Make Your Goals a Reality in 2020
I have a confession to make. I didn’t meet my goal in writing this blog post. I had a deadline to get it done, and it was looming large, at least in my mind. The more I procrastinated, the larger it became.
Last month I found myself sitting at Austin’s crown jewel of public buildings, the Austin Public Library. It’s a beautiful space with lots of natural light, plenty of tables and chairs, and even a cafe serving local-roast coffee and snacks. The kind of place you might come when you have a writing deadline to meet. So why did I struggle to achieve this pretty straightforward task?
The truth is, we all experience this at some point in our lives. We have a goal and we just don’t know where to begin. We want to change and create new habits in order to achieve that goal. But how?
In my case, I want to be a writer, but a regular writing practice is not a habit I have conquered.
Let’s face it: our lives are busy. We work all day, some of us commute long distances to and from work, there could be air travel and time away, families and pets that need our time and attention, or we are students or students with jobs. We are often pulled in many different directions trying to meet life’s many demands. Adding something new to our list of daily tasks may seem impossible.
James Clear, author of the NYTimes Bestseller Atomic Habits, likens goal setting to rowing a boat; the rudder keeps the boat sailing in the right direction, but the oars do all the work.
The concept is this, start with a strong vision of where you want to end up. That vision in your mind is your rudder, subconsciously guiding you toward your goal. Then develop systems, rituals, and habits you can implement and achieve daily. These are our oars.
It seems simple enough: you just have to row.
What is my big goal? I want to be a published writer, to write a book.
I got to thinking: What would rowing look like? What are the steps I need to take to write my book? What does my process look like?
I already made my first smaller goal. I committed to a few blog posts for the year, (instead of starting with a whole book!). Writing the blog posts will give me smaller, more achievable goals and get me writing.
Next, I broke it down even further and made time on my calendar to write for the blog. Tuesdays and Thursdays are the days when I have more time in the mornings because we start later at work. Then I broke it down even further. Write for 10 minutes on those days.
But what about the habits and commitments I already have, like getting my teen son ready for school, walking my dogs, packing my lunch? How will I find time in my already busy day?
I decided to tag 10 minutes of writing on to something I already do, another habit. James Clear calls this “habit stacking.” My morning routine looks like this: I wake up, drink a large glass of lemon water, brush my teeth, and brew a cup of coffee. All this before my son gets up and before I feed and walk my dogs and head to work.
"I will tag my writing on to drinking my coffee!” I decided. "I will sit down with my cup of coffee and write for 10 minutes." And that’s what I did.
What does it look like today? Now I am writing on weekends because I have found that 10 minutes twice a week is not enough time for me to write as much as I want! Committing to that 10 minutes twice a week created a new habit. So really, my goal is what set the new habit into motion. Creating new habits IS the true goal as it is the only way to make progress towards my larger vision.
What have I learned?
Identify a goal
Find smaller achievable goals in the direction of the big goal
Make a specific smaller goal and put it on my calendar attached to another habit
Show up (keep rowing!)
Set a deadline
Be accountable (have someone - a coach, a co-worker, family member or friend who you commit to reporting progress to)
Sure, my system looks different than my original vision of finding the perfect spot in the Austin library, light streaming in from the three-story library windows. But you know what? It worked!
Remember: The goal is your direction, not your destination!
Choose one smaller achievable thing you can do today? For example, I can write one paragraph.
If your goal is to start eating healthier, can you start with just one meal, like breakfast? Swap oatmeal and berries for your usual. Or even begin by adding some berries or fruit to your breakfast, or some veggies to your lunch or dinner.
If your goal is to start exercising regularly, can you start by taking 10 minutes to walk after lunch (or dinner, or breakfast) twice a week? Or commit to starting out weekends only?
If your goal is to start a meditation practice, can you take 1 to 3 minutes to set a timer and focus on your breath? Perhaps you can do this when you get to work, before you get out of your car, or during your lunch break?
Start your process with something small. Once you are doing it regularly (rowing!) you can add on from there.
The Journey down the longest river truly does begin with a single row.
You’ve got this!