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Archive for the ‘Goals’ tag

Sleep Research, Workaholism, and Self-Regulation (Sunday Reads #4)


Welcome to Sunday Reads on Refocuser, a collection of weekly links from around the web to help you do incredible things.  These links span topics like creativity, performance, focus, exercise, nutrition, and positivity.  I’m posting this on Saturday this time to make sure email subscribers get this on Sunday.

Join thousands of other readers by subscribing to this blog and email newsletter or by following @Refocuser on Twitter.  If you’re receiving this in your email inbox, spread the love and forward it to a friend.

High-Performance Work and Life

Research shows that workaholism is related to many negative outcomes including burnout, job stress, work–life conflict, and decreased physical and mental health.

Checking your email too often is stressful.  There can be a significant reduction in stress when people check email less frequently.

Better posture equals less stress.  A recent study “found people who sat upright with straight shoulders coped better emotionally with a stressful task than people who were hunched over.”

Researchers compared 10 psychological strengths on their ability to predict goal attainment and the greatest changes in overall well-being using a sample of 755 people.  Which strengths won?  Curiosity and grit.

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Written by Mike Torres

January 24th, 2015 at 1:05 pm

Books, Kettlebell Swings, and the Goal-Gradient Effect (Sunday Reads #1)

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Welcome to the first edition of Sunday Reads on Refocuser.  In an effort to both engage with my readers and have a complete archive of awesome stuff I’ve been reading, I’m going to start filtering the web for things that are most applicable to Refocuser subscribers.  This way you get the most out of subscribing to this blog and email newsletter.

These updates will consist mostly of links to other sites with minimal commentary, and will vary in length and depth.  They should be easily consumable… and should be fun.  Here we go.

Reading is Fundamental

Mark Zuckerberg, CEO and Founder of Facebook, believes in the power of reading books.  He says, “I’ve found reading books very intellectually fulfilling. Books allow you to fully explore a topic and immerse yourself in a deeper way than most media today. I’m looking forward to shifting more of my media diet towards reading books.”  I agree 100% and have joined his book club to follow along.

More on reading books: Reading in the Age of Amazon is a great profile of the people I work with every single day at Amazon and our mission to empower the world to read more every day.  In short, reading is good for you and, of course, Kindle is the best way to do it.

On Fitness, Nutrition, and Sleep

“Optimized meat products higher in omega-3″ reduce body fat more than “optimized” products lower in overall fat. This implies that if we’re going to be eating meat, we should seek out the grass-fed variety. (via Mark Sisson)

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Written by Mike Torres

January 4th, 2015 at 11:53 am

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


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

Tagged with ,

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 (or

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)

with 3 comments

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 (or

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 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

Your Master Habit: Get One Thing Clicking, Watch Others Follow

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Click here for photo For many people, forming and keeping positive habits is a real challenge.  Each habit can sometimes require a different mindset or a slightly different approach in order to make it into a routine, and that can make it awfully difficult to stay consistent.  It turns out that our happiness is a direct result of how much control we have over our environment, and control is directly correlated with how well we’re able to form and maintain positive habits.  If you’re able to identify changes in your current behavior that align to your values and bring you closer to your goals, and then keep those positive changes going on a regular basis, you’ll find that you’ll have a comfortable level of control over your life.

Think back to a time when you felt everything was in order in your life; you felt great in your relationships and with your family, your job was something you looked forward to each day, your finances were on a positive trajectory, and you were getting regular exercise.  Heck, you were even flossing every day, making your bed, and staying on top of the laundry.  Every night as you drifted off to sleep the only thing you were thinking about was counting sheep.  Minimal stress, maximum smiles.

Compare that to how you feel right now – do you have that same sense of control over things?  Do you find one or more areas lacking?  How many things would you change if you could?  If you’re sitting there thinking that something’s lacking, this post may help get you back on track.  Yet thinking about the level of effort involved in getting everything going at once can be pretty overwhelming.  Where to start?

The key is to stop beating yourself up about all the small things you’re not doing, and focus on getting just one habit back on track first. 

