Conventional wisdom says that if you want to achieve something in life ― whether that’s to improve your lifestyle, build a successful business, get a six-pack abs or become a millionaire ― you need to set specific goals, write them down and set a deadline for their achievement.
But while setting goals is an important part of the process, it nevertheless misses a critical ingredient.
And the missing ingredient is the fact that your results in life have very little to do with the GOALS you set, and everything to do with the PROCESS you follow on a daily basis.
In other words, the counter-intuitive approach to goal achievement is to set yourself a goal, but to NOT focus on the goal. Focus on the process of getting to the goal.
Let me say that again: Set yourself a goal, but don’t focus on the goal. Focus on the process of getting to the goal.
You can’t control the outcome or the goal as it almost always involves an external factor which is outside of your control. But what you can control are your daily practices, actions and disciplines.
. . .
setting goals is not about what you get
Another important piece of the puzzle is that setting goals is not about what you get. It’s about who you BECOME along the way.
I learned this very early on from my mentor Jim Rohn.
When he was 25, he met a man by the name of Earl Shoaff, who ended up becoming his mentor.
One day, Mr. Shoaff asked him: “Mr. Rohn, why don’t you set yourself a goal of becoming a millionaire? A millionaire… it’s got a nice ring to it. Why don't you set yourself a goal of becoming a millionaire?”
Then he went on to explain why becoming a millionaire was a worthy goal.
Now you might think there’s no need for someone to teach you why that would be a worthy goal. Who wouldn’t want to have a million dollars in the bank, right?
As it turns out, Mr. Shoaff had a reason that was infinitely more compelling than this.
Here’s what he said: “Set a goal of becoming a millionaire for what it will make of you to achieve it.”
(Read that again.)
Set a goal that would make you stretch that far, for what it will make of you to achieve it. What a wonderful reason for setting goals.
And here’s why:
The greatest value in life is not what you get; the greatest value in life is what you BECOME along the way.
The most important question to ask yourself is not, “What will I get?” The most important question is, “Who will I become?” Because it’s not what you get that makes you valuable; it’s what you become along the way that makes you valuable.
And here’s the kicker...
Mr. Shoaff went on to explain that “when you finally have become a millionaire, what’s important is not the money. You can just give the money away.”
When I first heard this, I thought the guy was crazy. What do you mean you can just give the money away? Are you nuts?
But sure enough, this lesson became much more valuable as years went by.
Eventually, I discovered for myself that what you get doesn’t really mean that much. Because what you get is only a fraction of everything that you’ve accumulated in the process of getting to the goal.
Your skills, your attitude, your mindset, your philosophy, your discipline, your character – these are all WAY more important than anything else you might get at the end.
Even if you lose it all, you can rely on these assets to get back up pretty quickly.
In fact, someone once said that if you took all the money in the world and divided it equally among everybody, it would soon be back in the same pockets it was before.
Something to think about, right?
So again, what’s important is not what you get. It’s who you become.
Don’t fall in love with the goal. Fall in love with the PROCESS of getting to the goal. It’s your commitment to the process that will determine your progress and your results in life.
See, it doesn’t really matter where you are right now. What matters is where you’re going. What matters is the direction you’re headed. What matters is whether your daily disciplines are putting you on the path toward success.
That’s why you should be far more concerned with your current DIRECTION than with your current RESULTS, because while you cannot change your results overnight, you can change your direction overnight, you follow?
. . .
If you don't measure it, you can't improve it
Now here’s an important question:
How do you know if you’re headed in the right direction? How do you know if you’re making progress?
Answer: You measure it.
The only way to know if you’re headed in the right direction is to get clear feedback on what’s working and what’s not. And the way to get that feedback is to measure your results.
I know it doesn’t sound sexy and I know people don’t really like this one. And look, I don’t like it either. In fact, I’ve resisted this idea for many years and I’ve struggled because of it.
Of course it would be easier to do nothing. So I realize that you probably won’t want to do this and many people won’t.
But if you’re serious about getting to the next level in your life, in your career, or your business, this is where you have to get really good at.
And here’s why: the things we measure are the things we improve.
But the reverse is also true: If you don’t measure it, you can’t improve it. It is only through numbers and clear feedback that we have any idea if we’re getting better or worse.
. . .
Focus on Moving the lead measures
Generally speaking, there are two types of measures: lag measures and lead measures.
These terms come from the guys at Franklin Covey who’ve created the brilliant 4DX framework, which stands for the 4 disciplines of execution.
As they describe it, “While a lag measure tells you if you’ve achieved the goal, a lead measure tells you if you are likely to achieve the goal. While a lag measure is hard to do anything about, a lead measure is virtually within your control.”
A lag measure is the measurement of a result, an outcome, or the goal that you’re trying to achieve. There’s no point in focusing on it because you can’t control the outcome.
Lead measures, on the other hand, are different; they foretell the result. They have two primary traits:
First, a lead measure is predictive: If the lead measure changes, you can predict that the lag measure will also change.
Second, a lead measure is influenceable: It is something that is within your control and can be directly influenced by you.
So let’s take an example that most of us are familiar with: weight loss. And let’s say that your goal is to lose twenty pounds by the end of the year.
Obviously, the lag measure in this case will be your weight as reflected by the number on the scale, right?
Here’s the question: What are the lead measures that will be predictive of achieving the goal and, more importantly, that you can influence?
You know the answer:
- Eat right
- Exercise regularly
- Get quality sleep on a consistent basis.
