The Science of Goal Setting: How to Achieve Your Boldest Goals in 2021.

The Science of Goal Setting: How to Achieve Your Boldest Goals in 2021.

The Science of Goal Setting: How to Achieve Your Boldest Goals in 2021.

This is the time of year when most people set new goals. Unfortunately, many of these goals are abandoned after less than a month. 

How is greatness actually achieved? 

Aristotle once said, “excellence is an art won by training and habituation.” But, what training and habits really work?  

We want to show you how to think big in 2021. 

What does it take to accomplish the impossible? That is the question at the center of Steven Kotler’s new book The Art of Impossible, available for pre-order now

You’ll have to read the book to get the whole easy-to-follow, how-to format that can significantly improve your life and performance. 

One of the chapters in Steven’s book is all about goals. 

The Do’s and Don’ts of Goal Setting

Learning the right way to set goals is one of the simplest ways to enhance performance. 

It also doesn’t require exceptional talent to work. 

There is a right and wrong approach to goal setting. 

Setting the wrong goals, or even setting a good goal the wrong way will decrease your chance of success. 

If you’re tired of performance falling short of your goals, read on to learn the right way to set goals. It’s the foundation for leveling up your game for good. 

One of the great high-performance philosophers of all time, Seneca, said, “If one does not know to which port one is sailing, no wind is favorable.”

It’s a metaphor for saying that setting goals are key. Otherwise, you’re just spinning in the wind, working hard, but not really getting anywhere. 

The good news is that there is actually solid neuroscience to back how to set goals properly. 

The first step might surprise you. 

Why SMART Goals Are Not That Smart 

Steven Kotler says, “we are all capable of so much more than we know, but you can’t figure that out intellectually, you have to live your way into your capability.” 

The SMART Goal method is very popular. It teaches you to set goals that are: 

  1. Specific. 
  2. Measurable. 
  3. Attainable. 
  4. Relevant. 
  5. Time-based. 

While not all bad, this formula has a fatal flaw. 

By determining ahead of time what is “attainable” you are undercutting your success. We are actually poor judges of what we can accomplish. Instead of setting a ceiling for what is attainable before you even try, you want to think big, really big.

Ditch the “A” from SMART goals entirely. 

The only way to achieve something truly great is to start by thinking big. Don’t limit your potential. 

The world is full of big thinkers who have actually accomplished the impossible! 

The 3 Types of Effective Goals  

To learn the most effective way to set goals, you need to know the types of goals you can set. 

Here are three types of goals. 

  • High Hard Goals — these goals are the big targets you are aiming for. Setting high hard goals increases focus and persistence. 
  • Chunked Goals — these are the goals that you slice and dice into annual, quarterly, monthly, and weekly goal markers to stay on track. 
  • Clear Goals — tiny steps that add up to big results. 

If High Hard Goals are like a mission, then your clear goals are the steps you take to complete the mission. 

The way you approach each of these types of goals is just as important as making a distinction between them. 

The best way to write goals is to start in the reverse: 

  1. Define your High Hard Goal. 
  2. Reverse engineer that goal into smaller goals. 
  3. Execute against the smaller goals until the High Hard Goal is accomplished. 

High Hard Goals Explained

University of Toronto psychologist Gary Latham and University of Maryland psychologist Edwin Locke have studied goal-setting theory for decades. What their research has found is that setting big goals leads to the greatest outcomes. 

A High Hard Goal is your big target that motivates and focuses all the smaller goals you set along the way. 

A High Hard Goal is different from a mission statement in that it should contain a practical go-do. 

For example, if your mission is to “help end world hunger” a High Hard Goal that aligns with that mission statement would be “create a non-profit that makes plant-based proteins affordably available to parts of the world experiencing food shortages.” 

High Hard Goals give you an aim to focus your attention and energy. They have also been proven to make you more persistent. 

To really make High Hard Goals work for you, Latham and Locke found certain moderators need to be in place. 

Two of the biggest impact moderators to pull off High Hard Goals are: 

  • Commitment. 
  • Passion. 

When you believe what you’re doing and are passionate about the purpose behind it, High Hard Goals work best. 

Goals In The Goal Setting Stack

If you want to generate extraordinary results and unlock new levels of achievement and abundance, you have to map your goals. 

When you’re chunking your goals, here are the different goal markers you’ll want to include. 

  1. High Hard Goals. 
  2. Annual Goals. 
  3. Quarterly Goals. 
  4. Monthly Goals. 
  5. Weekly Goals. 

When all of these goal chunks are aligned your purpose, passion and pursuits combine to make you unstoppable. 

Finally, write your upcoming clear goals every night before bed to focus the next day and ensure you end your work with a win. 

We actually provide a tool that takes all of the guesswork out of goal stacking in our Zero to Dangerous Training Course

Clear Goals Explained 

We have learned that flow states have triggers. flow follows focus, so flow triggers heighten attention, drive awareness into the present and put the focus on present actions.

Clear goals are one of the most effective flow triggers. These are the tiny steps that take place over a much smaller timeframe. A High Hard Goal may take you a year (or more) but a clear goal is a small win to check off during your day. 

An example of a clear goal would be I’m going to write 500 words of this blog post between 8 am and 9 am today

Clear goals generate flow by showing you where and when to put your attention. When you have a clear goal your mind doesn’t wander because it knows what to do. This reduces distraction and cognitive load (unnecessary information is filtered out). When you set clear goals—your concentration tightens, motivation increases, action and awareness merge, and you’re pulled into flow—where you think and perform best. 

The most important thing to remember is that a clear goal must be “clear.” It’s a specific step needed to achieve success in a present action. 

Think about when an NFL receiver is wide open but fails to score because they drop the pass while turning towards the endzone. They started thinking about the bigger goal of scoring a touchdown before accomplishing the clear goal of “catch the pass.” 

Don’t skip ahead to the bigger goals. Focus on accomplishing one clear goal, then moving on to the next one. Otherwise, your bigger goals will actually distract you from taking the important and necessary actions (clear goals) in the present. 

From a neuroscience perspective, every time you check off a clear goal, you get a little rush of dopamine. This powerful chemical keeps you motivated to keep crushing it. 

Goal Setting to Win

Successful goal setting is all about determining where you want to end up with High Hard Goals aligned to your mission and purpose. 

Chunk goals along the way towards achieving your High Hard Goal to keep you on the right track. 

Set your Clear Goals as a to-do list every night before bed to reduce the cognitive load of knowing what to do and where to start when you wake up. 

How do you know how many clear goals to put on your list? Experimentation. 

Some people can crush eight clear goals a day, some only four, and others somewhere in-between. Find the clear goal number that challenges you every day without making you feel anxious and frustrated. Everyone’s sweet spot is a little different. You’ll also know whether to increase the challenge of your clear goals each day if you start to fall behind in your goal-setting stack.  

Bonus tip: determine what “winning the day” looks like for you. If you can clearly define your day as a win, you have done a good job of setting clear goals. 
An additional recommended goal-setting resource: Goal Setting Theory by Edwin A. Locke, Gary P. Latham.

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