You know the importance of goal-setting, right? People talk about it all the time. Set SMART goals. Set big, hairy, audacious goals. Set goals that scare you. All that is great. I’m not here to talk you out of getting outside your comfort zone or working hard to make changes.
Quite the opposite, in fact. I’m here to bring your attention to one aspect of goal-setting (and reaching) that is often overlooked.
Ever seen that South Park episode with the underpants gnomes (side bar – when I was googling the specifics of that episode I thought they were sock elves) where their business plan is:
The problem with this plan is the same problem that many people face when trying to reach their goals. You don’t know how to get from where you are to where you want to be.
Said differently, you know your desired outcome but you don’t know what behaviors it’ll take to get you there.
And therein lies the problem. You can’t just will an outcome into existence. Thinking about what you want to happen doesn’t make it happen. Taking the specific actions necessary to create the changes that will lead to the outcome is what makes it happen. You need to take action.
You can’t control the outcome. You can only control your behaviors.
So how do you avoid the trap of the Underpants Gnomes? Follow these simple steps to turn your desired outcome into reality.
Step 1: Determine your big outcome goal (BOG). To use weight loss as an example, this would be the total amount of weight that you would like to lose over an extended period of time, say 50 pounds.
Step 2: Break your big outcome goal into smaller outcome goals (SOG). Continuing with our example, this would mean breaking your 50lb end goal into chunks like losing 10lb five times or losing 5lb ten times. Mentally, this makes our BOG seem more attainable and we’re less likely to succumb to overwhelm thinking about how long it might take or the kind of effort it might require.
Step 3: Ignore everything but your first SOG. Put the BOG on the back burner. Put it out of your mind. If all you’re thinking about is the big picture, it’s harder to commit to taking the steps necessary to get there. Don’t think of it as the first of many steps. Think of it as the only step. Act as though your #1 goal is to lose 10lb.
Step 4: Figure out what behaviors will help you get closer to that first SOG. We’re talking actual things that you can do. What actions will help you get closer to that goal? If you want to lose weight, good actions on which to focus are those related to exercise and diet.
Step 5: Get really specific with these behaviors. Rather than vaguely stating things like “I will work out more” or “I’ll eat better,” be really clear about the actions you’re going to take. For example, “I will walk for 30 minutes at a time, 3 days per week” or “I will include a vegetable in 2 meals per day, 5 days per week.”
Step 6: Focus on “do” actions instead of “don’t” actions. For example, if you decide that drinking less soda will help you reach your goals, phrase your behavior like, “I will choose to drink water and other calorie-free beverages.” I know this just sounds like semantics, and partially it is, but it also makes a difference psychologically, as it allows you to avoid a deprivation mindset and instead focuses on the positive.
Step 7: Really commit to these behaviors. Make these actions you focal point. Do them consistently, day-after-day. Channel all your energy into them. Commit to doing them for at least 2-4 weeks without making adjustments. Give things time to start working.
Step 8: Collect data as you go. Without some form of progress indicator, how will you know whether you are on the right track toward your SOG? Whether you choose to measure weight on the scale, circumference measurements, clothes feel, energy, mood, speed, strength, etc. you need to collect some form of data in order to gauge progress and make educated decisions about how to proceed.
Step 8: Base your future decisions on this data. Are your behaviors getting you closer to your SOG/BOG? After 2-4 weeks, you should be seeing some progress in the right direction. If so, keep on keepin’ on. If not, reassess and tweak as necessary. Is there another habit you could stack on top of what you’re already doing? For example, could you add one more day of exercise to your schedule? Could you prioritize lean protein in addition to veggies at most meals?
Step 9: Keep going. One of the biggest issues I see with clients who don’t reach their goals is being inconsistent and “giving up” too soon. Change doesn’t come easily. Odds are you didn’t wind up where you are overnight and the reality is that you won’t get to where you want to be overnight. You need to commit to making long-term, sustainable changes in your day-to-day life in order to see long-term, sustainable changes to your life.
Step 10: Ask for help. Not sure how to break down your BOG into behaviors? I’m happy to help. You can contact me here to learn more about a Goal Setting session or Coaching Program. Enlist the help of family and friends to help you stay committed. Focus on the actions that will help you reach your outcome goals and avoid the mistake of the Underpants Gnomes.