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Discussion Forum > Quote from The Now Habit, Niel Fiore

To ensure that your way of setting goals helps you overcome procrastination, make commitments only to those goals and paths that you can wholeheartedly embrace. To avoid the frustration of the procrastination cycle, you must abandon unattainable goals and halfhearted wishes.

If you have a number of goals that remain unfulfilled and that continue to plague you with guilty “shoulds”—“I should get in shape”; “I’ve got to get organized”; “I should fix the back door”; “I have to get around to dealing with customer complaints”—chances are that, though you want the goal, you have been unwilling to make a commitment to the work required to accomplish it or, even though you really want to do it, you can’t find the time in your busy schedule.

One of the best-kept secrets of successful producers is their ability to let go of goals that cannot be achieved or started in the near future. To set realistic goals you must be willing to fully commit to working on the path to that goal and be capable of investing the time and energy required to start now. If you cannot find the time or motivation to start working on that goal, let go of it, or it will keep haunting you, making you feel like a procrastinator—as if you’d failed to accomplish something important that you promised yourself you would achieve.
February 28, 2018 at 19:59 | Registered CommenterCricket

So Neil Fiore is saying that you should stay out of shape, be disorganized, leave the back door unfixed and continue to ignore your customers' complaints just because you haven't got round to doing anything about them yet?

Sounds like a recipe for bankruptcy, divorce and an early death to me.
February 28, 2018 at 21:06 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
You know that mental trick where you use a coin to make a decision you couldn’t make yourself. Sometimes you don’t like what the coin says, and voila: you have your clarity of mind that was missing before you tossed the coin. I think Neil’s intention is probably similar:

Look at all those “commitments” you are failing at and discard them. If in the discarding you decide you can’t bear to drop the commitment, then at that moment make a determination that you will double down on that goal. Hopefully in this process you will find things you are willing to drop and this leads to increased capacity to achieve what remains.
February 28, 2018 at 22:27 | Registered CommenterAlan Baljeu
Alan Baljeu:

You may well be right, but it's not actually what he says.
February 28, 2018 at 22:36 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
I get a different message. It's not just about discarding unattainable goals, but also about setting realistic ones.

If you struggle with "get in shape", maybe you're only ready to "replace one snack with an apple each day." Enough small goals like these, and you may very well "get in shape" over time, but that's not the goal you concentrate on.
March 2, 2018 at 18:44 | Unregistered CommenterD T
I would think that dealing with customers' complaints has to be on your no-options list - one of the numerous things that just have to be done, unless you give up the real goal, which is running a business.
March 3, 2018 at 10:37 | Unregistered CommenterChris Cooper
As a general rule yes, but in a specific case, some customers are better to lose so you can focus better on others. Amend that with strong caveats that if your "problem" customer is talking about things that lots of customers would have issue with, then it's best to heed that person and rebrand them as a premium customer who is providing valuable feedback that all the others just keep to themselves.

But yes, it is certainly an option to not deal with certain complaints.
March 3, 2018 at 14:45 | Registered CommenterAlan Baljeu

<< I get a different message. It's not just about discarding unattainable goals, but also about setting realistic ones.>>

Again, you may be right, but it's not what he says (not in this quote anyway).
March 4, 2018 at 12:59 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Alan Baljeu:

<< As a general rule yes, but in a specific case, some customers are better to lose so you can focus better on others. Amend that with strong caveats that if your "problem" customer is talking about things that lots of customers would have issue with, then it's best to heed that person and rebrand them as a premium customer who is providing valuable feedback that all the others just keep to themselves. >>

Yes, but again this may be true but it's not what he says in the passage quoted. He is not talking about vexatious customer complaints - just customer complaints in general.

What happens according to him if you're procrastinating about sending out invoices? Do you decide that you won't send any more out?
March 4, 2018 at 13:02 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
<< It's not just about discarding unattainable goals, but also about setting realistic ones. >>
<< Again, you may be right, but it's not what he says (not in this quote anyway). >>

It's easy to gloss over, but I think he does mention it:

<< To set realistic goals you must be willing to fully commit to working on the path to that goal and be capable of investing the time and energy required to start now. If you cannot find the time or motivation to start working on that goal, let go of it >>

What I get from this is:

* The purpose is to set realistic goals.
* Realistic goals must be [definition of realistic].
* If a goal is not [definition of realistic], discard it.

