Seneca, the great Roman philosopher, stated, “If one does not know to which port one is sailing, no wind is favorable.” Seneca was touching on something we all need to keep in mind as we set and refine our 2021 goals: discipline. Whether it’s getting a higher-paying job or publishing a book, you need discipline to achieve any desired outcome. Without it, you won’t get to the right port.
Discipline is the bridge between desires, goals and improvement. But before you begin building that bridge, it’s crucial that you apply the right framework to goal setting.
If you’ve struggled with goals before, you’ve likely come across the quote, “trust the process.” As a leadership consultant, I’ve heard many business and sports leaders repeat this mantra in an attempt to motivate their teams. However, they’ve rarely taken the time to unpack what that statement truly means. In this article, I’ll give you a framework you can use to build it into your life successfully. After all, how can you fully buy into an idea if you don’t understand it?
First, let’s confront an uncomfortable fact. Many goals are dependent on factors outside of our control. Say you’re a college football coach, and your goal is for your team to win the national championship. You can do everything right, but an unexpected turn of events, such as your star player getting injured or the rival team signing on a whiz kid, can keep you from winning.
However, there are elements of goals we do have control over. You can’t control your star player’s health or your rival team’s roster, but you have power over how many times a week and for how long each session you make your team practice. Those are goals in and of themselves. They’re called process and performance goals, and they’re behind outcome goals.
As counterintuitive as it may be, if you’re that college football coach, you’d be much better off shifting your focus away from the outcome goal (winning the national championship) and committing to the process and performance goals (practicing various plays for a certain number of hours each day—no ifs, ands or buts about it).
By doing so, you’ll spend time on what you have agency over, knowing that you’re doing everything in your power to achieve your outcome goal. And if you don’t achieve that outcome goal in the end for whatever reason (maybe that whiz-kid is unstoppable on the field), you’ll still be in a great position. You’ll have a team that is strong in both body and mind.
Still skeptical about “trusting the process”? It’s what Nick Saban, the legendary University of Alabama football coach, believes in—and he has seven national championships to show for it. He once said that a benefit of becoming process-oriented is that it removes some of the anxiety that comes with the expectation of winning.
There’s a formula I have for “trusting the process.” Process goals, together with performance goals, lead to outcome goals.
For example, let’s say your outcome goal is to land a higher-paying job this year. To boost your odds of achieving that, you can create a process goal of applying to jobs for a minimum of two hours every week and a performance goal of submitting applications for at least three senior-level roles as part of that. By sticking to a consistent routine with its own deliverables (spending a minimum of two hours a week on job hunting and hitting “send” on at least three applications for senior-level roles as part of that), you’ll know you’re actively working to achieve your desired outcome (getting a higher-paying job).
If, instead, you say you want to get a higher-paying job but only apply here and there, you’re likely to become discouraged, lose sight of your goal and not reach it. You might even become so frustrated that you give up on goal setting altogether.
To increase the probability of achieving your outcome goals, your process and performance goals must be SMART—specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-based. This framework enables you to maintain a laser focus on what you need to do—and not do—to get to where you want to go.
I recommend mapping out your SMART process and performance goals the following way. First, take out a blank sheet of paper and draw a capital T on it. At the top of the T, write down the goal. On the bottom, write the time frame you want to accomplish it by. On the left side, list the measurable, attainable and relevant things you must do to reach that goal. On the right side, list the things you need to avoid doing to achieve that goal. After all, accomplishing your goals is about the things you need to sacrifice as well. For example, if you want to get a higher-paying job within a year, you have to give up some of your free time to find and secure one.
In 2021, if you create SMART process and performance goals and stick to them, you’ll bump up your odds of achieving your desired outcomes. And even if you don’t reach your desired outcome goals due to factors outside of your control, you’ll still have tangible results to show for it (for example, becoming stronger at job interviews because you submitted so many stellar job applications). Trust the process, and you’ll be well on your way to your port of choice.