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Archive for the ‘Goal Setting’ Category

Action Triggers: Getting Back on the Self-Control Wagon

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WagonWith every single bit of forward momentum, there will come a setback at some point.  It’s an inevitability that nothing good will continue uninterrupted forever.  This is the case with everything, human or otherwise, and is a fact of life that most unrealistic optimists don’t embrace early enough. 

If you think there won’t be speed bumps on the road ahead – if in fact, you don’t plan for them – when you hit one, the wheels are going to come flying off.  You’ll be done for.

When you look at self-control, or having the discipline to do the things you don’t necessarily want to do, there’s an expectation that it’s either on or off.  You’re either exercising self-control or you’re not; hot or cold, black or white, Reagan or Clinton.

The problem with this approach, as I wrote about in The Exercise and Science of Self-Control is that self-control is exhaustible.  Which means if you’re always on, you will eventually be off because your muscles, your self-control muscles, will become exhausted. 

If you know this, why not plan for it?

Lots of times these aren’t predictable dips in your self-control momentum.  They’re unplanned, unexpected, and unwelcome.  It’s the cinnamon roll instead of the gym, the Rocky marathon instead of Excel, the impromptu party instead of laundry and dishes, and so on.  It’s the feeling of failure – or just disappointment – that you weren’t able to hold true to the promise you made to yourself.

You spent all that time getting your self-control built up, just to have it come crashing down with a single mid-day cinnamon roll.

And if you’re anything like I am, once you break one or two promises to yourself, you might as well break them all.  For months on end.  It’s so easy… you’ve already proven that you’re not trustworthy.  That you aren’t strong enough to hold up your end of the bargain.  You’re weak and not worthy.  So why bother trying anymore?

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Written by Mike Torres

March 12th, 2011 at 10:45 am

Harnessing the Power of Long-term Thinking

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Everything around us these days promises a quick fix. 

Over the course of a single day, you’re probably inundated by ways to improve your abs, vanquish your back pain, make a million dollars, or find the love of your life in record time.  Our attention as a society moves from one thing to the next without deliberate, consistent focus placed on any one thing for an extended period of time.  And we’re all learning from each other to think about things in terms of minutes or hours and not months or years.

Click for photoYet so many of us set out to do what’s promised for us without an understanding of the work required, just to fall short again and again… because what we’re not told is that while in some cases it could be possible, it’s in no way probable for short-term thinking to work.  Blame the internet all you want, but this is only going to get worse.

When you think back to just 15 or 20 years ago, global attention wasn’t this defocused.  News cycles didn’t refresh every 15 minutes, people didn’t carry on three SMS conversations while eating lunch with you, and there was a clear expectation of having to “pay your dues” before being promoted into the corner office.  There’s certainly been a shift in expectations and it’s immediately apparent when you talk to folks from the now dubbed “entitlement generation”.

Even referencing a generation makes me feel old, but for the millions of people who have grown up on the net, overnight success isn’t just possible – it’s expected.  They’ve seen instant celebrity blossom from a talentless vacuum, 20 year old millionaires on the cover of Newsweek, and many end up with an age bias, feeling that things have to happen for them before they get “old”.

The media messes with our minds.  The stories that sell are the ones that we all read with awe, wishing we could have that type of overnight success.  It’s the Kardashian syndrome.  Overnight success may happen for Mike “The Situation” but for the vast majority of people with enduring and durable success – the type you should strive for – it took time.  Lots of time and lots of work.

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Written by Mike Torres

October 24th, 2010 at 3:52 pm

Posted in Goal Setting

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The Beginner’s Guide to Self-Tracking & Analysis

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‘An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.’ – Ben Franklin

Self-tracking – or personal analytics as some call it – is a relatively new phenomenon brought about by the ubiquity of cheap sensor technology and the internet.  It’s a space that’s just now coming into its own thanks to the tech getting cheaper and lots of interested, data-driven geeks finding each other on the net and exchanging ideas.

The potential impact of self-tracking on personal health and overall well being could someday rival the discovery of penicillin – seriously – and we’re just at the beginning of what’s going to be a huge wave of self-improvement and individualized health care based on self-tracking and analysis.

I’ve recently entered the world of self-tracking… and there’s no going back.  My weight, body fat percentage, running speed and distance, calories burned, sleep patterns, investments, genetic predispositions, daily routines, mood, and even commute times are tracked and analyzed.  Sound a little excessive?  Maybe.  But only because it’s still not 100% automatic.  But it’s really, really close to being “set it and forget it”, and for me, the benefits far outweigh the few minutes I spend each day tracking things.

