What we should ‘not’ learn from religions about goal setting.

I have a real problem with religions (Not just one. I have many. But I am just mentioning one here)

A lot of them operate in ‘donts’. Don’t do this, don’t do that. Don’t eat this. don’t drink that. Don’t dress like this, don’t talk like that.

One of the dialogues from my favourite movie of all times sums it up.

“I can give you the ten commandments in ten words: Don’t, don’t, don’t, don’t, don’t, don’t, don’t, don’t, don’t, don’t.” – The Man from Earth

"DeMilleTenCommandmentsDVDcover" by TBA. Licensed under Fair use of copyrighted material in the context of The Ten Commandments (1956 film) via Wikipedia - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:DeMilleTenCommandmentsDVDcover.jpg#mediaviewer/File:DeMilleTenCommandmentsDVDcover.jpg
“DeMilleTenCommandmentsDVDcover” by TBA. Licensed under Fair use of copyrighted material in the context of The Ten Commandments (1956 film) via Wikipedia –

May be it’s the influence from these religions, a lot of us have a similar attitude when it comes to setting goals and behaviours. We set negative goals.

“ I will not eat chocolates and ice-cream”

“ I will not be late again”

“I will not procrastinate”

This is a pretty bad strategy. I will explain it with a story I read a long time ago. I am not a spiritual man as such, but this is one story from Osho that I always remember.

A man was riding a bicycle, and he saw a big pot hole on the road. He saw it from a distance, and he kept telling himself. “I will not fall into that, I will not fall into that, I will not fall into that.”.

You can guess what happened.

He fell right into it

The same is with all of us. When we set ourselves a goal that focuses on not failing, we are setting ourselves up for failure.

Think of the top athletes you know of. Usain Bolt does not go into a race thinking that he will not lose. Instead, he focuses on winning. The same with Michael Phelps, or Michael Schumacher, or any other top athlete you can think of.

Think of your goals in positives.

Instead of “ I will not eat chocolates and ice-cream”, try “I will eat more fruits and vegetables”

Instead of “I will not be late ever again”, try “I will always reach on time”

Instead of “ I will not procrastinate”, try “I will finish tasks well ahead of time”

It makes a lot of sense physiologically too. Our brains are wired to better understand what we should do than what we should not.

Set positive goals, and you will have an easier time achieving them.

And about religions.

I like the ones that tell me

Be good, be kind. Love everyone. Make friends.

That works much better.


Long term goals – How not to let them die short term

Estimated reading time: 8 min.

I want to learn 4 new languages by December 2016. That’s my latest long term plan. I actually set this about a month ago, followed it up for the next 4 days by taking Portuguese lessons on Duolingo and then forgot all about it.

This is not the first time that a long term goal of mine has had a short term death. It has happened multiple times. And I am sure it has happened with most of you too.

So, what is it that makes long term goals more difficult to achieve than the short term ones. Actually, just the fact that it is long term. Like I had mentioned earlier in article 5 (4 War strategies to build better habits), our brains prefer the pleasure of achievement now to the pleasure of achievement a year later.

So, are there strategies to make long term goals more attainable? Of course yes. Most of you have heard of setting SMART goals. Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time bound goals. I am not going to talk about them here. (If you have not heard of SMART goals and would like to read more about it, you can follow this link). The SMART goals strategy works for both long term and short term goals. Instead, I am going to talk about 5 strategies that will help you specifically with long term goals.

1. Find the why?

Why do you want to lose those 10 kilos or why do you want to learn a new language?

The why is the most important part of a goal, short-term or long-term. It is much more relevant for long term goals because without a concrete emotional why, you will not be able to sustain the motivation required for any long term goal.

The why for a long term goal has to be both concrete and emotional. For eg, don’t say that you want to lose 10 Kgs to be healthy. To be healthy is a very abstract concept, and your brain won’t be able to visually store “to be healthy”. Instead, say that you want to lose 10 kgs so that you can play 4 games of badminton without huffing and puffing. Now, that’s a concrete image that your brain can store. The image of you playing badminton.

By emotional, I mean that it has relate to something close to your heart. Something that you love. If for the same example of you losing 10 kgs, you think that you want to be able to play with your kid or your nieces or nephews, the brain can connect to the emotion related to it.


2. Believe in them

A couple of my long term goals have gone unattained because I didn’t believe in them completely. For eg: I wanted to open 3 branches of my institute in 3 different cities by the end of the 5th year. It didn’t happen. There were many reasons, but the major one was that I wasn’t sure about it. I wasn’t sure that it was the right path to take.

My ambivalence was even more damaging because despite the lack of complete conviction, I still tried taking the goal ahead and failed. In the process I also lost valuable time which I could have otherwise used for another goal.

Ambivalence can be a real goal killer. Long term goals demand from us complete dedication, and complete clarity and belief. Even the tiniest amount of lack of conviction can derail them.

The next time you set a long term goal, take some time to address the concerns upfront. Ask yourself if you completely believe in it. If not, you might want to rethink the goal. The chances of goal completion increase manifold with absolute belief.

3. Take an action every day till you internalize the goals.

You have definitely experienced that rush every time you set a long term goal. You were excited. You were energized. Till the end of the day, all you could think of was the exciting goal that you were going to achieve. Fast forward 30 days, or 60 days. Were you still that excited, still that energized. Most of the times no.

Most long time goals die an untimely death. Most within the first 30 or 60 days, or even less. Long term goals are like new-borns, they need constant feeding in the first month or two of their lives. Without that they will grow weak, and if ignored, will die an untimely death.

The way to nourish a long term goal in their infant hood is to act on them. Every day. Take a tiny step towards it. Even if the goal is a year away, or two years away, take a step today, and take a step every day for at least 30 days. This will help sustain it. This will plant the goal firmly in your brain and the brain will start building it a permanent home inside.

4. Set mini goals to add up to the big goal.

Like I already said, the brain prefers pleasure now, to pleasure 1 year later, and therefore it makes it easier for it to work on super short term goals than long term goals. So, set super short term goals which will ultimately lead to the long term goal. For eg: The long term goal for me for this blog is to write 100 articles in 1 year. But I very rarely think about the number 100. I don’t want to scare my brain with such a big number. Instead, I think about 2. I focus on publishing just two articles a week, and thereby reach 104 articles in 52 weeks.

5. Track:

I like seeing those numbers. I bet everyone does. 10 push ups yesterday. 15 today. 30 clients last month, 45 this month.

Tracking is an extremely effective strategy that will help you achieve long term goals. They act the same way mini goals do. They give you concrete evidence of progress or even regress. They are visual representations of your goals.

I prefer tracking week to week. You might like it month to month or day to day. Whatever the frequency, make sure you track. By tracking you automatically increase the chances of achieving the goal.

So, go ahead. Set the next long term goal. Try these strategies and let me know if they work for you.