Don’t Waste Your Time With Goals In 2011

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.

Free Yourself!

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.

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30 Responses to “Don’t Waste Your Time With Goals In 2011”

  1. Ali R. Khan January 1, 2011 at 11:57 am #

    WOW, you Did it. I was just wondering about concept of Goals and Commitment for days after reading it in my Entrepreneur Course and this article is quite helpful in understanding the concept.

    I agree with you. Goals Should be long term and Measurable.

    Thanks for this wonderful blog and keep adding more.
    Regards
    Ali R. Khan

  2. Tony January 1, 2011 at 12:42 pm #

    I felt the same myself about goals, and instead like to focus on ‘actions’. I still have the dreams and goals written down but the action step makes me feel like I’m in control. However, I like the word ‘commitment’ a whole lot better, so much more ‘umphh’ to it. Cheers!

  3. Joe January 1, 2011 at 2:27 pm #

    Nice distinction. I still like the idea of goals and reviewing them regularly, but I think of goals more along the line of what you describe as “Object of Desire”.

    In any case, you make a good point. And like Tony I prefer the word “commitment” to what I used to refer to as my action list. Commitment inspires; action lists to-do lists can become drugged.

    Thanks for changing my vocabulary and thinking. All the best in the New Year.

  4. JohnGG January 1, 2011 at 3:58 pm #

    Having worked in sales environments for a few years, I found myself at loggerheads with the sales manager for the same reason. I am not responsible for someone else taking an action.

    After I have done all my ‘influencer’ stuff, it is their decision. I did keep a very low collapse rate and backed up my arguments.

    I have been revisiting ‘The on purpose person’ and am having trouble with creating a big list of, what you call, ‘object of desire’. I was worried about that until I realsied that I don’t want as much now. I guess I will go for a few quality things.

    Thanks for some great distinctions Daniel.

  5. Judy January 1, 2011 at 5:15 pm #

    Oh, so true!! We often confuse having goals with the action steps necessary to achieve them. Only effort makes results happen and those efforts must be the action steps that will lead to the completion of the goal(s). Kudos!

  6. Mark January 1, 2011 at 7:15 pm #

    Great post. Nice read to start the new year. I never thought of it but, recently I made a “commitment” to doing something once a day to increase the productivity around the office and it is working so far. Thanks, and I’ll remember this post…

  7. Mike Haydon January 1, 2011 at 7:16 pm #

    This is a great distinction Daniel. It makes so much sense to separate Object of Your Desire, Goals & Commitments like that. I’m going to revisit my new years resolutions and turn them into commitments, rather than the first two! Thanks.

  8. Robert Somerville January 1, 2011 at 7:34 pm #

    Nice distinction. The thing about goals is that they are always in the future and therefore not necessarily a part of our day to day actions. The key is to turn goals into actions that we can do TODAY.

    Fantastic post. A lot of thught and effort must have gone into producing it.

  9. Alex January 1, 2011 at 7:34 pm #

    When I was reading the beggining of the article I really thought that you were focusing on just semantic differences. But glad I followed through! That distinction that you make is enough for keeping off the kind of frustation that we tipically get when we don’t reach our goals (bad specified goals, many times).

    Now, one thing I might add is: besides listing my object of desire (larger goal), goal(s) and specific and mesurable commitments we should also list those factors that are really out of our control and also those we could control to certain extent; Sometimes we don’t have this clear in our minds.

    Maybe, after I do my first “feedback loop”, I’ll have the chance to realize that one thing that I thought was in my control was not. I believe that being honest with myself is the great factor to be succesful with this strategy. Great article!

    • Daniel January 7, 2011 at 5:33 pm #

      Alex, that’s a great point about allowing the feedback loop to indicate which items are really out of your control and change your focus so that it really is on items that you control.

  10. Steve January 1, 2011 at 8:16 pm #

    I’ve always set goals and have been aware of commitments, but this article explains it really well and makes it clear in my mind. Separating anddefining the terms makes it easier to understand and easier to follow.

  11. David C. January 2, 2011 at 12:54 am #

    I really appreciate this article. I’ve read countless books and articles about goals, but this one really seems to “nail” it for me. Thank you for this.

  12. Cinaea May January 2, 2011 at 5:23 am #

    hi Daniel,es

    i have to admit it was a friend who sent this article link to me and suggested I read it. I am so glad it did!
    What you said is so ‘real’ and pushes. past all the mumbo jumbo goal setting propaganda out there.

