Get started on that goal!

Trying to do something every day? Whether flossing, reading to your child, or writing for 20 minutes on your novel, give yourself a month, and track your progress on a calendar you'll see every day.

Illustration / Dean Muz / Design Pics / Newscom
Mark a red X on any day where you accomplish your goal. Watch the X's accumulate, and reward yourself as needed for accomplishing your own 'mini-goals.'

Recently, a good friend of mine convinced me to sign up for HealthMonth, a website that aims to turn the self-motivation needed to improve one’s health into a fun game (you can see my HealthMonth profile and goals). It works quite simply: you set certain goals for yourself throughout the month – “I will floss every day” or “I will drink eight glasses of water a day” or “I will walk at least three miles four times a week” – and are rewarded with points and other in-game bonuses.

It’s all just a “fun” veneer over a great concept: setting small micro-goals for yourself and achieving them. Each day that I participate, I have a small set of micro-goals to achieve.

In the game, the “reward” for achieving those micro-goals is points, fruit, and other game-related goodies. In the end, though, the real motivation and reward for achieving those micro-goals comes from inside the player – in this case, me. Unless I personally want to achieve these micro-goals, I won’t be achieving them.

So what’s the point of the “game” in the first place? To put it simply, it’s a self-motivation aid and record keeper. It harkens back to Jerry Seinfeld’s brilliant “chain” concept for self motivation that I wrote about a few years ago:

He told me to get a big wall calendar that has a whole year on one page and hang it on a prominent wall. The next step was to get a big red magic marker.

He said for each day that I do my task of writing, I get to put a big red X over that day. “After a few days you’ll have a chain. Just keep at it and the chain will grow longer every day. You’ll like seeing that chain, especially when you get a few weeks under your belt. Your only job next is to not break the chain.”

“Don’t break the chain.” He said again for emphasis.

As I stated later in the post:

Basically, once you start accomplishing a task every day, if you create an obvious visual reminder of that continued success, you’re going to want to keep going. Seinfeld applied this philosophy to writing comedic pieces, but you can directly apply it to anything in your life, from weight loss to reading to, well, personal finance!

HealthMonth, in the end, is simply an embodiment of this idea. Once you’re playing that game and earning rewards, you’re going to want to keep going.

The basic purpose of all of this is simply to establish a new routine in your life. If you successfully achieve a microgoal enough times in a row, it simply becomes a natural part of your life routine. If the chain is long enough, the chain becomes normal and your day feels awkward without it. I’ve certainly reached that point with my daily writing – if I don’t do it for a day, I miss it.

Of course, you really can achieve this same basic “chain” or “HealthMonth” idea at home, no matter what your goal is. Just identify a single microgoal that you want to achieve every day for the next month. Is it walking two miles? Is it eating four pieces of fresh fruit? Maybe it’s something directly money related, like spending fifteen minutes on a one-time project (like air-sealing your home) that increases your home’s energy efficiency.

Whatever it is, I challenge you to do it each day during the month of October.

It’s easy to track your progress, too. Just print yourself off a calendar for the next month. Hang it somewhere where you’ll see it multiple times each day. At the top of it, write your daily goal in big letters.

On the first, make an effort to achieve that micro-goal, then put a big fat X over the calendar square representing the first of the month. Repeat it on the second, and then on the third. You’ll have yourself a string of Xs – and a sense of accomplishing something. You won’t want to break that string of Xs, so you’ll keep doing it. See if you can fill up the whole month. Maybe you’ll print out a November calendar, too, and keep going with it.

Every month can be the month where you start changing a behavior. Just print out a calendar, start crossing off the dates, and soon you’ll have established a powerful, positive new routine in your life.

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