Why Goal Setting is Useless

Hey Happy Sunday Everyone!

I hope you are all having a great day today!

Now that the clickbait has done its job for tonight's post I wanted to talk about goals and why the processes behind the goals are so important. Even more than the goals themselves.

If anyone reading this has read Atomic Habits by James Clear you will have already heard a lot about what I am going to cover! But anyway here we go!


Imagine two people that want to lose weight. Let's Call them Jake and Mack. Both decide to set the goal to lose 10 pounds in 6 months. A pretty modest goal (about 1.6 pounds a month which is about 120 calories burned or removed per day). Both of them are confident that this is a very attainable goal! Mack is super big on goals and decides to write his down every single morning when he gets up and goes to bed. He tapes a sign saying; (loose 10!) on the fridge and creates this massive wall bristle board that has the goal broken down into each pound, how many km he is going to want to run over the 6 months, how many salads he wants to eat as meals and the total pushups he wants to do. If you look at the photo I very crudely drew what I was talking about. So everything is broken down into nice small tiny bite-sized "mini" goals. He is ready to go out and conquer!

As the two begin they start working out more, eating better and Mack is knocking out the mini-goals left and right. Then something starts to happen. After a long day of work about halfway through month two, Mack comes home and doesn't want to go for that run. He's tired and he doesn't want to go upstairs and change but promises that after one episode of The Office he'll do it. 4 episodes later its dark out and his first run has been missed. Then while grocery shopping one night he's craving something sweet he didn't get the chance to eat after work because he had something come up and now he is face to face with a grocery store full of treats. Just a few chocolate bars later and the 120 calorie deficit has turned into a 240 surplus two days progress gone! As the early motivation and excitement of starting wear off and "life" takes hold. Mack finds it very hard to strike off these mini-goals and get to the big goal of 10lbs lost.

At the end of the 6 months, Mack is pretty much right where he started. When he sees Jake he's shocked! Jake ended up loosing to 12lbs How could this be?


When Jake set out he did have the goal of losing 10lbs too. But he decided that he was going to focus on his systems. Here is what he did. He had his running shoes and headphones in a bag right beside the front door. This way, all he had to do was walk to the bathroom and changed when he got home (which he always goes to the bathroom when he gets home anyway). He always made sure to eat before going to the grocery store. Even when he didn't or couldn't, he made sure to put cliff bars in his reusable grocery bags that are kept in the drunk! That he way he could always take the edge off before going in and he would never be tempted to snack while driving! Not to mention that there's fruit everywhere in his house! On the kitchen table and the coffee table all out on display and easy to get a hold of. Something that Jake did write down on the fridge was that, after he pours his first cup of coffee in the morning he will do 10 pushups while waiting for it to cool down. The last thing that Jake did was that before he started his 6-month journey he went through the house and tossed out any kind of unhealthy snack, treat, sauce or anything that he knew would be bad.

Do you see the difference between the two? Jake was doing things that created a weightloss facilitating environment. He added reminders in specific places, to complete actions at a specific point of time. It was a very clear system that he created for himself. He focused on individual processes, making them easier to do and setting them up in a way where there was no ambiguity on when to do it or how long to do it.

I'm sure a lot of us have heard of SMART goals. I still have problems with these. Here is one I pulled off the internet for a student wanting to get a better grade in a class;

Overall Goal: I want to be a better student.

S.M.A.R.T. Goal: I will target my lowest class average to raise my overall GPA.

  • Specific: I want to improve my overall GPA so I can apply for new scholarships next semester.

  • Measurable: I will earn a B or better on my MAT 101 midterm exam.

  • Achievable: I will meet with a math tutor every week to help me focus on my weak spots.

  • Relevant: I'd like to reduce my student loans next semester. Bringing up this low-class average will open new doors for me.

  • Time-based: I still have six weeks until midterms. This leaves me plenty of time to meet with a tutor and decide if any additional steps are necessary.

"I will meet with a math tutor" seems to be where this plans success hinges. Were will they meet? For how long? What happens if one can't meet? These multiple unknows will most likely have a serious impact on the execution of this plan.

An alternative that I would suggest for this student is to instead try the following. Every Monday after dinner and you are done eating, go to your desk and do 2 extra problems. The following should be on the desk; either the textbook with questions marked and with extra paper or their computer should have a tab up on the internet with questions already ready to go, this tap also should never be closed Furthermore, I would suggest that they write down and put on the fridge (or somewhere seen after dinner);

"Every Monday after dinner and I am done eating I will turn off my phone and put it on top of the fridge. After I put the phone on the fridge I will go to my desk and do the questions that I have already selected at the end of every session I will select two 2 questions for next Monday"

Goals are great for setting a direction and as a starting point. Although they will not get you to where you want to go, no matter how small and manageable you make them. You need to create highly specific processes, impact your immediate that environment and make new actions extremely easy to do while making old bad actions harder to do.

Imagine just saying you want to become better at free throws, setting that goal won't get you there. If you shoot 5 extra free throws a day right when you get home and get out of the car without setting the goal to become better, you're going to get better anyways!

Thank you all so much and I look forward to hearing any kind of feedback that you might have for me! Feel free to email me at 16zwg@queensu.ca or text me at 613-290-6012.

Cheers!!!

Zach


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