The Lazy Man's Guide to Crushing Your Goals
Runs with Scissors
I recently finished reading my top book of the year so far.
It's called Change Anything by Kerry Patterson and it has absolutely shifted the way I approach my goals and how I coach my clients to attack theirs.
The key idea of the book is this: if you ever fall short of your goals or your attempts at changing a bad habit, it wasn't because of a lack of willpower. It's because you were blind to what was influencing your behavior.
I once believed that if I ever came up short of maintaining consistency with a new diet, workout plan, marketing effort, or similar effort-based goal, it was because I just "didn't want it enough." I must not have had that burning desire to stay on the path until my objective was complete. I guess I just "got lazy" and didn't have the perseverance to just muscle through it.
But I learned something remarkably simple and profound from Kerry Patterson's book: if you plan in advance for running out of willpower by creating a structure that ensures you stay on track, you can't lose. In fact, you can't NOT achieve the goal.
OK so let me break this down: willpower is a finite resource. It encompasses all of the actions you take in your life; you can think of it as a single gas tank. The more you push yourself in getting outside of your comfort zone and doing things that go against your normal habits, the more you burn up your willpower. What usually happens with most people is a pattern of 1) intense desire to change something about ourselves followed by 2) a strong initial push with consistent action toward the goal followed by 3) an eventual decline of willpower leading to 4) total burnout.
Take a hot second and think back to the most recent goal you were serious about achieving but fell short with. How long did you work toward it before you gave up? 3-4 months? Maybe half a year? You probably went through that cycle - you were initially very excited about changing. Maybe you were fed up with your weight or your lack of money. You started attacking the goal like a mad little honey badger (or a mad big honey badger - whatever animal metaphor you want to roll with today) for a few months until you reached a point one morning when you woke up and just didn't feel like doing it anymore.
Want to know what happened? Your willpower ran dry. All of the days you spent pushing yourself and trying to reinforce a new habit eventually caught up with you. Until one point you had nothing left in the tank - and without any fuel, you sputtered and came to a complete stop.
This is why so many people experience the "rubber band effect" of dieting. They change so many of their eating habits all at once, requiring tremendous willpower and discipline. Eventually the rubber band snaps, they run out of juice, and are left with no willpower at all. So if they were able to hold themselves to a few cookies or donuts a day with some level of moderation before the diet, they are left with nothing to regulate their eating behavior after the diet. This means they gorge and gorge on all kinds of sweets and unhealthy foods because their discipline is completely tapped out. They end up worse than they were when they started.
So what's the solution to this problem? Two words: PLANNING and STRUCTURE. You can't go headfirst into a new goal or habit without anticipating the challenges ahead of time. You need to know where you are weakest, what will keep you on track, and what your strategy is for staying consistent throughout the process until you achieve the goal.
You have to assume you are going to be the LAZIEST dude on the face of the earth and plan your strategy around the possibility that you are not going to want to do much of anything during key stretches of time. This allows you to be totally prepared for those moments when you "JUST DON'T FEEL LIKE IT" so you avoid total burnout.
That's why this is called the Lazy Man's Guide to Crushing Your Goals. Let's dive into three huge keys to making this happen...
KEY #1: KNOW YOUR WEAKEST MOMENTS
When you're setting out to achieve a new goal, before you take ANY action toward it, make a list of every single moment when you know you are going to be most tempted to backslide. Write down everything you can think of that can cause you to slip and not fulfill what you need to get done.
Think about these contexts:
- What time of day you're usually weakest or most tired
- What kind of emotional mood you might be in
- How busy you might be/what kind of workload you could have
- Times when you are traveling/away from home
- Any other special scenarios that can distract you
Make a list of your weakest moments. You need to come up with at least five. If you don't have five, you're not putting enough effort into this and you're not being realistic with yourself. One of the biggest hurdles to get over with this process is the false confidence that you're going to be motivated 24/7. You might feel that way now, but I guarantee you in three months, you're going to be singing a different tune.
After this list, write down a strategy for dealing with each one. How will you respond to your weak moments? What kinds of resources do you need to have in place? What do you need to have prepared in advance? What needs to happen with your schedule? Think about every possible way you can counter these obstacles and come up with some strategies you can use as a "BREAK IN CASE OF EMERGENCY" plan.
KEY #2: KNOW YOUR ENVIRONMENT
Remember the crucial concept to understand in order to get what you want is this: with proper planning, you won't fall short from a lack of willpower. You'll fall short because you're blind to what is influencing you. It's been said that your environment is stronger than willpower - and it influences you in two ways: the things you surround yourself and the people you hang out with.
Let's start with the "things" first. You want to have two things going for you in your environment: you want to be removed from possible distractions and you want everything setup to make taking action as easy as possible.
So if you're an alcoholic and your goal is to refrain from drinking alcohol altogether, stop driving past your favorite bar on your way home from work. Instead, go a totally different direction. Remove even the possibility of you wandering inside this place from your reality.
If you're trying to lose weight, remove all unhealthy foods from your house. Throw them away, give them to a friend, donate them to the homeless. Get them completely out of your sight. Make the environment contain ZERO chance of temptation.
