Goals vs Commitments: A Simple System for Long-Term Success
Your goals suck. Yeah. That's right I said it.
But let me rephrase that a little bit: goals - on their own - are not very useful.
Think about it for a second - how many times have you set a goal only to see yourself give up on it barely a quarter of the way through the journey. Again. And again.
There's a reason for this, which we'll dig into in a second.
The truth is, I think goals can be very valuable tools when used the right way. And today I want to show you why I believe goals - alone - are not enough and how you can use commitments and systems to achieve long-term results.
Let's dig in, shall we?
The Problem With Setting Goals
Goals can be great. I really think so.
They can help move us forward in a positive way - making us better, stronger, more efficient, and more productive.
But goals have some obvious flaws.
Here are a few problems I see with goals:
Your goal is just a guess
A goal, by definition, is something specific you want to achieve by a future date.
Often, that specific objective is mostly arbitrary. It's either made up or based on something we've seen someone else achieve.
Both methods are nothing but simple estimates. Guesses.
But what if your guess was wrong? What if you overshot your estimate?
Unfortunately, most people don't pivot.
After a few weeks of effort (usually less), they realize that they're not going to achieve that arbitrary goal and they slowly (or quickly) let it fizzle out.
Long-term outlooks, short-term motivators
Goals typically have long-term outlooks.
Think New Year's resolutions. These are great examples of goals gone wrong.
We love setting new years resolutions. It's fun. It's exciting. Kind of like buying a new pair of shoes (or so my girlfriend tells me).
Truth is, we love starting new things.
But we don't like sticking to something for an extended period of time, especially if we can't see the finish line coming around the corner any time soon. It's the reason we jump from goal to goal, project to project, and idea to idea.
The same way we buy new shoes again and again even if our closet is full.
When it comes to setting goals, long-term outlooks are a problem.
When the timeline of achievement is too long, we lose the willpower and motivation to stick it out all the way through. And so we abandon one goal for another.
Results-driven, no control
Most people think that the path to success is a straight line (see left). But, in fact, it looks a little more something like this (see right):
If your your success motivation is constantly determined by how close or far you are from reaching your goal, you're going to drive yourself mad.
Think about a typical weight loss journey.
You step on the scale every morning hoping that needle moves forward - towards your objective. But it doesn't - not always. Sometimes it moves right. Sometimes it dips back left. And a lot of the time it seems to be stuck at the same spot forever.
You really have no control over the daily movements of that needle, yet you let it sway your motivation. And it sways and sways until that moment it sways so hard that it knocks you off your path completely.
And that's a problem.
Do you know what you do have control over?
Commitments to the Rescue
A while back, James Clear wrote a brilliant article about goals and systems that broke down the differences between the two. Here were some of his ideas:
He then added an interesting question:
If you completely ignored your goals and focused only on your system, would you still get results?
It reminded me a little bit of the article Kevin Dewalt wrote a few years back about why entrepreneurs shouldn't set goals and why they should focus on mastery instead.
This is how my idea for commitments came about.
Commitments are your system.
They are the little, sometimes trivial, things you do on a consistent basis - whether daily, weekly, or monthly - that collectively help you work towards your bigger goals.
Here's why I believe commitments work so well:
They give you (back) control
You almost always have control over your commitments. You have control over what you do and what you don't do on a daily basis.
You have control whether you go for a 30 minute walk.
You have control whether you start your day with a glass of water.
You have control whether you read 10 pages from your book each day.
You control your choices and actions.
They provide small (motivational) wins
Small wins are important for sustaining motivation.
In my article on small-wins and premature overwhelm, I talk about the idea of doing something small to get started and let the motivation snowball effect take its course.
Commitments are small wins.
And they feed off of each other.
Checking off a commitment offers a small burst of feel-good chemicals that help you make more good decisions throughout the day. Kind of like a domino effect.
Let me give you an example...
One of my daily commitments is to have a glass of water first thing every morning. In fact, it's one of the more important commitments in the 5-day commitment challenge.
Every morning I get up and I have a tall glass of water with a splash of lime.
But having that glass of water allows me to check off that commitment from my list.
It is the first domino that triggers a sequence of better decisions. I then feel more motivated to eat a better breakfast, to do my workouts, and to be more productive.
One simple (positive) commitment leads to better choices throughout the day.
Commitments are small and specific
In Principles of Self-Management, there's an interesting study discussed.
It states that if a task - or commitment in our case - is greater than 25% of a change in your routine, you will be less likely to do it because you'll feel overwhelmed.
This is why I think commitments work well - they're small and simple, like drinking a glass of water in the morning or going for a walk or jumping rope for 10 minutes.
They're also specific, meaning you know exactly what actions to take daily.
They disassociate actions from results
I think this is the most important aspect of commitments.
Commitments are NOT about results.
They are about actions.
You either complete your commitments or you don't.
And this cuts down tremendously on the motivation sway.
All you need to focus on is checking things off from your list - on knocking down one domino at a time. Nothing more.
Use Goals and Commitments Together
"Goals provide you a way to measure your progress, and systems provide a way to make the progress." - James Clear
That quote right there summarizes how goals and commitments work together.
But let's dig in a little further (with an example) to make sure you really understand how to use these tools together to set yourself up for long-term success.
You start by setting your big goal.
"I want to lose 50 lbs within six months."
It's simple. Measurable. Reasonable (for the most part).
Good. Now ask yourself...
What commitments do I need to set to reach this goal?
This is where a coach (like me) can come in handy to help you set daily and weekly commitments that are specific to you and that will guide you towards your goal.
Commitment 1: I will walk for 3 km five days a week.
Good. An easy commitment to track.
Commitment 2: I will eat at least 30 grams of protein within 30 minutes of waking up every single morning.
Excellent. See how specific that is?
Commitment 3: I will avoid all soft drinks and juices throughout the day.
Elimination of something can be a great commitment.
Commitment 4: I will start my day by drinking 1/2 L of water.
Commitment 5: I will fast for 16 hours one day each week.
Now we're talking.
Alright so you have your daily and weekly commitments set.
Now you put them in a little commitment tracker. You can make one yourself or download the template I've put together for you.
Now you just check things off as you go.
Note that some commitments are daily, others are weekly, and a few are somewhere in between. The tracker will help you keep all of that organized.
Now here's the trick...
You don't measure success by stepping on the scale every single day. You can do that periodically to make sure you're on track. All you want to track is whether the commitments you've set for yourself are completed or not.
Evolution of Commitments
As you track your progress periodically, you will see if you're moving in the right direction towards your bigger goals.
And you can always make changes where necessary.
Commitments are not set in stone.
You can tweak them and modify them as necessary. You can test out new commitments or remove old ones that you feel aren't getting you closer to your goals.
Remember - this is a process. Enjoy it.
What's Your Commitment?
Maybe you have some big goals that you've struggled to accomplish in the past.
Why not try a different approach?
Why not build and focus on the system instead.
So here's what I want you to do today...
Grab a pen and paper and take some time to really think about what commitments you can set for yourself to reach your big goal.
Or, if you need something to help you set up your commitments and keep them in order, then download my free commitment template and tracker below.
When you're done, do me a favor...
Share your most important daily commitment in the comments below.
I would love to hear it 🙂