In other words, discard unrealistic goals because the point is to set realistic goals.

It's just a shame that gets lost in everything else.
March 4, 2018 at 19:06 | Unregistered CommenterD T
D T:

<< In other words, discard unrealistic goals because the point is to set realistic goals. >>

Even so I don't really agree with him. I can think of quite a few major events and developments which came from goals which probably weren't remotely realistic when they started out. Donald Trump, anyone?

And even if you only have 100% realistic goals, they still need to include being in shape, getting organized, fixing the backdoor and dealing with customer complaints. That is unless you are going to say that those are totally unrealistic goals for you and you're not even going to bother to try.
March 5, 2018 at 9:47 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Let’s set aside what Neil thinks. What is the proper stance re: goals?

I think Realistic is not the right measure. I think commitment is it. If you intend to do something, put enough force into that intention that it will move you forward.
March 5, 2018 at 18:15 | Registered CommenterAlan Baljeu

Yes, I agree with that. But in addition I don't think goals should be set in stone. They will change and develop as one progresses. We talk about "emergent strategy" - how about "emergent goals" as well?
March 6, 2018 at 12:14 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
I don't talk about emergent strategy or emergent goals. Does emergent strategy just mean whatever you turn out to be doing is your strategy? Or is that your emergent goal? I don't understand how goals or strategies could emerge without deliberate planning. And if you plan them, that doesn't seem emergent.
March 6, 2018 at 16:05 | Registered CommenterAlan Baljeu
I've been thinking about the idea of "emergent goals" for a while. I wrote about it here:

There is a lot written about this in the current "Sense & Respond" brand of IT literature. The idea is to set a broad but measurable outcome that you want to achieve for your business, then do lots of small experiments to see what intermediate objectives make sense to achieve that outcome. The outcome persists over time -- the intermediate objectives and the actions required to achieve them are very flexible and dynamic.

I've found this to be useful, but it still doesn't seem to get to the heart of the matter. Lately I've been thinking that every tension or problem that we are sensing always has behind it some implicit goal. The reason there is a tension is because there is some conflict, either multiple goals or needs that are in conflict, or obstacles blocking us from achieving the goals. The tensions and problems are often easy to describe and articulate -- but the goals themselves might be very difficult to articulate, and are often unspoken and unwritten. But nonetheless, they are very real.

The response to this problem in most of the time-management literature is to try to clarify the goals -- make them "SMART" or "realistic" or whatever. But I think that often creates more problems than it solves. It forces a level of clarity that perhaps isn't warranted, or even possible. And so the newly SMARTed goal is very likely to still be in conflict with other implicit, unstated goals, which again, are just as real and important though maybe more difficult to put into words.

Goldratt's "thinking process" approach tries to capture the tensions and problems and look for cause-and-effect relationships behind them, trying to clarify the underlying conflicts. I've found it to be a very useful exercise to take any two pressing problems -- or simply two pressing tasks -- and put them into an Evaporating Cloud conflict diagram.

Basically you have two items that are in conflict -- it could simply be two tasks that you can't do at the same time, you need to choose which one to do now, and which to do later. Each task fulfills a real need of some kind. And those two needs both have a common goal. This is Goldratt's definition of a conflict.

*** Note that by identifying any two items in conflict, the reason they are in conflict is that they are both required to support a common goal. ***

If there is no common goal, there is no conflict.

The difficulty is that the goal is not trivial to articulate.

Thus all you need to identify your real goals is to identify two major tasks that can't both be done at the same time, especially two things that are pressing and difficult to choose between. Identify the need that each task is intended to fulfill. And then identify the common goal that is supported by both of those needs. And thus the statement of your goal emerges.

That is a simple exercise, but simple doesn't mean easy. It can take a lot of iteration before it "feels right" -- before it really captures the right relationships between the conflicting items, the needs, and the common goal. The process takes some practice. There are whole books written about it. But in essence, it is simple. Sometimes I can do it in my head in 5 minutes and get a real new insight.

