Western culture approaches achievement in this way: first think of what you want, plan how to get there, execute the plan and then be the thing you want. The process is: think, do, be. The problem is that we often associate our goals with emotion and self worth, setting the stage for failure and disappointment. The secret to finally achieving your goals might require a paradigm shift in the way you think about getting what you want. Rather than focusing on outcomes or results, more success can be achieved by focusing on the behaviors along the path.
Goal setting is a tricky thing. On one hand progress won’t happen without a sense of direction and a clear destination, but the tendency to focus on the destination rather than the journey is a recurring pitfall. Weight loss goals are a common example of this problem.
These types of goals often fail for people because they are outcome based, zero sum goals. Outcome based in that they are all about the result and not the process, and zero sum in that there is only success in achieving the goal or failure in not reaching this goal. This type of goal setting brings with it a variety of issues including long timelines for achievement, high pressure for clearly defined success or failure and limited options. To compound these issues, outcome goals often have a strong emotional response that can be damaging and create added stress to the process.
Behind many weight loss goals is the assumption that, “If I lose weight, I will look better and more people will like me.” This raises the stakes of the process to an impossible level. Wrapping your emotional well being up in a number on a scale is a terribly unhealthy way to approach the process. Results cannot be controlled.
In the quest to lose 20 lbs, a person might experience an injury that prevents them from working out, so does the fact that they don’t achieve their goal based on their timeline make them a failure? Of course not, but this is the thinking associated with a zero sum goal. Even worse is the feeling of achieving a goal and then not feeling the emotion you had associated with achievement.
Behavioral goals are an alternative approach to success. Behavioral goals focus on the process rather than the end result. In pursing weight loss, a behavioral goal could be committing to going to the gym four days a week and eating one salad a day as opposed to the outcome goal of losing 20 pounds. Behavioral goals are incremental, measurable and low stress.
Lao Tzu’s quote about every journey beginning with a single step is relevant here. As he intended, just starting on the path is important, but it is even more effective just to focus on those single steps and the journey will complete itself. Achievement is 99% the process rather than the result, so why focus on that 1%?
Humans struggle with delayed gratification, making distant difficult to visualize, but immediate measurable steps satisfy the instant feedback loop that our brains are programmed for. Checklists or charts are an excellent way to track behavioral goals and reinforce good behaviors.
If your goal is to squat 400 lbs. then you know you have to squat four times a week, so try making a chart and check off each day that you squat. The chart will keep you accountable and looking at it will remind you how much work you have put in already.
The reason you may not have yet reached your goals is not due to lack of willpower or some or failure on your part, it may be an error in approach. You are not the sum of your results, but instead measured by the small steps that you can control. Rather than think, do, be, why not first be? Embody your success before achievement.
The version of you that is 20 lbs. lighter doesn’t drink soda or skip the gym, so then why would you? The version of you that squats 400 lbs. doesn’t miss a squat session, so why would you? Focus on the behaviors rather than the outcome and successful habits will inevitably breed success.