On we go to part 4 of our how to set goals series, where we’re continuing to take a very different approach to goal setting than the one you’re used to.
(Instead of just teaching you how to set a goal, we’re asking questions to see if that goal is even remotely right for you in the first place. Goals that are right for you tend to get accomplished pretty easily, so if you’re having problems meeting your goals, this series will help.)
If you’re just catching up, you can start at the beginning here.
Otherwise, on with the show.
Question 4: Are you going about your goal in the hardest way possible?
I go through this with clients a lot.
Someone brings me an idea or a plan that requires 50 hours a week and in a few minutes we can come up with a way to make it happen in 20. Or, in some cases, to make a single decision that makes the plan unnecessary in the first place.
Now, to my benefit, word gets around that I’m good at this. And yes, I am, but this is something you can do yourself without paying me to get on a consulting call.
What it takes is realizing that all humans – not just you, not just your partner who won’t stop doing stupid things all the time, not just your teenager who makes ridiculous plans for getting the attention of pretty girls – all humans default to a path that’s much harder than it has to be.
It’s human. It’s built into our wiring, and it’s not a weakness. It’s just the way your brain works. We make plans that sound good in our heads, and once we have a “good idea” we run with it.
It’s even more prevalent in entrepreneurs and visionary types. When you’ve got some great idea in your head, you just want to run with it.
But now we want to step back and think about what the best way to run with your idea is.
Because the thing that you thought of first is almost guaranteed to not be the best way for you to go about it. Your brain says “this is good enough, let’s go!” and generally doesn’t even consider the alternatives – or how many alternatives there could be.
Your brain doesn’t want you to do that, though. It wants the path of least resistance, and so “the best idea you can come up with now” becomes the best idea, objectively.
It starts blocking out alternatives and doesn’t even want to consider them. As far as it’s concerned, you’re all done.
If you let your brain take the path of least resistance, you’re setting yourself up for a lot more work and a lot more risk with whatever goals you set. It’s like buying a house without getting it inspected.
So when you think “I’ll just do this (thing that sounds good) to achieve my goal,” your brain gets to clock out for the day and dumps the consequences on the future version of you to deal with. It wants to get back to its magical thinking, and all your planning and evaluating might get in the way of that.
Like we said in part three of this series, psychology is a bitch.
What you can do when you realize your brain is going to sell “future you” up the river.
Since your brain is naturally wired to be lazy and call a good idea the “best” idea, the way to overcome that is to simply assume that it’s wrong and that much better plans are out there that make your idea seem like the hardest way to go about the whole thing.
- If you have a plan for your goal, assume that at least five alternatives exist that blow your plan out of the water.
- If you have a sure-fire way to achieve X with a certain amount of work, assume that at least five alternatives exist that can get you 2X with half the work.
- If you have a plan that involves a lot of hard and painful effort, assume that at least five alternatives exist that aren’t hard and aren’t painful.
Your brain is going to tell you that this is very hard to do.
That’s why very few people do it.
But the ones who do get all the cookies at the end of the day.
The ironic thing is that this is actually what most entrepreneurs do when they’re coming up with a goal in the first place, but most people don’t carry it through to the end.
They think “How can I make my business better than it is now?” or “How can I improve this part of my life?” or “How can I make a really cool thing people will pay for?” and they come up with Their Very Good Idea.
But then they don’t apply the same thinking to The Very Good Idea itself.
So they come up with one alternative to the way things are now, but they stop at one.
And it’s tragic, because your first idea is usually your worst idea.
You have more alternatives than you think.
But you have to decide to do the thinking.
So let’s talk about how to do this.
Let’s say you have a goal that you think is a Very Good Idea. We’ll make it totally non-business related, just for fun.
You decide you’re going to go to the gym so you can lose those 40 pounds and live a life where you have more energy and don’t feel like you’re in heart attack country anymore.
And you’re going to go 5 days a week, because you read a blog that said if you don’t go all out, you’re not committed enough. And nobody wants to be told that they’re not committed enough, do they?
Ok, sounds like a perfectly good plan. Go to the gym, do a bunch of sweaty stuff 5 days a week and lose 40 pounds eventually. You already have a brand-new copy of the trendy fitness book of the month, so you even have your workout all set and ready. You have a good plan.
But it is it the best plan?
Remotely the best plan?
Or is it potentially the hardest way to go about it?
Think about what’s going to have to happen to make this plan happen:
- You’re going to have to change your routine – and maybe other people’s routines – so you can go to the gym every weekday for 60 minutes.
- You’re going to have to get to the gym, change, shower, change back, too. Let’s add another 60 minutes for that.
- You’re going to have to do more laundry.
- You’re going to have to figure out how to recapture that lost time.
- You’re going to have to figure out how to recover from the wear and tear that puts on you.
- You’re probably going to have to figure out the right way to eat pre-workout and post-workout.
- You’re going to have to pay for a gym membership.
- You’re going to have to go for a pretty long time to drop 40 pounds, if you’re like most people.