It's often better to choose some real thorny conflict that has been pestering you for a while. There is more emotion, more angst behind it. More intuitive engagement. More stewing. Or at least choose two largish / substantial tasks that you have been resisting or have been bothering you. The more conflict, the better -- the reason for the conflict and resistance is because there is some important goal lurking behind it all.

Every time I've gone through that exercise, I've had an "aha!" moment where I realized much more clearly what my goals actually are, and why it's been so hard to get through some conflict. It doesn't always resolve the conflict, but at least the conflict has been identified and clarified, and that's more than half the battle.

Also, over time, I've seen patterns, where trees of goals begin to emerge, smaller goals supporting larger goals.

This has been much more powerful than trying to think up (in the abstract) what my large life-goals should be, then working backwards to my tasks. It's much more realistic and motivational and intuitive and powerful to start with the tasks and tensions, and then work through the process to discover my goals. It really is a process of discovery -- finding the things that are already behind my motivations. It's this process of discovery that makes it totally different than a process of deliberate planning.

The big problem with all this, is that it can be time-consuming and brain-hurting. I have tried to make this into an easy process like one of Mark's time-management algorithms, but haven't made much progress. I've found some things that helped (such as ) but have never been able to make a practical, sustainable system out of it.
March 6, 2018 at 16:39 | Registered CommenterSeraphim
Alan and Seraphim:

Your points require a much more comprehensive answer than I have time to give now. But let me ask some questions for you to think about:

1. How much of what you are doing in your life at the present time is the result of long-term goals which you set ten or more years ago and carried through to completion to the letter?

2. How many of the goals you set yourself in the short-term, say a year ago, did you succeed in carrying out to the letter?

3. How much of what you are doing now wasn't part of your long-term goals but you are nevertheless happy with the way it's turned out?

4. How many of the long and short term goals which you have set yourself have you changed as you realised that they weren't realistic or that you didn't really want them or that the circumstances had changed or weren't what you thought they were?

5. How often have you set yourself a goal but then decided you didn't want to do it at all?

6. How often have you set yourself a goal and enjoyed it so much, or had so much success with it, that you've expanded it way beyond your original vision?

7. How often have you experienced opposition to one of your goals and reacted to avoid and outflank that opposition?
March 6, 2018 at 18:05 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
P.S. I dealt quite a bit about emergent goals in "How to Make Your Dreams Come True", though I don't think I used that name.
March 7, 2018 at 12:58 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
I fear these questions don't do much for me. Until very recently I have been not goal-oriented at all. I did have one major goal, which is reflected in my current occuption, so question 1 is answered 30%. #2, all my short term goals for last year were met, but they were not "to the letter" goals, but "do more X" goals. #3 some not all. #4 Of the barely any goals, none were cast aside as unrealistic. See, this just isn't a very fruitful exercise. #5, never. #6. never. #7 never.
March 8, 2018 at 1:53 | Registered CommenterAlan Baljeu
Alan Baljeu:

Thanks for the answers, though actually the point of the exercise wasn't just that you should answer the questions, but that you should then think about the answers. The answer which I would think about most if it were mine is #6.
March 8, 2018 at 9:20 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Following your instruction.... So hypothesis: there may be a goal I enjoy it so much, or have so much success with it, that I would expand it way beyond your original vision.

Okay. How do i go about finding that goal, short of a deep dive into Dreams?
March 8, 2018 at 19:52 | Registered CommenterAlan Baljeu

That's not quite what I meant.

What I meant was that you might want to think about _why_ you've never had a goal which you've enjoyed so much, or had so much success with, that you've expanded it way beyond your original vision.
March 9, 2018 at 14:07 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Because I don't know how I'd ever find such a goal?
March 9, 2018 at 21:47 | Registered CommenterAlan Baljeu
Mark - I've been pondering your questions. I guess #6 is just my default way of thinking and acting. I have several general outcomes I want to realize. Things like "more time with family, more time for volunteer work, more time for prayer", and to support all that, I first need "more money to support the family". Then I have several habits and processes to support it all, and several ongoing experiments to figure out what needs to change, new ideas to explore to help realize these outcomes.

Scott Adams advocates something similar -- think "systems" not "goals". See his book How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big

The Autofocus / "seedbed" mode of thinking aligns well with this. Capture lots of ideas, test whatever seems most promising, and see how far it takes you, guided by intuition and experience, by whatever works and gets traction in the real world.

