Here’s a quick question for you.
Of your goals for the coming year, how many are similar or exactly the same goals that you’ve set in the past year(s)?
Let’s say one of your goals is to leave your boring job and get a job that’s better suited for your talents/skills and more aligned with where you want to be in the future.
There is a high likelihood this isn’t a brand new goal for you. That this is something you’ve thought about before. Maybe you’ve even attempted to do something about it in the past.
Here’s this thing I often see.
People (and by people, I mean “We”)… take the time to come up with goals, we say what it is we want in our career and our future…. but then something happens and we get stalled right at the starting gate.
We take tentative steps forward and not get very far. Or we outright don’t take any action at all.
What is happening here?! Right?
I’ve noticed four common traps that people fall into, right at the beginning, that stalls there progress and prevents them from taking action.
What’s crazy is that these four traps are based on good practices. It’s just that some of us (and I’m including myself here) sometimes take them a little too far. Instead of being beneficial, they become shackles on our ankles.
Let’s talk about these traps so you can catch the one(s) that may become your hurdles.
A Caveat First
You may say that there’s really only one reason people get stuck or stall on their goals. And that reason is fear.
And you’d be right. But while I agree that fear is often the underlying cause, we need some signs to help us see that fear is driving the bus (or parking the bus deep inside the station, more like).
Fear is a very clever dude. It knows how to hide so that it comes across very rational and legit.
So, it’s very possible for someone to say, “I’m not scared at all. Let me tell you about these very valid reasons why I haven’t taken action…”
What I want to do in this post though is shine the light on at least 4 ways that fear may be colluding with “good habits” so that instead of them being helpful, they result in you being stuck.
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That way, you can stop going ’round in circles and start moving closer to the future you want.
1. The Validation Trap
Sharing our goals with others a great practice.
When we talk about our goals, we let other people into our lives. We end up having clearer goals because the very act of talking about them helps us fill in the gaps and gain more clarity.
The more we share our intentions with others, the more we feel committed to our goals. And of course, there’s the benefit of getting input that can help achieve our goals.
What you want to pay attention to are your motivations for sharing your goals.
Are you sharing them because you want to let people into your life? Are you looking for support or help? Maybe you’re looking for input or feedback? Or is it because deep inside you’re looking for validation and permission to go after what you want?
The last one on that list is what you really want to watch out for.
If you’re looking for validation or permission, ask yourself why this may be the case? Are these people’s permission really important to you? Because if you ask me, the only permission you really need is your own.
If you’re looking for input, help and/or support — that’s a good thing too. In fact, this is something I myself have been working on as I’m not very comfortable with this yet.
The key here is to get clear on the kind of input, help or support you want.
Sometimes, we feel embarrassed or shy about asking for help so we end up being wishy-washy or vague about it. The person we’re talking with may get confused and not understand exactly what it is we want. They may end up sharing some advice or some other help that we’re not really after. Which then results in frustration all around.
If it IS help that you’re looking for and is the reason you’re sharing your goals, then try and get specific and let the other person know as clearly as you can.
A good example here is Aenslee Tanner. In Episode 38 of the Second Breaks Podcast, we talked about how sharing her career pivot goals with her friends was instrumental in finding her next opportunity. Her experience is a powerful example of the benefits you can get from sharing your goals as long as you’re clear about your motivations for doing so.
2. Flying by the seat of your pants
Spontaneity is a great thing. Being open to serendipity and to unexpected opportunities — these are all great attitude to have.
Similarly, being game to take action without having every single T crossed or I dotted is something most people would want to cultivate in themselves. As one popular online business advisor, Marie Forleo often says, “Everything is figure-outable.”
Where you could run into problems is when you declare a goal and get ready for action without taking the time to identify your strategy or even an outline of a game plan.
Imagine saying, “I’m going to lose weight this year” without also identifying what your primary strategies are going to be (e.g., Are you going on a diet? Which diet? Diets have different ‘philosophies’ and many are contradictory to each other – which one will you be following?)
A strategy helps you make better choices and more informed decisions.
It guides your action. Without a chosen strategy for achieving your goals, you may end up simply reacting to whatever appears in front of you instead of creating the opportunity you want. This, in turn, could result in wasted time, misdirected effort, and results that you may not ultimately want.
