At the start of a new year nothing more gratifying than being pleased with your performance over the previous year. More than other years, 2019 pushed me out of my comfort zone. It is only when we truly stretch ourselves do we realize what we are capable of.
I’m a goal setter; I believe there are always improvements that can be made to our performance. I believe I can push myself to be better, faster, and stronger. Even the thought of making New Year’s resolutions makes many groan. I think this is mostly due to most people setting such weak goals that they never had a chance of providing meaningful growth. Saying this I don’t mean that the desired outcomes weren’t worthy causes simply that individuals making them are not adequately prepared for the long-term commitment.
I’m proud that I’ve hit nearly all my personal goals I set at the beginning of 2019 (and many others I set midyear). Here are some tips on how hack your goals to make your commitments deeper and increase the likelihood you will reach your goals.
As part of my MBA this fall, the class read an old classic article “Commitment is too easy!”(1977) by Gerald Salancik. In it are several strategies for an individual to make and keep commitments to oneself and others.
Commitment is a state of being in which an individual becomes bound by his actions and through these actions to beliefs that sustain the activities and his own involvement … Commitment is what makes us like what we do and continue doing it, even when the payoffs are not obvious.
Three characteristics bind an individual to his acts and hence commit him. They are visibility, the irrevocability, and the volitionality of the behavior. By manipulating these three characteristics, an individual can be made to be more or less committed to his acts and their implications.
Make Goals Visible 🏃♂️
I’ve written before on my 2019 running goals. Although I’ve run nearly every morning for over two years, there are still days I don’t want to get out on the road. I’ve learned it’s much more probable I’ll accomplish my goal if the path to get there is clear. I run using the Nike+ Run Club app, whose My Coach feature can create a plan for you based on getting started, training for a race, or simply getting more fit.
The way Nike has gamified the experience with automatically-built plans and social leaderboards allows it hit on all three characteristics of a personal commitment above.
Because of the social aspects of the run club all my actions are visible to my friends, indeed my fellow runners at work often will discuss the daily run as soon as we get to the office because they were already notified of my morning miles. The accountability is inescapable, therefore I must recommit myself continuously since I know I will be asked of my progress. In fact, it was at my colleague Adam’s suggestion that I made my final run goal for the year — finish December with 1000+ miles logged in the app. He suggested this goal while we were discussing our progress and he noticed on the leaderboard that I was within striking distance for the year. It’s always motivating to have somebody else you can encourage you and push you forward.
Make Goals Irrevocable 📅
I’ve had a great year at work as well. In April, my team and I launched a brand new product called Pulse (See Press Release Here). It was the culmination of a lot of tiresome work and if I’m honest I was on the edge of burnout. However, it was also incredibly fulfilling to see a new idea brought into being and shared with the world.
A friend of mine had the initial idea for Pulse two years earlier but the idea was sadly ahead of its time at the company. I made a promise to myself to include Pulse in my product roadmap when I later took over a product management role even though it was, at that time, a pretty long way off. In 2018, with the a ton of credit to our new Chief Product Officer, Brett Allred, we finally were able to start validating and building the product.
At the start of 2019 our Marketing team set a launch date for April at an industry conference. Having a date set to accomplish a goal draws a line in the sand. Setting a public goal and deadline meets the criteria for a commitment to be irrevocable because you can’t miss the deadline without going back on your previous word and harming your personal integrity. Salancik writes “[Once publicly committed] a person faces either regret over past acts or an assertion of their wisdom.” Most of us will then put forth our best effort to confirm the latter.
To make a goal irrevocable it needs to be concrete enough that the definition or deadline is not constantly changing. A goal that is too soft and squishy lacks the clarity to be taken seriously enough to drive action by either the individual accountable or those stakeholders holding him/her to the task.
The run up to the conference launch date was incredibly stressful and there were a lot of late nights getting the product ready, a demo built, and our sales team trained. I was extremely proud, however, to announce and demo the product on the floor of the amazing MX booth a few days later.
The year later brought a role change and the opportunity to rapidly scale a product design team but that’s a post for another time.
Make Goals of Your Own Volition 📚
Trying to bring a new product to market made me realize just how much I didn’t know about being a product manager. Up to that point, I had thought that I was doing well in my role. I decided there was a lot I needed to learn. I’ve always been a big reader. I still exceeded my reading goal in 2019 of reading (or listening to 🎧 😉) 30 books but I wasn’t learning fast enough for what I perceived as a skill gap in business, finance, and leadership.
Going back to school after a decade of work was not an easy decision but it was my decision. I chose to invest in myself and my future. I knew if I wanted to continue to progress in my career and reach my goals I’d need to be continue learning.
Commitment must be built on our choices; we have to feel like we’ve set the goal of our own volition. If we agree to something because a friend talked us into joining their 30-day exercise challenge or a boss told us what the quarterly OKRs were, it’s very unlikely we will dive deep enough to follow through.
I spent the first half of the year earning an online MicroMasters in Design Thinking from RIT and the second half completing my first semester of The University of Utah Professional MBA program at the David Eccles School of Business. Though expensive, I never regret investments in myself. I generally agree with I Will Teach You to Be Rich Author author, Ramit Sethi’s money rule: “No limit on spending for health or education (courses, events, [books,] etc)”.
In order to meet our goals we need to make sure we are truly committed to them. In 2020, make sure your goals are visible, firm or irrevocable, and made of your own will. Doing so will give you the highest probability of success. Good luck.
What have you found helps you stay more committed to your goals?