What is Self-Tracking?

The basic concept behind self-tracking is simple: our ability to determine cause and effect through our memory or experience alone is inherently faulty.  It’s tough enough for most of us to remember a birthday or anniversary.  Ask us to calculate how many calories we burned yesterday and how that affected our sleep last night and our blood pressure will rise – and we won’t even be able to detect that in order to prevent it from happening in the future! 

Our minds play games with us… they trick us into seeing and believing things that aren’t there in order to "protect us".  We can rationalize most anything we do or say (science shows this) which means deciding not to exercise because we’re busy or just don’t feel like it is easy to justify.  Of course, machines aren’t as easily tricked.

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Written by Mike Torres

June 7th, 2010 at 6:21 pm

12 Goals: Tools You Can Use

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Before starting here, you might first want to read the introduction, Step 1, Step 2, & Step 3.

Twelve Goals (or 12 Goals) is a goal-setting program for beginners.  If you’ve never set goals before – or if you’ve tried and failed – Twelve Goals can help get you unstuck and on path to achievement.  There’s nothing magical or mystical about this process at all.  In fact, it’s downright boring and overly practical; you aren’t going to find any talk about magnetism, psychic powers, or the law of attraction.  What you’ll find is a systematic way to look at your personal goals over the course of a year, along with some step-by-step advice and accompanying tools to help you achieve them.

Twelve Goals is still very much a work in progress.  My hope is that the program will adapt and evolve over the course of 2010 based on feedback from you!  If you ever forget how to find these posts, they will be available at www.12goals.com (or www.twelvegoals.com).

Click for photoNow that you’ve made your way through the details of the Twelve Goals program, it’s time to get serious by employing the use of some tools.  These tools are meant solely to supplement your plan, not to replace or define it.  In order to get the most out of these tools, you have to have your vision, your monthly goals, and your habits & tasks ready to execute throughout the year.  These tools are only as good as your plan is.  Far too many people in situations like this get more carried away with the tools themselves, tweaking every setting imaginable, instead of focusing on the thing that matters: the plan itself.

So before going further, please do spend the time to make sure your plan is as complete as you can make it.

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Written by Mike Torres

December 29th, 2009 at 8:30 am

12 Goals: Define and Track Your Habits & Tasks (Step 3)

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Before starting with Step 3, you might first want to read the introduction, Step 1 & Step 2.

Twelve Goals (or 12 Goals) is a goal-setting program for beginners.  If you’ve never set goals before – or if you’ve tried and failed – Twelve Goals can help get you unstuck and on path to achievement.  There’s nothing magical or mystical about this process at all.  In fact, it’s downright boring and overly practical; you aren’t going to find any talk about magnetism, psychic powers, or the law of attraction.  What you’ll find is a systematic way to look at your personal goals over the course of a year, along with some step-by-step advice and accompanying tools to help you achieve them.

Twelve Goals is still very much a work in progress.  My hope is that the program will adapt and evolve over the course of 2010 based on feedback from you!  If you ever forget how to find these posts, they will be available at www.12goals.com (or www.twelvegoals.com).

Breaking Down Each Goal

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I find it fascinating that most people plan their vacations with better care than they plan their lives. Perhaps that is because escape is easier than change. – Jim Rohn

Twelve Goals is an annual plan you create for yourself.  A plan of inspiration, a plan of action, and a plan you can be accountable to.

By this point, you should have all twelve of your goals locked and loaded for the year.  It’ll probably be frustrating then to hear that even though they’re 99.9% committed, they can still change throughout the year.  How so?  By identifying what it will take to actually achieve them given your circumstances. 

In Step 2 you probably did a “squint test” or “t-shirt sized cost (i.e. Small, Medium, Large, X-Large) ” of feasibility.  Meaning: if you squinted hard enough you could probably see how a particular goal could be achieved in the month you assigned it to.  But guessing really isn’t good enough.  Sometimes you don’t know just how much work needs to happen in order to get something accomplished, and it’s easy to get sidetracked or delayed by unforeseen events.

This step is all about figuring out what it’s going to take.  It’s about getting real.  But it’s also about being agile and adapting your plan throughout the year as conditions change.

In project management, the approach of breaking down a project into smaller work items is called a work breakdown structure (or a work backlog).  As defined by Wikipedia, a work breakdown structure consists of "the end objective, successively subdividing it into manageable components in terms of size, duration, and responsibility which include all steps necessary to achieve the objective.”

