Goals vs Habits

When we say we want something, what do we really mean?

If I decide I want to increase my level of fitness, a common approach is to set a goal like: “9 weeks from today, I will run a 5k.”

I have no doubt that many people set and achieve that goal (and there are even groups with detailed plans to help you run a 5k).

“Running a 5k in 9 weeks” sounds like it adheres to the SMART goal format (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-Bound) that we’re always encouraged at work to use.

But does setting a SMART-style goal always help us achieve the results we want?

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Ulysses, Strengths, and an Experiment in Accountability

When the adventurer Ulysses knew he wanted to do something but didn’t trust himself to follow through safely and appropriately, he made what we now call a Ulysses Pact. He undertook a “freely made decision that is designed and intended to bind oneself in the future”.

These types of pacts can be helpful when you know intellectually what you need to do, but you lack follow through. When you are calm and clear-headed, you make a commitment that you will feel obligated to follow through on later.

I use a variation of this concept when I speak at conferences. If I have a topic I’d like to explore more deeply and I think others would benefit from hearing about, I’ll submit a proposal to a conference. I know myself well enough that without an external commitment, I will find it more challenging to focus and put in the hours to create something of value I can share with others.

Every time I’m accepted to speak, my first reaction is: “Well, damn. Now I’ll have to do all that work.” I have just freely entered into a pact that binds me in the future. And it is a process that works for me.

So, this is interesting, but why share it now?

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