Check the boxes every day

daily actions

Should we keep goals top of mind?

Goals are great. I’ve written previously about the science of goal-setting.

To quote Simon Sinek, we are a “goal-oriented species with a bias for progress.” And so we are.

But goals are not NOW. Goals are not TANGIBLE. Goals do not actually exist, they are just an IDEA. And goals can make us crazy.

Goals are the distant point on the horizon toward which we orient our ship, and for that they are valuable. But what about NOW? What about TODAY?

If we are so fixated on these future accomplishments, then every moment prior to reaching those accomplishments is…what? A failure? Disappointing?

Are we spending virtually every moment of our lives in pursuit of goals, and only a few rare ones actually capturing them?

The power of a goal isn’t the goal itself. It is the fact that a goal gives us something to aim for.

But it’s the PLAN that has the power, it’s the action you take RIGHT NOW that has substance, your daily actions.

Think of it this way; you’re running a race. The finish line is miles off. Does it help to fixate on the finish line?

You already KNOW that you’re aiming for the finish line, that’s the whole point of the race. So, why obsess about it? I’ve done that! It makes every step AWFUL!

What if, instead, you focused on:

  • Foot placement, making sure you put one foot in front of the next
  • Coordinating your breath to movement
  • Stride length and frequency
  • Proper hydration; not too much, not too little
  • Staying as relaxed as possible to conserve energy
  • Staying on your pace so that you can meet your time objective
These are the things you can do in the present. This is a plan of action. And if you do these things and devote yourself to these things, you’ll eventually make it to the finish line, which is your goal. Where am I going with this?

Goals and weight loss

Health and fitness are goal-oriented pursuits. And most people, for better or worse, have specific goals they’re aiming for:
  • Lose X pounds
  • Gain muscle, get “toned”
  • Drop inches
  • Improve blood pressure
  • Improve health, etc.

But most people are so fixated on the goal that they make themselves miserable.Take weight loss, for example, which is the most common health and fitness related goal.

If you want to lose 20 pounds, and that’s all you think about, you’re going to be unsatisfied every moment that you are short of that goal (and even when you reach that goal, perhaps). Your entire value and identity will be wrapped up in:

“I want to lose 20 pounds.”

But if you’re not there yet, then…how do you value yourself?

You’ll stare at the scale and live in a state of perpetual “I’m not there yet.” Does that sound like a recipe for happiness?

No.

All you can do is CHECK THE BOXES.

Goal: “I want to lose 20 pounds.”

Okay:

  • Did I follow my nutrition plan today? Check!
  • Did I exercise? Check!
  • Did I drink my allotted water? Check!
  • Did I take my multi-vitamin and essential fatty acids? Check!
  • Did I get 8 hours of quality sleep? Check!
  • Did I meditate/pray/recreate to manage stress? Check!

Well, then you’re a success TODAY. You did everything you can do TODAY to progress toward your goal in the FUTURE.

And that’s all you can do. You can optimize your conditions for success.

CHECKING THE BOXES gives you a concrete plan of action that, assuming it is well-designed (this is key, make sure the plan serves the goal), optimizes your likelihood of success. And it produces success EVERY SINGLE DAY instead of gambling that one day, in the future, if you hit your goal, you’ll feel good about yourself.

This is process-focused vs. outcome-focused thinking.

Use the desired outcome (goal) to design the process (plan) and then focus on the process and throw out the outcome.

I know, it’s not easy. We want the result NOW!

But, if you can check the boxes EVERY DAY, you begin to stack up tiny wins, which produces momentum, fulfillment and a feeling of success that results from progress.

“Of all the things that can boost emotions, motivation, and perceptions during a workday, the single most important is making progress in meaningful work. And the more frequently people experience that sense of progress, the more likely they are to be creatively productive in the long run. Whether they are trying to solve a major scientific mystery or simply produce a high-quality product or service, everyday progress—even a small win—can make all the difference in how they feel and perform.”
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Teresa Amabile, The Progress Principle
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Identify your goal. Map out the daily actions required to achieve it. Throw out the goal. Check the boxes every day.  That’s the path to success.

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