Jan 3: Your Goals May Fail (And What You Can Do About It)
Estimated Reading Time: 9 minutes
“Chains of habit are too light to be felt until they are too heavy to be broken.”
– Warren Buffet
If you’re like most people, you have a New Year’s resolution and so far, you may have even stuck with them.
We hate to start this off on a downer not, but realistically though, the odds are against you.
How do we know that?
Because they are against all of us. 90% of people that set goals in January not only fail them, but fail before the month is over.
Sobering, isn't it?
The truth is, despite the most earnest commitment, resolutions just don’t really work on intention alone. They are a lot of hype and not a lot of go after a few weeks.
We make well-intentioned goals, with the false belief that we just lack commitment and motivation; that all we need is a good kick in the ass to get us going. Unfortunately, this couldn’t be farther from the truth (so please stop being so hard on yourself).
There are much better ways to achieve your potential, with a lot less minimal headache and that's a huge reason why we created this program. But for today, we’ll keep exploring goals, resolutions and failure.
First things first – understand that the key to success at pretty much anything you do comes down to creating productive habits around them.
A habit is defined as a behaviour that happens almost involuntarily. A “productive habit” then can be defined as as behaviour that gets you what you want in life automatically, without you really trying.
Sounds amazing, right?
Unfortunately productive habits don’t just appear out of thin air. They are created by putting together a chain of behaviours – almost like a string of pearls. These individual behaviours, over time, change our daily actions and in turn, our lives. Productive habits move us to our full potential, morph us into the people we want to become, and ultimately give us the life we want.
To get them, we got three steps you got to think about.
Step 1: Stop Focusing On Your Goals
Wait? What? You're really confused right now, aren’t you?
That's because everything you've probably learned about getting what you want in life has centred around the importance of setting goals. You’ve probably heard that you should always start with the ends goals first. Hell, we started the program off with building out your goals (aka your SUMMIT).
But contrary to that popular belief, for the majority of Damn Early Life, we focus away from specific goals.
No, we're not saying that having goals is useless. What we're saying is that JUST having goals as your only goal is useless.
Goals are helpful when you're trying to get somewhere very specific or are competing. They are great mile markers that make sure we are pointed in the right direction, but ultimately, what we really want is the right kind of habits and actions that get us where we want to go.
See if any of these goals ring a bell:
“I’m going to lose 20 pounds by summer.”
“I’m going to run a marathon.”
“I’m not eating carbs for a month.”
"I want to write more consistently"
"I want to do 30 days of yoga"
Most of these kinds of goals don't make people's lives better in the long run. Sure, we achieve them and for a moment they make us feel good, but they aren't the kinds of things that optimize for what's really important – namely living and enjoyable life and doing so for a long period of time.
Behavioural psychologist, Nir Eyal calls these kinds of goals “BUT Goals” because they are Big, Un-fun, and Time-boxed.
They add misery to your life and give you reasons to quit once you've achieved them. Remember, we're biologically programmed to avoid things that cause them pain, so if your goals are not enjoyable, you’ll quit.
Therefore, when creating productive habits, remember: hard work doesn’t work, so don't base what you're doing around it.
We recommend forgetting the end destination and transforming your resolutions or DEL SUMMITs (aka your goals) into a journey. To be effective, it must be enjoyable, endless and relatively easy. Few of us have the willpower to grind it out year after year after year, nor should we want to.
A journey sounds something like this:
“I want to cultivate a love for exercise.”
“I want to learn to enjoy building wealth.”
"I want to consistently find time to work on projects that matter to me"
"I want to create a space where I am free to write daily"
You’ll never complete these journeys and that’s exactly the point.
It is only through consistent practice that you will actually form habits and fulfill your potential. What you do along the journey is less important; you’ll figure that out as you go. The important thing is to keep walking the journey free from the pressure of completing a specific goal.
That not only helps you get it done today, but build a habit that keeps you doing it 10 years from now.
That brings us to Step 2.
Step 2: Find Your Minimum Enjoyable Action (MEA)
Remember these from past Damn Early Days? They are key to New Year’s goals too.
Your "MEA" is your:
An MEA is a behaviour, which is simple, small and just a little enjoyable.
It’s so simple, so small, and just enjoyable enough, that you can see yourself doing it for the rest of your life with relative ease.