So I try to find what works, to help get better outcomes in those main areas of concern, and then systematize it so it becomes automatic. And then look for problem areas, opportunity areas, and do lots of little exploratory probing to see how to address those problems and opportunities. When I find something that works, I run with it. That's why I wrote that #6 is my default way of thinking and acting.

This way of thinking, planning, testing, experimenting, and system-building is so antithetical to "goal setting", where it seems you have to have all your SMARTs defined up-front, before you've really put any skin in the game.

... which reminds me of Nassim Taleb's latest book of that name, and his ideas in general. Hunting for positive black swans -- developing antifragile systems -- optionality -- it all works the same way. Systematically placing many little bets, little expenditures of time, energy, and money, with disproportionally large payoffs when things work out well -- this approach beats traditional "goal setting" any day.
March 9, 2018 at 21:59 | Registered CommenterSeraphim
This way of thinking and acting also deals with #7. These are just one more obstacle to overcome in pursuit of the general outcomes. I try a few things to see if I get traction, and to acquire information and learn. If nothing is working, then I'll use Goldratt's Evaporating Cloud or Current Reality Tree tools to analyze the problem, get to the heart of the matter, and find a breakthrough.
March 9, 2018 at 22:03 | Registered CommenterSeraphim
Alan -

<< I don't know how I'd ever find such a goal >>

I just described my method for doing it, does it give you any ideas? I kind of have the feeling, from reading your posts over the years, that you already do something similar.
March 9, 2018 at 22:04 | Registered CommenterSeraphim
Alan Baljeu:

<< Because I don't know how I'd ever find such a goal? >>

Ok, imagine you have three products you intend to sell.

So you have three goals:

Sell Product One
Sell Product Two
Sell Product Three

Products One and Three sell a reasonable amount, but Product Two sells three or four times as well as they do. You don't know it's going to do that beforehand, but once it starts to have this success, you transfer the time and resources you've been putting into One and Three to Produce Two and start to develop that exclusively. The success grows so you start to produce variations of the product and also develop your marketing so that it starts to really take off. It's selling so well that you raise finance to open a small chain of shops. You start to diversify your product range. And so on...

At the beginning all you were aiming to do was sell three products. You had no intention of setting up a chain of shops selling a wide range based on one of those products. This all EMERGED from the success of the second product.

You don't find the emergent goals, they find you.
March 10, 2018 at 1:52 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Great analogy!

<< You don't find the emergent goals, they find you. >>

Love that quote! So true! :-)
March 10, 2018 at 4:30 | Registered CommenterSeraphim
Mark, Seraphim,

Both those explanations were not the sort of answer I was expecting, and so they helped greatly. I think I am capable of coming up with (lots of) little goals and seeing where they take me, if any do.
March 10, 2018 at 23:04 | Registered CommenterAlan Baljeu
Wow! This thread went in directions -- all good ones -- that I wasn't expecting.

I like the idea of choosing lots of small projects, dropping those that don't work, and doing more on those that do. It's a better bet than picking one and putting everything into it. There are two dangers: 1) Never picking one. 2) Picking one, then thinking our experimenting is done.

I think one reason big goals often fail is we set ones we think we should set, rather than goals we are willing to work for. If we aren't already working towards it in some way, that's probably a red flag. If I rarely practice, then becoming musician might not be a good goal for me. If I still want that career, then it's worth analyzing and researching and re-framing the goal and making it SMART and all that. Maybe I can find a way to make practicing more fun, or realize my goal is entertaining people and try acting instead.

Stever Robbins' approach to goal setting is still my favourite. Pick goals that will take you on an interesting journey, even if you probably won't reach the goal. We cannot set them all that way, but we can add interest most of them. Boring Goal: Stay with current employer for stability and benefit package. Related Goals with Interesting Journeys: Make friends in each department. Go to a conferences or class each year. Read trade magazines cover-to-cover, even the articles that aren't immediately useful. Cross-train and be vacation coverage for your coworkers.
March 13, 2018 at 17:39 | Registered CommenterCricket

<< I like the idea of choosing lots of small projects, dropping those that don't work, and doing more on those that do. >>

And the best way to do this is with a long list.
March 13, 2018 at 19:03 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Almost nothing on my list I would have called a goal, partly this is how i phrase things. Goals are nouns, and my list is mostly verbs. Should I rename "fix house" to "house in good repair"? Is there advantage to thinking of the result rather than the action?
March 13, 2018 at 23:59 | Registered CommenterAlan Baljeu
Alan Baljeu:

<< Goals are nouns >>

Really? That's the first time I've ever heard that.

