According to Irene Nizzero, not all goals are created equally. In fact, Irene, who is a certified coach, teacher and presenter on themes related to human resilience and flourishing, very rarely uses the word “goal”. “I prefer just about anything else,” she says. “I would like people to eliminate the word from their vocabulary because it does not really serve a helpful purpose.”
Irene, however, does understand the need people have to set goals, “There is a reason why we want to do things, as it offers a sense of accomplishment and achievement.” The issue though, is that for many people once they achieve a goal there is often a “now what” moment afterwards. “A goal is only a point in time,” Irene says. “And that can be problematic.” Irene believes that when people set goals, there is a sense of “I will feel better, more successful, and happier when I achieve that goal.” The problem, according to Irene, is that “We achieve some goals but not all, and people can sometimes put living on hold to achieve those goals.”
“Goal setting is really about adopting different habits and putting all of the elements in place that will make those new habits work and stick.”
Instead, Irene suggests effective long-term change comes from the patterns and practices that we establish along the way and that continue even beyond the achievement of that goal. “Goal setting,” for Irene, “is really about adopting different habits and putting all of the elements in place that will make those new habits work and stick.” As a result, we need to pay more attention to the processes, as goals are not the only way to that we can gain that sense of accomplishment and achievement.
According to Irene, “When you put steps, plans and procedures in place so that you are sustaining the kind of behaviour that will contribute to where you want to get to in life, that is where success comes from.” As opposed to pinpointing a particular moment in time.
“We do not rise to the level of our goals but fall to the level of our systems.” ~ James Clear, author of Atomic Habits
It is not about abandoning your goals but looking at the process that will get you there. As an alternative to goal setting, Irene offers a series of steps that will help you create and sustain the behavioural change you want to achieve.
To support you in going through these steps, you can download the handout Irene prepared for her session HERE.
Step 1: Desired future state.
Be clear and intentional about what you want and create that vision with as much detail as you can possibly incorporate. What does it look like when you get there? What will be different or what will have changed for you? What will you have learned along the way and who will you be in this new situation?
Step 2: What is important to me?
It is important to be clear about WHY you want it. This is what Irene, in her coaching circles, refers to as “The thing behind the thing.” When that piece becomes clear, so many other things start to fall into place. Irene has learned that, “If there isn’t a really powerful WHY behind the WHAT that you want, then it’s harder to sustain the process of getting where you want to go.” A useful resource in this step is the book by Simon Sinek, Start with Why and its companion workbook, Find your Why.
Step 3: Put a plan into place to make it happen.
This is the stage where you now put systems, habits or plans into place to create sustainable habits. Scheduling at this point is important; it is about making a commitment for it to happen on a predictable basis, accessing whatever resources you need, and putting support systems in place to help keep you on track. Atomic Habits by James Clear is a great resource on building good habits.
Another useful tool for this step the following acronym: E.A.S.T.
Keep it simple, this makes it easy to start the process and stay on track. One way is to begin by breaking it down into a 10-minute activity that you can do daily and then slowly start increasing it in small achievable increments.
Pair things you want with things that are already habits. Make it a part of an established routine and build in rewards that help to keep you motivated and on track.
Build in a social component to the process. We typically do better when we have a support system and where there is accountability.
Figure out what is the best time of day for you to follow through with your plan. It is different for everyone.
Step 4: Learn how to combat the hard times.
“Expect some parts of the process to suck,” says Irene. It is never a smooth path when embarking on a journey towards creating and sustaining new habits; there will be hiccups along the way. A useful tool for this stage is a book by Angela Duckworth called Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance. In her book, Duckworth defines grit as “passion and perseverance toward a long-term achievement.”
According to Irene, “It is not just about being passionate about it, but staying the course through the long haul.” Irene also references the work of Carol Dweck around adopting a growth mindset, as another useful tool. In particular, the power of the three letter word, YET. Other useful tools for this stage include the work done by Kristin Neff on fierce self-compassion and Ethan Cross’s book called Chatter.
Step 5: Revise, Renew and Recommit.
At intervals, you want to be able to take stock and check-in with yourself. Does your plan or desired future state need adjusting? Is the timeline still feasible or does it need to be revised?
“It is a matter of being intentional and potentially recommitting to the process every day, weekly, or even monthly.”
It is about being purposeful while also staying true to yourself and what it is you want to achieve. Irene also reminds us that, “It is also important to celebrate, and share, your successes along the way.”