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Sticking to your long term goals
Everyone sets long-term goals. I have too. While I have stuck to some of them, I have had my fair share of failures. There are two sides to setting goals. While many find it difficult to begin with a goal or project, it is equally if not more taxing to actually stick with the plan.
In my experience, at least for me, I have found it easier to start than stick with projects or goals. Committing to goals can be tricky. People often attribute the lack of motivation to sustain and finish their long-term plans. While this could be partially correct, there is more to “sticking till the end”, than just being motivated.
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Intention - Action Gap
Setting goals and not acting on them is called the “intention-action gap” - a difference in what people say or plan something and what they eventually end up doing.
Sticking till the end
At the surface level, I think there may be two common reasons why intentions don’t meet action.
Succumbing to immediate gratification and
Setting goals that may be a touch over-ambitious.
While the former could be dealt with self-discipline, the latter might result from overstepping something called the “Goldilocks rule”.
Humans love challenges. A challenge that is too easy is boring and one that is too difficult can be discouraging. Self-awareness and assessing your strengths and weakness could help you set goals that are realistic, sustainable, and ones that are in your zone of difficulty. These are goals that fulfill the Goldilocks rule - challenging, yet ones that are in your spectrum of being manageable.
Most people are not very specific with their goals. Think about it. Oftentimes, we have an abstract idea of our goals, our goals are not clear.
Maybe you want to learn a coding language. “I want to become very good at Python programming” is not very specific. Yes, you want to learn Python, but what’s your next step? Committing to a specific task gives clarity. Maybe something along the lines of “I will commit to practicing coding in Python every day for an hour” seems more intentional. More specific.
The former is an abstract wish you want to be fulfilled. The latter makes you commit to a specific task every day for an hour.
Goals like this give you direction. Committing to short-term tasks that are repeatable is very sustainable. Just don’t get too far ahead and think of the outcomes just yet.
…researchers discovered that what pulls that desire out of you and turns it into real–world action isn’t your level of motivation, but rather your plan for implementation.
Making your goals flexible
A reason Scott H. Young (the MIT challenge fame and author of UltraLearning) attributes to people not sticking to goals is that goals are usually personal (you want to start an online business, you want to lose weight, you want to learn a new skill, you want to change careers). Personal goals are not socially or culturally mandated like education for example.
People stick to a long-term task like education because it may have a dimension of social mandate. Whereas personal goals don’t. You may not have the social pressure of committing to personal goals.
Also goals that are not socially or culturally mandated may be potentially risky. Running an online business (entrepreneurship), for example, is a long-term commitment that is risky. This could be a hurdle in following through with such a commitment.
One way around this, Scott says, is to make goals flexible. While the goal itself is rigid, the path to goal attainment could be flexible. You could keep changing or renegotiating short-term tasks as and when mandated. If being flexible and shifting your energy and efforts to different short-term tasks helps you make progress toward your long-term goal, it would make the journey enjoyable. More often than not, following a rigid path toward a long-term goal could make it unsustainable.
Gollwitzer, Peter & Sheeran, Paschal. Implementation Intentions and Goal Achievement: A Meta-Analysis of Effects and Processes. Advances in Experimental Social Psychology 38 (2006)