The single greatest factor in the success or failure of any venture is not capability or even my favorite personal character trait (hint: it starts with “work” and ends with “ethic”), but something far less complex: setting clearly defined goals. This is not my feeble attempt at a Tony Robbins impression, it’s me speaking as a scientist. It just so happens that setting goals is one of the most validated concepts in behavioral science. Countless studies have shown that the act of writing down goals and setting up parameters for accountability increases chances that they may be achieved by up to 50%. Don’t be that person who refuses to set New Year’s resolutions based on the fact that 92% of them fail. Improve your chances of 2018 triumph by sitting down with a notepad and an open mind and writing down some goals, along with setting some accountability guidelines.
Process vs. Outcome Goals
Let me guess, 2018 is the year you lose 20 lbs., run a sub-25 minute 5k, and finally do a pull-up? All valiant and possible goals. But you, and most people, are doing this resolution thing all wrong–at least that is what science says. Success, which I personally measure in terms of progress (being better than yesterday), is most efficiently achieved by developing a lifestyle around sustainable daily behaviors, not intermittent and manic stints of obsession with a specific measurable outcome. With health, in all its iterations, it’s the turtle vs. the hare; and our hard-shelled friend and his adherence to positive, consistent action always prevails. Goal-setting theory is all about focusing on the process.
Ralph Waldo Emerson may have been much more than a transcendentalist essayist, as his beliefs about journeys and destinations are being proven by contemporary health and behavioral scientific research. As is one of the foundational principles of modern-day health and well-being research, and my (unofficial) tagline: every meal, workout, and night’s rest is an opportunity to build a stronger and healthier you. “Resoluting” for success is committing to a process, not an end result.
Mindset is where I find my research, and my life, heading towards. Facing the most difficult trials in my life, I found the only thing keeping me from succeeding (in literally anything) was myself. I learned from Rocky movies: “It ain’t about how hard you hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward.” You can pick up any personal growth or self-help book written in the past decade and distill it down to that one statement from everyone’s favorite modern-day philosopher, the Italian Stallion. And, of course, there is a growing body of empirical research to substantiate this concept. In my opinion, Carol Dweck’s Mindset and Angela Duckworth’s Grit should be required components of public school curriculum. And while we are discussing resolutions and process goals, add reading those texts to your list. Here are some ideas about mindset-related process goals for the new year:
- Commit to doing one hard thing, and sticking to it for the entire year.
This is (not so creatively) referred to as the “hard thing rule”. Whether it is doing something physically active–in rain or shine, in sickness or in health–all 365 and ¼ days of the year or committing to participating in work projects that are mentally taxing and that you simply don’t enjoy (the, IMO overly academic, process of publishing primary scientific research may or may not be mine), pledging to do something constructive that is also hard is one of the primary ways to develop this growth mindset. The more hard things you do, the more comfortable you become doing them.
- Be more resourceful with your efforts: don’t waste them on things you have no ability to impact.
We only have so much physical and mental capacity, and each neural synapse we use on actions or thoughts that we cannot influence is not available to be used on things we can. Very similar to the limits of our muscles to store glycogen, our cranial supercomputer’s fuel tanks are not bottomless; each decision we make has a cumulative draining effect on our executive functioning ability, so aim for decision and focus efficiency. I know it’s important that someone is wrong on the internet or that a world leader’s Tweet was offensive, but think about whether or not your brain fuel and the efforts of your typing fingers might be better used on things that directly affect your life and that you can actually influence.
- Have a short memory: failures are quick lessons, nothing more.
This is a concept that I struggled with most of my life and still do to this day. One statement that really hit home with me was to treat failure like a scientist: simply as another data point. As a scientist, a failure (or proving a hypothesis wrong) isn’t an indication that one is not capable, but a useful data point that ultimately leads to a correct answer.
- Don’t rely on motivation: build healthy (automated) habits.
Successful people are often not more intelligent or skilled or even hard working, but simply more consistent. As research continues to show, deliberate practice is one of the most influential factors in skill development. Everybody develops at their own pace, but goals are reached one deliberate action at a time…over and over and over again. Motivation can only take you so far, whereas habits, no matter how small and simple– (and which usually take about 66 days, not 21, to develop), are how most goals are reached. Be detailed and deliberate. Write down several small, but sustainable, habits that will help you improve, and do them every day.
Whether your New Year’s resolutions involve improving your physical or financial health or developing more meaningful relationships or taking positive steps in your career, focus on the process and stay the course. To a progressively healthier and more successful version of you in 2018, one day at a time.
Dr. Damian Rodriguez is the health and exercise scientist for doTERRA International, LLC. He holds a doctorate in health science, a master’s degree in exercise physiology, and countless professional certifications. He has spent most of his life researching nutrition, exercise, and the lifestyle behaviors associated with optimal health. Along with his passion for health, as someone who lives with Asperger’s Syndrome, he is also involved in bringing awareness to autism spectrum disorders. There are varying opinions about many health and fitness topics. His opinions are his own and not necessarily that of doTERRA International, LLC. Consult your healthcare provider before making any changes to diet and exercise.