The right way to set goals, and keep them

Thinking big is wired into my way of thinking. I don’t just want to eat less meat; I want to be vegan. I don’t want to just get better at…

The right way to set goals, and keep them

Thinking big is wired into my way of thinking. I don’t just want to eat less meat; I want to be vegan. I don’t want to just get better at writing; I want to be a successful blogger. I don’t just want to be a great father; I want to be the best father.

Lately, I’ve been thinking small. It all started with a book on Kaizen.

Kaizen is the act of continually making something better in small ways.

Let’s compare it to thinking big or what we call innovation.

Weight loss

Innovation strategies:

  • Go to the gym 3 times per week
  • Eat fewer than 3,000 calories per day.
  • Go vegan

Kaizen strategies:

  • Run for 1 minute everyday. When that feels easy, move it to 2 mins. When that feels easy move it to 3 mins …
  • Eat one less bit of your food at each meal. Then, eat two bites less, then three …
  • Cut out one meat meal per week, cut out two meat meals per week, cut out three meat meals per week…

Waking up earlier

Innovation strategy:

  • Wake up at 6:00am no matter what time you go to bed, using any means necessary

Kaizen strategy:

  • Wake up one minute earlier on Monday, wake up two minutes earlier on Tuesday, wake up three minutes earlier on Wednesday…

Kaizen is a process, innovation is all or nothing. These ideas make a lot of sense but putting them into practice is a challenge. Here are some thinking small tips that have been working for me:

For this example, let’s use an outcome of doing 200 push-ups per day.

Number 1. You need to laugh at your Kaizen step.

Kaizen is all about continuous improvement, and your step, or increment of improvement has be small. In fact, it has to be ridiculously small. Don’t try and do 20 push ups per day, that’s too much. Even committing to 10 per day is too many. Do one. Seriously, do one.

Notice how I said do one. Not try and do one. That’s the difference. You can try and do 10 pushups and still feel good because you tried, that’s not good enough here. You have to make the step so small that you know you can do it each day, no matter what.

It will feel weird getting down and doing one push-up and then getting up and carrying on with your day, but it works.

Do one. When that feels too easy, and you have been showing up no matter what, do two.

Number 2. You need a goal(s) you won’t laugh at.

My twist on Kaizen is to pair it with a proven goal setting strategy that was championed by GE and recently made popular again in Smarter Faster Better: The Secrets of Being Productive in Life and Business. It’s called the Stretch and Smart system.

First, you set a Stretch goal. Stretch goals are a desirable yet seemingly impossible end state given your current state.

Then set a series of Smart goals that will land you at the Stretch goal. Smart goals are, specific, measurable, actionable, realistic and time bound.

Then, and this is the key, set a Kaizen step that must get done everyday. No matter what.

Stretch goal: I want to do 200 push-ups per day

Smart goal 1: Do 20 push-ups per day by the end of September

Smart goal 2: Do 50 push-ups per day by the end of October

Smart goal 3: Do 100 push-ups per day by the end November

Smart goal 4: Do 150 pushups per day by the end of December

Smart goal 5: Do 200 pushups per day by the end of January.

Kaizen step: 10 push-ups per day no matter what.

Kaizen iteration: re-evaluate every week.

Wait a second, didn’t you just tell me that my Kaizen step should be one push-up?

Yes, it should be. Mine is 10. I started with one, worked up to two, and now can easily do 10 no matter what. So that’s the price of admission. I could try and do 20 / day, but trying doesn’t cut it. I can do 10, so that’s my Kaizen step.

So the system that works is: Stretch, Smart, Kaizen, Iterate.

Number 3. You need a reason.

Why are you doing this? Seriously why are you reading this? You should have a good reason, if you don’t you are wasting your time. Hopefully you are reading it because the title caught your eye and you were hoping I had something new to share.

Okay, so now we know why you are here right now, but why are doing the things you do? More specially, why are you doing the hard or challenging things?

I don’t have to do 200 push-ups per day so why do I want to?

My underlying motivation in life is to provide the best life for my wife and kids that I can. That involves me sticking around for another hundred years or so, and Ray tells me that I have to live at least another 60 years so I can swap out this carbon for some nanotubes, so I do push-ups because they give me energy to play with my kids.

They keep me looking good so that my wife will like what she sees and maybe we will end up with more than 2 kids.

Having a reason why is one of the best ways to stay motivated. During hard times or boring times or times where you don’t feel like it, you remind yourself why. Remind yourself that this step is pushing you closer to where you want to go, that this step no matter how trivial is helping you achieve your why.

If you don’t know why, stop and figure it out.

Number 4. Go easy on yourself.

You only live twice, go easy on yourself.

A journey of a thousands miles begins with a single step.

Think small.

— — — — — — —

No smaller.

There ya go.