The Surprising Truth: 4 Things You May Not Know About Reaching Goals
Why don't we finish goals? Jon Acuff, best-selling author and motivational speaker, says we often focus on the wrong thing when we talk about our goals. It’s kind of like a marathon, he describes. Everyone cheers you on at the beginning and the end, but no one’s there in the middle – and that is the toughest part.
“Most people think a goal is like this,” Acuff explains. “If you have 30 days, the beginning will be days 0 through 10. The middle will be days 11 through 20. And the finish will be days 21 through 30. That feels right mathematically; unfortunately, that's not how it goes. Usually, the beginning is day one, the middle is days 2 through 29. And the finish is day 30.”
There's a lot of middle to every goal. That’s why he says our focus should be on finishing, not starting. He wanted to dig into this topic more and commissioned a research study with a Ph.D. student at the University of Memphis. They studied 900 people for six months who were working on a variety of goals to see if people could go from being chronic starters into consistent finishers.
Acuff shared the results and what it takes to finish the goals that matter during the Online Top Producer Summit.
Get the size right.
The very first thing to do with any goal is to figure out what the size of the goal should be. After all, Acuff says goals in and of themselves are not complicated. There are four parts of a goal: the results you want, the timeline, the actions and the motivation.
“The problem with these four different components is we tend to be really terrible at estimating what we can accomplish,” Acuff says.
In the study, researchers asked participants to cut their goal in half and evaluated what happened. They learned that people who cut their goal in half were 63% more successful. Acuff says this proves how bad most people are at figuring out their goals. But he says there is hope because most people are good at results and timelines. That leaves more time to focus on the parts of a goal that people can actually have the most control over: motivation and actions.
Choose what to bomb.
One of the most important things you can do with a goal is choose what to bomb, Acuff explains. Recognize some things matter, some things don't.
“When you lean into new goals, you have a really simple choice: shame or strategy. Shame says you should be able to do it all. Strategy says these are the things that matter, these are things that don't. It's important to figure that out because there's so many things trying to take your time right now,” Acuff says.
Sometimes, even if you can't stop something, you can simplify it, he suggests. Ask yourself hard questions. Are we doing this in a complicated way? During this season, does this matter as much as it might matter during another season? Can I bring on help? What can I stop?
“The one thing you can't stop are relationships,” Acuff says. “And the challenge with that is a lot of you didn't get into farming so you could manage people. However, you can’t ignore the people challenges.”
This is where empathy comes into the picture.
“I know empathy is one of those soft sounding words, it sounds like a candle flavor at Bed, Bath and Beyond...sandalwood and empathy,” he jokes. “But here's how I define it in the context of business. Empathy has two parts, understanding what someone needs and acting on it.”
He says if you want to ruin an employee or vendor or customer relationship, understand what people need and then don't do anything about it. Empathy is essential if you want to grow teams and grow what you are doing.
So, how do we know what people care about? “Read less minds, ask more questions. What I've learned over the years is it's much better to meet a need than it is to invent a need,” Acuff says.
Make it fun.
Make it fun if you want it done. The most surprising part of the research for Acuff was discovering that fun, joy, engagement and fulfillment matter to all goals.
“Most people think a goal has to be difficult or miserable to count,” he says.
In the study, researchers asked participants to make what they were doing fun. The people that did had a 31% increase in satisfaction and felt more connected to the work, Acuff explains. The research also showed they had a 46% increase in performance success. People actually performed better when they made their goals fun.
“Like every job, every goal has difficult parts, whether you're going to lose weight or get your finances in order. So, don't hear me saying everything will be fun,” he says.
It’s not necessarily about having fun, though. He says it’s about making your goals fun. There are two ways to do that: reward and fear.
“Sometimes when we see the word fear, we think of the negative connotations only. When I say fear, I mean consequence. If you ever got something done on a Thursday, because you had a Friday deadline, you experience a positive motivation from fear,” he says.
For others, rewards may incentivize them to stick to their goals. Rewards can be as a simple as attending a movie all by yourself, Acuff says. But it’s up to everyone to figure out what motivates them. Is it a little bit of reward or is a little bit of consequence?
Eliminate your secret rules.
Everybody brings secret rules into goal setting, Acuff says. These are often things people don't even know they're doing that get in the way.
“Secret rules are often inherited,” Acuff adds. “Maybe a teacher told you one time that you're not a leader. Maybe you've been believing it for 10, 20, 30 years. Every time you get an opportunity to be the leader, you feel this pulling back because you've got this secret rule that's getting in the way.”
When you feed a secret rule time, energy and creativity, Acuff says you get stuck believing that lie. That’s why it’s important as you work on new goals, to decide not to be held back by secret rules. One of the most common he sees is the rule that says you must have it all together.
“There's this old school mentality that said, ‘If I share my weaknesses, people won't trust my strengths,’” Acuff says. “I think new school leadership is ‘If I pretend I don't have weaknesses, people won't trust my strengths.’”
If you really want to grow, borrow someone else's diploma. Where does it say you must have the experience to learn from the experience? Acuff says it’s important to have mentors – ahead of you and behind you in age. When we are humble enough to “borrow that diploma,” we’ll grow in a way we never expected, he adds.
“We're not talking about being perfect. We're talking about being better than we were yesterday, and then repeating that tomorrow. That's our goal,” Acuff says. “When it comes to finishing, starting is fun. But the future belongs to finishers.”
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