Yep, you read that right. Coming from one of the biggest goal-setting freaks you’ll meet.
Goal-setting, the way most people approach it, simply doesn’t work. Not in the quantum-leap, overnight-success way that most first-time goal-setters assume it should.
This, of course, is where most people go wrong with their New Year’s resolutions — they expect that they’ll suddenly have willpower they’ve never had before, and they’ll use that willpower to get immediate and dramatic results.
Most people — and I’ve been one of them — think that once they’ve set goals, magic should happen. As if that’s all you need to do to: set the goal and write it down, then visualize, visualize, visualize, and untold fortunes will soon come flowing your way.
Or, slightly less airy-fairy but no more true, that the simple act of writing down a goal and committing to it virtually guarantees that you’ll find a way to make it happen.
I’ve got some bad news: setting a goal just isn’t enough.
What Makes Goals Work When They Do
Don’t get me wrong: I strongly believe in the tremendous power of goal-setting, when it’s approached from the right mindset. So what’s that mindset?
There’s a borderline-obscure little workbook called Pick Four, in which Seth Godin, one of my favorite authors, updates and simplifies Zig Ziglar’s classic goals program (a program for which Seth credits much of his own early motivation).
In the intro, Seth (one of the straightest-shooters you’ll come across) writes about the scientific basis for having goals, as set forth in a scholarly paper reviewing 35 years’ worth of scientific findings on goal-setting.
According to the paper, goals work:
- Goals direct attention and effort toward goal-relevant activities and away from goal-irrelevant activities.
- Goals have an energizing function. Goals create effort.
- Goals affect persistence. Goals prolong effort.
- Goals rally us to bring task-relevant knowledge and strategies to the problem at hand.
(From Pick Four, by Zig Ziglar and Seth Godin, The Domino Project, 2011.)
Attention, energy, persistence, effort, knowledge, strategies. Goals enhance these qualities and activities — the catch is that YOU have to do them.
And for the first month, three months, or even a whole year, there may be no clear evidence that what you’re doing is worth a damn.
The Hand-Pumped Water Well (and What Really Matters)
The most important point in this entire post is this: Nothing changes until you change.
Not just by setting goals once, but by setting those goals and understanding that creating anything legitimate takes time. Having the patience and discipline to keep up new good habits (which goal-setting helps you to begin) to get through the lag time before the results start to appear.
That lag time might be three months. Or it might be three years. You have to be okay with that, and you have to keep up the effort until the results appear. (And when they do, everyone else will call it “overnight success.”)
There’s a great analogy between the daily work required to achieve goals and those old-fashioned water wells, where you have to pump a handle to suck the water up to the earth’s surface.
You do one pump, and nothing appears to happen. You pump again; still nothing. After a few dozen pumps there’s still no visible result. You’re tempted to throw your hands up in disgust and say, “This doesn’t work!”, vowing never again to be foolish enough to believe that one of these old wells actually works.
But if you stick with it — for a few hundred pumps or maybe even more — a trickle of water finally appears. Because during all of that time while you were pumping with no visible result, the water was moving closer and closer to the surface — you just couldn’t see it.
Eventually, after several more pumps (for which you now excitedly put forth the effort), the water is gushing! And the best part of all: Once the water is flowing and working for you, it just takes a pump now and then to keep it coming.
When it comes to setting goals and creating change, most people give up after the first few burst of effort, when the dramatic, visible breakthrough they were sold on doesn’t happen.
Introducing ‘Wake Up’
On New Year’s Day, I published a new ebook, called Wake Up: 31 Days and Actions to Take Charge of Your Life.
And yes, it includes a goal-setting program, because I truly believe that goals matter.
The response has been amazing, and I’m so grateful for that. But I’m also concerned.
I’m concerned that people will see “31 Days” and assume that’s all it takes: Thirty-one days of hard work (and trust me, it is work), and then they can rest and enjoy the gushing rewards.
Not quite. The 31 days are about changing your mindset, getting clear on your goals, and then building the habits, making the plans, and beginning the real, tangible work. Beginning.
You can’t call it quits after 31 days. Anybody who promises that you can is lying to you.
For anything to change, your philosophy and attitude must change. You have to shift from the instant-gratification mindset that pervades our culture to an attitude of discipline and patience — an attitude that says that when you try a new approach to accomplishing the goals you’ve set, you’ll stick it out long enough to truly judge how it’s working (much longer than most people are willing to).
And then if it’s not working — and often it won’t — you try something else. And then something else. And then something else. Long enough at each step to make an informed decision about whether it’s working, and no longer.
And here’s the great news: If you’re truly committed to repeating that process until it works, then sure enough you’ll eventually get what you want.
If there are some changes you’d like to make in your life, I invite you to check out my new book and decide if it’s right for you. I can tell you right now, though, that if you’re not ready to adopt the mindset I’ve talked about in this post then it won’t be.
But if you are — if you’re ready to make this the year that you turn pro, step up, or whatever you want to call that subtle but life-altering shift where you forever turn your back on the search for instant gratification and overnight success in favor of discipline, persistence, and the long view — then Wake Up is a fantastic place to start.