Make the Goal the Process, Not the Results

Over the last few days, I’ve been thinking a great deal about the goals I’ve set for 2011. For a quick reminder, here they are:

Goal #1: Get fit, which basically meant meeting a few fitness metrics

Goal #2: Play music, which meant being able to successfully play four pieces on the piano

Goal #3: Read 100 unread books, which meant largely clearing out my to-be-read list

I’ve had the most success so far with the third goal, far and away. It is the reason for that success – and the failure on the other goals – that left me thinking. Why that goal?

This morning, it hit me, out of the blue. When I put the revelation in context with the other goals I’ve previously accomplished and failed with in my life, it makes complete sense.

I succeed at goals where the goal itself is a process toward some further end. I fail when the goal is merely that further end.

Let me break it down and explain what I mean.

With the third goal, reading 100 unread books, the real thing I hope to accomplish is to become more well-read. The reading list I put up there is diverse, and by reading all of that stuff and absorbing it to the best of my ability, I’ll likely become a more well-rounded person.

However, becoming well-read is not the goal I set for myself. The goal I set for myself directly sets down the process for becoming well-read. Simply by accomplishing the goal of reading 100 books, I will have naturally become more well-read in the process.

Thus, I’m left with a goal that explains what I need to do right on the surface. Read. Read what? These 100 books I have listed here. I can go right down that list, knocking off book after book. There’s no question or deliberation about what to do. I just simply follow that goal.

The other two goals have failed because they don’t make it clear what I need to do. They both sound noble on the surface – get into shape and learn to play the piano – but they don’t immediately translate into some sort of action.

A successful goal, at least from my perspective, is one where it’s immediately clear from the goal itself what needs to be done and by doing what’s suggested, you’re pushing forward strongly on some value in your life.

So, let’s recast those two goals a bit, shall we?

The first goal is to get into shape. Being in shape is the outgrowth of following a routine exercise regimen. After talking to a trainer, we set up something of a plan for exercising every other day (with a day in between for rest) that hits cardio each time and a certain muscle group every four sessions.

If I were to actually do those sessions, being in shape would be a natural outgrowth. So, my goal should actually be go to the gym every other day. If I actually just accomplish that very simple thing, then the personal change I want – being in better shape – is a natural result.

The second goal is to play four pieces on the piano. Again, being able to play these pieces is the outgrowth of practicing them. Simply put, all I really need to do to be able to play these pieces is to simply practice each day.

If I set my goal to be the straightforward practice the piano for thirty minutes each day instead of the less clear and more lofty one I have in place, then actually playing the pieces I want to play will be the natural result of the steps.

I can even improve the third one. If the change I want to affect in myself is to be more well-read, reading that list of books will accomplish that. However, it still doesn’t point toward a simple action. How about spend an hour each day reading something challenging? I exceed that most days, but this gives the right idea. It pushes me constantly toward the change I want to bring about in my own life.

All of us have big changes we want to make in our lives. Success in making that happen comes often from the little steps along the way. Focus on those little steps for a while without worrying about the big goal. Spend your time just dribbling the ball instead of wanting to be the next Allen Iverson. Spend two hours on your side business each day instead of talking big about building a major enterprise.

Do the little steps right and your destination will sneak up on you.

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