#116 | How to get more of what you want. The art of goal pursuit.
In November 2017 I set out with my husband Charlie for a trip around Australia. This was the scariest, biggest goal that I had ever pursued. Initially we intended to travel full-time but 6 months into the trip, health issues meant we had to come back to Perth. Wow, what an experience! The sunshine, seaside camp sites, fresh air. Doing what we wanted, when we wanted. It was a life most people only dream of.
It was one of the biggest goals I had ever pursued. The goal setting stage was a 10 month process. You see, Charlie had always dreamed of travelling around Australia. It was never part of my plan. But when hubby was away visiting his mum in New Zealand in January 2017, something just clicked. Actually it was a friend saying to me to live life while you have your health. Her husband had got critically ill, and she had to put many of her own plans on hold at that point. It really made me think.
I remember that ‘Aha!’ moment. The moment it clicked for me. My thoughts went from ‘It’s not me, I hate camping and I love working,’ to ‘how might I do this?’ Mobile homes aren’t really camping… I can work and travel!
I want to share with you how to set, strive and maintain pursuit of a goal. It’s an art!
Goal Setting – Planning the road trip
That night, I entered into my goal pursuit process, and started the first phase goal setting. This includes the typical goal setting phase that you may be familiar with – where people set SMART goals or use the GROW model.
I figured out how much money each week we would need to live on, and then googled mobile homes for sale in Western Australia. I found her within a week of deciding I was ready – our beautiful bus, Girty! I was so excited.
I rang Charlie in NZ and told him I was ready to travel. And I had found our home. He was perplexed, as he thought I would never do this, and then thrilled when he realised I was serious. The goal setting stage was in full swing now, there was so much to do. While I waited for Charlie to return home and we could take the 12 hour round trip to see the bus, I got busy planning.
Firstly, I set a date. The date that we would reach our goal. I then started planning a rough route. I am a planner, always have a plan A and a plan B. Charlie likes spontaneity. This freaks me out! Anyway, when Charlie got home from NZ, I showed him the rough plan. We discussed it further and managed to find a compromise – a general direction that we could follow together.
You could say in this goal setting phase (and to use a road trip metaphor), it was the stage before the trip begins. Planning the road trip, packing the gear and making sure the vehicle is up to the trip.
It obviously took way more than that, as it was a 10 month process. And it is at this point that 92% of people stop goal pursuit and why they fail.
Before we move onto 3 goal setting strategies, I just want to let you know about a freebie – a fun quiz – so that you can be? clear about what you want more of. You see, I find many women I work with are unhappy with aspects of their life – they have that visceral (deep) feeling that something has to change – but they don’t know where to start. The free quiz helps you identify and prioritise areas of your life that you could improve on. Click here to start the quiz.
The 3 goal setting strategies to get more of what you want
How to be one of the 8% of people that achieve their goals:
- Write your goals down
- Connect at a deeper level
- Break it down into concrete actions, or ‘mini goals’
1. Write your goal down
You are 42% more likely to achieve your goals if you write them down. Regularly review those goals to increase your chances further.
I like to turn my goals into a bumper sticker type goal. It makes it more memorable, and fun. After all, your brain loves novelty! A bumper sticker goal is no more than 8 words. Mine, for the trip was ‘Girt by dirt for at least 42,000kms’.
2. Connect at a deeper level
Making the goal more appealing by including emotion and motivational factors.
The goal of travelling around Australia became more appealing for me when I realised that it could be the avenue to start my own online business, something I have always wanted to do.
I truly did connect to this goal at an emotional and motivational level, because it formed part of the future identity that I wanted for myself. For about 20 years, I have visualised a career that involved setting up office where ever I fancied – helping women all over the world.
3. Break it down to concrete actions or ‘mini goals’
Chunk down the goal into actionable steps that give you a sense of progress. As you ‘tick off’ the actions, it will activate the reward centre of your brain, spurring you on more. It’s basic neuro-chemistry at its best. Make sure you also write these actions down and mark them off as you go – this will serve as a reminder of how far you have come when things get tough.
Charlie and I started our OneNote notebook for Girty. (Well truth be known, I am the planner, so I started the notebook). It had a section for each major category related to the road trip. Including renovating Girty, training requirements such as getting a HR licence and completing first aid courses, things to pack, things to get rid of from the house, budget etc. In each section we had a ‘to do’ list and as we completed an item, it got ticked off. The first ‘mini goal’ was ‘Hit the open road by December 2017′.
