Thursday, June 10, 2010

Goal Setting – Achievements vs Habits (re-visited)

I wrote a series of posts last year related to goal setting (and achieving); today I wanted to re-visit the difference between an Achievement-Goal and a Habit-Goal, based on my personal experiences with training and exercise over the last few months…
On January 29th I committed (and set a goal) to run a triathlon with a couple of friends on May 29th.  This would be an achievement-goal, with lots of hard work & commitment leading up to one big event.
I found that pushing myself during training was physically and mentally challenging, but the motivation to workout was easy.
First I was motivated to complete the race – the pride & exhilaration I would feel at the finish line, and the dejection and embarrassment I would feel if I couldn’t finish, was more than enough to get my butt out the door!
After a month or two I became more confident in my ability to finish the race, and I started to think about beating my friends to the finish line (yes, competition can be a great motivator!)  During a good training session I would envision passing my friends on the running course; on a rough day I would envision how bad I would feel if they passed me, and then I would push myself a little harder!
During the last month of training I started to get a feel for what my times would be like in each leg of the race, and then I got very focused on an overall time I wanted to beat.  At that point my training sessions (both the motivation to train and the will to push myself harder during training) came from my desire to beat my time.
Result:  I finished the race (yea!), I beat one of my friends, and I missed my goal time by a few minutes (my bike and run times were great; my swim turned out to be my weakness.)  Overall I was very happy with my achievement, and I have a baseline for what to improve for my next race.

My race is over, now what?  Well, I’ve set my sights on another race in November.  I’m going to start event-length training sessions about 10 weeks prior to the event, but between now & then I want my training to work on strength, flexibility, efficiency of motion, and increasing my speed.  I’ve scheduled more frequent workouts, but each one will be a shorter duration.
What I’m finding is I don’t have the same motivator I had at the beginning of my last cycle.  Today I know I can complete the event, but I’m 3-4 months away from hard-core, event-length training sessions.  At the same time, these shorter, highly focused workouts are new to me, so I don’t know what to consider a “good stretch” or an “efficient run”.
The last week has been very difficult, both to get myself into a workout (will it really matter 6 months from now if I miss one small workout today?) and to push myself to the limit during a workout.
I expect it to get easier in the coming weeks, because I’ll have my previous efforts to measure against, and the event itself will become a motivator again as it gets closer.
To those of you out there working on Habit-Goals, getting yourself to the gym (or the book, or the piano, or whatever habit you’re working on) is 90% of the battle, but you still want to give the actual habit your best effort while you’re doing it.  I’m curious to hear what you do to motivate yourself to give your new habit your best effort…
Train hard,
Original Post, published January 14, 2009
Part 3 in a series. I've written about Consistency Counts and Quitting vs Achieving previously.
(Part 4 was titled Time Considerations.)
 goals and resolutions
When setting goals, it's important to realize the difference between achievements and habits. They're going to require different strategies and motivations, and you'll be more successful if you approach your new goal with the best possible game plan.
Achievements are one-time events you're trying to accomplish. Most of us are willing to endure some pain in order to get what something we want. (Heck, even my 4 year-old will eat his vegetables if he thinks he has a chance at getting dessert!) This concept can help us achieve greatness - by setting a goal for something we desire greatly, and then subverting everything else we do to that goal.
Examples of Achievement Goals include:
  • Running a marathon
  • Losing 20 pounds
  • Saving money for a specific purpose (taking a vacation, buying a computer, paying off a credit card)
  • Writing a book
  • Learning a new language
  • Learning to play guitar
Once accomplished, you will always have that ability or experience. 30 years from now you can tell your grandkids about the marathon you ran, or you can pick up a guitar and strum a few chords.
Because these goals come with an endpoint, I'd encourage you to set them high, and then to go after them with passion - don't let anything stand in your way from achieving your goal!
Habits are changes to your lifestyle - your very being, who you are. Habits don't have a specific endpoint; they're for the rest of your life! This concept helps us to become better people. Examples of Habit Goals include:
  • Exercising 3 times per week
  • Eating healthier
  • Saving money (either for retirement, or simply being thriftier)
  • Reading, writing, or otherwise learning - rather than watching TV
  • Being friendlier to strangers
  • Quitting smoking or drinking
Because these goals don't have an endpoint, it can feel like you never get to "win". This causes frustration and leads many people to give up. I recommend not setting these goals as high as your achievement goals, and then modifying them as you develop the habits. Over time you'll make gigantic changes in your life, but there will always be room for improvement.
For example:
  • Maybe start by exercising for only 10 minutes 3 times per week. Once you get into the habit of actually doing the work, you can increase to 15 minutes, then 20 minutes, etc.
  • Start by cutting back (not eliminating) your worst-offending foods. Then wean yourself down to one or two bites of that cheesecake. Then start working on the next type of food.
This becomes a process of continuous improvement, so no matter how far you've come there's always room to go further. In addition, it's ok to have setbacks once in awhile - just pick yourself up and keep moving forward.
Achievements Become Habits
What you'll find is that once you work so hard to achieve something, you won't want to give it up completely. Who wants to get soft again after getting into rock-belly shape? Or start smoking after quitting? Or get back into debt after paying everything off?
Once you complete a major achievement, which you did with fanatical devotion, you can scale back on your intensity and continue to do it for the rest of your life. You don't have to run 14 miles today to train for an upcoming marathon, but you can still run 3 miles to be physically fit!
So go ahead and do it. Set yourself a major Achievement Goal and then go for it! Set yourself a modest Habit Goal and then do it.
You're on your way to becoming a better you! Your working on one Achievement Goal and a few Habit Goals (slowly but surely) Realtor,
Chris Butterworth