As we approach the dawn of another new year, many of us are thinking about our accomplishments in 2011 and our goals for 2012. I remember when I used to work out at the Y in Portsmouth. January would always bring an influx of would-be fitness buffs. They crowded out the cardio equipment and made it virtually impossible to get to the bench press. It was like fighting for the last pair of Air Jordan’s just to touch a thirty pound dumbbell, much less use it for five minutes. However, by the time February came around, all of us gym rats had the place to ourselves again with one or two new regulars that stuck to their resolution. So what makes one person stick to their resolution when so many others don’t?
Goal vs. Resolutions
Before we answer that, let’s split this discussion into two categories: Goals and Resolutions.
Goals are the brass rings we’re reaching for – tangible accomplishments with a start and finish. “I want to increase my salary from fifty-thousand dollars to eighty-thousand dollars by December 31st of 2012.” Goals are always framed in the positive. They are reaching forward and moving from point A to point B.
Resolutions are permanent changes in behavior. They can be talked about in the negative, “I’m going to stop swearing at my mother-in-law. I’m going to stop gossiping at the water cooler. You can of course frame them in the positive too. “I’m going to use underarm deodorant every day. I’m going to read more. I’m going to hug my mother-in-law every time I see her.” They’re more like switches that we flip. They are 0s and 1s-either on or off. There’s no ladder to climb… You just do it or don’t.
Let’s first look at goals and why some people reach them and others don’t. If we look at the modern ranking method in the martial arts, which is usually a system of colored belts, we see a very clear example of a structured goal. This system originated with a Judo instructor named Kano who in 1883 awarded his top two students with a black belt. But that was it. His students wore white belts until years later when they hit advanced proficiency and achieved a black belt. It was sort of like graduating. They were then able to go out and pursue their Judo. This is how many of us approach our goals now. We declare what we want – what the end result will be and, with one eye looking way up at that goal, we wonder around hoping the things we do lead to it.
It wasn’t until 1935, after Judo had left Japan, that the colored belts leading up to black were used. This system is typically attributed to a man in Paris named Mikonosuke Kawaishi. Imagine a ladder that only has two rungs, one at the bottom and one at the top – white belt and black belt. The colors in between are like filling in the rest of the rungs. This is the task that most of us need to do with our goals – fill in the rungs.
Start like Kano did in 1883 and define your goal. What do you want? What will it be like when you achieve it? Let’s look at that salary goal. “I want to be making eighty-thousand dollars a year by December 31 of 2012.” It’s clearly measurable. Now decide that you’re really going to do it. With the word “want” in there it’s a wish not a goal. A goal is something you’re determined to achieve no matter what. So now our goal sounds like this, “I will be making eighty-thousand dollars by December 31st of 2012.” Perfect! What will it take to get there? This is what most people leave to chance but you know that you need the colored belts – the rungs to the ladder. Don’t let yourself get away with writing down a set of goals and not taking this step. Chunk the goal in to smaller pieces. What would you have to increase your salary by each month, then each week, then each day to achieve your new salary?
When a martial artist walks onto the mat, they have specific material to work on to get to their next rank. They know what they need to do on the mat that day to progress toward their smaller goal of the next rank, which gets them one rung closer to the overall goal of black belt. That’s where we should be with all our goals – what do I have to do today to move toward the next rung? If you’re getting to those rungs on time you know you’ll hit the big goal on time.
Resolutions – Changing Behavior
Resolutions are a bit different. Because of their on/off nature there is nothing to chunk down. I was recently in a class led by a high ranking Muay Thai coach. He had us working on checking a leg kick, which is where you raise your leg to meet/block the kick before it reaches its target. He then had us immediately countering with a leg kick of our own. He explained that in Muay Thai you score points by countering or reposting. Therefore, a good Muay Thai practitioner will develop triggers. In this case, blocking the leg kick triggered a counter leg kick. It’s not unlike a habit, right? What are our resolutions usually about? …developing good habits.
Often time we do have triggers in place they’re just not good ones. You see your mother-in-law and you start swearing. So you know what activates the trigger – the site of your mother-in-law. All you need to do now is replace the swearing response with a smile… so nice! What if you want to read more? Pick a time like right before bed or just after breakfast and have that be the trigger for reading. After setting the habit getting ready for bed now reminds you to read. I did this once with pushups. I wanted to do a hundred pushups a day. The trick is remembering everyday to do the hundred pushups. So, I set a trigger. Every morning before I got in the shower I did a hundred pushups. If I had just left it to chance and tried to do them at some point during the day, I never would have done them consistently.
Goals and Resolutions working together.
We’ve talked about goals and resolutions as two separate things but they can work together. There may be habits you need to develop in order to achieve your goal. A fitness goal may require that you show up at the gym daily. Develop a trigger. When you leave work go straight to the gym. The key is that if you recognize the need to chunk your goals and set certain triggers to develop positive habits, you can put a system in place that will both increase your chances of sticking with a goal and hitting it. Martial artist work with a solid system for achieving goals every day and have that as a reference when it comes to goals outside the dojo. If you’re in the arts recognize and work with this. If not, may I suggest a goal of ranking in the martial arts in 2012?
Happy New Year from LifeSkillsFromTheDojo!!! Have a great 2012