Integrity and setting a goal

To succeed by setting a goal, you can't cheat. Here are ways to make it easier to reach your goals.

Alvin Reiner/Press-Republican/AP/File
Peg and Ed Balantine of Peru, N.Y., bike down the center line of the main road at AuSable Point State Park to get some exercise and check out the bird life April 15, 2011. If you are setting a goal of exercise (or any other personal improvement), there are ways to make it easier to stick to your regimen.

Have you ever noticed that, when you’re trying a new diet or a new exercise routine or new spending habits or some other significant restrictive change in your life, it often only takes one mis-step for the entire program to fall apart? Once you’ve skipped an exercise session or eaten an entire Sara Lee poundcake in one sitting, it’s really hard to convince yourself to go back to your earlier restrictive choices. You just give up and walk away.

The reason for this is that when you “cheat,” your plan loses its integrity. Integrity basically means consistency – once you’ve set up a method for achieving a goal, the act of sticking to that method is integrity. When you break the standards of that method, the entire system loses integrity. Your goal falls apart like a balloon receiving a pinprick.

I see this time and time again in my own life. I’ll set up an ambitious goal with an ambitious plan to reach it. For a while, everything goes along swimmingly. Then, at some point, it becomes hard. I’m faced with a difficult choice between continuing toward that goal and something else. Eventually, I make the wrong choice and, just like that, the progress toward that goal seems to fall apart. I stop taking the right steps and the goal just crumbles to dust before me.

How can you avoid this? There are a few great principles you can follow, no matter what your goal happens to be.

Avoid a large number of goals
This is a personal problem that I often run into. I try hard to jam too many goals and plans to achieve them into my life and, eventually, I find that I fall short on many of them. There are only so many hours in a day, and time set aside to practice the piano, time to exercise, time to work on my novel, and so on all eat away from that time. When you pack your day too tightly with things to do, eventually you face an unexpected event and, suddenly, you’re unable to complete one leg of your plan. Your integrity fails, you feel like a failure, and you stop working.

Instead of trying to tackle seven goals at once, focus instead on the most important one. What do you most want to achieve? Toss the others overboard and don’t add new ones to the plate until you’ve achieved what you want to achieve. Not only does this clear the path for the single goal you desire, you’ll also find that the more you want a specific goal, the easier it is to achieve it.

Avoid a path to success that’s too strict
A challenging path to success is certainly a good way to achieve it, but challenging doesn’t have to mean strict.

For example, a challenging exercise regimen means that you’re committing to a certain amount of exercise each day – say, 30 minutes. A strict regimen defines exactly what each type of exercise must be on each specific day.

Now, let’s say I’m traveling, but some of those exercise types are very difficult to achieve while traveling. The simple nature of a summer vacation causes me to fail in my plans. There are countless different situations like this, where the nature of a day can keep me from following the exact tenets of a strict plan.

Instead, I try to keep the plan simple. Exercise for 30 minutes each day. I try to mix it up if I can, but if I’m traveling, a long walk is a perfect fit.

Don’t go it alone
Most personal goals are solitary activties and, on some level, you do have to go it alone.

At the same time, though, no matter your goal, there are (almost) always others out there attempting to achieve the same goal. Seeking them out, talking to them, sharing your goals and your progress, and even practicing with them can make a tremendous difference.

Seek out people in your own social network who are attempting similar goals and use them as a springboard and a motivator for your own progress (and you for them). If that doesn’t work, seek out online groups of people who are attempting the same goal as you, using Google.

Use the power of “the chain”
Often, my route to success for a goal involves doing a simple thing each and every day to improve myself. Eat certain foods. Take my vitamins. Exercise. Practice the piano. Avoid spending money frivolously.

One effective way to keep yourself moving forward with such goals is to start a “chain,” something I’ve mentioned in the past. The technique is simple. Just print yourself off a calendar page and mark a big X on each day that you manage to accomplish your daily task. Leave that page up somewhere where you can see it.

Over time, you’ll start to have a long row of Xs with no interruption – and you won’t want to break it. That “chain” of Xs will itself motivate you, as you don’t want today to be the day that breaks that chain. It’s a subtle push, but it’s often strong enough to get me going out the door.

It’s all about maintaining the integrity of your goals. Goals are like a stack of children’s blocks that you achieve only through careful stacking. If one of them is removed, the stack is likely to fall down. Keep the stack from falling and you’ll find success.

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