A Solution for Resolutions

Just like that, another year is coming to its close. As we enter 2022 what is it you are aspiring to do? Do you have personal or business goals in mind for the coming year. As Mark Twain observed, “To live a fulfilled life, we need to keep creating the ‘what is next,’ of our lives. Without dreams and goals there is no living, only merely existing, and that is not why we are here.” Our goals guide our actions. Unfortunately, many of our New Year’s resolutions disappear faster than our hangovers. Can we learn how to craft more meaningful goals in a way that will help us stick to them?

The good news is that our goals are something within our control. How can we create goals that will give us a chance? Mark Murphy offers a great framework to help us set goals for ourselves, others, and our businesses which will help our goals become much more than mere objectives. Murphy details the framework in his book, HARD Goals. Good goals offer a challenge. They’re HARD which Murphy defines as “ones that heighten your motivation so that you want to keep moving and making progress.” HARD goals are heartfelt, animated, required, and difficult.

Unfortunately, most of our goals aren’t thoughtfully put together. Too many of our work goals aren’t ours, they are dictated from above. In a survey of over 4,000 workers across industries, Murphy and his team learned about goals at work. Most goals weren’t doing much for people. Less than 15% of employees thought their goals for the year were going to lead to worthwhile results. A similar number felt their goals would help them maximize their potential. This leaves the overwhelming majority unmotivated by goals. Why? Much of this disappointment stems from the lack of ownership over goals. In workplaces, too often our goals are dictated to us. We play little part in determining them. Our enthusiasm is less as a result.

Frederick Herzberg was a US professor that studied job satisfaction in the 1950s. He developed the Two Factor theory of job motivation which suggested that the driver of job satisfaction was first and foremost personal achievement. We want to accomplish things that are meaningful to us. Challenge is a good thing. People want to not just set goals but achieve them. Andrew Carnegie similarly supports the importance of goals to our satisfaction, “If you want to be happy, set a goal that commands your thoughts, liberates your energy, and inspires your hopes.” Legendary college football coach, Lou Holtz notes that our enthusiasm and engagement is tied to having a target towards which to strive. Holtz offers, “If you are bored with life, if you don’t get up every morning with a burning desire to do things—you don’t have enough goals.”

Our brains are goal seeking. They want to focus on getting things done. Our brains are Just like the ads for The Source offering, “I want that.” If we plant the seed, our attention flows like water germinating our seed. If our goals are unclear, so, too, will be our efforts. Jim Collins in Beyond Entrepreneurship 2.0 concludes that performers are purposeful. They aren’t showing up and going through the motions. They are seeking to accomplish specific outcomes. Great runners aren’t trying to run fast. They’re working towards specific splits. Collins invites his readers to consider some questions, “Does every employee in your company have specific goals? Did he take the primary role in creating them? Does he believe they’re achievable? Does he want to achieve them? Has he translated these goals into quarterly goals, weekly tasks, and daily activities? Do the goals dovetail with the company’s vision and strategy? Do the goals fit with his personal ambitions in life?” With clear goals, autonomy can be extended. If people know what they’re seeking to get done, they can be left to figure out the details (and they’ll be motivated to do so.

Even where we aren’t assigned our goals, the process we’ve been given to create goals is flawed. Maybe you’ve heard of the 3 B’s of Goals. Be Clear, Be Actionable, and Be Measurable? More likely, we’ve had the acronym, SMART, beaten into our brains. Yes, these offer approaches we can pursue, but our hearts won’t necessarily follow the logic. SMART goals are the typical tactic offered for goal setting. The specific and measurable parts are worthwhile. However, the achievable and realistic portions are the opposite of the “d” from HARD, difficult. Realistic and achievable are boring, not motivating. Too often, we’re committed to filling out SMART goal setting forms and don’t bother asking “Is this goal worth it?” We need to impose the importance of a goal before our brain gets excited about focusing on it. We help our brain become consumed with chasing an outcome by making our goals HARD.

Murphy invites us to reflect on awesome accomplishments from our past while asking the following questions:

  • Did this goal challenge me and push me out of my comfort zone?
  • Did I have a deep emotional attachment to the goal?
  • Did I have to learn new skills to accomplish it?
  • Was my personal investment in the goal such that it felt absolutely necessary?
  • Could I vividly picture what it would be like to hit my goal?

