Don’t Declare Your Personal Growth.
Why we shouldn’t treat our personal growth like professional projects.
Scene: It’s another late night conversation being carried out via the taps of a glass keyboard generating blobs of white and off-green text. As many times before, this active exchange takes place on the eve of a significant decision / milestone in my life.
On this occasion, it is the evening prior to signing up for Canadian Armed Forces Reserves as a Signaller, where I’m telling her about how tough training is going to be and how I’m going to do X, Y and Z to become fit and stronger.
Why do you always feel the need to declare what you’re going to do?
My closest friend (read: sibling) asks me, and not for the first time.
I try to come up with a rebuttal, and an explanation but I’m 1/3 messages of my way through before she responds:
I don’t know — It feels like you always spend a lot of time analyzing and thinking things through — sometimes you just need to go for it.
And she was (and is) exactly right.
More often than not, it’s our declarations that doom our goals.
“New Year, New Me”
“I’m excited to announce..”,
“In ______, I will be ______”
Statements and declarations we hear all too often. Usually from behind podiums by politicians, but closer still — the mouths and keystrokes of our friends, acquaintances and social media contacts. Certainly at-least on LinkedIn, it feels like if you’re not either announcing your newest accomplishment or job, or you’re not talking about your newest commitment to do X, Y or Z — you’re probably doing something wrong.
We’re constantly surrounded by the actions and efforts of other people to the point that if we’re not also doing great things, we should at-least be declaring that we’re going to do great things.
We make declarations because they provide us a sense of validity. It makes our goals seem more “feasible”; It’s one thing to say
“Hey, I’m going to lose weight!”
“Alright _____, I’m going to lose 20 pounds by the summer!”
Sounds a lot more convincing.
Like “Wow, this person’s really put a lot of thought into their goals! They’re probably serious”. It allows us to feel like we’re making progress towards our goal on the eve of going for our morning run without having even left the house because we know we’ve committed ourselves to it.
We make declarations because everything we’re taught in professional leadership training tells us to. SMART goal setting, scoping out your deliverables— Not explaining exactly what you want to do, by when, and how, will certainly lead to a project failure!
Certainly, if these methodologies and techniques are used to to keep fortune 500 companies on track with multi-million dollars, then it’ll help me learn ______ in 60 days right?.
While it’s great to set goals in great detail for professional projects that deal with strict timelines, budgets and outcomes — doing so for personal goals and growth is quite destructive.
First and foremost because it discourages the necessities for establishing a growth mindset. A growth mindset is “the idea that intelligence can be developed rather than being set in stone”. Essentially, it’s the mindset focusing on gradual improvement and effort to meet goals rather than focusing only on the result.
“I tried cooking today and got better at making Kraft Dinner”
Setting very specific goals and making declarations runs contrary to the growth mindset, because they place the end-state in the focal point of our minds eye, comparing everything we do against it as a sort of “pass/fail” test.
“Ugh, I said that I would learn to cook a pasta entree by the end of this month..I can only make Kraft Dinner”
And lets face it. Unless we have a dream job and at a certain level of our careers, our personal goals and growth usually occur outside of working hours. When coming home after a work-day of doing whatever provides us our sustenance, the last thing you want to do is spend another hour or two working on something that you feel you’re nowhere close to achieving.
These firm and concrete declarations are even more detrimental because they place a barrier to entry weighted against progress and growth. The very contract we produce for ourselves in our declarations for hopes of motivating us to actually follow-through on achieving our goals, also chains us from making the progress towards the very goals set forth in our declarations.
Our declarations become our markers to measure our failures against, instead of starting points on our journey to improvement.
For me one of my goals was to become a better engineer, and yet the last thing I wanted to do after spending 8 hours answering network support tickets was spending another 2 hours trying to code what should’ve been a simple web-app where I’ve been stuck since last week on a damn sign-in process.
If I can’t even code a single sign-in function, how am I ever going to build multiple microservices running in concert to process 100’s of requests at scale?
Forget paralysis by analysis, it’s paralysis by “Why do something to get better when I’m still so far away from the goal?”
Just Do It.
Call it whatever you want:
“Live for yourself”, “Screw the haters”, “Adapt and overcome”
The solution is simply just to..do.
And not just do as in “Go try out the elliptical once and think that you’re making progress towards getting fit”.
But to do, with the (growth) mindset that everything you do is making progress towards your end goal and the motivation to keep doing more and more things. You may not be good at running today you might be sucking air at the end of a 1KM jog — but hey, at-least you got out there and that’s an experience you can recall tomorrow when you’re looking at your phone’s weather app showing you a snowflake icon with corresponding Google alert for “Ready for your run?”
“It’s so easy to overestimate the importance of one defining moment and underestimate the value of making better decisions on a daily basis.”
But we forget that many of our successes (and our failures) are the result of many small decisions over time.
This is known as the Aggregation of Marginal Gains. Sometimes known as the “1% improvements”. There’s quite a few case-studies that talk about the benefits, but one famous example is of Dave Brailsford and how he used 1% improvements to lead a British Cyclist to a win at the Tour de France.
And so we should just do. Do things for the sake of doing them, and because we like them, and because doing things, something, anything makes us better or at-least, more experienced human beings which can lead to achieving our personal goals.
Who cares if your Kraft Dinner Mac’n’Cheese is runny? You made a thing.
You didn’t get out there and run 5KM today? You still woke up early which is aligning your sleep schedule.
One can argue that this is “mistaking process for results”, but I’d argue that many of us are pretty hard on ourselves to the point of holding ourselves back. It’s destructive and not necessary, because while it’s good to celebrate results, you can’t have results without process.
If you’re making a declaration — who are you declaring it to? Who are you declaring it for? Should it really be for anyone other than yourself?
I used to focus only on the results, but lately I’ve been around people that focus on making the little improvements — and witnessing how their positive mindset and emphasis on becoming better humans propelled them to do great things rather than just meeting a specific goal, inspires me to do the same.
I was going to make a declaration that I’m going to write something everyday, run 4 mornings a week and produce code every week — but I think I will simply declare that I will write when I have an idea, run as much as I can and code when I feel up to it.
Clearly scoped and defined goals & declarations are great for ensuring accountability on professional projects where a set amount of man-hours and resources are devoted to meeting said goals — however in process of becoming better humans, we should skip the declarations and focus on just doing things.