I’ve been thinking about goal-setting a lot in the aftermath of my 2016 annual review. As I was writing the review, it became really clear to me that the way I’ve approached and executed my goals hasn’t worked for me at all.
As a driven, ambitious person, I was all for setting “big scary goals” for the year and then launching myself into action. I’m good at getting stuff done. I rarely feel overwhelmed, and this year I’ve had the time to really get stuck in with the work. However, my execution has lacked one crucial element - consistency.
I was so focused on the outcome of the Big Goals, that I ended up moving from one thing to another quickly as soon as something didn’t seem to bring the results I was looking for. It’s not because I’m scattered, it’s because I’ve believed that I need to work in an “agile” way.
There is a saying, or more like a mantra, in the startup world “fail fast, fail forward”. This means that we should set small tasks, launch quickly, evaluate the outcome and quickly change direction based on what worked and what didn’t. This is also known as the agile development method.
The benefit of the approach is that you don’t spend ages doing something that doesn’t work and waste tons of time and effort creating something that nobody cares about.
The downside of that is that it encourages a way of thinking where you’re constantly looking for outside validation. If things don’t pick up quickly, you should drop what’s not working and find a direction that works better.
The truth is that things rarely work as quickly as we’d like. Momentum takes time and if we change directions too quickly, we just end up starting and changing, and never moving forward. There needs to be a vision to stick to, that stops us from rushing one idea to another.
I'm an idea person so I'm quick to come up with new things to do when something doesn't seem to pick up instantly. It’s all good, but it’s also the reason why I didn’t reach my goals.
As always, when things don’t work in my life, I seek answers from art.
Artists work in a very different way from the agile businesses - both in good and bad. They develop an inner vision and they enjoy the work for the pure reason of the work itself. Sometimes that means creating things that nobody cares about. But other times it also means creating something that is different and full of passion, because it’s fuelled by an inner vision, rather than external validation.
Loving the work for its own sake is the only way to have stamina, to improve, to keep moving forward and to go deeper. I also believe that it’s the only way to create something that’s unique and meaningful.
I want to extend this approach to everything I do and I can already tell that it works.
Recently, I’ve been running about three times a week. It’s been hard. I’m slow. Some mornings the ground has been covered in frost. But I’ve been doing it because it makes me feel good.
Of course, I have goals for my running too; I want to lose weight, I want to feel good in my body and I want to become physically stronger.
Yet, those goals are not the reason why I run. I run because I love running. The goal is not what gets me out to the park three times a week. It’s the joy of running itself. Running is not a chore, it’s not a task to tick off the list, it’s something that I look forward to.
I want to get up in the morning with a desire to do the things that I need to do, whether it’s related to business, health or any other area of my life. To just love the doing.
The love of the work itself is the easiest way to stay consistent and to make steady progress. It’s also the only way to actually reach those goals because you're focusing on doing great work, not on the pot of gold that awaits at the finishing line.
I’ve used this approach as I’ve been working on my goals and to-dos for 2017. It’s brought some interesting insight on what I want to focus on. I’ve taken so many things off the to-do list, but also decided to become much better at the things that I want to do.