11 Goal-sticking lessons – how I put myself in the driving seat for achieving my goals
I used to be a big idiot. Now, I am just the regular version.
The one thing that was different in this project was that it was not a project.
I decided to start running a 5k everyday as a physical activity, and to learn at least one lesson using Duolingo.
I expected to fail in one of them — possibly either one could be a backup for sticking to my goals.
Here are some lessons that helped me with my personal life, start-up life, and my friends.
#1 Giving my goals a big purpose increased the occurrences of failure.
I was keeping my goals on a ‘pedestal’. They became too important. Micro anxieties built up — all for a big purpose that was to see another spectacular failure.
I could not find an scientific description of pedestal syndrome (perhaps, idolisation, halo effect) but the best way for me to explain is that it is about ‘giving something or someone way more importance than is due’.
You may find these ‘pedestal’ concepts in some websites giving you relationship advice.
You have a relationship with your goals.
When you make a big deal of a goal, it takes a huge chunk of your attention. Depending on how strongly built your self-worth is, the higher the attention you give to this goal, the stronger are its influences on your self-worth.
The first minor failure starts to gnaw at your self-esteem.
I decided to keep doing just one day at a time. Dannan, my colleague and a friend, saw the updates on Strava and asked me if there was a purpose to this obsession. I replied, ‘We’ll find out’.
I did not want to argue with Simon Sinek’s concept of ‘Why’. I know he is correct in many ways. But I had to reduce the importance of achieving a big goal for my big why.
I decided to take it one day at a time.
Bringing goals down from a pedestal view, relaxed me and allowed me to focus on actually achieving the goal.
I realised, I do the same with people, projects and work tasks — once something is ‘too high in importance’, my quality of work / output / relationships deteriorated.
It did not mean that I reduced their importance. Don’t get me wrong.
I did not give them ‘too high an importance’.
#2 Anything really worthwhile does really take time.
Else everyone would have done it and it would not be worth it
When you set out to do something different from what others have done, it needs to be different in its impact. To achieve that, something fundamental needs to change.
To be fundamentally standing out in a good way, it takes time. Irrespective of how intelligent you are (I used to be a state top ranker but who’s bragging?), a goal which is worthwhile, takes time.
If it didn’t take time and effort, anybody could do it.
And it takes much longer than what you estimate.
You want to write a book — takes time. You want to learn swimming — takes time. You want to do anything worthwhile — takes time.
When I crossed the first 10 days of consecutive 5k runs, my friends started getting worried. One of them (thanks Marco!) kindly listed what could go wrong with my legs, muscles, injuries… I am grateful to have friends who care. (Marco is superb in his discipline! Inspires me everyday.)
As I kept going on, I realised that this is going to become something special. That before the new year comes in, I would have done more than a hundred 5k runs consecutively (and far more with breaks earlier in the year).
If you had asked me a few years ago about this kind of a goal, I would have laughed. But it worked. And it was worth it, see why below.
#3 Running for many days does not make me feel good — the fitness does.
Aka — Number of days is not what I am bragging about, it’s the increased fitness from this daily consistency that makes me feel so good.
If someone cares enough to see my stats, there were days where the 5k run took more than an hour.
There were days that I was really overworked at work and did not have much energy left. My family was wondering why I am dragging myself to a run.
I realised that its not running 100 days that I am aiming for. I am aiming for fitness and vitality.
If sleeping adequate number of hours is vital for you, track it for a few consistent days and you will keep doing it for a long time. You feel better & you interact better with others.
It’s the vitality from the sleep that helps you keep going— not the number of days, not the huge purpose, and not heavy theoretical philosophies.
#4 Cheating yourself is easier that cheating someone else.
Cheating myself for my own goals had been an unofficial, unexpressed hobby.
This one is the favourite of my personal critic. (Note to my future self — please add my video on personal inner critic here — before 2020 is over!).
All my creativity gushed out to create the best of excuses. They were not silly ones, nor like ‘I don’t feel like it’. They were sophisticated ones.
I had bad days, and I had worse days. I started writing down a few of my excuses. It involved doing something for my work or for my family. But I knew that they were excuses.
I realised that I can stay up all night to complete a project for work. I realised that I could stay up all night to watch movies.
I realised that the 5k run and the quick language lesson on Duolingo took only a fraction of that time.
I was lying to myself.
I realised that putting my own goal on the topmost priority is a priority.
Somedays this approach allowed me to just about complete a run and a lesson.
Other days, I was forced to run a bit faster to make it to work on time (even during remote work of lockdown periods).
I decided to stop cheating myself.
#5 Measuring every bit of my actions made me fail more often.
Don’t get me wrong Peter Drucker. I know you said that if you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it. Works a lot for business processes. But not so much for me (and other humans).