These three lead measures are both predictive and are within your control, which means that you can directly influence the outcome. Focus on tracking these three measures and you will soon see a change in the numbers on the scale.
To follow the process versus goals analogy, your lag measure is the goal of losing twenty pounds. The lead measures of eating right, exercising regularly, and resting is the process.
Remember: A goal is a target that you set out to achieve sometime in the future. A process is a set of actions and disciplines you follow on a regular basis to increase the odds of success in the long term.
As Scott Adams put it: “If you do something every day, it’s a system. If you’re waiting to achieve it someday in the future, it’s a goal.”
So let me give you a few more examples:
- If you want to read more books, track how many pages you read per day.
- If you want to write a book, track how many words you write per day.
- If you want to get in better shape physically, track how much water you drink, how many reps you do, how many calories you burn, how well you eat, and how many hours of sleep you get on a daily basis.
- If you’re tired of wasting your time, start tracking where your time goes each day.
- If you want to improve your finances, track where your money goes each day, each week, and each month.
It’s really that simple: Whatever it is that you want to improve, start tracking it.
Once you have the data in place, eliminate ruthlessly anything and everything that's not helping you get the results you want.
Life and business is all about RESULTS, my friend. Results is the name of the game.
And in order to get results, you have to strip away all the non-essentials and focus on what actually matters.
You see, most people think that in order to achieve their goals, to grow their business, or to improve their life, they have to do MORE things. They have to add more things to the plate.
But what I’ve discovered is that it’s rarely about adding more things to do. More often than not, the biggest room for growth resides in the elimination of all the stupid things you’re already doing.
And tracking awakens you to this reality.
Tracking actual data strips away all preconceived notions about what you THINK you’re doing and what you KNOW you should be doing, to awaken you to the reality of what you’re ACTUALLY doing.
This is how you become aware of your insufficiencies and this is how you grow. Because let’s face it, you can only improve if you first acknowledge what you’re not good at, right?
So measure in order to get to know yourself better.
Measure to see if you’re actually spending time on the things you say are important to you.
Measure because it will help you focus on the things that matter and ignore the things that don’t.
So here’s my question to you: If you created a list that matched up your values to where you're spending your time, what would you find?
What would happen if you tracked the following things?
- How much money do you spend per month?
- How much money have you saved and invested last year?
- How much time do you spend talking to your loved ones per month?
- In the last 30 days, how much time have you spent working on the things you claim are important to you?
- How much time and effort do you devote to your close relationships and how much time do you spend having meaningful conversations with your partner?
- How many books have you read in the last 90 days?
- How much time you actually work at work?
- How much time you spend watching TV per month?
- Which of your goals have you accomplished last year?
- How much time per week do you spend exercising or having real physical activity?
Depending on where you are in your life right now, you might feel comfortable or uncomfortable reading these questions. And that’s OK.
I’m not perfect either and I’m constantly working on improving in all of these areas.
These questions focus on things we should all be working on. So this is not meant to be taken as a judgement, but rather as a wake-up call.
If you’re doing great in all of these areas, keep rocking and tell the rest of us your secrets. But if you’re not doing very well, what small step can you take today to improve at least one of them?
I’m asking you to take full responsibility for your numbers and for your own life. Don’t wait for anyone to come along and save you. What if they don’t show up?
Don’t just drift along with those others who don’t care about their numbers. You’ve got to be responsible for yourself and take charge of your own life.
. . .
Choose how you are willing to suffer, because that’s the hard question that matters.
As someone once said, if you want success, figure out the price, then pay it.
The truth is that if what you want to achieve is something that you haven’t achieved before, then obviously it’s gonna take a change in behavior to get it.
If you continue doing the same things that you did last year, then you’ll continue getting what you got last year. If you want change, it takes change to get it.
So be brutally honest with yourself: You might be in love with the end result. You might enjoy seeing yourself at the finish line. You might fantasize about the reward, the victory, the power, and the fame.
But are you in love with the process? Are you excited about the amount of suffering you need to go through to get there?
Just like the phoenix who bursts into flames only to be reborn again, the question is not whether you want to be reborn. That’s not the real question. The real question is, do you want to burst into flames?
You see my friend, where there’s pain, there’s challenge. Where there’s challenge, there’s growth. A life without pain and suffering is a life without growth.
What’s your choice? Are you willing to pay the price?
If you are, here’s my suggestion:
1. Start really small.
Notice the things in your life that are not the way you want them to be and see if you can improve them. Start with incremental improvements, keep doing that and get better and better at that.
2. Have patience.
Don’t look for the big, radical improvement in a short amount of time. There are no secrets or magic bullets that will suddenly make things better. Seek the small improvements one day at a time that will gradually lead to the change you want.
3. Don’t compare yourself to other people.
The only person you should compare yourself to is the person you were yesterday, not to who someone else is today. And please don’t try to be better than someone else, but always try to be the best you can be.
Self-improvement is not a destination. It’s a journey. So give up on the idea that you’ll someday “arrive.” You’ll never arrive. Because the journey never ends.
As the billionaire investor Charlie Munger so eloquently put it:
“Spend each day trying to be a little wiser than you were when you woke up. Discharge your duties faithfully and well. Step by step you get ahead, but not necessarily in fast spurts. But you build discipline by preparing for fast spurts… Slug it out one inch at a time, day by day. At the end of the day — if you live long enough — most people get what they deserve.”
Self-made billionaire & Warren Buffett’s longtime business partner.
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