Getting Back to Happy

by Sonja van den Bosch

Getting Back to Happy

Goal setting is much more than simply saying you want something to happen. Unless you clearly define exactly what you want and understand why you want it in the first place, your odds of success are considerablye reduced.

Do you have loads of goals but struggle with achieving them …even when you know what to do?

If yes, keep reading.

It’s easy to sit around and think what we could or what we’d like to do. It is an entirely different thing to accept the trade-offs that come with our goals. This is the first insight: Goal setting is not only choosing the rewards you want to enjoy, but also the costs you are willing to pay.

Whatever it is you dream about, you must start taking small logical steps every day to make it happen. James Clear (www.jamesclear.com) says the following:

“Rudders and Oars

Imagine a small row boat. Your goals are like the rudder on the boat. They set the direction and determine where you go. If you commit to one goal, then the rudder stays put and you continue moving forward. If you flip-flop between goals, then the rudder moves all around and it is easy to find yourself rowing in circles.

However, there is another part of the boat that is even more important than the rudder: The oars. If the rudder is your goal, then the oars are your process for achieving it. While the rudder determines your direction, it is the oars that determine your progress.

This metaphor of the rudder and the oars helps clarify the difference between systems and goals. It is an important distinction that shows up everywhere in life.”

This is the second insight: Goals are useful for setting your direction but systems are great for actually making progress. You’ll never get anywhere just by holding the rudder. You have to row.

So HOW do you do this?

How do we go from where we are now to where we want to be? By working on it, by consistently devoting oneself to an end result, step by step.

Below are three of the most important things you need to do if you’re serious about your goals:

1. Ruthlessly eliminate your goals

Goal competition is one of the greatest barriers to achieving your goals. Whenever you chase a new goal, you have to pull focus and energy from your other pursuits. One of the fastest ways to make progress on your goals is to simply press pause on less important things and focus on one goal at a time.

What often looks like a problem of goal setting is actually a problem of goal selection. What we really need isto not bigger goals, but better focus. Choose one goal and ruthlessly eliminate everything else.

2. Create a ritual, not an arbitrary deadline

Research has found that people who complete this sentence: “During the next week, I will partake in at least 20 minutes of vigorous exercise on [Day] at [Time of Day] at/in [Place]” were 2 – 3 times more likely to actually exercise compared to a control group who did not make plans for their future behaviour.

Consider habit stacking: After/Before [Current habit], I will [New habit].

  • Meditation: After I brew my morning coffee, I will meditate for one minute.
  • Push ups: Before I take my morning shower, I will do 10 push ups.
  • Flossing: After I set my toothbrush down, I will floss my teeth.
  • Gratitude: Before I eat dinner, I will say one thing I am grateful for that day.
  • Networking: After I return from my lunch break, I will send one email to someone I want to meet.

This is a helpful way to bridge the gap between goals and systems. Habit stacking and implementation intentions help us move from the goal in our heads to the specific process that will make it a reality.

The problem with putting a deadline to a goal, is that if we don’t magically hit the deadline by this arbitrary time frame, then we feel like a failure.

Even if we’re better off than we were at the start, the end result is that we often sadly give up when we don’t reach our goal by the deadline.

If you want to change part of your life in any substantial way, focus on creating a ritual that makes sense, not an arbitrary deadline.

Focus on the practice, not the result.

3. Align your environment with your goals

We often make decisions based on the environment we find ourselves in. Many of the decisions we make in our professional and personal lives are shaped by the options that surround us.

  • If you sleep with your phone next to your bed, then checking social media and email as soon as you wake up is likely to be the default decision.
  • If you walk into your living room and your couches and chairs all face the television, then watching television is likely to be the default decision.
  • If you keep alcohol in your kitchen, then drinking consistently is more likely to be the default decision.

Of course, defaults can be positive as well.

  • If you keep a dumbbell next to your desk at work, then pumping out some quick curls is more likely to be the default decision.
  • If you keep a water bottle with you throughout the day, then drinking water rather than soda is more likely to be the default decision.
  • If you place floss in a visible location (like next to your toothbrush), then flossing is more likely to be the default decision.

It is very difficult to stick with positive habits in a negative environment. Try these strategies to bring better default decisions into your life:

Simplicity
When in doubt, eliminate options. It is more difficult to eat healthy when your kitchen is filled with junk. It is more difficult to focus on reading a blog post when you have 10 tabs open in your browser.

Visual Cues
Try the Paper Clip Method to create an environment that visually nudges your actions in the right direction.

Opt-Out v Opt-in
Schedule your yoga class for next week when you are feeling motivated today. When your workout rolls around, you will have to justify opting-out rather than motivating yourself to opt-in.


The chains of habit are too weak to be felt until they are too strong to be broken. – Samuel Johnson-


Let us know how you achieve your goals in the comment section below, we’d love to hear from you!

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