In Twelve Goals parlance, this is identifying every task that needs to be checked off in order to accomplish your goal.

Sounds like a lot of work… and it can be.  But spending the time now to squabble with yourself about what it takes to make something happen is better than fighting yourself when you’ve hit a wall halfway through your second month.  There’s nothing more frustrating than assuming you know how to do something, just to find out you weren’t ready to begin with.  In other words, this step above everything else is about being honest with yourself about where you are, what you need to do, and what needs to happen around your goal to make it achievable.

Preparation is key.

Defining a work breakdown structure for a complex project can be harder than coming up with a task list for a single goal, but the intent is the same.  Your primary objective throughout this process is to learn.  Learn everything you can about the thing you’re going to accomplish so you have all the ammunition you’ll need when you need it.

Remember: your future self is lazier than you are right now.  Right now you have energy, you have positive intent, and you have that elusive feeling that you can conquer anything.  Use this vigor for the next few hours to lay out your plan for the year.  Because if you do it now, you’ll have something to refer to for the next twelve months.  No excuses.

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Written by Mike Torres

December 26th, 2009 at 4:16 pm

12 Goals: Set Your Monthly Goals (Step 2)

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Before starting with Step 2, you might first want to read the introduction and Step 1.

Twelve Goals (or 12 Goals) is a goal-setting program for beginners.  If you’ve never set goals before – or if you’ve tried and failed – Twelve Goals can help get you unstuck and on path to achievement.  There’s nothing magical or mystical about this process at all.  In fact, it’s downright boring and overly practical; you aren’t going to find any talk about magnetism, psychic powers, or the law of attraction.  What you’ll find is a systematic way to look at your personal goals over the course of a year, along with some step-by-step advice and accompanying tools to help you achieve them.

Twelve Goals is still very much a work in progress.  My hope is that the program will adapt and evolve over the course of 2010 based on feedback from you!  If you ever forget how to find these posts, they will be available at www.12goals.com (or www.twelvegoals.com).

Getting Ready

Click for photo You have your vision.  Now it’s time to formulate (and document) your monthly goals for the coming year. While this may sound easy or even uninspiring, it’s actually quite the opposite.  It’s hard and it will take more time than you think.  But that time is well spent, both in terms of the outcome (a set of clear goals to work against) as well as the inspiration it can immediately provide.

Remember, goals help form the building blocks for positive emotions and subjective happiness with life.  So while there’s obvious benefit in having goals soley as virtual signposts for achievement, there’s also a residual sort of “under the covers” benefit of enhanced well-being – a deep well-being that can be long-lasting.  If you’re setting, working towards, and achieving goals you’re more likely to find flow regularly.

Now, it can be pretty difficult to sit and write up your twelve goals in twelve minutes and be finished.  You should be prepared to take your time, ensuring that the goals you’re creating are the “right” goals for this time in your life given all your circumstances.  I generally take a phased approach and assume my goals are going to be in flux for a couple months before I lock on my annual plan. 

Here’s one way you can do this:

  • A few months in advance of your new year, start keeping a running list of potential goals in a notebook.  Have some targeted brainstorm sessions where you generate your “300% list” – or all the things you could accomplish in the next year if you have to the time.  If you haven’t been doing this already for the next year, you can certainly catch-up with a little extra legwork provided you’re focused on it.
  • A few weeks in advance of your new year (for 2010, this is now), you’re going to want to “get real” with this list, validating your current goal list with your vision and their feasibility.  This means getting your total goal count down to twelve, one for each month of the year.
  • If there’s a particular goal or two that you’re anxious about, it can be useful to “try before you buy” for a few weeks.  In other words, give the goal a shot prior to committing to it for next year.  This is particularly useful for goals that involve a fundamental change in your schedule (i.e. a 5pm biking class a few miles from your office) since they can be the first ones to go.

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Written by Mike Torres

December 21st, 2009 at 3:20 pm

12 Goals: Create Your Vision (Step 1)

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Before starting with Step 1, you might first want to read the introduction.

Twelve Goals (or 12 Goals) is a goal-setting program for beginners.  If you’ve never set goals before – or if you’ve tried and failed – Twelve Goals can help get you unstuck and on path to achievement.  There’s nothing magical or mystical about this process at all.  In fact, it’s downright boring and overly practical; you aren’t going to find any talk about magnetism, psychic powers, or the law of attraction.  What you’ll find is a systematic way to look at your personal goals over the course of a year, along with some step-by-step advice and accompanying tools to help you achieve them.

