By Justin Wright
What happens once you set goals and follow through with developing habits, but suddenly stop making progress? What if your output seems to slow, if you can’t accomplish things at the same rate as before? This is a pivotal time, one which can make or break an individual who has started to accomplish important tasks.
The problem is not with the desire to work hard; lack of effort is not the reason progress begins to slow. It is instead a lack of reflection and analysis. Both must follow anytime we check a goal off our list. Developing habits and creating systems only ensures success if we revisit those systems to make sure they are still appropriate once progress is made.
Learning to reflect, assess, and update habits is critical for continued growth and progress to occur. Taking a scientific approach to our goals becomes necessary if we wish to continue achieving them. For whatever reason, people fail to approach goal setting and self improvement with the same mindset they would bring to creating a budget or optimizing output in the workplace.
We must reflect and take an honest assessment of our strengths, weaknesses, and character on a regular basis. When it comes to our goals, we can add another layer to this reflection. The self-audit with regards to goal setting aims to determine which habits and systems have been effective and which can be tossed aside.
Let’s say you created a list of daily habits and steps necessary for running a marathon. You checked the boxes each day and each week, ultimately running the race you had been preparing for. Once the race is over, you should reflect on those habits and how they contributed (or failed to contribute) to your success.
Maybe a friend had suggested that you take a specific supplement as part of your training regimen. You added this supplement to your daily routine and took it religiously throughout the process, hoping it would give you the extra edge you needed each day. When you think back to the training, you realize that the supplement likely didn’t help at all and was an unnecessary part of the process. By looking back and analyzing the process itself, you learn which routines worked and which didn’t. This is valuable knowledge for setting goals moving forward.
Revise and replace
While optimizing habits based on our reflections is important, an even simpler benefit of these audits is the ability to set new goals. Once you accomplish something you have been working towards, human inertia allows you to continue this trend. Success begets success, and it is easier to set and achieve new goals fresh off the tailwinds of your previous victories. Looking back allows you to see how the goal you recently accomplished fits into the larger picture of your vision and your future.
Now that you have checked one thing off the list, what comes next? Remember that our mid-term goals are stepping stones towards our larger goals. Once we have completed one, we must look to the next step in the process and determine what follows. This review is a necessary step after any goal is accomplished.
The law of adaptation
Human beings are incredibly resilient and adaptive creatures. Regardless of the environment or surroundings, humans can find a way to adapt and thrive. This is one of our many evolutionary advantages, and one that most people avoid tapping into. Comfort becomes a pursuit, instead of harnessing the power of adaptation to drive further progress.
Stress creates change. There is a limit to how much stress can be considered positive, but there is a reason that we are encouraged to “step outside our comfort zones” in order to achieve important milestones. The comfort zone is simply a place where adaptation has stopped occurring. It is a place where the status quo is maintained and change is nearly impossible.
When it comes to setting goals, the entire exercise is based on a desire to escape this comfort zone. If we simply wanted to stay comfortable, there would be no reason to set and accomplish goals. This is exactly why many people fail to set proper goals, or work to accomplish them after they have been set. In an age where comfort is king, only those who continue to push the envelope can stand out from the crowd.
This is precisely why reviewing and revising goals and habits is so important. As we overcome the stress and discomfort of setting small goals, we adapt and gain increased capacity for future goals. An obstacle that once seemed insurmountable may, in fact, appear laughable in the future.
Accomplishing goals in the present gives us the ability to accomplish more, larger goals in the future. If you stop pushing the envelope, stop reaching towards discomfort, eventually the adaptation stops as well. Like a drug addict, our old tasks and habits are not a high enough dose for us anymore. What challenged us in the past fails to challenge us in the present. Reviewing and revising our goals and systems allows us to make sure that the stress and challenge we face is adequate for continued growth.
A living organism
Humans are living, breathing, growing organisms. We must treat our goals in much the same way: constantly evolving and adapting. It is not enough to simply set goals initially and assume that they will carry us where we want to go. Our lists, our actions, and our accomplishments must grow in stride with us.
There is a reason that success is exponential instead of linear. Why does someone like Dwayne Johnson appear to be on top of the world, constantly churning out new movies and building new partnerships? He has the same 24 hours available to him each day that we do. The difference is that his period of adaptation has been much longer than most. By constantly pushing himself to achieve new goals and overcome bigger obstacles he has allowed himself to effectively take on challenges that would be impossible for most other people.
Self-development and goal setting are constant processes. Most people fail to achieve their goals because they don’t know what to do after experiencing some measure of success. Instead of going back to the drawing board they celebrate their accomplishments and stop. The law of adaptation wins and they re-enter their comfort zone. Nothing special happens in the comfort zone, so avoid it like the plague.
Your antidote is reflection, is the ability to learn from the past and alter the future accordingly. Determine what routines and habits were helpful and which can be discarded. Search for the next stepping stones en route to your larger goals and visions. Lastly, realize that success increases your capacity for future success. Once you get a taste of victory, keep pushing the envelope. Take on bigger, more intimidating challenges. If you follow this blueprint, you will be able to look back years from now and realize that your success was inevitable as you continued adapting to your environment.