In a series of studies performed by a social psychologist named Roy Baumeister, it’s been suggested that “improving self-regulation operates by increasing a general, core capacity. That is, as the person performs exercises to improve self-regulation in one sphere, he or she becomes better at self-regulating in other spheres.”

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Written by Mike Torres

July 12th, 2009 at 2:25 pm

15 Ways To Get a New Habit To Stick Forever

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Ed. note: It seems like a rite of passage to post about habit forming on a personal growth blog.  But the primary reason I’m posting this is because I feel I have something to add to the conversation, not just because I have Leo envy!  Hopefully you pickup a trick or two from this post.

Click for photoForming new habits is hard.  But it’s absolutely possible for everyone due to the plasticity of the brain and the core of human nature.  If we are what we repeatedly do, then it serves to reason that our habits are somehow a part of us.  What we focus on from minute to minute and day to day has a large part to do with who we are – and more importantly who we want to be

It’s not uncommon to see people with ambitious goals and aspirations who haven’t formed any of the required habits to achieve them.  For 23 hours and 59 minutes each day they’re mired in bad habits, struggling to understand why it is they just can’t get motivated or can’t make progress.  The 1 minute each day they spend thinking about and focusing on their goals can’t help overcome the inertia of their habits.

Habits are the single most important ingredient to achieving real focus and real growth.

Social psychologists have been studying the process of habit forming for quite some time.  In the late 1970s, researchers James Prochaska and Carlo DiClemente came up with a model to help frame the various “Stages of Change”.  While this model was formed out of a desire to cure smoker’s addiction, it’s useful to help identify which stage someone is in with respect to one or more of their habits, good or bad.  People are often unwilling or resistant to change during early stages, but eventually become more proactive and committed to forming or replacing habits. 

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Written by Mike Torres

June 3rd, 2009 at 10:51 pm

Does Goal Setting Hold Us Back?

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Click for photo Over the years I’ve read many criticisms of “pop psychology”, specifically relating to the notion that setting goals is a necessary precursor to actually achieving them.  There are people who believe that the very act of setting goals is what holds people back from achieving something they’d otherwise be drawn towards.  Sort of like a reverse law of attraction.

Now, I’m a big fan of thinking critically and applying a skeptic’s eye towards everything, so instead of ignoring perspectives that differ from mine, I try to really internalize them, live with them, and apply anything particularly useful to my own approach.

So before going further, let’s recap some of the most prevalent critiques of setting goals:

  • People with goals are future focused and not focused on the present moment.  By focusing on something that hasn’t happened yet, they’re not focusing on what’s happening now.  Goal setting is by definition counter to living a present and conscious life.
  • Goals are rigid and unchanging despite changes around them.  Someone who set a goal to save an additional $10,000 in January 2008 just to lose $30,000 in the stock market by October for instance.  By having a rigid goal that wasn’t adjusted for everyday reality, this person wasn’t able to react quickly enough to changing market conditions.  While others reacted quickly, this person stayed attached to a false goal.
  • Goal setting leads to a loss of meaningful relationships.  People who are so focused on achievement can fail to focus appropriately on the things that really matter in life: connection with other human beings.  Spend too much time blindly following a goal instead of just living and relationships start to break down.
  • Setting goals can make fun things feel like work.  The immediate reaction people have to deadlines and commitments is to balk.  People don’t like to be told what to do and when they need to get it done – they long to be free.  If someone – even themselves – tells them they have to achieve something by a specific date, they’re not going to have fun in the process even if it’s something they enjoy.
  • Setting goals absolves people of thinking critically.  In a Northwestern University paper called “Goals Gone Wild”, Professor Adam Galinsky makes the claim that “[goal setting] can focus attention too much, or on the wrong things; it can lead to crazy behaviors to get people to achieve them.”  There have also been papers written about how “goals and other incentives can constrict our thinking” by giving us an unneeded fallback plan.  Why think for yourself when you know you have to achieve the goal at all costs?

Naturally, just like most things in life, there’s a much more nuanced way to think about this.

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Written by Mike Torres

May 3rd, 2009 at 1:43 pm