Practices not Goals

Why not goals?

Usually we set our goals at the beginning of the year. We write these down, try to make progress on them during January, determine they are too difficult in February, conveniently forget them by March before digging them up at the end of the year when doing a review.

At that point you realize that you haven’t made progress at all and vow to do better next year.

There are many books, courses, and tools out there that you can use. They are all good and give you a boost in the short term but generally don’t result in achievement or lasting changes.

Life and time get in the way.

Is there another way in which you can achieve your goals?

Habits, Practices and Focus

The most effective way to make progress, change your life, and achieve your goals is to change your habits.

I initially wrote “create” but you already have habits whether you acknowledge it or not. Be mindful, reflective, and truthful with yourself and you will see the habits that prevent forward progress. You need to exchange progressive habits for the habits holding you back.

Two great resources for understanding and developing habits are Tiny Habits and Atomic Habits. I’ve got a lot more resources to share but I’ll do that in another post.

A practice is an activity that you do regularly. If you think about it, a habit is practice that you do without thinking .

However, if you want to make progress you need to have an thoughtful practice. We’ve all heard about the claim that it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert and the controversy around the truth of this statement. One thing that is clear that is that the quality of your practice matters more than the time spent on it. Top performers have deliberate practice. From the original paper:

Instead, we argue that the differences between expert performers and normal adults reflect a life-long period of deliberate effort to improve performance in a specific domain.

Ericsson, K. Anders: The role of deliberate practice in the acquisition of expert performance.

I have found that having the right mindset and focus in your practice makes all the difference. This doesn’t mean you can’t have practice sessions where things don’t work out, or long stretches of time you feel you’re not making progress. It happens and you need to accept this and push through. Do the time to get the results. Focus on what you are doing and reflect on the external outputs as well as your internal state.

Goals and Practices

So I said no goals, but this was a bit of misdirection. When you are doing a project you need to spend time planning in order to identify what needs to be done, the order things need to be done in, and the dependencies between them. The value of the plan is in the planning process not the plan itself. No plan survives first contact with reality. We need to understand where we are and where we want to get to, so we do need goals or desired outcomes of some sort.

I have spent many years in both my personal and corporate life developing and delivering to SMART goals. In my experience, there are usually too many goals and, especially in the corporate context, the goals are not sufficiently challenging. Not reaching a goal is considered failure and we can’t have failures can we?

I’ve always focused on outcomes but I really like the idea of GAP Goals described in this excellent blog post. This approach also integrates nicely with deliberate practice. So what I will do is define the practices I need to develop that will eventually deliver my desired outcomes.

I will be mindful about the results of the practice and use that feedback to change the practice. Insights gained can be used to alter the desired outcomes.

It is really important to have only a few goals and few practices . You need to have practices that support all dimensions of your wellness. Personal mental and physical health practices are even more important than the professionals practices. One of the seven habits in Steven Covey’ s classic The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is Sharpen the Saw.

What I’m doing

I’m focusing on reinventing myself personally and professionally. I believe that the key to successful reinvention is structured exploration to discover what works for you. Look for the shortest path you can find to come to a decision point. We all need to earn some income and I believe that now we have the widest options open to us if we are willing to learn and experiment.

I have the following practices in place to support my goals:

  • Writing and Reflection – I’m inspired by the Artist’s Way but I’m not yet at the stage where I can dump three pages when I get up. I try to dump my thoughts at the beginning of the day and write a reflection at the end of the day.
  • Writing Code – My first love many decades ago was writing software and I have come back to it. Making applications is a both more complicated and simpler than it was in the past. I’m exploring new languages, new techniques, and new types of applications.
  • Content Creation – This is a separate practice from the writing and reflection which are just for me. This is about sharing my journey with others so that they can benefit from my experiences, even if the other is me years later. I’ll be writing about my past experiences and things I’m discovering now about software, business and innovation.
  • Innovation – This is about building new products and services. There is so much amazing software and technology out there to bring together to solve problems. I’m also really interested in using software to augment the creative process especially for physical objects.
  • Reading, Eating, and Exercise – I’ve always been a voracious reader but I will be more discriminating about what I’m feeding my mind. I don’t believe in diets but in healthy and varied food. Walking is a multi-faceted exercise and I can also work my mind with podcasts and meditations as I walk. Being mindful about what I read, what I eat and, how I exercise support my personal wellness.

Till next time.

Author: Klaus


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