    Commitments is where it is at on a daily basis. Commitments to ourselves, our family, our ideas and our businesses. without commitment we are nothing.

    Great ideas and excellent way of sharing them. So look forward to reading more of what you have to say :-)

  13. Joyce and Ray Lavin January 2, 2011 at 9:59 am #

    I have set physical goals, but I am not actually motivated by material wealth.

    There are so many different groups of people in life, that I can often see, in my imagination,
    as a social gathering in a room, or around a table. At large events in big halls, this can often
    be seen, with a variety of social groups, all sat around their various tables. So infact, you will
    have a gathering of groups. A LARGE GROUP OF SMALL GROUPS.

    All these groups of people can be your friends,employees,customers,competitors or all of these.
    This is true in situations, both online or offline.

    A good goal to have, is to become friendly with each group, and slowly but surely, build a reputation.

    Cheers !! Ray.

    YOU CAN FIND US ON GOOGLE.

  14. Shaun Baird January 2, 2011 at 12:22 pm #

    Great explanation fo something Ive known for so long yet failed to properly implement, perhaps this will be my catalyst!

    Thanks
    Shaun

  15. Eric Burnett January 3, 2011 at 8:22 pm #

    Great Post Daniel, You have some great content here.. I will be back to visit and read alot more of your content.

    Thanks

    Eric

  16. Alex Gontcharov January 7, 2011 at 3:27 pm #

    Nice article. One item that is out of control and plays tricks is TIME. It can mess your feed back and data.

    • Daniel January 7, 2011 at 5:29 pm #

      That’s a good point. I think that low cost outsourcing can mitigate some of this time constraint, but it takes much longer than most people think to hire and train people. It also requires a solid understanding of what you want to accomplish in the first place.

      • Jay Estis February 3, 2011 at 7:27 am #

        Daniel,

        As far as outsourcing goes, you could not be more right. I learned many lessons the hard way last year.

        I hired 5 outsource employees in the Philippines, and the longest each last was a month. I do not place the blame for this on them. Most of it was my fault.

        However, after the 3rd I figured out what it was I really wanted and needed. However, the last 2 were unable or unwilling to provide me any updates of their work, so I moved on.

        However, I finally found the right outsource employee. But my approach the last time was different. This time I asked someone I knew who had an outsource employee, who he was very happy with, to ask if he had any friends who shared his work ethic and skills.

        He referred me to someone, and after a short interview process I hired him. That was last March. And while things are not always perfect, I am very pleased at this point. I have spent a great deal of time training him, which is important.

        You cannot expect to find someone who knows how to do everything you need done. You MUST be willing to put in the time and effort to train them. If you are willing to do that, you have a much better chance of finding the right person.

        But be prepared, it is a long process. It is not as easy as some would lead you to believe. However, the rewards can be great.

        Another important factor is to put systems in place for your outsource employee. If you can provide him/her with the tools to do the job, and a system by which to follow, you will make both of your lives easier.

      • Jay Estis February 3, 2011 at 7:31 am #

        Daniel,

        I have an unrelated question. Is there a WP Theme you’d recommend for building an eCommerce store?

        I am excited to see your plug-in for Authorize.net, which I will be using, but I am stuck on choosing an eCommerce Theme to use, and I was hoping you had a suggestion.

        Thanks!

        Jay

        • Daniel February 3, 2011 at 12:07 pm #

          Jay, if you don’t have to use wordpress for ecommerce, then I always suggest a true ecommerce platform. If you really don’t have any other choice then you’ll just have to hunt around. Sorry I can’t be more help on this one.

          • Jay Estis February 4, 2011 at 5:26 pm #

            Daniel,

            I don’t have to use WP, but I thought from an SEO standpoint I’d be better served using an eCommerce WP Therme. I have found a couple, but not having built one before, I wasn’t sure if either was any good.

            So you’d suggest not using WordPress for an eCommerce store?

            Jay

  17. Vince samios January 28, 2011 at 9:46 am #

    Sometimes it might feel like goals are unachievable, but the point of goals is to keep pushing as hard as you can until you hit your goals.

    With each new online business I create, there is a 6-12 month period of serious pushing before the business hits its first earnings goal. It take a lot of faith and persistence.

  18. Rob Elings March 26, 2011 at 2:22 pm #

    Hi,

    I am looking at your Auth Net plugin and would be most happy to purchase it and start using it. Now the question is, do I have to use it with the MemberWing plugin?

    I am not building a Membership site but want to use Auth Net to accept recurring or one-off donations.

    Please advice,
    Rob (Amsterdam)

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