For example, let’s say you want to "create a space where I am free to write daily". Instead of putting up goals like "write every day for 21 days" or "write a chapter of my book", start with something much simpler. Something like:
"I am going to write a single sentence, every day before bed."
This simple, small, and slightly satisfying behaviour is all you need to get started.
You don't need to make it more complicated than that.
One way to know if you’ve found your MEA is to try the “duh test”. Stand in front of a mirror and ask yourself if you can do your MEA. If you say, “well of course I can, duh?” then you're probably there. You should feel that the behaviour is laughably easy. If so, you’ve found your MEA. If you cringed, hesitated, or doubted, then scale it back, your behaviour is too hard. Time to scale it back.
MEAs help you form tiny habits by ensuring you start your journey with the simplest possible behaviour. Start by doing a tiny behaviour until it becomes a habit, which in turn allows you to add the next, more complicated, and more challenging, behaviour.
Over time, these progressive habits build into life-defining change.
Step 3: Track it
Yup, we are serious.
Keeping a record of your MEAs is critically important for two reasons.
First, it reminds you of the new habits you are forming, providing a checklist of things you’re working on.
Second, it gives a critical jolt of positive reinforcement your brain needs to continue the behaviour. By simply checking a box that you did your MEA, you are wiring powerful circuitry in your head to reinforce the new behaviour.
Tracking doesn't have to be complicated, nor should it be.
For the next month, print out a piece of paper, write 1- 31 on it and cross them off as you go.
As you keep track of your MEAs, these tiny behaviours will turn into habits and with time, you’ll become better at completing them. Once you do, you'll want to challenge yourself with new habits that build upon old ones.
The habits will grow along with your ability to do more.
(spoiler: this simple idea — tracking— actually makes a huge difference with motivation and momentum. It’s why we have your dashboard and calendar to show you your checkin stats each month)
What happens when I miss my MEA?
You will inevitably miss your MEA on some days. Don’t worry, it happens. Failure is built into this system.
If you find yourself not doing your MEA for a day, even two or three, don’t sweat it. Just get yourself back on track the next day with the intent of doing your MEA regularly.
If, however, you find that you’re regularly missing your MEA and can’t seem to ever get it done, then you need to reassess if:
your MEA was really minimal enough, or
that it was actually enjoyable.
If it wasn't, make the action simple, easier, and/or more enjoyable.
If your intent was to journal each night before bed, and you find yourself not doing it, make the action simpler to accomplish.
Can you write just one sentence? How about just opening your notebook?
Still not doing it regularly? How about simply laying out your pen and notebook every night before bed?
Really simplify the action until it’s something you can do regularly and for the rest of your life. Falling off the wagon is ok, just find the MEA and use it as your safety when the behaviour you’re striving for proves too difficult.
It's your anchor that you will come back to.
As you start rolling this month, remember that to get the things you want in life, you need to trick yourself into WANTING to do the things you know you NEED to do.
The method described above is a proven method for accomplishing any self-directed behaviour.
With these three steps – stop focusing on your goals, finding your MEA, and tracking regularly – you’ll be doing more than striving for a fleeting resolution; you’ll change your life for good.
Turning Your Resolution/Goals/Summits into An MEA
Just know that you don't have to (and shouldn't) stop at your MEA each day. It's just the entry point and will give you a minimum action to do that you can come back to each day. It will help you build momentum, make you feel like you're getting closer to your goal, and is simple enough that you can get back on when you stumble.
It's your starting place, but by no means your finishing point.
With that, I got two questions for you?
What did you decide your SUMMIT was for Damn Early Days? If you haven't read "What's Your Summit", start there.
How can you transform your SUMMIT (a place you want to get to) into a super simple Minimal Enjoyable Action (an action you can do every single day).
Example – my 2019 SUMMIT is to write consistently for Damn Early Days (with a numeric goal of 500 words per day). I'll break this down into an MEA of opening my writing app and writing a single sentence. If I accomplish this every day, it will be success as I have strengthened my habit of writing (even if it was just a sentence). Truth be told, once I sit down and write a single sentence, I'll almost always write more.
Once you got it done, test it out for a few days and see how it feels. We'll touch back on it later.
Pro Tip #1 – make sure you're MEA builds into the larger picture of your SUMMIT for Damn Early Days.
Pro Tip #2 – listen to this song as you do it. It's all sorts of good.