At the start of the new year, you may have set a resolution, the goals for the upcoming year. A common issue many of us have with new year’s resolutions is they never seem to last very long: you may have even already given up on yours.

Typically, we set goals to feel like we are working towards something in order to feel fulfilled. Goal setting makes you stay accountable to help visualise your dreams and overcome procrastination. What if I told you that you may have been setting yourself goals the wrong way this whole time?

You may be surprised to hear that I have never set goals in business, yet it’s always something that journalists ask when they interview me. How did you build the fastest growing companies in the UK, what goals did you set. They don’t normally believe me when I say, because goals can be too restrictive, I don’t set them. Instead, I build systems, methods, ideology !

The problem with goal setting

Goal setting can cause many of us stress, some people can use stress as a motivator whereas for others it can be overwhelming and actually lead to additional procrastination. Furthermore, setting realistic goals can be difficult. If you set an unrealistic goal and are unable to achieve it can make you feel like a failure despite the positive progress you have made throughout the journey. By focusing solely on the goal, you fail to appreciate what you have learnt and the progress you have made.

If you set goals and then achieve them, they might only positively change your life for that one moment, that one day. Goals often restrict your happiness to a very short period. You are often only happy when you reach that goal. For me, goals are too black and white; you either reach it and you are happy for a moment, or you are sad, unhappy, deflated if you can’t achieve it.

What should you do instead?

Oliver Goldsmith once said, “Life is a journey that must be travelled no matter how bad the roads and accommodations.” We always hear those around us telling us to focus on the goal, but I am not a big believer in goals.

I believe that the best way to set goals for ourselves is not to aim for the destination but to focus on the journey.  How did I twice built the fastest growing company in UK, without setting a goal?! By focusing on CPI: Continual Performance Improvements.

For example, I provide a 49 day health reset programme in which I advise people to forget about their end goals, such as achieving a certain weight, and instead focus on the journey as the habits they develop will shape them to be the person they want to be rather than focusing on achieving a specific goal such as a certain weight. What you have learned, and the new skills you have developed never go away whereas the weight goal may be lost the day after if you celebrate the achievement too much. Instead of having the goal of losing 50lbs you could aim to work out for just 30 minutes three times a week. If you do that for 52 weeks you would have done 4,680 minutes’ worth of exercise. Instead, most people focus on the number goal and work themselves into burnout before losing steam and giving up before they see any progress at all.

If you want to set goals for yourself, they should be mini, short-term ones that you achieve quickly as longer goals can seem so far away that they cause you to lose hope and give up. When all your focus is on the end goal what is left to push you once you have achieved it?

 The British Cycling Team

One great example of how incremental continual performance improvements are beneficial is the British cycling team. In 2003 they hired a man named Dave Brailsford as its new performance director. At the time the British riders had only won one goal medal since 1908. Dave Brailsford decided to implement a system of marginal gains which was the philosophy of searching for a tiny margin of improvement in everything you do. Dave explained this by saying “if you broke down everything you could think of that goes into riding a bike, and then improved it by 1%, you will get a significant increase when you put them all together".

By making small adjustments such as testing different types of massage gels to see which one led to the fastest muscle recovery the British team had great results. From 2007 to 2017, British cyclists won 178 world championships and 66 Olympic or Paralympic gold medals! They built a system which allowed them to continue to be successful and win multiple times rather than having the goal of winning and then no longer having something to motivate them to continue.

The graphic below from James Clear shows us how although improving by 1% may not seem notable in the moment, overtime these incremental improvements can make an outstanding difference over time. If you can get 1% better each day for one year, you’ll end up thirty-seven times better by the time you’re done.

 

To conclude, setting long term goals, such as a certain weight goal, can be set too high or low and once you achieve them you might find you are only happy for a brief moment. Instead, consider if focusing on continuous improvement and the journey, rather than the destination would work better for you.