Many of us view the New Year as a time to reflect and recalibrate to set new expectations and goals for ourselves and our companies. As we leave this strange and difficult year for another, I'll dive into some of the details of goal setting. I'm going to dig into the question of willpower – why it's overrated, and if it even exists – and point out a few ways you can improve your chances of meeting your goals in 2021.

The machine of goal achievement: Willpower or something else?

Willpower. It's the fuel that drives us to achieve our goals … right? In fact, what we commonly consider "willpower" doesn't really exist, at least.

You may recall the famous 1972 "Marshmallow Study" in which children had the choice of eating a marshmallow now or two later and then pursuing it into their teenage years. The children who skipped the first marshmallow – those with more "willpower" – were more likely to have success later in life. However, critics argue that several factors may have influenced a child's “performance” on the test, and attempts to replicate the study's results have raised additional questions.

Perhaps more importantly, the Marshmallow Study also helped deconstruct the very notion of willpower. We might think of willpower as an abstract ability to keep going despite distractions and impulses, but what exactly is willpower? A source of fuel that is gradually becoming depleted? Or something more complicated?

What willpower really is

New research suggests that we consider “willpower” to be a complex interplay of factors including: our motivation, our habits, our ability to recognize and avoid distractions, our ability to set appropriate goals, our self-control (which genetically influences can be)) and our context of life (no small matter!). Willpower is certainly more than a simple finite resource.

In fact, believing that our willpower is finite can lead to our willpower being depleted faster! In a study conducted by Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck, subjects who believed their willpower tank was emptied were more likely to run out of motivation, while those without this limiting belief were more likely to go on longer.

It's a classic example of the placebo effect at work – but not in a way that will help us achieve our goals!

If maintaining your willpower doesn't help you achieve your goals, what then? Here are some strategies that you can use wisely instead.

Goal achievement strategy 1: Write things down

One of the most effective things you can take to increase the likelihood of your goals being met is to write them down.

Not just once – I love personal finance blogger Kalen Bruce's advice to be consistent and careful about your goals. This means that you keep your goals in mind by writing them down every day. Not a chore – write it slowly and carefully, visualizing the substance of what you are writing. That way your goals come alive and breathe things, not just boring mantras. Bruce also suggests writing down the actions you take each day to meet your goals. And finally, write them carefully – change what you write as the actions you need to take to achieve your goals will change.

Goal achievement strategy 2: Visualize

Many trainers talk about the importance of visualization in achieving your goals. A popular way to do this is with a vision board, a series of pictures that represent what your goals will look and feel like once you achieve them. These visualization techniques have their place – but they can be neglected without emphasizing the process required to actually create the vision on the board.

There is another visualization technique that you can use which is process simulation. Here you are not visualizing the outcome of the goal, but rather the steps and actions required to achieve it. Studies of students asked to apply process simulations to a group project or exam preparation found that this type of visualization resulted in greater success compared to control groups – better project completion rates and higher test scores.

After writing down your goals and actions, think of process simulation as the next step, mentally guiding yourself through the process of taking those actions. After you've written down your daily actions, just take a few minutes to quietly and clearly imagine how you are going to take these steps!

Should you share your goals?

What about sharing your goals? While it seems like a good way to give others a window into your endeavors to hold themselves accountable, the truth may be a little more complicated.

As entrepreneur and CD-Baby founder Derek Sivers explained in a 2010 TED talk, research spanning at least a century has shown that sharing our goals with others can actually affect our ability to achieve them.

If that sounds too extreme, a happy medium may be more your style. In a now classic conversation at an early session of the SPI podcast, Michael Hyatt shares his goal-sharing strategy with Pat Flynn:

You can skip to 2:05 p.m. to get Pat and Michael's discussion of goal sharing in a nutshell, but here's Michael's philosophy in a nutshell: share your goals with a select few who support you and hold you accountable can draw to work towards these goals.

That makes sense, but why not share your goals even further – especially if you have a large audience? This is what Michael says:

I think it can be dangerous at times when you share it with people who are naturally cynical, or people who are negative and you can withdraw, and maybe they are threatened by the thought of you accomplishing something that they may wish in their hearts that they can achieve or have the courage to pursue. And you don't want these types of people to create some kind of friction or resistance that will keep you from getting the escape speed you need to get to the goal.

When goals aren't good

We've explored a few ways you can improve your chances of success in achieving your goals. But are there situations in which goal orientation can do more harm than good?

The answer to this rhetorical question is: possibly.

For one, the type of goals we set can affect our intrinsic (internal) motivation to keep striving. When we achieve a performance-related goal, such as making a certain amount of money in a year, it can reduce our actual motivation. Instead, focusing on what we're learning along the way – developing skills and competencies – can help maintain our intrinsic motivation.

But goals can become even bigger problems if they make us single-minded and overlook or ignore important aspects of our lives – or worse, which result in us acting unethically or causing harm to ourselves or others.

It is for this reason that some experts suggest emphasizing your goals and focusing elsewhere. For investor, author, and podcaster Tim Ferriss, it is a way to overcome self-paralysis and take action to define your fears and how much pain you want to endure. He explains this philosophy in a 2017 TED lecture:

I think Ferriss & # 39; "What's the worst that can happen?" The framework is stalled as structural inequalities and differences in access to social and financial capital are glossed over. For some people, the worst case scenario can be really bad. However, the framework Tim shares in the video is still a useful way to identify and target the internal saboteurs that are standing in the way of achieving your goals.

Systems and processes> goals

There's another way to be an ace target without focusing on the goals themselves, and it's a strategy authored by James Clear.

For Clear, achieving your goals is like rowing a boat. In this metaphor, goals are like the rudder that sets the direction of the boat, while the rudders represent the work and process to achieve those goals. It is clear that success has more to do with our systems, processes and habits than with our goals. He describes this approach in his seminal book Habits (affiliate link), which he discussed with Pat in session 340 of the SPI podcast.

Objective in 2021: Be real

When it comes to habits, research has shown that we fall back on our good or bad habits during times of stress. Hence, maintaining healthy habits is vital. And I'm sure we can all understand how stressful things have been lately.

To be better goal setter and goal setter, we must be willing to question how we think about goals and work to achieve them – especially when the world around us is weighing on our personal and social support systems.

So be brave but be sensitive to the very real-world constraints you may face – the financial, social, and emotional pressures of being an entrepreneur in a pandemic. And then find a goal setting strategy that suits you best.

(By the way, goal setting yourself can even help reduce stress, so you can use something like Kalen Bruce's daily goal writing exercise as a stress breaking ritual!)

Whatever your goals for 2021, I hope this post has given you some tools and motivation to achieve them!

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