Twelve Goals is still very much a work in progress.  My hope is that the program will adapt and evolve over the course of 2010 based on feedback from you!  If you ever forget how to find these posts, they will be available at www.12goals.com (or www.twelvegoals.com).

Beginning at the End

“Writing or reviewing a mission statement changes you because it forces you to think through your priorities deeply, carefully, and to align your behavior with your beliefs” – Stephen Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

Click for photo One of the underlying principles of 12 Goals is to “begin with the end in mind”, similar to what Stephen Covey proposes in his books.  This is a key tenet of any planning process, and is absolutely essential to do as a first step on the path to achieving your goals.  When you think about anything you’ve ever accomplished in your life – from remodeling your kitchen to getting a new job – you probably had some level of vision about what you wanted the outcome of your process to be.  It may have taken a little while to get a handle on what that vision really was, but somewhere deep down you knew it was there.  You probably didn’t just wake up one day, make a phone call, and land a job that afternoon.  You likely spent time and energy defining your end result.  Beginning at the end is about figuring out what the ideal end result is, writing it down, and then working backwards from there.

Think about creating your vision (or personal mission statement as some call it) as being explicit about what you want your life to be about, and through the process, learning more about what you want your year to be about. Your next year should be a very deliberate step in the right direction – and it’s awfully hard to do that unless you know where you’re going.

An example of vision creation “beginning at the end” that I like to give relates to software development at a large company.  In certain divisions of Microsoft, a thoughtful planning process takes place prior to the start of any major release.  It’s during this time that the team works to formulate the game plan by looking at market research, doing deep competitive analyses, brainstorming about potential breakthrough ideas, and so on. 

One of the outputs of this process is a mock press release or blog entry, post-dated around the time the team expects the software to be released to the world, describing in detail (in present tense, of course) what the “story” for the release is going to be.  Frequently the team will also go into depth about what they expect the press, bloggers, and enthusiastic users to say about the release as well as a means to better describe the vision.

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Written by Mike Torres

December 6th, 2009 at 3:25 pm

12 Goals: One Goal, Each Month, All Year (Introduction)

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Twelve Goals (or 12 Goals) is a goal-setting program for beginners.  If you’ve never set goals before – or if you’ve tried and failed – Twelve Goals can help get you unstuck and on path to achievement.  There’s nothing magical or mystical about this process at all.  In fact, it’s downright boring and overly practical; you aren’t going to find any talk about magnetism, psychic powers, or the law of attraction.  What you’ll find is a systematic way to look at your personal goals over the course of a year, along with some step-by-step advice and accompanying tools to help you achieve them.

Twelve Goals is still very much a work in progress.  My hope is that the program will adapt and evolve over the course of 2010 based on feedback from you!  If you ever forget how to find these posts, they will be available at www.12goals.com (or www.twelvegoals.com).

The Idea

“What surprised me most were the ordinary methods successful people use to achieve all they achieve” – Malcolm Gladwell

Click for photo Setting goals is hard.  Achieving them is even harder.  Over the last decade, I’ve come to realize just how few people have any idea about what they want their life to be.  The majority of people take things day-by-day without a clear roadmap or direction.  Unfortunately this type of approach only works when you have an extreme amount of luck or an otherworldly amount of talent on your side.  Most people need a little more structure to their approach.

The big question: where do you start?  Some people jump right in after reading a personal development book and start thinking about their goals.  They work on this list for a few days, but without a blueprint for success, they eventually give up and fall back into their previous habits.  Habits that haven’t been able to generate the level of success they’re looking for.  The "ah-ha" moment for me came when thinking about what it is about the goals people set that has them giving up so quickly?

This led me to a simple conclusion.  Goals that are too big, too grand, simply don’t work.  Yet in order to qualify as a life goal, the goal by its very nature has to be big – otherwise it’s just a to-do item on a sticky note. So where does that leave us?  Well, right in the middle!  Goals that are scoped to approximately 30 days have an innate sense of urgency, yet there’s enough “runway” to achieve something pretty big.  When you break things down into 30 day milestones, you also have the benefit of being able to build on successes from month to month – you know that by April you will have achieved your January, February, and March goals, so you can make your April goal something that moves you that much further in the same direction.  Compounding success like this is quite powerful.

