In a previous post, I shared the story of Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen’s epic 1912 victory over British rival Robert Falcon Scott in becoming the first to reach the South Pole. Amundsen’s disciplined travel plan, known as the 20 Mile March, was one of the key factors that separated him from Scott, who’s reliance on bold moves and creative bets led not only to defeat but to his tragic death.
Scott’s approach is emblematic of our culture’s fixation on what author James Clear calls “the myth of quantum change,” which he describes as a cultural obsession with the overnight success, magic bullet, miracle cure, killer app, etc. We love to feed ourselves on stories of those who win millions in the lottery, lose 80 lbs in twelve weeks, or go from lounge singer to American Idol winner overnight.
Just like them, we want to earn more, do more, and be more right now. So in an effort to seize the moment, we set big goals in hopes of propelling ourselves towards our desired future.
The problem is, most of those big goals end up on the trash heap of self-improvement.
Consider these findings on New Years Resolutions from a 2014 Scranton University Study:
⋅ 40% of people abandon their resolutions before reaching the month of February.
⋅ The average person makes the same resolution ten times without success.
Since the biggest focus of New Year’s Resolutions is weight loss and health, consider this: Only 5 percent of those who lose weight on a diet keep it off—95% regain it, and a significant percentage gain back more.
The Problem with Goals
Like the New Years Resolutions in the study, most goals are simply visions of some desired future outcome. And though there’s certainly nothing wrong with crafting a clear vision of a bright future, the problem is, we have little control over whether or not we achieve those outcomes.
Imagine setting a goal to lose 20 lbs in six months, for example. When you really think about it, you have very little control over whether or not you will shed those pounds based upon envisioning the outcome–you really don’t.
But, by contrast, you have almost complete control over how often you go to the gym every week, how accurately you record everything you eat, or how much water you drink each day.
To be more accurate, the problem isn’t with the goals themselves. It’s the type of goals you set.
I used to be a huge proponent of outcome-based S.M.A.R.T. Goals which stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Results-Focused, and Time-Bound. But, through countless personal experiences as well as coaching others, I’ve discovered that activity-based goals–simple, repeatable disciplines consistently executed–have the greatest potential to produce real change.
The problem is, that takes time… something our ‘microwave, download-on-demand’ culture strongly resists. But consider these facts:
⋅ If you read 30-60 minutes a day in your chosen field, that translates into one book per week, resulting in over 50 books per year. In three years, that is 150 books in your area of focus – quickly allowing you to become an expert in your field and, according to self-development expert Brian Tracy, putting you in the top 1 percent of all earners in our society.
⋅ A 25-year old who invests $100 a month in a conservative Roth IRA will have accumulated over 1 million dollars by age 65.
⋅ Several years ago, author Nathan Barry, as an alternative to setting goals for his writing career, instead committed to the discipline of writing 1,000 words a day (light work for a writer). By the end of the year, he had enough content to publish two books, earning him over $300,000 in profits.
These are impressive facts—yet how many people do you know make and keep commitments like these?
Despite our obsession with lofty goals, massive gains, and big wins, it is our habits–repeatable daily disciplines compounded over time–that produce the most significant results in our lives.
Think of one habit you could develop that, if consistently committed to for a significant amount of time, would dramatically impact your life in 2021. What would it mean to the quality of your life in the new year—in three years, five years, ten years? What is keeping you from starting?