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Now that the new year is upon us and the hectic schedule of the Christmas holiday season is behind us, it would be so easy – and almost welcome – to drift back into our old and comfortable routines.  The changes we want to make (insert New Year’s Resolutions here) will somehow seem to elude us.  Even though we may have the best of intentions to improve our lives in some way, or to set goals for marked achievement in specific areas of our lives, we will be pulled off course, yet again this year. 

Because so many of us desire change in one area or another of our lives, but just can’t seem to actually make it happen, I thought it would be helpful to examine the idea of goal setting in greater depth. This is the first in a series of blogs that I will post in the coming weeks about what goal setting really involves.  We’ll begin by examining what things work against us in our own mindsets when we try to change or implement newly learned ideas.  Then, we’ll examine the preliminary planning/thinking steps that are not only required, but also critical in setting and achieving goals.

What keeps us from attaining our goals?

Why do we solemnly resolve to improve our situations, only to burn out in our attempts a few months (or weeks or days) after we start the process?  Why does this happen, year after year, for some of us?  Simply put:  we don’t do the necessary preliminary planning/thinking work it takes before we attempt to change/improve something about ourselves or in our lives.  When we don’t do the necessary preliminary work, goals can become a moving target and so can our own accountability for achieving them.  If we aren’t clear about our goals, much less the decisions we need to make surrounding them, how can we be held accountable for achieving them?  That’s the trap we gravitate towards – that’s the trap that makes it easy to be pulled off course. Even worse, it creates the situation we use to let our efforts to reach our goals fade off into the sunset. Lack of accountability breeds abandonment of the goals we’re trying to achieve to improve our lives.

Not doing the preplanning, however, is only a part of the problem we face in goal setting.  I think another huge reason we don’t successfully achieve when we goal set is that we don’t fully understand what works against us in our own minds and personalities before we even begin the planning process.  When we want to change one of our behaviors, we have to begin with what’s in our hearts and our minds.  Once our hearts and minds are changed, then the desired behaviors will follow.  So what is working against us?  What do we need to acknowledge before we begin to work towards our goals?

Ken Blanchard’s book, ‘Know Can Do!’, gives us a good indication of what goes on in our own head when it comes to processing new information or thinking about implementing something new in our lives.  It examines the ideas of information overloadnegative filtering, and lack of follow up as reasons that keep us from implementing new information that we learn (example: courses, seminars, and workshops).  Those three reasons are not just reasons working against us to learn new information and apply it in our lives.  They are also things working against us when we try to implement the changes that goal setting inevitably brings into our lives.

Information Overload

Information Overload is where we need to look first.  Most of us can’t leave home without our own connection to the internet. Many of us are joined at the hip to our mobile devices. We never stop checking email, googling various subjects of interest, or spending time on facebook.  We are overstimulated all of the time.  We have such easy access to so much information that we find ourselves virtually lost in it.  We study a little bit about a lot of things. Our areas of focus are broad, not specific.  We tend not to focus on just one or two or three important areas of interest.  Rather than sharpening our knowledge in one or two or three areas, we learn a little about many things.   As a result, we never really become well-versed in any given subject of interest.  There’s never any real significant knowledge gain in any one area.  Thus, there’s never any real signficant or measurable change in any one area we seek to improve.

For example, many people take workshops and classes to learn ways to improve themselves (time management, organization, communication, etc). Unfortunately, those same people never really implement the new material they learn from those classes and workshops.  Weeks after coming back excited from a workshop, nothing of significant change has happened for the person who learned the new material.  There’s a gap between the newly gained knowledge and any useful implementation of that knowledge.  It’s more fun to learn the new stuff than to actually apply the effort to use it.  Human nature pushes us to do what’s fun, not what’s work. So…we take more classes and workshops on more topics that seem interesting, rather than zeroing in on one area that needs significant improvement and forcing ourselves to utilze the new material we’ve learned.

The same can be true of us when it comes to goal setting.  We sometimes get lost in setting the goals and never even get beyond that process because we are overwhelmed.  There may be so many areas in which we think we need to improve, that we can’t seem to focus on the one or two that are of critical importance to us.  Rather, we have trouble deciding which one of those areas will give us the biggest payoff once the goal is reached. We may list so many goals that it looks like a to-do list to be checked off.   Goals are not to-do’s.

Another problem is that we have trouble saying to ourselves and others that we’re working on just one thing.  We are a culture of multi-taskers.  We’ve been conditioned to think we have to have many things we’re working on all at the same time.  We’re embarrassed to say we’ve only got one thing on our list of improvements that we’re planning to tackle.  We think somehow we’re not working hard enough or we’re afraid others will think that about us.  As a result, we plug away until we eventually give up because we aren’t seeing significant results from our efforts.  What we are seeing is our efforts strewn about many things, but we’re not feeling a sense of accomplishment that comes with significant visible and measurable results.   We tend to look at the overall picture of all that needs to be improved in our lives or ourselves, versus looking at the improvement process one piece at a time.  We have to start to change our paradigm here.  When I teach a class on organizing the home, I start out by having students identify the one room that each will focus her de-cluttering efforts on through the duration of the class.  We don’t look at the house in its entirety.  We focus on one room at a time to improve its condition and the quality of life that exists in that room on a daily basis.  In short, we concentrate on one area and apply our efforts and resources to that area until we have significant change.  Then and only then do we proceed to the next room…

Next week:  How negative filtering works against us in goal setting.