The Counterintuitive Nature of Goal Setting

James Clear, author of Atomic Habits, has a refreshing take on goals; best practices for setting and accomplishing them.

Enjoy a spark notes summary below and his full article here.

Goals determine your direction. Systems determine your path.

One of the primary values of setting a goal is, by working backwards, the system needed to accomplish the goal is visible. For example, if your goal is to win a gold medal you’ll need a system of extreme diligence and sacrifice.

Missing weekends and free evenings because of rigorous training, is that system something you’re willing to commit to?

Focus and pick one.

Generally, people are pretty good at setting goals but terrible at selecting them. It’s not just about having a goal it’s about selecting the right one, and often focusing on only one.

Get specific.

To actually achieve your goal, get specific on the when, where, and how. For example, “I will _ on [DAY] at [TIME OF DAY] at/in [PLACE].”

Craft your environment.

If your habit is around a goal, know that it can act as a trigger for a routine, e.g. After/Before [CURRENT HABIT], I will [NEW HABIT]. Knowing what routines and environments you’re setting up for yourself helps expedite your journey to accomplish your goal.

Know thyself.

Having a top limit for your goal, I will do a minimum of 2 workouts this week but not more than 5, can be helpful if you find yourself likely to go overboard with an activity. Remember, you want to push hard enough to make progress, but not so much that it is unsustainable.

Be curious, not condemning.

Measure, but be curious about measuring don’t pass judgment. The trick is to realize that counting, measuring, and tracking is not about the result – it’s about collecting information to then inform your decisions. Why wasn’t I able to hit my reading goal this week? Instead of, I’m so mad I wasn’t able to hit my reading goal this week.

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