your goal, you’ve taken your little dopamine hit of satisfaction, but you haven’t actually started moving. When you show up, you’ve taken the first step and the next step is more likely.

So, I’m not setting any new year’s resolutions. I’m not making any goals in 2019. Instead, I’m focused on one key phrase:

Just Show Up.

I’m focused on just showing up in every area of life I want to improve. I’m going to focus on showing up in my writing and my business. I’m going to focus on showing up at the gym. I’m going to focus on showing up more around my family and in the hobbies I enjoy.

I’m not going to worry about hitting a certain goal or not hitting one. Because I know that showing up is the hardest part AND I know that if I show up, I’m much more likely to succeed.

Now, it’s your turn. What goals did you set for 2019? If you set any, what activities do you need to show up to in order to achieve them. And if you didn’t, and like me you’ve just got a rough idea of where you want to improve, ask yourself where you need to show up.

Just Show Up.

The rest will take care of itself.

David Burkus

Written by

Author. Speaker. Business school professor. Get more great resources at https://davidburkus.com

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