I just now googled "examples of great goals" and the first three websites all had verbs. That's as far as I looked.

One example:

Though now you've got me thinking about it I'm wondering if it's not such a bad idea. I must try it out.

- Fix house

- House in good repair

Which would get me moving the best?

Time for an experiment!

March 14, 2018 at 13:29 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
One, neither 'Fix house' nor 'House in good repair' would get me moving. They're too big.

Two, if they're written that way on my todo list then both are goals, whether verb or noun. Like these:

- Eat elephant
- Elephant eaten

Instead, I would use either of them as a heading for a group of tasks or activities, as with Mark's Welsh Intensive grouping.
March 14, 2018 at 16:48 | Unregistered CommenterZane
I checked around, Mark is right I was wrong about goals typically being nouns. People typically are not writing "Fix House" or "House in Good Repair", but are writing "Fix-up House to be ready to sell by May", or "Get House into state of Good Repair for monsoon season." Maybe some of those details are understood but not written on paper.

I agree with Zane here. You need to get the details to get working. Just "Fix House" might work as a maintenance task, where every week you find something broken and work on it. But goals presumably are designed to be transformative. You want at some future time to have the house be Fixed, which is different from today's Not Fixed.
March 14, 2018 at 17:31 | Registered CommenterAlan Baljeu
Alan Baljeu:

<< You need to get the details to get working >>

Well, of course. No one writes down goals like "Bring about world peace" or "Learn to swim" without then breaking them down into smaller goals, and those into smaller goals, and then reacting to what happens with further goals.

As Zane observed, my goal to learn Welsh was broken down into lower-level goals. As my learning Welsh has progressed some of those lower-level goals have expanded in the light of experience and some disappeared altogether. New goals will emerge as I reach various levels of fluency.

Basically an action is just a goal at its lowest level.
March 14, 2018 at 20:14 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Covey's #2, Begin with the End in Mind, seems apt here. If every task is a goal, actionable tasks like are <action> so that <result>. Often the result does not need to be stated, but sometimes it helps. "Clean up kitchen" is not the same as "Clean up kitchen for Mother-in-law's visit". It's not that it needs to be stated, but if the quality of effort matters, it's good to understand what quality of outcome you seek.
March 15, 2018 at 16:59 | Registered CommenterAlan Baljeu
...speaking of verbs, here's something to try.

If I don't have my notebook nearby and can't get to my todo list I tell Siri to "remind me" to do things that I would otherwise write on the list. Later, when I get to my notebook, I go to Reminders and there they are, unforgotten. This causes me to use verbs and be pretty clear about what needs to be done. "Hey Siri, remind me to check Mark Forster's blog."

The last two days I've written this goofy prompt at the top of my todo list: "Hey list, remind me to..." Throughout the day I write tasks so they finish that sentence. It's made a difference in the way I word tasks. All tasks on my list naturally start with a verb and are unambiguous - check Mark Forster's blog; watch Bob's YouTube video; look for a cheap Kindle.

The prompt is goofy and I won't write it that way much longer. The key is to fill in the blank for "remind me to _____".
April 18, 2018 at 19:12 | Unregistered CommenterZane
Alan Baljeu:

<< "Clean up kitchen" is not the same as "Clean up kitchen for Mother-in-law's visit". >>

Yes, you're right - they are not the same.

"Clean up kitchen" implies a routine task which keeps the kitchen in good order.

"Clean up kitchen for mother-in-law's visit" implies an emergency task because you haven't kept the kitchen in good order by using the above routine task.
April 18, 2018 at 23:17 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
No, it means Mother-in-law has a higher standard for clean than I do, so a greater amount of cleaning is required. Or at minimum I want to create a good impression.
April 19, 2018 at 15:53 | Registered CommenterAlan Baljeu