Be Smart About Art

Achieve your goals, step by step

written by: Susan Mumford April 27, 2014 1) RECOMMENDED-> Susan Mumford + Chris King's Blog 3469 views

Achieve your goals, step by step

from our Sunday reading series - a weekly blog post (subscribe here)

Every morning, I cross the River Thames on the way into London’s West End. For the past month, an underpass has been closed which has caused traffic constant delays. Being the patient person I am (ahem), I cross the Waterloo Bridge by foot, come rain or shine. It’s turned out to be an effective pre-workday workout.

One morning, I found myself goal-setting as I walked. Having established a medium-fast pace, I decided to challenge myself to go that little bit faster. Having spotted someone a bit ahead of me with a decent pace, I set to catching up with him. As I neared, I identified the next person to catch-up.

After doing the same with five people, I noticed a man ahead of me had a very decent pace. Accordingly, I set to keeping just behind him, maintaining the same speed. Every now and then he would glance back, wondering about the continual sound of click-click-click-click so close!

As I walked, I thought about how this was like goal-setting in life. My overall aim was crossing the bridge in short order. By setting milestones along the way, I was establishing a positive pattern of accomplishing targets. This reinforced the fact that I was well on my way to reaching my destination.

And then, something surprising happened. My fast-walking man and I were 80% across the bridge. We were on the home stretch. And he…. suddenly slowed down! I’m sure it wasn’t my heels scaring him. I had learned during my track and cross-country running days that you don’t slow down in the final stretch, you challenge yourself that last little bit, ideally even improving the pace.

So what did I do? I didn’t slow down, but charged on, making good time.

This too was symbolic, as it demonstrated what pace one sets in working towards goals. It’s important to establish a speed you can maintain. In the case of our speedy man, he had set a stride that he could only hold for a short burst. Once exhausted, he practically slammed on the brakes. And yet, he was so close to the finish line!

Whilst you want to be realistic in setting a pace, bear in mind too the importance of challenging yourself. It is possible to find a speed that pushes what is comfortable, yet is also maintainable. This will help you set new ‘norms’ for what you achieve. And then, you’ll find that you are readily jumping along the stepping stones to your bigger goals. 
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Photographs © Chris King.

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Simon - Thanks as ever for the input. You know I agree that creating patterns is important (subject for a later blog post!). And anyway, we human beings looove doing routines / things that are familiar!

Actively doing a combination of 1) creating patterns whilst 2) working towards goals can work a treat.

For example, with myself: I have created a daily routine with my morning bus journey. I blog between my flat and a set point, and then do social media (Twitter in particular) between that location and the place where I alight. This has developed a positive association with the daily 'commute' as I have come to love writing, and it also achieves a lot before even arriving at Be Smart About Art HQ.

As for the little goals being achieved along the way? I set to complete 2-3 blogs per week and send Tweets throughout the day. These aims are accomplished on a daily and weekly basis with the routine that has been created!

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In a previous life, as a teacher, I was used to setting goals for my classes and encouraging students to set goals for themselves, such as 'achieve grade C in the mock exam' or 'hand in your completed science project by this date.' All worthy goals with set outcomes that were measurable and time-focused. Happily, many succeeded with their goals and were happy, but others failed and were miserable or, worse, has their bad attitude to learning reinforced. Setting goals is only one aspect of making progress in life and, I believe, not the most useful part.

More helpful is the development of good habits: the 'systems and processes' approach. Indeed, most people who achieve their goals identify that a significant factor in their success was the early adoption of new behaviours, eg revise 4 pages of my notes every Saturday morning or get my dad to test me on 10 different science words every evening. The reason many people don't reach their goals is that they don't get good advice on the changes they need to make to what they do frequently and regularly.

I won't say anymore about this 'process approach' myself because you can read a much better account here: the spirit of compromise...the road to your goals is paved with better habits!

Best wishes.