Habit 1 from the 12 Habits of Resilient + Thriving People

Each week for 12 weeks, I’ll blog about one habit. And if you feel inclined, you can road test it for yourself. Habit 1 is about Setting Goals. 

Habit 1: Set themselves goals

They’re not necessarily big audacious goals (but they can be). They set goals and move towards them on a regular basis. Their beliefs support the goals they set themselves. They congratulate themselves for the consistent effort they put towards achieving their goals. They feel a sense of accomplishment from their progress and the learning. When they suffer a setback, they refocus, and either adjust their goal or set a new one.


It has to be said that one of the biggest benefits of setting big, fat, audacious goals, is how much you learn and grow on the journey to reaching your goal. It can be as important as achieving the goal itself. There will be big goals we set and don’t achieve for various reasons. Reminding ourselves of the learning and successes enjoyed on the journey is an important reflection.


Our future desires can be hijacked by our desires for what we want today … right now. Goal setting is like switching on a torch. It provides focus and attention.


Over many years I’ve set goals, achieved goals, not achieved goals, studied goals, and discussed goals. Here’s the good oil:


1. Turn your dreams into goals

What do you really want? For you, or your family, or perhaps ever more than that … your community, your planet. How can you turn that “want” into a realistic goal. When you think about it, does it make your eyes widen and your heart pound. Do you smile when you close your eyes and visualise it? These are your dreams, your goals. They’re not someone else’s, they’re yours.


Ask yourself the "what if?" question. What if I could run 10 kms? What if I could get that qualification? What if I could ...? 


Then start to bring some cognitive evaluation to them so they come to life not just emotionally, but strategically. This process of moving from a dream to a goal (to reality) will help you determine how much you really want this goal. The reality of it will start to bite. You'll have to ask yourself "am I prepared to put in the necessary effort and mental energy to achieve it?"


2. Give them some air

Saying out loud (to someone else) that you’re making a commitment to a goal wraps it in accountability. If you’re brave you can even give that "someone else" permission to get on your case a bit if your perseverance wains. It can feel a bit scary to go public with your goal but if you really want to achieve it, it’s worth the nail-biting. 


Write your goals down. It might sound old-fashioned but who cares if it works! And it does work.


In a study done by Professor Gail Matthews at Dominican University, 70% of the participants who wrote down their goals and sent weekly updates to a friend reported successful goal achievement compared to 35% who kept their goals under wraps and didn’t write them down.


3. Make them bite size

I love a good orange and almond cake. If you put a whole one in front of me, fresh out of the oven with a jar of double cream next to it, I know my tastebuds would be screaming “yes!” but my prefrontal cortex would say “slow down, just take one bite at a time”. And that’s how it is with goals too. Your dream, turned into a longer term goal may feel a bit daunting, so break it down into manageable bites.


Professional sports people do this all the time. A marathon runner is a perfect example. They break their marathon goal into smaller chunks such as 2 kms. Not only does this give you a clear short term focus that feels achievable, but there is another bonus. If our runner has a crappy 2 km chunk, they can mentally put it behind them and put their focus on the next one.


You can create long term, short term, micro, and daily goals. An example might be:

Long term: successfully complete a post-grad certificate in "brain behaviour in education" by the end of 2018

Short term: complete and submit the first assignment by the due date

Micro: finish the first set of readings so I can complete the first assignment

Daily: study today between the hours of 9am-11am and then 2pm-3.30pm


What if your goal is about behavioural change? Maybe you want to start thinking more positively to reduce the stress that comes from thinking negatively. Here’s an example:

Long term: to have six consecutive months where I don't take any time off work due to stress but instead feel happy and well at the end of each week because I'm managing my thinking better

Short term: to research, read and understand the various science-based techniques for increasing positive thinking and/or talk to 1-2 friends or colleagues who always exude positivity to learn about their thinking habits

Micro: to notice three negative thoughts I have over a one week period and challenge them - switch each one out for a positive perspective

Daily: to start the day with a single positive thought and a daily goal


4. Get specific and just start

SMART goals have been around for ever (well since the early 1980’s) and this approach to goal setting is still used today. SMART is an acronym and helps you describe your goal in non-fuzzy terms. Here’s my version: specific, measurable, authentic, realistic, and time-based.


Specific: What specifically is your goal? So it’s not “I’d like to go back to uni one day”, it’s “to complete a Science degree with a neuroscience major at Sydney University”.

Measurable: How will you measure that you’ve achieved this goal? What are some of the goal posts along the way that you can measure?

Authentic: How is this goal going to impact you emotionally/personally? This is a good test to ensure this is your dream, your goal.

Realistic: This ensures you have what you need, the resources, to achieve this goal. If you want to run a marathon but you don’t have a pair of running shoes, you’re not being realistic. If you want to do a degree but you can’t easily get to the campus given all your other commitments, then it may be unrealistic.

Time-based: When will you start and finish?


And then just start. Just start on every little goal you set yourself. The chances are, if you just start, you’ll keep going. Just start studying for your mini-goal of one hour. Just start running around the block. Just start making that healthy dinner. Just start.


Have you heard of Tim Urban? He’s a blogger and writes extensively about his psychological shortcomings and in particular about his proficiency at procrastination. He created a life calendar. The top left hand corner is the week you were born. The bottom right hand corner is you at 90 years old. There are 52 weeks in the year x 90 years. One little box represents one week in your life. 

This calendar* helps to emphasise that we’re on this planet for a finite period of time. Those are your weeks and they’re all you’ve got. Holy moly. 

The really obvious question is “are you making the most of your weeks?” If you need a reminder that life's short and you get one crack at it, then here it is. The life calendar can give you that inspiration you might need to set goals and hold yourself to them. I love it. It also reminds me that no matter what happens each week, I get a new fresh box to work with the next week. Forget New Year’s Resolutions and instead make a New Week’s Resolution every Sunday night.  


5. Congratulate yourself and forget “pity parties”

Congratulate yourself as you progress towards your goals. You’ve set a daily goal and achieved it. Yay! Congratulate yourself each step of the way. And just as important as congratulating yourself is to not berate yourself if you have a small blip along the way. There will be setbacks but that’s not an invitation to hold a “pity party” for yourself or to tell yourself you're useless. There's zero point in either of those. Instead, enjoy your next forward step which sometimes may follow a sideways or even a backwards step. Reflect on the progress you’ve made already as you move along towards your bigger goal.


Set yourself one small goal this week you want to achieve. Sheesh, it could be simply going for a lunch time walk instead of sitting at your desk procrastinating about going for a lunch time walk. Even small goals can be written down as SMART goals. Just start. And then feel the surge of dopamine when you complete it.

*And if you really love Tim Urban's Life Calendar, you can read his blog that goes with it on his website at www.waitbutwhy.com