Likewise, set everything up to be as easy as possible. If you're goal is to finish a screenplay, keep your computer running with the cursor blinking at the last paragraph. Rather than having to turn the laptop on, wait for it to boot up, wait for the anti-virus to scan, open up Microsoft Word, find the document, and then scroll all the way down to where you left off, just keep the thing running. You want to ask yourself, "How can I shrink 5 steps down to 1?"
If your goal is to hit the gym everyday after work, keep a fresh pair of workout clothes and tennis shoes in the car with you at all times. Maybe even stock a few extra pairs in the trunk. That way, you can always go directly from work to the gym. Taking it a step farther, consider buying a membership somewhere as close to your house as possible. It may not feel like a big deal, but shaving 10-15 minutes off your commute can make a huge difference.
In a nutshell, you want your environment to remove all chance of temptation and to eliminate as many barriers as possible to changing the habit.
Now let's talk people.
The people you spend most of your time with influence your habits in a HUGE HUGE HUGE way. Here is where you can really be blind to what is altering your behavior.
Let's go back to the easy example of wanting to get into great shape. Pretend you work at Banana Republic and your co-workers share a lunch break with you every day. You spend a lot of time with these people - and whether you like it or not, their behavior influences yours. If they constantly bring cheeseburgers into the break room without any consideration for their own health, you can be the healthiest man in the world - bringing in salads, grilled chicken, organic foods, fresh fruit, you name it - and it won't matter. Why? Because subconsciously, they are motivating you to lower yourself to their standard. And they will drag you down to reach it if you don't do something about it.
Here's why: we have an innate drive to match the social standards of the group we spend most of our time with. You will either raise your standards to hang with a group of people smarter or healthier than you or you will lower your standards to better fit in with a group less intelligent or healthier than you.
You're a social creature - and there's no way around this fact. So here's a key piece of your goal strategy: make sure you avoid spending time around those with habits contrary to your own. Politely excuse yourself, find a new place to go, and just plain get out of there. Ideally, look to surround yourself with people savvier, healthier, and stronger than you are. Their standards will encourage you to raise your game up - and this makes a big deal in keeping you on track with your goal.
Now I'm NOT saying you have to shun these people from your life altogether. I'm just saying when it comes to the habits that specifically rub against yours, politely refuse to spend time with them. You can hang out with them later and take part in different activities that don't have anything to do with your goal. This isn't about building an ego and thinking, "I'm better than all of you - and I can no longer waste my time with you weaklings." It's just being intelligent and committed.
KEY #3: CREATE REWARDS AND PUNISHMENTS
This is perhaps the most powerful ally in your arsenal. However, it WON'T WORK without integrity. Meaning you actually have to follow through on the rewards and punishments you plan for yourself. Otherwise, this third key will be a waste of your time.
Good news is that we're strongly motivated by pain and pleasure. The #1 biggest obstacle to you staying committed to your goal in the long run is this: the pain of continuing to do the work outweighs the pain of quitting. You just need to flip the script.
You need to make the pain of quitting far greater than the pain of doing the work.
That's precisely where rewards and punishments come into play. You want to be simultaneously PULLED toward completing your action steps and PUSHED away from neglecting them.
So start by creating a chart that maps out every week you are going to work toward the goal. If your goal is for one year, create a 52 week chart. If your goal is for 6 months, create a 26 week chart. You get the picture.
Next, lay out some rewards in this chart for each week you are consistent. Ideally, come up with 20 ideas initially and know exactly how you're going to reward yourself 4-5 months in advance. This means for any given week, you know what you're working for. They don't have to be anything major or expensive. Even a cool pen you like from Office Max can qualify as a reward. You just want to have some nice bonuses for staying on track.
Now, if you are TRULY serious about nailing the goal, you have to implement punishments. You have to set a standard you are going to follow at all costs - and if you fail to meet that standard, you have to have a punishment ready and waiting for you.
The BEST form of punishment is always LOSING MONEY. The pain of losing money is so hardwired into our brains that even the mere thought of giving away your hard-earned dollars should drive you right back into action. Which is EXACTLY what we want.
Setting up a strong punishment is simple enough:
- Decide what you're holding yourself accountable to doing each week - what you need to do to avoid punishment
- Decide how long you'll hold yourself accountable for
- Decide how much money you'll give away for not keeping the commitment
- Decide who or what organization gets the money (bonus points for choosing a group you despise)
- Appoint someone to take your money and donate it for you when you fall short
The last step is vitally important because every fiber of your being is going to fight you giving up your money. This is why you want to already have a check filled out or some cash in an envelope ready to go at a moment's notice. The person you appoint to make the payment for you should be checking in on you regularly. He or she needs to be the kind of person strong enough to not pity you if and when you fall short.
I know this is extreme - but you need to ask yourself, "How serious am I?" How badly do you want to crush your goal?
So good friend, follow these three key ideas to the T and you can be the World's Laziest Man and still accomplish your goals. Go forth and conquer.
About Byron Van Pelt
Byron Van Pelt is a Certified Life Coach, entrepreneur, and published author of Unshakable Swagger: The Man's Guide to Being Confident Any Time, Any Place...Period. He is now happily married with his wife, Bethany, and lives in Jacksonville, Florida. With over eight years of dedication to the world of high-end personal development, he utilizes an arsenal of skills to accelerate his clients' breakthroughs in business, dating, health, and fulfillment. Byron specializes in teaching men how to explode their level of confidence in everything they do and ensure it resonates in even the most challenging circumstances.