Goal Striving – The rubber hits the road
Continuing with the road trip metaphor, goal striving involves navigating the route, hitting and clearing roadblocks and deciding when to intentionally veer off course. Striving for the ‘why’ (motivation) and the how and integrating short term and long term goals.
The long term goal ‘Girt by dirt for at least 42,000kms’ had smaller short term goals (concrete actions) embedded in it. The first concrete action was ‘Hit the road by December 2017’, the next concrete action was ‘Christmas with the boys (our grandsons)’.
And there were many roadblocks along the way! We got to Esperance and Girty’s clutch died. This meant a 7 day wait until the clutch was ordered from the Eastern States, shipped over, and fitted. So naturally, we had to veer off course to reach the next concrete action ‘Christmas with the boys’.
It would have been so easy to give up at the point when the clutch failed. The uncertainty of cost coupled with the prospect of travelling for 3 days across the Nullarbor with limited access to mechanical help. The uncertainty of ‘what if’.
It’s a mind game!
Let me tell you. Goal striving is definitely a ‘mind’ game. A continual lesson in positive psychology. Add to that the dynamics of sharing the common goal with another person, and it amps up the heat when something goes wrong.
It is so important to have a goal hierarchy – the goal broken down into concrete actions or ‘mini goals’. And more importantly to know the why. Knowing your why has inherent meaning. Connection. Belonging. Achievement. These are strongly linked to intrinsic rewarding, connecting motivation and social needs. It continually activates your brains reward centre.
It keeps you going when the clutch breaks! We did consider turning back. Momentarily. We pressed on. We revisited our ‘how’. How were we going to reach the boys for Christmas? To be successful in goal pursuit, you need the why and how. And the how needs to be fluid and flexible.
At this stage, we knew our why (we love our grandsons and were desperate to see them as we hadn’t seen them for nine months). The real question was what ‘course correct’ would be needed once the clutch was fixed – for us to make it to the boys in time.
The 3 goal striving strategies to get more of what you want
You can be one of the 8% of people that achieve their goals by:
- Finding your why
- Revisiting your why and how regularly
- Be flexible and fluid
1. Finding YOUR why.
Often such a large goal is shared by either your partner, or the people you work with. In my case, it was Charlie, my husband. The are of activation in your brain when thinking about your why includes intention networks. Part of this network is also central to thinking about self – the identify, long term aspirations, preferences. Having a strong connection to your why will turn up the heat of the goal, as it will more you closer to your ideal version of self.
Charlie’s why is to fulfil a life-long dream. He loves the outback. And the open road. For me, beyond being able to spend quality time with Charlie, my why is a means to live my dream of working remotely from anywhere I choose, serving the people I love, throughout the world. It moves me closer to my ideal version of me.
2. Revisiting your why and how regularly
Your brain likes order and structure, and what this integration process does is proved a goal hierarchy you sub-consciously yearn for. The brain systems used for why and how are completely different. Why thinking is ‘higher order’ and activates intention and mental state networks. Object identification and action preparation networks are activated when thinking about the how. The why and how networks can’t be activated in the same person at the same time.
Charlie and I made a great team when deciding what to do. Don’t get me wrong, there were some tense times, but we both focussed on listening more. In discussions, one of us would be remembering the why, whilst the other worked through the how. The course correcting decision we came to when the clutch broke, was to make up the lost 7 days by skipping the Eyre Peninsular this time around and heading straight for Gawler where the boys live.
3. Be flexible and fluid.
When you hit a roadblock, revisit your why and how and then course correct. Also be curious and ask questions to discover the many ways to achieve the same goal. By remembering that you are striving for progress rather than perfection, goal pursuit because a lot easier.
The biggest roadblock Charlie and I hit in pursuit of Girt by dirt for at least 42,000 km was when we returned to Perth due to health issues. They turned out to be more significant than we realised, and it slowed down our travel plans for 18 months. That’s ok. It’s our goal. Our dream. We can live it any way we wish. We will pick up the pace again as soon as we are ready. For now, we are doing smaller week-end trips away when health and energy permit.
