Setting Goals & Following Through 

Accountability

Accountability is defined, in the Cambridge dictionary, as: “the fact of being responsible for what you do and able to give a satisfactory reason for it, or the degree to which this happens.” In an article on HabitsforWellbeing.com, Personal Accountability is defined as “continuously choosing consciously to take ownership for your life’” This resonates with me on several levels as it implies that it is something that happens over time, all the time. We don’t check a box and we’re done – it’s how we move through the world. And, if you’re like me, someone who approaches life like a kid in a candy store – it’s sometimes tough to fit it all in. I have to frequently remind myself of the importance of taking the right actions – not all the actions. 

Goals

By this time of year, many people have created or reviewed their plans for the New Year. I don’t tend to do this as much around the holidays as for me this is a time to replenish and restore. And my monkey brain is always pondering the next thing – dates on a calendar don’t necessarily indicate the time for me to do this. I usually take a look at where I am in life and start making promises to myself – resolutions. Like, some of my past ones were to visit Italy, ride across Canada, and write a book.  Check, check, and check.  There was also to build a Tiny House (not a lot of progress on that one yet), completely retire at 55 (that one no longer appeals to me as I love what I am doing)

You’ve all heard and probably made the proclamations. With some of those goals, we start out with the best of intentions to make something happen. And after a few weeks  – we’re off track and rationalizing away the fact that the goal was never that important anyway. In fact, as I was writing this, someone asked me how my piano playing was progressing. That is something that I decided was worthwhile a few months ago but I’ve not followed through. Busted! You know what I mean. In my case, playing the piano is a nice to have not a need to have which probably explains the abysmal progress. I’m happy to tap the keys one or twice a month but I’ve not hammered out any real plan to make myself a competent piano player. It won’t happen this way – I am no prodigy.

One goal that I have kept, with very little effort, is to start cross country skiing again this winter. That’s something that I have not done in over 40 years – yup – 4 decades! I have a ski buddy and it’s a chance to spend some time outside during a cold Québec winter and have some fun. There is something incredibly grounding about being outside away from hustle and bustle and concrete. I love it! And I’m doing only one thing.

The Goals that Stick

In the last few years I’ve noticed something about myself. Promises or goals to benefit other people almost always get completed. And when I set one of those goals for myself in conversation with someone who witnesses my promise to myself and how I plan to go about it, there is an overwhelming chance that the particular goal will be accomplished.  And it’s always a goal that excites me – accelerates the speed of my speech and has my hands flying all over the place as I think through why it’s important and what steps to take. This works with the small ones (like writing a letter to someone to get my thoughts straight) all the way to bigger ones like writing a book. Being coached taught me how to be accountable to myself but it works better with a thinking partner which is really what a coach becomes. Even now, I continue to be coached because it’s tough to evolve by yourself. There is such value in the coaching conversation – I regularly work with others to help me reach my own goals. In fact, I booked a session this week because I’ve been floundering a little and I need a kick in the butt.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve always been pretty good at taking personal responsibility for my actions and choices but I was not always very good at setting goals to make things happen and then following through. For instance, I used to talk about getting my pilot’s license and never did. Or dreamed of travelling when I was younger and never made it happen. I had a wish list that kept growing without actually doing any of the things on the list. Those things are still on my wish list but they are not on my priority list.

Focus

Recently, it struck me that many of my Coaching clients struggle with setting goals and then sticking with them until they are accomplished. I think that there are a couple of reasons for this and for me, the main one seems to be focus. It’s not easy to maintain focus in a world that is rife with distractions. It’s enough to make anybody believe that they have ADHD – something is always competing for our attention. Just think about your smart phone – I almost never use mine as an actual phone – it used to grab my attention with incessant notifications from non-urgent apps, texts and the hypnotic reminder that I can play Cribbage or Solitaire for just 5 minutes. (And it was NEVER 5 minutes.) In fact, I now turn off all notifications – even the ringer most of the time.

Relearning to learn

I did this because I started to realize that my attention was so fragmented that I was having difficulty reading books. Technology – televisions, smart phones, emails, the internet and the tools we use for work became the focus instead of the work to be done. I feel as if I’m relearning to read as my brain has been rewired to expect and look for distractions. I became a scanner instead of immersing myself in the task at hand. And the more you become accustomed to that way of operating, the harder is it to come back to a solid focus. When I was still in the corporate world, I was getting hundreds of emails every day. It was impossible to keep my inbox clean and I was always concerned that I was missing something that I really ought to be working on. Using the inbox as a to-do list meant that I was continually mining for information of importance and constantly in reaction mode. Not a great starting point to get things done.

Now I’m in a position where I can manage my time like I never could before. And a big reason for that is that I have fewer tasks on my list. But it is still hard to focus on one thing at a time after years on letting my monkey brain run the show – the skill is something that I am relearning and it’s a challenge. I’m creating daily habits to support the one-thing-at-a-time philosophy. My first task of the day is a leisurely walk with my 14 year old dog – rain or shine. During that time, I just enjoy the walk – or at least be present to it and I no longer listen to audio books or music or any other number of things during that time. And then, when the mood strikes, some breathing exercises that I stopped doing for a while. Then it’s normally a little yoga and a shower. These things help to ground me and ease into my day but I no longer beat myself up if I don’t do all of them. I’m setting myself up with the energy and the focus needed to stay present to the task at hand – whatever the day may hold.

Wrap up

I’m happy to say that it’s getting easier. I think that it’s time to go skiing. 

So, what goal could benefit from you making a promise to yourself? Perhaps with a witness? How can you maintain focus on that promise to bring it to fruition?

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