Because I had some mental limits based on numbers, they stopped me. Let me give an example. When I saw that I have been running at 9 km/hr for more than 10 minutes, there was something in my head which said, ‘slow down’. I felt breathless, tired and the voice kept on saying, ‘slow down’. Look at your heart rate. Oh look, you might get dizzy.
I decided to shut that voice down but it got louder.
I then decided to not look at my pace, speed nor any other metrics until a 20 minutes timer on my phone went off.
On some days, I realised that I was doing 9 km/hr speed without any issues with my physical efforts, my breathing and there was no voice shouting ‘slow down’.
I showed that metric to my inner critic (I imagine it is separate from me — helps me to ask it to shut up!). Once my inner critic saw that I can keep running at 9 km/hr for much longer, it quietened. It did come back when I was running at 12 km/hr, but I knew what to do.
Within known limits, I decided to stop measuring every bit.
No need to measure every second of my runs, my lessons, my life. I do review them once in a while, but when I am doing the task, not measuring it actually sped things up.
#6 Breaking tasks into smaller steps can be a self-created trap
Aka — do something a bit more than the minimum effort.
Aka — Small successes can slow down progress.
Note the word, self-created, above.
Breaking a task into smaller steps is a well-known, widely-accepted way of achieving something difficult.
In the absence of accountability, smaller steps lead to easy excuses.
You break it down for ease and the same convenience crosses a line to become an excuse.
I thought about running just 1k per day. Why bother wit 5k? There are many people who don’t even run 1k. I will reach 5k someday, isn’t it? This is an example of a self-created trap leading to eventually missing the goal.
Depending on what your current capabilities are (not necessarily about running!), break it into a task that is just outside the comfortable level. If you like writing 200 words per day, aim for 250 for a week. If you run half a mile, aim for a mile. If you are on the couch, aim for the garden or the road outside.
Whatever is the minimum specified effort (whether you specify it, or experts do), do a bit more than that.
If Duolingo suggested a minimum of 15 minutes of lessons per day, I attempted 20. It was not a huge jump but as the days progressed, I could easily do 30 or 45 minutes on a weekend day without slacking.
If possible, do a lot more than the minimum. But at the least, do a bit more than the minimum effort.
A version of this point also meant that small successes can slow you down.
Each time I did succeed, I paused to see how well I did. It felt good. I patted myself on the back. But I was also on the verge of postponing the next day — see, I did so much, what about a small break? Big self-created trap.
While breaking a big task into smaller chunks makes things easy, it also gives us mini successes and we have to keep them away from going to our head.
Remember, it is a small success — not a reason to slow down.
#7 People trust consistent mini-successes more than big wins. It removes their own fears.
No lectures, no explanations, no plodding, no convincing needed. People stop raining on your parade. Actions inspire the loudest.
Like Dannan and Marco, many of my friends and family started noticing the updates on Strava, JustGiving (I am running 50 miles in January for Dementia next), at times on Facebook and so forth.
Some of them started doing 10 minutes of exercise per day during the lockdown.
My 7 year old daughter downloaded an app and did 30-days of ‘splits’ training, as she was missing gymnastics classes during covid lockdowns.
One of my closest persons in life, who used to be discouraged by exercising, told me about running 50 miles for the cause of Dementia.
This was not just about running.
Because we followed a 30-day habit routine, one day at a time, we started making fun ones like finding a new joke each day, my kid found riddles for her classmates each day, we wrote at least one note of appreciation about another person, each day. And many more creative activities.
People around you see their own version of possibilities in these consistent mini-successes. That reduces their own fears.
They stop raining on your parade because they see it is working out, bit by bit, step by step, consistently, successfully — and that you are not going to give up anyway.
You got their trust.
My ex-neighbour started walking just about 1 km each day and made sure he let me know once in a while.
My friend started writing his book, 250–300 words each day. He said he wrote far more for boring work emails and used to get stuck for his own writings. Now, he has reached a whopping 2,000 words per day.
Actions inspire the loudest.
#8 Feeling sorry about ourselves feeds our inner critic.
Keeping bad thoughts, especially sorry-like thoughts, is like keeping a private zoo of constantly barking dogs who bark more when you give them attention.
I missed. I moved on.
I missed. I felt guilty. I ruminated. I missed more.
Next time, I missed, I moved on.
I could not find any benefit in my creative excuses.
I could not find any benefit in feeling sorry about myself.
Like I mentioned in point #5 above (measuring each action every second), my inner critic got ammunition to be right.
‘I told you so’ was getting louder in my head. I decided to not feel sorry for myself.
The current covid situation has been tough for so many of us.
I started listing things and people that I am grateful for.
The best antidote to missing my goals was to start again the next day.
When you see the 90+ days streak with the 5k runs, they were preceded by a number of false starts, broken habits, and regretful moments.
