Are Your Goals Too Short?

I have written recently about persistence and it’s importance in being successful. However, persistence is difficult and “un-fun”. Many of us can only force ourselves so far and then “self-sabotage” kicks in.

One of the things that can short-circuit our efforts to succeed is how our brain is wired to achieve a goal.

You see, when our brain perceives that we have almost reached our goal, it starts slowing down the efforts to finish. It starts “coasting” if you will. (I don’t have space here to go into why it does this but it is a by-product of our long-ago survival mechanisms.)

You can see this “coasting effect” at work in many aspects of our lives. When psychologists did a study of fatigue, they were surprised to discover that fatigue starts to set in about 2 hours before whatever the endpoint is. In other words, if you have a 12 hour shift, about 10 hours into it, you get tired (fatigue starts setting in.) But, it you have a 10 hour shift, it starts setting in at about 8 hours. And an 8 hour shift results in fatigue beginning at about hour 6. You have probably seen this at work in your own worklife.

In the study, the work did not change. The effort expended in any given hour did not change. Only the expectation of the amount of hours changed. The fatigue set-point was purely psychological.

Knowing the above, would you care to guess why the last 10 pounds are the hardest to lose? That’s right. The brain starts into the “coast” cycle.

The same thing happens in our business goals, as well. It is well-known in business that a project will remain 95% complete indefinitely unless special measures are taken to force it to the 100% mark. (Those extra measures are the usually some kind of negative incentive.)

However, the more effective solution, is to extend the “short” goal. Yes, make the goal “longer”. (You may have heard that saying, “No job is complete until the paperwork is done.” It is an effort to extend the goal to encompass the last 5%.)

If you have an 8 hour work shift, but have plans for after work where you need to be energetic and at the top of your form for several hours later, you will likely find that you have the energy you need… right up until the last hour of your secondary event. Of course, if your goal is to also complete some work at home after the event, you will probably hang right in there until you start making good progress on the work at home.

Are you starting to see how this works?

In one sense, it is a psychological trick. But you have to be careful. If you set out simply to trick your mind, it won’t work. The mind is too smart for that. You have to *really* set the goal out further, even if the last part is not crucial to the overall success of the goal.

In other words, you have to really believe that the endpoint you set for your goal is the *real* endpoint.

Once you have extended your goal to a believable end-point, you will find that it is easier to persist and persevere, achieving more than before… right up until you get close to the end. But, by then, all the significant and important parts will be done… and if you stay at 95% of your goal indefinitely, it won’t make any difference (practically speaking.)

So, take a look at your goals and see if you have been “shorting” yourself. Then find a way to extend the goal. Finally, watch as your brain finds a way to make it happen.


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