Someone I knew had this brilliant idea for an online community that she was eager to create. She was really passionate about it especially after validating her idea with a few people. She took immediate action. She invested money for the branding and website design. She bought the domain name. She created mission statements and all that good stuff.
Problem was, she didn’t take the time to develop the underlying model and strategy behind the idea. After the initial flurry of activities (and expense), she was stuck and unsure about how to actually reach her goals. Frustration set in. Eventually, the project died.
Had she had taken the time to flesh out the idea some more and chosen an appropriated strategy, she might have decided a different course of action. And the project could very well still be a going concern today.
Now I know that people who tend to fly by the seat of their pants are usually those who hate planning. That’s why they eschew planning and jump straight to action!
So suggesting that you spend some time planning is like advising someone who’s afraid of heights to go and ride the rollercoaster.
Don’t plan on spending hours and hours of time planning. You probably will just procrastinate or come up with more important things to do.
Instead, see if you can make the activity a little bit more enjoyable. You can ask a friend for a planning coffee date, for example.
I did this for a friend who describes herself as a big picture person and cannot deal with the nitty-gritty of planning. So she asked me out on a brunch date because she knows that planning is my jam.
While we ate, we talked about her plans. I asked her questions, prompted for additional details. I suggested a couple of different things. We wrote notes on napkins because of course, she forgot her notebook.
By the time we finished brunch, she had the first draft of a project plan. I didn’t create her plans. She did. I was just there chatting it up, asking questions and prompting her for details here and there.
3. Death by Planning
Planning is great practice. I’m a big fan of it.
We get into trouble when we delay taking action because we’re working on coming up with the “perfect plan”. We’re trying to get all our ducks in a row and we’re making sure we’ve considered everything that could possibly happen.
The truth, of course, is that we can’t plan for everything. There’s only so much we can know ahead of time.
And no matter how good the plan is, no plan survives first contact with reality.
As a natural planner, I’ve had many many experiences that prove this right. The most recent one was when I thought I’d planned for every eventuality in preparation for my surgery. Which of course proved to be not-so-the-case. How could I possibly plan for everything? I had never had surgery before! There were just things I never could have imagined I needed to plan for.
Resist the temptation to continue to perfect your plan so you can feel ready.
Feel confident that you’ve already done quite a bit of strategizing and planning – you’re actually ahead of many!
Run with what you have now to start testing your assumptions (there are always assumptions in our goals/plans) and to gain some momentum.
And if you’re really feeling tentative about taking action on your plans, consider having an accountability partner or a buddy to help you gain traction.
4. The Comfort of the Comfort Zone
Our comfort zones are well… comfortable. We know what we’re doing. We have the skills to do the work. We’re staying in our area of expertise. And we’re using our talents. All’s good.
What you want to watch out for is when you’re choosing to stay in your comfort zone at the expense of growing and stretching yourself to reach your goals.
The very nature of goals require us to step outside our comfort zones (unless you only really set very low hanging goals that you already know you’ll meet, in which case, we have to have a different conversation).
Doing something new is naturally uncomfortable and scary even. We’re not sure about ourselves. We’re worried about how we might look or sound. We don’t want to look “stupid”.
I know these things really well because these are the things that go on in my head too, especially when I’m going after my big hairy audacious goals. So instead of doing what needs to get done, I busy myself with peripheral action. On the outside, I may look very busy but I’m not really moving forward.
Catch yourself if you’re procrastinating about certain action steps in your plans. What are you procrastinating about? That’s usually the magic ticket and may point you to the area just outside your comfort zone.
Reframe your thoughts around trying new things. Of course, you’re going to feel awkward and uncomfortable. That’s part of the process. Think of it as the “pain” you feel after your work on a muscle group. It’ll get better. But only if you keep at it.
This may be a good time to rely on that accountability buddy as well. Someone you can go to when you feel like you’re about to talk yourself out of doing something that feels awkward. I’ve got a great friend who’s my go-to whenever I feel this way and she always talks me back to the ledge (not away!)
• • •
You’ve taken the time to come up with your goals — and that’s a big deal!
Having a clear goal is only the first part of the equation. The really important part is what’s next… actually taking action to go after those goals.
Think of yourself at the starting gate of race. These four traps that we’ve just discussed are potholes that you definitely want to stay away from so you don’t get derailed right at the start.
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