How to Really Set Goals
Have you heard of SMART goals? Chances are most people have. In fact, I explained how to do this briefly in an earlier article. For the most part it’s a good start and I still take clients through it if they want to learn the system.
In recent years, however, I’ve moved away from the SMART goals system, or indeed many other strategies, and taught people a different approach.
Because in most cases, the way we set goals is plain ineffective.
Outcome – Why Our Goal Setting is Wrong
Think about the common goals you’ve heard.
- Lose 10lb in 8 weeks
- Gain 5lb of muscle in three months
- Run 2.4km in 12 minutes by June
- Increase deadlift to 250lb by December
You’ve probably set similar goals before.
The problem? Setting goals like this makes achieving them a hit-and-miss affair.
You see, these goals are outcome based, and very often we have little control over the actual outcome. In fact, most goals people set using many systems without guidance, contain a large element of fantasy.
Want to know these goal equivalents in other areas of Life? How about relationships?
Here’s how outcome goals look like for a relationship:
- I want to get an attractive girlfriend by learning the XYZ system of picking up girls
- I will make X my boyfriend at the end of three months
- I will be happily married to a high income earner with two intelligent top scoring children
Sound ridiculous right? It’s a bit more obvious with relationships because we’re talking about another live, thinking person we can’t control or may never even meet.
But when it comes to health, there are things we can’t control too!
How many of these you’re familiar with?
- Your boy falls sick
- Your boss handed you an assignment he needed by yesterday
- The gym closes down suddenly and the owners have made off with all the money (sound familiar?)
- Retrenchment means you now have to cover two people’s duties
- You get injured
- Your body simply didn’t respond the way you expected/ hoped to the new diet/ exercise programme
So…what CAN you control?
And that’s what I focus on nowadays: behaviour goals more than outcome goals.
Behaviour Goals – It’s All On You
Behaviour is something you do control, which both empowers you but also forces you to take responsibility. You can’t blame circumstances because YOU decide your behavior: the choices you make, the things you do or not do.
If you committed to skipping the daily kit kat for a month, but didn’t, whose fault was it?
If you decided not to get to the gym and hang out with your friends at the pub instead, whose fault was that?
The right behavior gives you a high probability of success – statistically speaking – skewing the odds in your favour.
So do this.
- Decide on your outcome goal.
- Identify steps needed to skew the odds in your favour.
- Identify daily behavior goals that support these steps.
Example: Losing Fat
- Outcome goal: lose 10lb of fat
- Steps: Regular exercise and reduce caloric intake
- Behaviour goals: For next 6 weeks…
- Replace daily kit kat between meals with a small banana
- Brisk walk 20min three times a week
If you slip up once, don’t dwell on it. Aim to immediately pick up where you left off.
Example: Getting an Attractive Girlfriend (or Boyfriend)
Earlier I used relationship examples to illustrate the infeasibility of outcome goals. Could we apply this approach to relationships?
Actually we can! As it turns out, relationships is an area I advise people a lot about because they’re a huge part of a full Life, which is what we’re about, so they inevitably come up during consultations.
Let’s take this example: I want to get an attractive girlfriend by learning the XYZ system of picking up girls
Here’s what I’d tell a guy.
Regardless of what XYZ system is (probably the collection of pick up lines, PUA game techniques and other manipulative rubbish) there’s no way you are going to be able to do something to another living, intelligent person and expect a certain outcome. Not to mention that it would be manipulative and fake and that’s not what AA35 means by a full Life.
Instead, think about the type of person you have to BE to be attractive to such women.
An obvious would be to be fit, right?
Another obvious desirable trait to have would be confidence.
You must commit to not just going through motions (which has no sustainability and is fake as hell) but actually develop the mindset to want to improve these things for yourself.
With that mind, here’s an idea.
- Outcome goal: Change from “Getting an attractive girlfriend/ boyfriend” to “Becoming a person who attracts attractive people”
- Steps: Become confident and get in shape
- Behaviour goals: For next 6 weeks…
- I will try to speak to a stranger every day, from as short to a “Good day” to as long as a conversation can go
- Go for brisk 30min walk three times a week
Again, if you slip up once, don’t dwell on it. Just look to accomplish your next behavior goal!
Bonus Idea: Use Replacement Behaviour
Okay, here’s a bonus layer to selecting behavior goals, especially when it comes to eliminating negative or counterproductive behaviours. Think in terms of replacing not eliminating them.
Let’s look at some negative behaviours we’d want to stop when it comes to losing fat.
Stop all soft drinks
Stop watching TV
Don’t eat fast food
Notice that these are all DON’Ts. You have to resist with all your might, and no one likes restraint.
In fact it might even tempt us to do the very thing we can’t… remember the story of the apple and the snake? The rebel in us want freedom, and the idea we CAN’T do something irks us no end.
There’s also a psychological effect too. Imagine I asked you “DON’T think of a pink elephant!”
What did you just think of?
So if asking you not to think about a pink elephant won’t work, what will?
Thinking of a blue elephant!
So while behavior goals are the right first step, you have to frame them correctly.
Creating behavior goals of RESTRAINT will not last long. Instead, create behaviours of REPLACEMENT.
Know why smokers gain weight when they quit smoking? They replace that with another habit… snacking! In the same way, you can replace a bad behavior with a better one.
Using the above DON’T goals, here are replacement DO goals.
Stop all soft drinks – Drink only water when thirsty
Stop snacking – Eat a small banana when the urge to snack arises
Stop all TV watching – Do a set of 15 squats every 15 minutes of watching TV
Don’t eat fast food – Prepare sandwiches ahead of time and replace a fast food meal with a packed sandwich lunch
Let’s Put It Together
Here then is the approach.
What’s this process do for you?
- It helps you differentiate what you can control from what you can’t, and then select those you can. This creates empowerment and accountability.
- It uses the idea of little sustainable steps, instead of one massive project. When you stumble, you quickly pick up again and not feel like a failure. Many people try to leap so high in the first stage, that when they fall they fall further and harder. Then they give up. Succeeding in smaller but progressive jumps will provide you with the momentum and motivation you need to continue progressing.
- Whether you achieve the end outcome goal, these behaviours will benefit you. Think about it… you may not achieve that 100lb weight loss. But can you doubt that cutting down on sugar or processed junk would have some benefit on your health?
Likewise you might not get that girl you wanted, but if one of your behavior goals made you a more confident person, do you doubt that your social interactions and business presentations wouldn’t improve? Of course not!
So give this idea a try. Commit to it for 6 weeks, and see if you’re not closer to your outcome goal. And see if you haven’t improved your Life and yourself in some way at the end of it!