Accomplishing goals demystified!
Why goal setting is important?
We all realize the importance of setting and reaching goals. Enough education has happened in the world already on this area. We know goals are the passages that take us from dream to reality. In management parlance, dreams tell us the where and what (i.e. strategy); planning and accomplishing goals guide us with the how (i.e. the execution). Setting and reaching seemingly impossible goals pushes the boundaries and limitations our mind has created and expands us as a whole.
Why do we suck at accomplishing goals?
We all realize the importance of goals, yet most of us are caught up in the endless cycle of complacence and procrastination. For some of us mere mortals (self included :)), mere mention of a goal makes us being put in a gaol!
Is there a structured framework to accomplish goals?
Goals come in all shapes and sizes. You may have an one time goal of doing machine learning course from Coursera (or) finishing a 10K run within an hour; it could be a perpetual goal for your life, say staying in shape always (or) meditate for 30 mins for the rest of your life (or) joining 5 am club. With the strength of my own personal experience accomplishing some of these goals, I would like to present a structured framework to set and realize goals. I attempt to do this by unraveling the underlying behaviors behind achieving any goal. It is earnest wish that this article serves as a blueprint for people to go beyond their current excuses framework, adapt the achievement framework and realize their dreams!
Upfront disclaimer: the ideas presented here are not my own. I was inspired by these techniques presented in the book “Conquest of mind” by Sri Eknath Easwaran. I have just drawn out my personal adaptation of the contents into this article.
Here comes the Dhal (I should have said meat, but I am a vegetarian, so :)). There are three fundamental, governing behaviors behind achieving any goal.
Simply put, determination is all about keep pushing at your goals persistently till you succeed, having clarified why you are at it!
Determination is the ability to keep at the goal come what may. If you are determined at doing something, you will find ways to overcome the obstacles. Laser sharp focus brings in determination through clarity. Our mind is like a fish market. Thousands of thoughts cross our mind for seemingly no reason; it’s like multiple people talking at the same time. When you are determined to accomplish something, you are singling out that one thought and amplifying that one signal. Here, it is helpful to reflect on why you want to accomplish what you want to accomplish. This is especially important for extrinsic goals (e.g. staying in shape), which require you to perform routines your mind cringes on. Writing down the specifics of your goal silences the inner critic and strengthens your determination. Write down what you want to accomplish, why you want to reach there (i.e. what are the benefits), how much time you are giving for yourself (i.e. what you are sacrificing), what are the obstacles you have to cross (i.e. what’s in store) and finally the consequences (i.e. what will you lose when you do not accomplish the goal). Post visuals related to your goal on the wall or in your personal journal. Having a written down goal statement along with visuals accentuates focus and provides your mind a clear blueprint to follow.
Ensure that you have few but burning goals; this helps us stay on track rather than having a whole bunch of goals and not achieving any of them.
At this point in time, I hear you complaining that this is not new stuff. We all write down our goals, visualize them vividly and still fail. From my own personal experience, the fundamental reasons why we do not persist on our goals are (a) Lack of time (b) Too many things to do and hence the lack of time :) This brings us to the next D, Discrimination.
Simply put, discrimination enables you to choose what brings you long term benefit (over short term pleasure). It ‘re-programs’ your mind towards your intended goals, frees up “TIME” to do the stuff that you always wanted to do and enables you to stay on track.
After having clarified the goal and being determined to achieve it :), staying on the game requires tremendous will power: Discrimination is the secret pill that enables accumulation of will power. Simply put, discrimination is the ability to choose what brings us long term benefit, against short term pleasure. Essentially, you go against a pre-programmed response and perform an act that is aligned with long term benefit — and in that process, you flex your willpower muscles and make them stronger. Consider waking up early in the morning to do the stuff you always wanted to do. Everyone of us know how we fool ourselves by hitting snooze button time and again when the alarm rings! Staying cozy in the bed feels so pleasurable and our mind also, on it’s part brings up an array of excuses to keep snoozing. However, this is short term pleasure — it does not bring about any long term benefit. On the other hand, waking up at the stipulated time will bring you closer to realizing your goals. So, when the alarm rings, this is the time you have to remind yourself why you kept alarm at the specified time in the first place, cut the stream of excuses and spring out of your bed. Every time you go against your mind’s ‘default programming’ like this, you exercise your willpower; it’s like giving push ups to your mind. Remember, what does not get worked out does not stay in shape.
You will not realize the importance of willpower until you face a situation when mind wants to quit. First time runners know this well. You tell yourself that you want to complete 5 kms and start with full enthusiasm. Just after 3k, the mind will start nudging you to stop; come on, 3k is just as well fine, right? you have done your part for the day! All the willpower you built up exhibiting discrimination will come to your rescue here. You can be gentle but firm with your mind; tell it to remain quiet till you finish the job. If you have consistently exercised discrimination in this fashion, your mind will learn to obey.
Clarifying and visualizing our goals and staying on track through discrimination is all fine, but sometimes we all feel exhausted with the whole damn thing! A thought comes to our mind and says, come on buddy, why all this drama, aren’t we supposed to enjoy this life? why go through all this pain? This brings us to the next D, Detachment.
Simply put, detachment boils down to two sub — behaviors (a) making your goal larger than life and selfless (b) always doing your best.
If you want to stay on the game and accomplish your goals, you have to make your goals larger than life. This is simpler than it sounds. Just attaching a selfless cause to your goal does the trick! For example, if you have set a goal of completing machine learning course, resolving yourself to teach your colleagues once you have completed the course will give you tremendous willpower to stay on course. If you realize that meditating for 30 mins a day enables world peace (more on this in a later article), you won’t miss a single day! When you realize that staying on shape always enables you to bring about 110% attention to your near and dear ones, you will not want to miss your fitness routines.
Getting personal over your goals will make only your vision myopic and your mind will start fear psychosis. All of us are born to serve others. If we keep our goals as selfless as possible, we get completely detached from our goals and that in turn provides us tremendous energy to stay on track.
Detachment is also about not fussing over results thereby preserving that valuable energy that otherwise would get drained. Most of us do not start on our dreams for the fear of failure. It is always the journey that matters and not the destination, remember? Reflect on this statement and assimilate it. Tell your mind that giving 100% on what you set out to do is enough; the end result is not in your hands. Always do your best. No more, no less, just do your best. This means that you are always giving your 100%, depending on your current situation. Aligning your mind in this framework enables you to stay on track always.
If you stayed this far in this article, congratulations! You were determined to read the contents to the end, discriminated against the distractions and detached yourself from your mind’s ramblings! I also do hope that you realized by now that each of these D’s complement the other.
It is my sincere belief that the knowledge and understanding of these three fundamental governing behaviors (3 D’s) helps you in accomplishing any goal and enable you to play to win!