Many times we rely on intentions that don’t get us anywhere. There is something in many of us that makes us think we can skip goal setting and just get straight to execution when we want to accomplish something big. Too often our intentions are greater than our actions. Our ideas stay in our head or become the focus of some heavy conversations, but not much more happens. Three years later we may find ourselves still thinking or talking about the same ideas without any evidence of an attempt to make them tangible.
Sometimes it might be fear holding us back, or sometimes just plain laziness. Whatever the reason for not sitting down and plotting out our actions, the result is the same: nothing happens. I’m not sure that analyzing the cause takes us much closer to taking action, but analyzing the results should.
A common response to many tough projects is to try to save time by diving in the middle of it without thinking through steps or timelines. This may produce more than not taking any action at all, but it can also lead to wasted time and disappointment. Have you ever received a package of “easy-to-assemble” furniture? Did you start off by putting pieces together, only to find out that they don’t fit right? Did you then go back and read the instructions, only to learn you had put the pieces together backwards? Imagine how much easier it would have been and how much time would have been saved if you had just followed the directions.
A really big goal can be overwhelming. So much so, you may end up doing absolutely nothing. If you take your big goal and establish a very realistic time frame for accomplishing it, the first burden is now off your shoulders. The next step is to determine exactly what each action step is, from start to finish. This part of the process may seem tedious, but it is really the most critical. By listing each and every thing that has to be done, the reality of each step is visible and also much more doable. You can plan timelines much more accurately and track your progress to make sure your target dates for hitting key milestones are closer to reality.
A really big goal can be overwhelming
Goal setting is not really a complicated process. Making a change of any type includes a specific goal, and the process is roughly the same: take stock of where you are and compare that to your goal, assess your own behaviors, influencers and resources, determine where you want to be and set a goal. Then write the recipe (action steps) for getting there.
Let’s use weight loss as an example because the concept is simpler for many people to grasp than trying to imagine an as-of-yet undefined goal to make a career change. Needing to lose 50 pounds can be completely overwhelming when you focus on the total loss required. Losing one pound a week is a much easier objective to see and imagine, and a plan to accomplish that is much more doable. The process required to accomplish the weekly one-pound weight loss is far more sustainable than trying to imagine which new diet you can rely on to lose 50 pounds quickly. The following simple example illustrates how much easier things can be when they are thought out in advance and when simple step-by-step actions are defined.
- Record and examine your current status. Evaluating exactly what you are doing and where you are is a fundamental point for getting started. On one hand, tracking exactly what you eat each day for two weeks will tell you what you are currently doing. On the other, you will need to record your current physical activities each week (or lack thereof). It’s important to analyze your habits and record the actual number of calories you take in and the number of calories you burn to show you what you are currently doing to sustain your current weight.
- Evaluate potential changes. On your own or with a doctor or nutritionist, you can examine what can change; e.g., trading a handful of potato chips for a couple of carrot sticks to decrease calories. At the same time, on your own or with a personal trainer, you can examine your activities and determine what you can add to increase your calories burned. Making minor changes and plotting out exactly what you expect to do as an activity each week is much more likely to make the process doable and successful. Making small changes over a period of time helps you build new habits.
- Develop your plan. Outline what foods you will start incorporating into your diet. Schedule your activities. Set yourself up to succeed by making sure your activities are added to your calendar so you can be aware of how they fit with your work schedule and family time.
- Get started. The time to begin is when you can see exactly what you need to do, one day at a time. Record your results and recognize when your choices work and don’t work.
Instead of delaying your weight loss because it seems overwhelming or setting an unrealistic goal of achieving a 50-pound weight loss in three weeks, get started with a plan that allows you to sustain small changes that you develop into habits. Instead of eating only alfalfa sprouts and water and working out every day for four hours to lose 50 pounds in three weeks, you will have designed an actionable plan with a more realistic timeline that will allow you to lose 50 pounds over the course of a year. The change will be gradual and much easier than committing to something extreme. Your weight is much more likely to remain where you want it.
Whether you want to change your health or your career, enlisting the help of a professional is going to make the process smoother, and you will have support when your plan seems too hard to carry out. In order to make a career change, the same process has to be followed: record and examine your status, evaluate potential changes, develop a plan for making a desired change and get started. Looking at job postings expecting to find the perfect job to save you from your current plight is no different than expecting to find a magic pill to lose 50 pounds.