The Missing Link in Goal Setting
This blog post was inspired by a recent conversation I had as well as a request from a fantastic follower on Twitter to write something about discipline. It also happens to tie into the most recent chapter I have been working on - goal setting. We have all had the experience of wanting something to be different, but staying stuck in the same place. Wishing things would be different doesn't make change happen. Even wanting things to be different, doesn't make change happen. EVERYONE has tips on goal setting and how to set effective goals, but there is an essential piece that is often missing. It's not enough to know HOW to set a goal, you have to know WHY you want to do it. If you want to stick to your goal plan, you need to be committed to that goal. There are many factors involved when it comes to whether or not you accomplish your goal. Your level of confidence, your motivation, your support system - all of these elements play a part. In this post I'll just address the missing link - goal commitment.
Am I willing to commit to my goal?
Sometimes there is a discrepancy between what we think we want, and what we are actually willing to commit to and that can create cognitive dissonance. Cognitive dissonance is basically that feeling of tension that occurs when you simultaneously want two different things that conflict with each other. The one I often come across in my work with athletes is "I want to be fast, but I also want some life balance." Here's an example. My last trail run race, I didn't finish as well as I had hoped I would. The fact is that I could have done better - had I actually taken the time to train! I was not committed to doing what needed to be done in order to be more competitive at that race. As I picked out my next race, I realized I needed to clarify my goal - what did I want to accomplish and was I ready to commit to the training I needed to do in order to accomplish it? If you ask yourself this question and the answer is NO, you need to accept your true goal. If my answer was no - I'm not willing to dedicate the time I need to take to be as competitive as I want - then what is my real goal? Sure, it's within my capability of accomplishing it - but if I'm not ready to commit (or if other things are more important to me) then I am choosing to pursue a different goal. If you aren't willing to commit, then that is not the goal you really want. Be OK with the goal you have chosen. Don't worry about anyone else's goal or where you stack up. It's YOUR goal, no one else's. Part of goal commitment is goal acceptance.
Can I take my hand out of the cookie jar?
If you are reading this and thinking "I really DO want to accomplish this goal, but I feel like I am fighting a losing battle in the moment", then you probably want to hear about discipline. I really want this - how do I make myself do it? If you truly are committed to your goal, but find yourself missing workouts or not sticking to your dietary or hydration needs - then you need to find a way to make your brain connect to your goal when you are making a decision in the moment. You need to make your actions match your values. Your brain is wired to want the perceived immediate reward. So for example, let's say you are planting a vegetable garden and you envision how amazing it will feel to be able to walk out into the garden with your kids and pick vegetables for dinner. If you are a gardener, you know that there is a lot of work involved in bringing that vision to fruition. When it's after work and your exhausted, your immediate perceived reward is to grab a beer, sit on the couch, and watch the game. Then when it comes time to harvest your veggies and there are no veggies, you are disappointed and wonder what happened and why you didn't just work on the garden! True happiness comes from working on your goals - working on the big picture - and moving your life in the direction that you want. The life you create is made up of the decisions you make. When you are about to sit on the couch, ask yourself "Is this what I really want? Does this get me closer to my goal?" Sometimes the answer will be yes because you need a break, but sometimes the answer will be no - you have to override your brain's response and convince it that the REAL reward comes with sowing the seeds.
If you want to read more about goal setting, check out these articles on my website!