Setting goals is easy, but working towards them, making life changes and starting new habits is difficult. Long after the sparkle of starting something new wears off, you may still have a long way to go towards reaching that goal, or doing something every single day. It can be tough, but one of the best ways to turn ideas into goal and habits into lifestyles is to take your self-improvement public, where your friends and the world can see. Let's look at why the collective is such a powerful tool, and how you can harness it.
Setting Goals Is Easy, but Getting Started Is Everything
You can probably run off a good list of things you've always wanted to do if you had the time off the top of your head right now. That's a good thing — it means you have goals, even if you feel like you don't have the time or the energy to work towards them. That feeling is natural too — we all wish we had more hours in the day. The key to beating back the procrastination is to find a method that encourages you to just get started on your goals, and then let the momentum carry you. Photo by Norlando Pobre.
As our own Adam Pash points out, getting started is everything — when it comes to getting started towards your goals, sometimes there's no magic, no secret sauce, no super-easy tip that applies to everyone to make us get up and start working out every day, training for a marathon, decide to build our own computer, volunteer in our community or whatever your personal goal may be. Adam's approach was to bargain with himself — to trade 10 minutes of work for the chance to stop for the night or keep working. When I started exercising regularly, it was because I was tired of being referred to as "big guy" by my coworkers at my old job.
Whatever motivation you need to get started, it's the most important part of reaching your goal — more important than the tool you use, more important than writing it down, more important than the challenges that will come later. Make no mistake — those challenges will come, and that's why we'll have our friends, family, and the public at large watching us while we work to our goals.
How the Collective Can Help You Achieve Your Goals
Promising yourself that you're going to exercise or go for a run every day is good, but the only person you're accountable to is yourself. If you manage to rationalise past your willpower, there go your goals — down the drain. There are plenty of ways to encourage yourself to stay on track — either by keeping your goals front and centre while you work towards them, or by adopting a system like "Don't Break the Chain" so you can visualise your progress and stick to it. Instead, make those goals public. Share them with your friends and family, and share your progress towards your goals with them. By doing so, you're accountable to a broad group of people who all have your best interests in mind, and you have to answer to them when you skip a workout, give up training for your marathon or start smoking again. Photo by Meg Lessard.
We've discussed how "peer pressuring" yourself into working towards your goals can be a powerful force. It may seem counterproductive, since you may not want your friends or family to see you fail or stumble, but their support during those times can be invaluable towards getting you back on the right track, especially when you stumble enough that you may want to give up entirely.
You're Ready to Begin: Get Off On The Right Foot
Once you're ready to start — as in, you have the right motivation, and you're willing to make whatever deal with yourself that you have to in order to get moving, it's time to bring out tools you need to get moving. There's nothing wrong with using pen and paper to track your goals and your progress, but we're going to take a hybrid approach here because we want to leverage the power of the public to keep us on track, and we want a good, comprehensive list of our goals. Here's what you'll need:
- Pen and paper.
- A goal-tracking tool that allows you to share your goals with the public. We're going to use Google Schemer.
- A supportive group of friends or family to keep you motivated.
- A method to keep your friends up to date and informed on your progress. We're going to use Google+, mostly because it integrates with Schemer so well.
You want a tool that everyone can sign up and use without registering for a new account or spending money. Since just about everyone has a Google account, and many of you already use Google+ (and even if you don't, this is a good reason to start), Schemer is a great option. While Schemer is usually mentioned as a way to find interesting things to do, it's also a great tool to put your goals in plain, simple text, and find other people who are doing or have already done what you're trying to do. Make no mistake, there are other tools that can do some of this: 43 Things and iDoneThis come to mind, and they're great alternatives.
Schemer forces you to be as succinct and specific about your goal as possible in order to find others working on the same thing, which means you can't enter vague and nebulous goals like "Train for a marathon by running five miles every day in less than 90 minutes." Instead, "Train for a marathon" will have to suffice, and just as well. The point is to get your goals out in the open and somewhere you can see them. The details will come later, but right now it's more important to get started.
Just start typing your goal, and let Schemer make some suggestions. Odds are you'll find your goal in the list. Select it, and you'll see all of the other people who have the same goal, and the people who have already done it. Click "I want to do it", and it's in your list. You can read comments on the goal to see how other people approached it, or what challenges they faced when getting started. At any time, you can go to your Schemer profile and see all of the "schemes" you've added. Now you have a list of goals. Now it's time to get started working towards them.
Harness the Power of the Public
Now that you have a list of your goals in one place, it's time to start keeping track of them and reporting your progress to the world. Part of the reason we chose Google Schemer here is because it's essentially a spinoff service of Google+. If you have a Google+ account, you already have a social network perfect for reporting your progress to the people who can keep you on task. You could use Facebook, Twitter, or a personal blog here, there's nothing stopping you, but Google+'s circles and close integration with Schemer make it a natural choice.
- Create a circle for each of the Schemer goals (or all of them) that you'd like to work on, and give it an appropriate title.
- Add friends and family to those circles, and any other Schemer members that you saw when you searched for your goal who inspired you to get started. Remember, your friends and family don't have to sign up for Google+ to get your updates — you can share any G+ post via email as well.
- Make a post to the circle, letting everyone know what's going on. Let them know you're tracking your goal at Schemer, and that you're looking to them to help keep you honest, help you out if you need it, and most importantly, be there to lend their support or their opinions as you work towards your goal.
Your circle is now your own semi-private social network specifically designed to peer pressure you into achieving your goals. You manage it, so you can add and remove people as necessary. If you'd prefer, you can use your public stream for this, but the goal is to really bring in your close friends — the ones you can trust to help you out, and other people (like the folks at Schemer) who are working on the same goal or have already crossed the finish line. By selecting a few people working on the same goal, you've turned your circle into an impromptu team, where all of you can share and benefit from one another's experience along the way.
Aside from forming a team and bringing to bear a group of people who have a vested interest in your goal and your progress, your circle is also an effective mechanism for you to report your progress to the team as often as you choose. Whether you're building a web app and want to communicate to the team when there's a new version to test or you're learning a martial art and want to let the world know when you advance in grade, you have control over how frequently you tell everyone how it's going. Encourage others in your circle working on their goals to do the same so you can support them as well.
Keep Your Own Journal, Too
Your team and the technology we're using will help keep you honest to the public, but you need to do your part and keep more granular track of how well you're going. This is where pen and paper come in. We mentioned Adam Dachis's favourite method, "Seinfeld's Productivity Secret, or "Don't Break the Chain" earlier. Whether you use a calendar and tick off the days that way, or you use Adam Pash's 10-minute bargain method, or you keep close track of your activities in a private notebook or some other service, you'll need to keep a close eye on your progress between public reports as well. Pick a method that works for you, but if you don't think you can trust yourself to stay committed between public posts, you should probably report to your Google+ Circle more frequently than you do. Photo by Michael.
All the tools are in place now. It's up to you to take the first step. We started off here with how important it is to just get started, and even though getting started is often the hardest thing to do, that doesn't imply there won't be challenges along the way. With luck, finding people who are working on the same projects and marching towards the same goals will give you a resource to tap if you're confused how to progress or just need a little push. Reporting on your progress to those people and to friends and family who care about you will also serve to keep you motivated. After all, you won't want to let them — or yourself — down by giving up. Once you have a support network set up, it's easier to keep going once you begin, so begin — and don't be shy about what you're doing. You only have all of those goals you could rattle off earlier to gain.
How do you keep track of your goals, and how do you keep yourself honest? Do you use peer pressure to keep you motivated and inspired, or do you keep your progress quiet and private? Share your experiences in the comments below.