We’re likely nodding our heads in agreement in our answers to Murphy’s questions. He notes “one of the most important findings from our research on goals is that people who set HARD goals feel up to 75 percent more fulfilled than people with weaker goals.” Weak goals are those based on hollow hopes. We then depend on raw will or discipline to gut through the steps needed to make progress. Abandonment of the objective is almost inevitable. Where we don’t care, we won’t dare. Apathy is an assault on ambition. Discipline, routines, processes, and best practices aren’t motivating on their own. Attitude trumps skill every day. Murphy writes, “In nearly all cases where greatness is achieved, it’s the goal that drives motivation and discipline—not the other way around.” This is another way of reinforcing the idea that if you have a big enough why, you’ll figure out how to try. How bad do I want it drives discipline and dedication. Discipline is easy when the destination is detailed and desirable. If our goals our important enough, implementation and initiative take care of themselves. We flounder where we aren’t emotionally invested. Commitment follows a combination of clarity and caring. When we know what we’re after and are deeply connected, we’ll figure out what to do. HARD goals are a commonality amongst high achievers.

As actor Ben Stein suggests, “The indispensable first step to getting the things you want out of life is this: decide what you want.” In other words, get clear on what you want near. As obvious as this is, goals remain elusive for many of us. Murphy’s HARD goal framework offers a logical process that’s both actionable and will promote action. Murphy suggests “When you’re emotionally connected to your goal, when you can see and feel your goal, when your goal seems necessary to your survival, and when your goal tests your limits, your brain will be alive—neurons literally lighting up with excitement.” You’ll be both in charge and charged up.

H – Heartfelt

At the heart of Murphy’s HARD Goal framework is determining whether the objective is heartfelt. This is personal. Whose goal is it? Is it yours? Are you doing it because you want to accomplish it or did someone else suggest it? Do you desperately want to achieve it or do you think it is something you should be doing? Do you own it? Do you own the choice and embrace the chance? Know this, NOCLYS. If you don’t care about your goal, no one else can make you care? Murphy invites us to consider, “Why do you care about this goal? It’s a simple question, and a frighteningly accurate way to predict whether or not somebody will abandon his or her goals at the slightest roadblock.”

When you talk about your goals, what words do you use? Do you speak with me, mine, my, or I or is it theirs, the company’s, a teacher’s, parents? What emotional words are being used to describe the goal? Are you enthused, excited, can’t wait? Is your speech loaded with superlatives? Murphy writes, “You want to love, need, and be deeply connected to your goals; you want to feel like you’d chase a goal to the very ends of the earth in order to fulfill it.” In The Happiness of Pursuit, Chris Guillebeau talks about quests instead of goals. Guillebeau writes, “A quest, we decided, is something bigger. It takes more time and requires more commitment than general life improvement.” A quest is more than an objective. It’s a mission. It’s something that must be pursued. It isn’t a hobby or a nice to have. It’s a need. Quests call you out of bed in the morning. They become adventures which aren’t easy. Quests afford you the opportunity to answer questions about who you are. Quests ensure that you’re right where you want to be even when things are difficult.

Knowing the answer to why you want something is more important than having a step by step plan to proceed. Norman Vincent Peale gave us, “Throw your heart over the fence and the rest will follow.”

A – Animated

Once we’ve established why our objective is a personal imperative, we move to Murphy’s Animated step. He suggests, “Whoever has the best imagery wins.” The animated step is about developing a crystal clear vision of our outcome. Murphy writes, “If we can imagine something, see it, or picture it, we’re a lot more likely to process, understand, and embrace it.” Psychologists refer to this as the “pictorial superiority effect.” Who knows if a picture is actually worth a thousand words? But, it’s much easier to remember a picture than words.

An animated goal is one that you can picture, see, imagine, such that it becomes lifelike. Murphy writes, “The more you can picture your goal, the more real it becomes.” Our efforts will follow the clarity of our view. If it’s foggy, then so, too, will be our actions. As others have said, clarity precedes mastery. Anders Ericsson author of Peak and researcher behind the 10,000 hour rule of how excellence is forged has noted that skill is little other than our mental representation of an act. High performers have higher resolution view of their goals. It’s like their view has both more pixels and frames per second. Dane Jensen offers a description in his book The Power of Pressure, writing, “A solid vision is like a postcard from ‘future you’ describing what life is like at some point down the road.” In a Success magazine article, Brian Scudamore, CEO of 1-800-GOT-JUNK, offers “Have a clear vision. Know what your future looks like, feels like, and acts like… Latch onto that picture as though it has already happened… Then share it with your team so they can see it and do what it takes to achieve it.”