I learned and decided to stop living in the mistakes of my past.
Learn Emotional Fitness
Science-based. For Founders, theirs teams, solopreneurs, wantrepreneurs, and whoever is ‘I-am-my-own-boss’! Founders…
#9 You find a way whatever-it-takes, whatever the situation is.
I saved money for a few months to get a treadmill instead of getting a new smartphone (and missed out a few other things too).
With gym closing during lockdowns, with temperatures fluctuating over the months, with heavy rains and winds on some days, the list of excuses I had was growing.
I was low on cash with extreme uncertainty with my and my partner’s work. We were watching every expense.
I had decided to get a treadmill, but not the cheapest one available. I had regretted doing that on other things in the past.
A decent treadmill with all the features I wanted was expensive.
Other than cash, it was something difficult to propose in my family — we talk about big expenses.
With some savings, with some planning, and by deciding to not buy the next phone when my renewal was due, I decided to use that money to buy a treadmill.
I can survive another year without a newer phone.
My family loves the treadmill. I love it. You always find a way even in the toughest of times.
#10 This one is not really peculiar: Friends are for companionship, not comparison.
Comparing goals with friends is the biggest BS mistake you can do.
During the lockdown, we got isolated. Some people are still going through unbearable amounts of isolation. Some of us have lost loved ones.
When we are thinking of goals, progress and growth during these times, having friends and co-travellers in the journey, matter.
In today’s social madness, it is very important to use friends for the first real reason we have them — to have someone with us. For their company. For their support. For just being there.
Let us not have friends to ‘compare’. Whatever we do in our life, when we compare it with someone, we are feeding our inner critic with more ammunition to make us feel bad. We are inviting reasons to feel bad.
In my journey of so many 5k runs, friends mattered. Someone called me crazy — I was grateful that they called. Someone asked for tips on running — it felt good to talk. I made friends across language barriers. And also ensured to give a 5-minute call to all my existing friends — even those who don’t think of me as a friend. It mattered.
When you are pursuing something worthwhile, be it a goal, a start-up, a challenge or anything else, have your friends around.
And be a friend to someone who is doing the same.
They may not know when to ask. You can just be there.
#11 There is a benefit to complaining about others
This is put in a tricky way because there is no viable benefit of complaining about others.
I realised something else.
When I was being creative with my excuses, a lot of them also had complaints about others.
I am unable to do XYZ because of this persona doing blah blah blah.
If only I was not worried about money, I would be doing blah blah blah.
If only I was… you get the pattern.
The powerful realisation was that, whenever we are complaining about someone or something, there is a part of us that is complaining about our own selves.
There is that part which is bothering us and we have conveniently found someone or something to blame.
If we resolve the thing that is bothering us, the external issues dissolve.
There are some complicated examples but I will share a simpler one from my 97 5k runs (until now!) and my language lessons.
I thought takin care of my kid especially when I am about to go for a run was a very annoying and unjustified responsibility. Why does my partner not volunteer to do it so that I can run/learn? The pattern showed up in other tasks too.
But the real pattern was, ‘Why am I blaming someone else for not finding 30 minutes from my life? Is 30 minutes a long time to find from within my own tasks and schedules? And is the blaming on my family helping me get those 30 minutes?’
Once I resolved my own irritation with the situation, and I started my running/learning sessions on a regular basis, my family started noticing and volunteering to make time for me!
Not all issues in life are as simple as above — but you don’t want the complicated drama from my life to be written here — that’s for another day!
Point is — resolve your internal bothers. The external starts adapting to your new-found clarity.
That’s the benefit I got from complaining about others (and finding answers from myself).
Being emotionally and mentally fit — for personal life, start-up work, relationships, covid, whatever-may-come!
Like I told Dannan, I will see where this 5k each day takes me. And like I told my daughter, we will see how far the language learning goes.
I will be completing 100+ consecutive 5k runs before 2020 ends. I am running for raising funds for Dementia.
Jeev Sahoo is fundraising for Alzheimer’s Society. Donate on JustGiving
But what I am really aiming for, is emotional and mental fitness.
I am emotionally and mentally stronger, fitter, and flexible.
I believe more in fitness (eg emotional fitness) than intelligence (eg emotional intelligence).
When you speak to a health professional about improving your health, they don’t ask you to be ‘healthily intelligent’ — they give tips on improving your ‘fitness’. The same works for me for emotional and mental health. We need to be emotionally and mentally fit.
During some start-up and bereavement related struggles in the last 7 years, I learned CBT to backup my knowledge of psychology with scientific evidence. I share some lessons here. I help start-up teams and founders with their mental health struggles.
Since I am not another (sometimes boring) academic in psychology, and yet use science-based facts, I explain things in a simpler manner, especially for start-up/creative/entrepreneurial minded friends.
Keep running your own version of runs!