Last week, I wrote about two different types of goals: outcome goals (where the focus is on achieving a specific outcome), and process goals (which we use to create behavioral change).
We fail at our process goals all the time. Need an example? It’s September. How’s your New Year’s resolution going? Do you even remember what you set out to do?
Process goals are hard because our motivation constantly changes. We want to do something today, but it’s hard to predict how we’ll feel about something in 3 months. And even when we can predict how we’ll feel–I know I’m not going to like that 5:30 am run–we still have to set aside negative emotions and act anyways.
Process goals tend to fall in two camps: things we do once, and tasks that we repeat over and over again.
When we are struggling to complete a single task, the solution is simple: do it now. Act while you feel the slightest amount of motivation. (Seriously, if you can do it now, close this tab and do it.)
But sometimes, a one-off task is big enough that we can’t complete all of it right now. When this happens, schedule a time to complete it, and do it then. If you fail to complete the scheduled task, it probably means that the task is too complicated to complete in one sitting. Break it down into smaller pieces and act on the smallest possible piece. Don’t beat yourself up for not finishing. Failure gives you information; be compassionate with yourself and learn from your mistakes.
The real challenge comes when we run up against recurring process goals: working every day, quitting smoking for good, eating less junk food. These goals can absolutely be improved, and we’ll spend a lot more time talking about how to do this. But the basic principle is the same: start now. Do something. If it’s too much, do less. Build small habits first.