With this 30-day goal idea, I started searching through my research to see how I could group various concepts together to make Twelve Goals a more structured program.  The notion of 30-day goals is a start, but it certainly in and of itself isn’t enough to get people up off the couch.  That requires a little more.  After a few weeks of dissecting the data I’ve been collecting, I settled on a high-level structure that can serve as a basic template for people.  But more on that in a minute…

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Written by Mike Torres

November 15th, 2009 at 2:20 pm

Form Positive New Habits Through Active Association

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Click for photo It’s probably no surprise that repetition influences the formation of new habits.  The time and way you brush your teeth probably doesn’t vary much night to night; it’s habitual.  Each night at 10:30pm (give or take a few hours) you probably grab that toothbrush, squeeze some toothpaste onto it, and go about your violent brushing ritual.  I can almost guarantee you don’t alternate quadrants of your mouth each night (unless you’re just a little insane) because it’s probably not something you think about anymore.  You just do it, and you’ll probably always do it that way unless you make a conscious change.

Do something enough times and it becomes a part of you – perhaps to a fault – and from that point on, it can be harder not to do something at all than to do it.  In truth, most of our lives consist of habitual action each day.  Have you ever been driving along and realized (too late) that you’ve gone in the completely wrong direction, because you habitually started driving to work even though you were originally planning to go to a friend’s house?  Your conscious mind shut-off the second you got into that car and was on auto-pilot until you realized you were heading in the wrong direction.  I don’t know anyone that hasn’t happened to.

Forming positive new habits (and replacing negative old ones) is the only foolproof path to achievement there is.  Your habits “accumulate up” to your goals – there can’t be real triumph without small wins along the way.  You don’t just wake up one day as the president of your company, or as someone who exudes positive energy and contentment, without taking individual small steps to get there.  This is the subtlety that’s lost on those people we all know who insist that good things don’t happen to them; not everyone realizes that it’s not just handed to you 🙂

One interesting thing about habit forming is that recent research has shown that each time you repeat a behavior, the context in which it occurs is linked in your mind to the activity itself.  Context in this example refers to the things happening around the activity – the time of day, the music that’s playing, whether you’re in your car or sitting in your favorite chair, and so on.  As explained by psychologist Wendy Wood and her team in Changing Circumstances, Disrupting Habits, an article in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, “habit associations are represented in learning and memory systems separately from intentions, or decisions to achieve particular outcomes. Thus, walking into a dark room can trigger reaching for the light switch without any decision to do so.”

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Written by Mike Torres

September 28th, 2009 at 7:56 am

Posted in Goal Setting,Productivity

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12 Ways to Make Your Goals Smarter

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Click for photo When you search the interwebs for information on goal setting, you find a lot of the same recycled drivel.  “Make your goals inspirational” and “Break your goals down into tasks” are common recommendations, but the single biggest bit of repeat advice is to make your goals SMART. 

This acronym is one of the most overused in all of personal development, and doesn’t capture the essence of goal-setting.  Not because it’s necessarily bad advice, but rather because it isn’t personal and authentic advice.  It’s cookie cutter… and is more about task management than achievement.

To recap the SMART designation, the general thinking is that any goal that doesn’t meet the following attributes is a goal not worth having.

S = Specific
M = Measurable
A = Attainable
R = Realistic (or Relevant)
T = Time-bound (or Timely)

Specific is about making sure your goal isn’t too vague, but instead represents exactly what you plan to accomplish, why you want to accomplish it, and how you’re going to do it.  Measurable makes sure you can actually see and celebrate progress against the goal in order to move in the right direction through quantitative means.  Attainable goals are goals you can actually achieve in the timeframe allotted – i.e. having a goal to make $10 million dollars in 1 week would be an unattainable goal for most people.  Realistic refers to having a goal that you’re both willing and able to achieve.  Time-bound (or Timely) is all about making sure you have an end-date in mind to hold yourself accountable to; a goal to become President of your company isn’t really a goal unless you set a date by which you’d like to accomplish it.

Sounds great, right?  Sure, maybe if you’re a Cylon.  For the rest of us, SMART doesn’t give us a solid enough framework to set personal goals.  The SMART methodology is believed to have started in corporate America, and was originally used for commitment setting in the new practice of management in the 1950s.  It’s intended mostly, to this day, for project management and not for real-world use.  Perhaps this is why it seems so “big company” and not very relevant to the uniqueness and quirkiness that is human nature.  Sure, you want your goals to be SMART, but don’t you need them to be more than that?

We need a new way to think about goals.  A new framework for forming them, and a different way to think about evaluating them once they’re set.

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Written by Mike Torres

September 8th, 2009 at 7:03 am

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