Goal Maintenance: Cruise control
The final step of goal pursuit is goal maintenance. Effectively, putting the goal into cruise control so that it becomes a habit. The cool thing about the reward system in your brain is it is closely connected to the part of the brain responsible for action. This means that you can in effect, hand over the goal directed reward system to the habit based system. This habit based system is triggered by cues. When you are deliberate about your cues a habit is quickly formed.
When we started out on our adventures, one of the most stressful things was packing up and heading to a new location. Girty is 12.5m long and we tow a car trailer. So we are approximately 19m long when on the road. It is also 3.75m high and 2.5m wide. So it can get pretty scary when venturing out on roads less travelled.
In the beginning, this unknown stressed me out. I often worried and slept badly the night before. I was in charge of determining the best route. Often I was trying to do this on the fly, while on the road. And it landed us in some hairy situations that I didn’t want to experience again. One particular time it ended up on a narrow gravel road, with lots of steep hills to descend, with farm fencing on either side – which finished in a dead end. But that story is for another time!
Keystone Habit – cue in the coffee!
Anyway, this taught me a valuable lesson. I needed to kick us into cruise control – so that we didn’t stress about this type of thing again. So I looked for a foundation ‘keystone’ habit (a habit with cues that already existed), and piggy backed onto that. So I coupled the goal of planning the route in detail to the habit of packing up the bus. Packing up the bus was already a habit – because if you don’t take things off your kitchen bench – they end up on the floor when you start to move! So, the habit included – get up, make the bed. Charlie packs up the outside, I then progress to the inside. A few of my Sarah’s Garden pieces (yes I travel with china!) go on the bed, along with the Soda Stream. Thermomix into its travel bag and then on the floor. I make a coffee in a mug, then an additional one in the keep cup for on the road. Coffee machine in the sink. I then sit and plan the route over my coffee. I not only look at the route, I switch the map on topography to also look at the terrain.
So as you can see, I used a keystone habit, and piggybacked the route planning onto the coffee cue. So much easier! And more to the point, I don’t even think about it now, I just get on with it.
When things aren’t going well
Good intentions don’t always go to plan. And whilst being able to put lots of things into cruise control via forming habits, there are also days when it doesn’t go so well. It only takes one thing going wrong in the morning (such as waking up late) to derail the plan.
That is when I set an implementation intention. This is where you plan ahead of time, your response to things going pear shaped. This is what my implementation intention looks like if we get up late and have to make up the time:
“If we get up late and I haven’t had time to plan the route for the day, I will spend 5 minutes looking just 1 hour ahead of time to find a spot where we can pull over to finish our planning.”
By the way, this spot usually is near a town centre to buy some brekky, because if we got up late – we often skip eating. And the only thing worse than being hangry – is two people hangry!
The 3 goal maintenance strategies to get more of what you want
- Find a keystone habit
- Write out implementation intentions
- Course correct quickly when things go wrong
1. Find a keystone habit to couple your goal cues to
A keystone habit is something you already routinely do. It will have habitual cues such as getting out of bed; preparing dinner; etc. Use those cues to launch your goal into a habit. Remember the goal based reward system activates part of the brain responsible for the habit based system. So use this as leverage.
2. Write out implementation intentions.
An implementation intention is a contingency plan that you will follow if certain scenarios happen. It’s an ‘If… then….” type of statement. Make sure you review the implementation intentions to make sure they are still valid, and that you remember your plan. It’s like giving yourself proactive control. A warning, like an amber traffic light.
3. Course correct as quickly as you can when things go wrong.
Sometimes, even when you have considered the scenarios, and have implementation intentions defined, things still go wrong. You hit a traffic light that has turned red! At this point, stop and reflect. Review your why, how and implementation intentions – and determine if you are going to continue. Or navigate a different way. But put the brakes on as soon as you get the icky feeling that things aren’t going well.
When Charlie and I are on the road, we literally stop. We stop Girty as soon as it safe to do so. And we take a breather. Even though we could continue I will plot our new route. We have learnt the hard way that stopping is the best course of action.
So there you have it. How to get more of what you want. The art of goal pursuit.
A reminder, that if you are unsure of what you want more of, but you know that there is dissatisfaction in your life – somewhere – my free fun quiz will help you narrow down the areas that you want to improve on. Click here to start the quiz.