That’s a lot of time, effort and money to achieve this goal, and as we said in part three, that has impact on other people. (Not to mention the impact on you.)
All that doesn’t make it a bad plan. But a lot of people decide “I’m going to go to the gym 5 days a week for a full year” without giving even fifteen minutes of thought of what the alternatives are.
Think about that.
120 minutes a day, basically 250 days a year. So the time spent at the gym and transitioning alone is, what, 500 hours over a year?
That’s a lot of time. (And it doesn’t even account for the extra laundry.)
Again, going to the gym 5 days a week is not a bad plan.
Most people would think “going to the gym” is a perfectly reasonable plan.
But it’s an incredibly disruptive plan.
Now, imagine that I paid you $1,000, right now.
I trust that got your attention.
Imagine I’m your client, and I’ve got $1,000 to drop in your lap.
I tell you that I plan to go to the gym on weekdays to get in shape, and five people I mentioned it to said “Sounds great!”
And then someone else said “Um, you do know you’re signing up for 500 hours and a lot of disruption, right?”
And then I said “Oops.”
So I gather the $1,000 I was going to spend on a gym membership and running shoes and gas, and I give it to you.
I tell you “Please give me a few alternatives that will help me lose 40 pounds this year that don’t require 500 hours of work.”
Do you think you could come up with at least one idea that would blow that plan out of the water for $1,000?
If your answer is no, you’re not even trying.
That’s okay. Your brain doesn’t want you to try.
Because if you start looking at alternatives on a regular basis, you’re going to disrupt the status quo. And your brain really, really likes that status quo.
Stop reading, and ask yourself how many ways you could come up with to lose 40 pounds over a year that don’t require 500 hours and don’t cause the same level of disruption.
Imagine that $1,000 was yours if you could give me five ways in the next hour.
Bet you could.
When you do this, you’re going to get pushback.
When you do this with your own goals and plans, any good alternatives you come back with are likely to give you some immediate mental pushback.
This is part of the reason your alternatives were not the first thing you thought of. On some level, you won’t want to even consider them because they feel harder than your original plan.
(Mainly because they’re different – which doesn’t mean they’re necessarily harder, but they may require some extra thinking or a learning curve.)
Alternatives take you out of your comfort zone. And you’ll resist the alternative unless you keep your head and look at the math of the situation.
Let’s say I gave you that $1,000.
And you gave me 5 alternatives.
One of them was that I could stop eating wheat, and that I’d probably lose a lot of weight just from that.
I’d counter by saying “That’s hard!”.
I wouldn’t even want to consider it.
Then you could ask me “Is it harder than going to the gym 500 hours a year?”
Hmm. Point taken.
So then I’d say “But I don’t know what to eat instead? How do I live in a world without bread and pasta?”
Then you’d say “Well, lots of people do this. I’m sure there’s a book or a website on it somewhere.”
Then I’d say “But that’s a lot of reading? Where would I find the time for that?”
Then you’d say “Well, you could use some of the 500 hours you were going to spend at the gym. You didn’t seem to get all cranky about that.”
And then I would get cranky. Because I don’t want to hear it. Going to the gym sounds so much easier.
But if I could actually think about it, I’d realize that the no-wheat alternative would keep me out of the gym and actually wouldn’t be that disruptive.
The really disruptive part would be how much it sucked. But even that I have control over.
I could figure out how to do it with minimal suck by reading books or blogs from the comfort of my own office.
And it would take me, what, 50 hours of research and playing around at the most? Now I’ve saved 450 hours and got my schedule back.
Would it suck giving up wheat? Yes, it would totally suck, and I would complain to you about it.
But you, wanting to hold on to that $1,000, would remind me that it doesn’t suck any more than the alternative.
Going to the gym would suck, too. Rearranging my life and being sweaty and exhausted would suck, too.
Just because the suck is different, doesn’t mean it’s worse.
It’s always going to suck.
You might just want to have the option to choose the suck that gives you 450 hours of your life back.
(By the way? I did give up wheat. 15 pounds melted off without doing anything except ditching the wheat and replacing it with smoothies and other stuff. Yes, it sucked, but not as much as going to the gym for months and months would have. And I got to keep my life.)
Here’s what you can do now.
Whatever your goal is, it’s your goal.
Whatever your plan is, it’s your plan.
But look at your plan. Look at what it gives you, and look at what it costs you in terms of time, money, sacrifice and effort.
Count it up.
(Since you are probably setting big goals, this is probably going to add up to a lot. )
Then pretend it’s my plan.
And imagine I’m giving you $1,000 to give me 5 different approaches that would get the same results for a lot less time, money, sacrifice and effort.
Come up with alternatives.
If you can’t, ask the smart people that you know to help you.
Yes, it’s hard.
But your alternative is sticking with a plan that’s much, much harder.
Whatever your goals are – taking your income to a certain level, building your list to a certain number, carving out your share of the marketplace – those are not small goals.
What you’re planning to do to achieve them will likely cost you a lot.
It would be a really good idea to come up with ways to make it cost less.
Still here? Dive into part 5.