I absolutely LOVE the entrepreneurial culture in America. Sure it exists elsewhere, but I seem to remember being saturated by it when I was even just a boy. For example, I loved hearing stories about my Grandpa who started life with next to nothing in a tiny cabin in the hills outside Salt Lake City. During his life he built a series of successful businesses that gave him and his family a wonderful life, including a big beautiful house, with a pool (not so common back in the 1950s), nice cars and other luxuries.
He understood the universal constant in life that you get what you pay for. In entrepreneurship this is especially true. The harder you work, the more you are likely to accomplish. But it can be easy to trick yourself into thinking that aimless busy work is productive work. The fact is that if you don’t have an objective (aka, A GOAL) then you might easily keep yourself busy, but never really make any progress.
I have to confess that for most of my life I HATED Goals. For example, consider a sales goal. If I make a goal to sell X dollars worth of some product, that’s nice, but I really don’t have control over whether I meet my goal or not.
I have no control over whether I reach a goal
Before you head off to the comments section to tell me how wrong I am, hear me out. What I mean is that my ability to reach the goal is dependent on someone else making a decision to give me their money in exchange for my product or service. It’s his decision to buy, regardless of how persuasive I might be. I simply cannot make that decision for him.
So in reality, I don’t have any control over whether someone makes the decision to purchase from me or not. The same is true for getting optins on a website, visitors to a web page, donations for a cause, etc. Most goals worth setting depend on external factors, and those are always out of our hands.
I think that’s why goals always depressed me. I could make any goal in the world, but I felt so powerless to reach it. In my twenties I had an epiphany on the subject of goals that was really empowering. Even though I didn’t find a way to hypnotize my prospects to buy something from me or control those pesky external factors, I did discover a way to reassign my personal accountability away from the goal by splitting the goal setting process into two categories: Goals and Commitments.
How a Commitment is different than a Goal?
The epiphany came when I realized how goals differ from commitments. A commitment is something that I have absolute control over (at least relatively). For example, If I decide to do publish 20 comments on my facebook page, that’s not a goal, it’s a commitment. It’s completely within my power to accomplish it and doesn’t rely on anyone else making a decision. Sure there are external factors, but they aren’t related to human decision. They’re things like internet connectivity or my car starting. If I’ve really made a commitment I can find an internet connection at a starbucks and take the bus if my car breaks down.
The same decision independence is true for creating 20 backlinks, dialing 20 phone numbers, knocking 20 doors, etc. It’s key to understand that following through with these commitments doesn’t necessarily mean that I’ll speak with 20 people, since I can’t force someone to pickup the phone or answer the door.
The point is that a commitment is something I can say that I will do and the only person that can prevent me from doing it is myself. I think you’ll see in just a minute why this is so powerful…
More than a semantic argument. It’s empowering
I promise that I’m not trying to make some coy play on a semantic difference between two words (goal and commitment). Quite the opposite is true. I’m trying to provide a separation between two very distinct mental states. Splitting goal setting into two parts, one over which I have complete control and another over which I have very little control, empowers me to make a plan with specific action items that I know I can get done. Have a look at this diagram to see what I mean.
You might have noticed that I actually put a third component as a precursor to a Goal. The Object of Desire is a slippery devil. In many cases it can be hidden, forgotten and even deceptive. Think about it this way: What value is there in Green paper or small metal discs? None really. You see, it’s not the money we value. It’s the stuff that we can get with the money that we value.
We don’t really want $1,000, or even $1,000,000. What we want is the car, or the house or the freedom from debt or the once in a lifetime vacation… I think you get the idea. So when you set a goal to make X dollars in sales, it’s important to allow your mind to travel in two directions at once. You want to make sure that you know why you want to reach that goal (your object of desire) and what steps are most likely to help you reach it (the commitments you make).
Example: get 200 unique visits per day for keyword “xyz”
Let’s say you wanted to get 200 unique visitors per day from organic search results to a page on your website each day. There are some things over which you have complete control. These include getting a specific number of backlinks to your website every day, choosing a keyword that gives you a plausible chance of success, creating optimized content for the target page, etc.
There are also many things you can’t control, such as whether those backlinks stick, whether the search engines find and index those links, whether the search engines give you improved SERP results for those keywords. While you can increase your chances of getting clickthroughs by writing a good page title and including appropriate meta description details, you really don’t even have control over whether people click on your site even if you get the search engines to put it in the top spot.
So to reach the goal of getting 200 unique visitors a day to a web page, you make commitments to create backlinks and produce the best optimized content you can on the target page.
Now, going back upstream, it’s just as important to make sure you understand what your Object of Desire is. For example, you might be stroking your ego (think “coolest guy on the planet” wars) or you might be interested in saving someone’s life (think “donate children’s hospital”). The better you understand and the more you can shape your Object of Desire, the better prioritized your Goals will be and the more motivated you’ll be to follow through with your commitments!
Your game plan and the Feedback Loop
The strategy then is to identify a goal, followed immediately by creating a specific list of commitments that you have power to act on independently. The commitments you make should have a direct correlation to your goal. Now hold yourself accountable for completing your commitments, which you have power over, not whether you reach your goal, which you don’t have power over.
As time passes you end up with data that will either confirm or invalidate the usefulness of the tasks you’ve committed to do in terms of how they relate to your goal. If the data is positive, then you stay the course and continue on with your daily commitments. If the data is negative, you don’t have to change your goal, but you can instead change your commitments to see if another approach will work. There’s a chance that you’ll end up changing your goal, but it will be based on data, not whim.
This is called a feedback loop. As you change the input (your commitments), you observe the output (realization (or not) of your goal). Depending on the output, you may change the input. You might also adjust the desired output if a set of inputs is unable to help you achieve the desired output.
Throughout all of this, try your hardest to be honest with yourself about your real object of desire and let that understanding guide you to set the goals most consistent with what you want most. You might snicker when I say “be honest with yourself”, but the deeper you look to figure out what your real object of desire is, the more likely you are to be surprised by it.
Stop living as a hostage to Goals that you don’t have any power over. Instead get scientific and separate your goal setting process into two parts: Goals and Commitments. Then follow through with your commitments to reach your goals! Best of luck.