Where we’ve combined the heartfelt and animated pieces of a goal, our view of the goal becomes like a magnet described by Michael Hyatt in Living Forward, “Pull power is essential to reach our goals. You need to see a future with such clarity and desirability that you will go through all the uncomfortable things life throws at you to attain it.” When we’re moved, we move. When we see with absolute clarity our destination, we have direction. Where we have both our goals have us.

R – Required

Where we’ve worked to make a meaningful goal and created a detailed vision, we are then ready to work on Murphy’s third level of the HARD Goal framework. Incenting immediacy of the outcome by making it required. Manana is the mantra of mediocrity. Deferring dedication until a future point in time reflects a failure on the Heartfelt front. We don’t put off what we care about. Our actions reflect our values. We complete what we care about. Murphy suggests “I’ll start tomorrow” as the three words that painfully predict not going to happen. We all recognize that those who are great don’t procrastinate. Murphy’s element of required results in goals that leave us bubbling with energy to get going. If a bias for action isn’t built into us, goals which are required do. Murphy suggests that our goals should “feel so required that you feel like you’ll die unless you get started on it right this very second.” It can’t wait. It must be done now. When a goal is required, we don’t depend on discipline. Willpower is replaced with go-power. We value the goal more than the present and happily give up effort now because of what we anticipate achieving.

D – Difficult

The final element of HARD goals is that they’re difficult. HARD Goals are a challenge. They should be something that scare us a little. Murphy invites us to reflect on past accomplishments while asking, were they easy or hard to achieve, did you exert a little or a lot of effort, did you already know everything you needed to know when you started, or did you need to develop new skills en-route? Were you worry free, or did you encounter doubt and nervousness; were you relaxed throughout, or did you get amped up? Chances are that for big accomplishments in our lives, things didn’t come easily. We likely struggled and had to work hard. We probably learned new skills and we bore the burden of stress along the way. These characteristics are an indicator of finding the right kind of difficulty. In order to capture our heart, imagination, and urgency, we need goals that aren’t too easy, nor hopelessly difficult.

We need that Goldilocks balance of challenge. Murphy writes, “Difficult goals work because they force us to pay attention…they arouse our attention because they’re a little scary, or really exciting, they get our brains worked up.” A Goldilocks goal finds the balance between boredom and hopeless. Goals that aren’t difficult enough don’t engage because they don’t reflect the accomplishment of anything meaningful. Goals that are too difficult, on the other hand, fail to engage because they are hopeless. Murphy defines a balanced difficult goal as, “Difficult goals instill confidence… Difficult goals work because they convey the message that your work is important.” Put differently, Jim Rohn suggests, “You want to set a goal that is big enough that in the process of achieving it you become someone worth becoming.”

Instead of running from resolutions which result in garbage goals, Murphy’s HARD goal framework provides a great solution for our resolutions. Joe Vitale sums it up offering, “A goal should scare you a little, and excite you a lot.”

PS. Once you’ve created a goal using the HARD Goal framework, you can test the quality of your goal by scoring your answers to several questions. Murphy offers a goal Quiz at www.hardgoals.com or you can consider the below which are excerpted from his book. Note, the higher your score, the higher the quality of your goal.

Score yourself from 1 – 7 with 1 being never and 7 being always for each of the 12 questions when considering a current goal:

  1. Something inside of me keeps pushing me to achieve this goal, even when things get in my way.
  2. When I think about this goal, I feel really strong emotions.
  3. I mentally own this goal; it doesn’t belong to my boss, spouse, doctor, or anybody other than me. Even if somebody else initially gave me the idea for it, it’s 100 percent my goal now; I own it heart and soul.
  4. My goal is so vividly pictured in my mind that I can tell you exactly what I will be seeing, hearing, and feeling at the precise moment my goal is attained.
  5. I use lots of visuals to describe my goal (such as pictures, photos, drawings, or mental images).
  6. My goal is so vividly described in written form that I could literally show it to other people and they would know exactly what I’m trying to achieve.
  7. I feel such an intense sense of urgency to attain my goal that postponing or pausing even one day is not an option.
  8. Even if the full benefits of achieving my goal are a ways off, I’m still getting benefits right now, while my pursuit of this goal is still in process.
  9. The payoff from attaining this goal far outweighs any costs I have to incur right now.
  10. I’m going to have to learn new skills before I’ll be able to accomplish this goal.
  11. My goal is pushing me outside my comfort zone; I’m not frozen with terror, but I’m definitely on ‘pins and needles’ and wide awake for this goal.
  12. When I think about the biggest and most significant accomplishments throughout my life, this current goal is as difficult as those were.