Success requires goals. How do you know if you’ve succeeded if you don’t know what success looks like? But goals can also demotivate us if we feel overwhelmed or on days when there is just so much going on.
Should we abandon them? No. We just need to double down.
Two Competing Interests
Goals move us forward. They give us markers to head toward. They give us a sense of accomplishment. After all you can’t say “I did it!” Without first knowing what “it” is. Goals give us a finish line that will kick off a rush of endorphins when we cross it. They propel us toward something.
On the other hand, goals can seem daunting. It’s one thing to say “I will run to the end of the street” when the end of the street is in plain view. It’s another thing to say “I will run a marathon”. For those of us who never have, that simply seems overwhelming.
Goals can both motivate us and demotivate us. They can both seem like way too much or way too little. We don’t want to make it so hard that we never want to do it, but we also don’t want to make it so easy that we never stretch ourselves. It seems difficult to find the right way to set them.
Which is why we might want to set them twice.
If you’ve ever seen me aimlessly walking briskly around an airport, it’s probably to keep a streak alive. I do 30 minutes of exercise every day, usually in the form of an early morning run or workout on the elliptical. But on days I have to get up at 3:00 am to travel, I usually take a different route: I take a brisk 30 minute walk in the airport.
It’s one thing to get up early every day to energize my day. It’s another thing to get up at 1:30 am to work out. Sometimes it’s best to do the bare minimum so that everything else can stay in line. Which is one reason I ignore the pleadings of my watch.
My watch likes to keep me pushing myself. It’s a feature I like. It keeps track of my workouts, my calories burned, how often I stand, and more. It helps keep me active.
And every week it gives me a summary of how I did burning calories over the last 7 days. Then, because my actual calories burned is usually 20% higher than goal it recommends that I bump it up. As much as I would like to, I rarely do. Why? Because of days like travel days.
On the days I get a run or elliptical workout, I typically burn between 350-400 calories in those 30 minutes. On days where I get the brisk walk in the airport, it’s usually closer to 150. Some of the running around in the airport helps a bit, but I find I’m about 150 calories deficient on those days, and typically, since I’m traveling, there is a big gap in how much ability I have to be active.
Which is why I set goals for myself. Twice.
If all we ever do is the bare minimum, that’s all we ever get: the bare minimum. But if all we ever focus on is stretch goals, when we fail, we set ourselves up to break streaks, give ourselves negative feedback, and feel like failures. There’s a better way.
For the important things in life we need to set two types of goals: baseline goals and power goals. The baseline goal is the bare minimum we have to reach each day. For a lot of what we try to accomplish, this is fine.
For instance, eating 5 servings of fruits and vegetables a day should be a baseline goal. That may be our only goal. After all, we don’t need to press ourselves to have 12 servings a day. For many things in our life, the baseline is enough.
But for certain things, we want power goals. We want goals that we want to reach most of the time to meet our full potential. Just like 30 minutes of strong cardio and a higher calorie burn goal, power goals focus us on being all that we can be. Likewise, baseline goals of 30 minutes of any exercise and a baseline burn goal keep us moving forward even on days when the power goal is simply out of reach or on days we purposefully want to slow down and recharge, like on weekends.
I do the same thing with writing. My baseline goal is 20 minutes. My power goal is 60 minutes. This helps me me progress no matter what, but helps me really excel when I can, and, I have been able to hit 60 minutes for over 200 days in a row.
Before you get up from wherever you are, think of 3 goals you have or should have. It could be about fitness and health, work, relationships, or something else. Think of 3.
Write down what you want from those goals using these tips on how to write out goals. Whatever it is, make it an easy baseline. The way to know if a goal is a baseline goal is if you feel you can do it without any type of fear or dread. It should be simple, like walking in place for one minute a day, or writing one paragraph a day. It may seem small, but even at this baseline you start creating habits and would have 30 paragraphs after a month.
Next, create your power goal: what you think an attainable goal is – don’t make it so much that it seems unrealistic, but enough that it feels like you are taking on the right amount, like walking 10 minutes a day or writing for 10 minutes a day.
Over time one or both of your goals may increase. You may feel completely comfortable writing 5 minutes a day as a baseline every day and have a power goal of 20 minutes. That may grow, just as mine are 20 minutes and 60 minutes respectively. You may exercise 15 minutes a day as a baseline and do 30 minutes of cardio as a power goal. It’s all up to you and what feels approachable and appropriate.
Set Your Goals. Twice.
Whatever your level is, set a baseline goal that you will do every day without fail and a power goal that you will try to do to the best of your ability, only stopping short when it seems attaining the goal is counterproductive to becoming as successful as you want to be. Reevaluate as often as you need.
Set your goals. Set them twice. Enjoy the results.