Goal Setting: A Scientific Guide to Setting and Achieving Goals - Deepstash

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Goal setting is everywhere in our world. We set goals for our careers, our health, and our lives in general. It seems modern society is always encouraging us to think about the next milestone. However, what we don't think about enough is the science and strategy of how to accomplish your goals. That's what this guide is here to do.

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Goals are useful for setting the direction. Systems are great for actually making progress. In fact, the primary benefit of having a goal is that it tells you what sort of system you need to put in place. However, the system itself is what actually achieved the results. 1

This brings us to our second key insight. Goals determine your direction. Systems determine your progress. You'll never get anywhere just by holding the rudder. You have to row.

Before we talk about how to get started, let's pause for just a second. If you're enjoying this article on goal setting, then you'll probably find my other writing on performance and human behavior useful. Each week, I share self-improvement tips based on proven scientific research through my free email newsletter.

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One of my favorite ways to utilize this finding is with a strategy I call habit stacking. To use habit stacking, just fill out this sentence:

After/Before [CURRENT HABIT], I will [NEW HABIT].

Here are some examples:

  • Meditation:After I brew my morning coffee, I will meditate for one minute.
  • Pushups:Before I take my morning shower, I will do 10 pushups.
  • Flossing:After I set my toothbrush down, I will floss my teeth.
  • Gratitude:Before I eat dinner, I will say one thing I am grateful for that day.
  • Networking:After I return from my lunch break, I will send one email to someone I want to meet.

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One of my favorite ways to utilize this finding is with a strategy I call habit stacking. To use habit stacking, just fill out this sentence:

After/Before [CURRENT HABIT], I will [NEW HABIT].

Here are some examples:

  • Meditation:After I brew my morning coffee, I will meditate for one minute.
  • Pushups:Before I take my morning shower, I will do 10 pushups.
  • Flossing:After I set my toothbrush down, I will floss my teeth.
  • Gratitude:Before I eat dinner, I will say one thing I am grateful for that day.
  • Networking:After I return from my lunch break, I will send one email to someone I want to meet.

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But what would it look like if we added an upper bound to our goals and behaviors?

  • "I want to lose at least 5 pounds this month, but not morethan 10."
  • "I want to make at least 10 sales calls today, but not morethan 20."
  • "I want to write at least 500 words today, but not morethan 1,500."
  • "I want to make at least 50 free throws today, but not morethan 100."

In many areas of life, there is a magical zone of long-term growth. You want to push hard enough to make progress, but not so much that it is unsustainable. This is where setting an upper limit can be useful. Upper limits make it easier for you to sustain your progress and continue showing up.

321

70 reads

But what would it look like if we added an upper bound to our goals and behaviors?

  • "I want to lose at least 5 pounds this month, but not morethan 10."
  • "I want to make at least 10 sales calls today, but not morethan 20."
  • "I want to write at least 500 words today, but not morethan 1,500."
  • "I want to make at least 50 free throws today, but not morethan 100."

In many areas of life, there is a magical zone of long-term growth. You want to push hard enough to make progress, but not so much that it is unsustainable. This is where setting an upper limit can be useful. Upper limits make it easier for you to sustain your progress and continue showing up.

321

70 reads

This is especially critical in the beginning. Whenever you set a new goal and begin working toward it, the single most important thing is showing up. In the beginning, showing up is even more important than succeedingbecause if you don't build the habit of showing up, then you'll never have anything to improve in the future.

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Of course, defaults can be positive as well.

  • If you keep a dumbbell next to your desk at work, then pumping out some quick curls is more likely to be the default decision.
  • If you keep a water bottle with you throughout the day, then drinking water rather than soda is more likely to be the default decision.
  • If you place floss in a visible location (like next to your toothbrush), then flossing is more likely to be the default decision.

321

71 reads

Of course, defaults can be positive as well.

  • If you keep a dumbbell next to your desk at work, then pumping out some quick curls is more likely to be the default decision.
  • If you keep a water bottle with you throughout the day, then drinking water rather than soda is more likely to be the default decision.
  • If you place floss in a visible location (like next to your toothbrush), then flossing is more likely to be the default decision.

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Here are a few strategies I have found useful when trying to design better default decisions into my life:

Simplicity.It is hard to focus on the signal when you're constantly surrounded by noise. It is more difficult to eat healthy when your kitchen is filled with junk food. It is more difficult to focus on reading a blog post when you have 10 tabs open in your browser. It is more difficult to accomplish your most important task when you fall into the myth of multitasking. When in doubt, eliminate options.

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Another key to making long-term progress on your goals is measurement. The human mind loves to receive feedback. One of the most motivating things we can experience is evidence of our progress. This is why measurement is so critical for effective goal setting. By measuring your results, you get insight on whether or not you are making progress.

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The things we measure are the things we improve. It is only through numbers and clear tracking that we have any idea if we are getting better or worse. Here are a few of the measurable goals I've implemented:

The trick is to realize that counting, measuring, and tracking is not about the result. Measure to discover, to find out, to understand. Measure to see if you are showing up. Measure to see if you're actually spending time on the things that are important to you.

Here are some of my favorite techniques for setting measurable goals:

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