With half of the world currently hunkered down at home, hundreds of millions of people have set goals for what they want to achieve during this lockdown period and beyond. The goals we have set for ourselves relate to mastering a new skill or getting in the best shape of our lives, or anything else related to personal or professional growth and excellence.
If you are like most people, you have set lockdown goals for yourself. Take a moment to think about what you have committed to yourself. My goal is to use this forced time at home to finish the first draft of the manuscript for my new book. Regardless of what your goals are, certain proven techniques can help you achieve the extraordinary targets you have established for yourself.
Clarity leads to commitment
Bjorn Borg, as an eight-year-old, knew he specifically wanted to play on Center Court at Wimbledon, which led him to become a five-time Wimbledon champion. Tiger Woods has always been a goal setter, growing up, Woods had a list of age-related records set by Jack Nicklaus that he wanted to best.
Borg and Tiger understood that having a clear goal is the first step towards achieving it. When you know exactly where you want to go, you are more likely to get there—a lack of clarity results in confusion, efforts that go nowhere, frustration, and poor performance. Every exceptional individual knows what they want to achieve and the steps they would take to get there.
The first step in achieving momentous goals is to ensure that they are specific and clear. Most people are unable to think about the future or are unable to set clear goals for what they want to achieve and end up setting vague and wishy-washy targets. When you can’t clearly articulate what you want from your life, and you lack clarity of purpose, there is little chance for achieving excellence.
Set the goal, but focus on the process
Ian Fleming, the creator of James Bond, meets every criterion of being extraordinary in his profession as a writer. Fleming not only created James Bond but assigned an unmistakably unique character, lifestyle, and adventure that has been part of our culture for generations.
Fleming started late; he was 44 years old when he began his first book, Casino Royale. He was fortunate to be able to draw ideas from his prior experiences serving as an officer in the British Naval Intelligence Department and also from his natural gift of having a vivid imagination. But in creating James Bond, he knew that imagination and experience alone were not enough. He would need to go through the process of writing an entire book, and the thought of writing three hundred pages was daunting.
Fleming established a process, which involved setting aside a specific time every day to write. He would write every morning from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and then write for another hour in the evening from 6 p.m. and 7 p.m. He spent four hours a day writing. That was it. At the end of the four hours, he would celebrate a productive day, much in the manner Bond would have done. He stuck to this method, which yielded him 2,000 words a day, and within six weeks, a new James Bond novel was born.
A focus on the process helped Fleming and just about everyone else who has achieved something extraordinary. If you focus on the routine or the daily steps you go through towards achieving your goals; big outcomes take care of themselves. For Fleming, it was turning time into words for four hours a day, every single day.
While having a clear goal is essential, remember that the act of setting goals is easy. Everyone has the same goals and dreams of achieving the highest level of success. But only the rarest of people attain them. Those that reach their goals separate themselves from everyone else by committing to a process that works for them. For Fleming, it was time-based; for you, it could be a time-based, activity-based, process-based, or milestone-based approach, or it could be anything else. But without an ongoing and repeatable technique that keeps moving you ahead, you will not achieve your goals. An easy way to start is to give yourself a daily target for what you want to accomplish every day and stay true to it.
Use a commitment device
Now that we understand that the most successful people have observed a fixed process, we also need to realize that for most people committing to a routine takes a lot of discipline and is difficult, so they give up. It is hard to stay motivated, and it is hard to remain committed, and it is especially hard to stay focused when you have your phone next to you, screaming for your attention.
Commitments are hard to keep because there is an inherent conflict between what we know is good for us in the long term versus what we want to do right now. There is an ongoing battle between the present and the future.
For example, we know we want that promotion at work, or want to make the select team in our sport, or we want to complete an Ironman triathlon, or want to write a book. We know each of these is a long-term commitment that will require effort and sacrifice. Fighting these long-term commitments is the immediate desire that prevents us from attaining what we know is good for us. For example, we get caught up in thoughts like “it’s raining, and I feel like sleeping in instead of training,” or I want to go out with friends rather than complete the assignment at work.
As illogical as it sounds, even though we know what is good for us, we consciously select an alternative that we know goes against us attaining our goals. We give in to our immediate desires because that is more satisfying and instantly gratifying. But there is a tool you can use to help you prioritize your long term gain over short term pleasure, called a commitment device.
A commitment device is something that forces you to not give in to your immediate desire. It takes away the temptation, often by punishing yourself. A simple example is cutting up your credit card into pieces to prevent you from the lure of spending money needlessly. Or perhaps if you don’t practice your activity for two hours a day, you pay someone you don’t like ten dollars. Handing over cash will hurt and is one way to keep you motivated. Or maybe your commitment device is training daily with a partner or a coach. You can’t take the day off when you know someone else is there waiting for you.
There are a countless number of commitment devices that you can use. You have to pick one to help you stay true to your process, and it is this adherence to your routine that will lead to achieving untold heights in your field.
Commitment Devices have been responsible for some of the most significant feats in history. Celebrated author, playwright, and poet, Victor Hugo, in 1830, continually found himself being distracted and tempted to go out and party instead of focus on his writing. Later that year, Hugo decided to lock away his formal clothes. He had nothing to wear except a grey shawl. Without his clothes, there was nowhere he could go, and all that remained for him to do was write. Which he did, and in January 1831, his masterpiece, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, was born. His commitment device, which was not having access to his clothes, forced him to stick to his daily routine of writing. Once he did that, the output he achieved has been at the forefront of the literary world for centuries.
As you sit at home and dream of mastering new skills and attaining significant objectives, remember that you need to have a future orientation, which is the ability to set a long-term goal and plan specific actions along the way towards achieving your goal.
Future orientation gives you the discipline required to achieve your dreams. Avoid being “present-oriented” where you live solely for the moment, want immediate gratification, and quickly give in to temptations. Becoming exceptional is reserved for the people who are okay with delaying their gratification because they know their future rewards are far greater than anything they can achieve today.