Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Super Easy Enjoyable Short Term Goals

I have had goals on my mind this week.

I'm calling on the brilliance of my favorite author on this topic, Martha Beck, who has written a lot about the value of setting "ridiculously easy" goals. She says to set the bar so low, that basically you know if you even half try, you will be able to achieve it. She likes this concept so much she mentioned it in her book, "The Joy Diet" and then wrote a whole book called "The Four Day Win". Martha cracks me up.

Here is an example of Martha's voice. Note: this passage made me laugh so hard tears streamed down my face, so I have to share it unabridged...

In "The Joy Diet" (which isn't about dieting by the way) she writes about the time she took up T'ai Chi "the venerable martial art that is usually practiced by going through a sequence of very specific movements veeeeerrrrryyy sssllloooowwwwwwllllyyy, like a bear trying to dance while hibernating. I was frustrated when my teacher taught me one simple gesture (set your feet should width apart, raise your arms in front of you until they are parallel to the ground), then he told me I had to practice it every day for a week before I could learn the next move. Oh, give me a break, I said. I'm a quick study. Why not throw caution to the martial-arts wind and teach me two gestures in a week? This suggestion was politely, but firmly declined. Before I can teach you any new movement, said my teacher, each gesture must feel as easy and unconscious as running your hand through your hair."

Winning feels good, and the more you win, the more you want that good feeling. If that feeling is driven by good addictions centered around being healthier and happier you have a greater chance of making your healthier happier dreams come true.

Chris Downie, author of "The Spark" uses this concept of short term goals as a center piece of his book and website He refers to these short term goals as "streaks" a la "winning streaks". The purpose of the streak is to motivate you to see how many days in a row you can do something you are tracking.

These short term goals are very specific and that is where their power lies.

When trying to develop a new healthy habit (something that isn't inherently something you want to do; on every level) - routine is a great tool for changing your behavior. I love to joke that I have heard it takes 21 days to form a habit, but my "eat a chocolate croissant for breakfast" habit only takes 1 day.

One reason the goal has to be specific is, we are really good at giving ourselves credit for something if the goal is vague. Great for feeling like we are doing great, but not so good for actually achieving anything. Alas.

I could set a goal of going to the most expensive gym in town every day, and people could say, "Wow, how do you afford the membership fee?" I could smile sheepishly and explain, "Oh, I don't actually go inside..."

Go to the gym - Check!

Vs. the better goal of "Go to the gym, ride for 30 minutes on the exercise bike at an average of 22 miles and hour, seeing if I can make it a quarter of a mile further than the day before. (I'm stoked I went 8.5 miles in 30 minutes Monday, and then 9 miles in the same time on Tuesday.)

Setting a specific goal is something we are all good at, once we know what it is we want. Think about it -- when you head out the door to go to work in the morning, you don't wander the streets aimlessly, wondering which turn to take. You have a route you follow and you know where you are going. You get to work, you have achieved that goal. Well done, goal achiever!

Trying to do something like lose five pounds without little mini supporting goals is like getting in your car and turning here and there, avoiding this pothole and that pedestrian without any plan on how to get where you are going.

Setting a specific goal, "I will not drink any wine tonight." sounds great -- because it is measurable. But as I have mentioned before, the word "don't" doesn't get registered in our brain without associating it with the thing we want to avoid. So, I highly recommend thinking of what we do want to do instead of what we should do.

Actually learning to prefer the thing we want to do; not because we should, but because we have grown to love it is the key. That is the moment when you really free yourself from the diet mindset and jump into your healthiest happiest life.


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