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4 Steps to Actually Achieving a Goal

“To achieve a goal you have never achieved before, you must start doing things you have never done before.” – Jim Stuart, The 4 Disciplines of Execution

We’ve reached that time of the year again, when people start listing New Year’s resolutions and thinking about life goals. I don’t believe in once-a-year resolutions, but I’m a big believer in maintaining strong habits and positive streaks. I write every day so that I don’t break the streak. Simple. Easy to understand. Achievable. There are days when I don’t even have a coffee but still manage to write. So how do we apply that to the rest of our lives when there’s just so much on our plate already? Apply the four principles from The 4 Disciplines of Execution to our personal lives:

“The principles of execution have always been focus, leverage, engagement, and accountability.”

Let’s face it, the reason we don’t finish New Year’s resolutions is because life gets busy again. It’s easy to make grand plans when you’re taking a few days off around the holidays. It’s a lot harder to maintain them when the craziness of life kicks back in. The 4DX authors call this the whirlwind. We all have a lot to do in our day-to-day, and that makes sticking with a new habit challenging. It’s not a part of our routine yet, and the routine is what gets us through our crazy days.

So what are the four disciplines for executing on your goals?

Discipline 1 is focusing on one or a maximum of two goals. More than that and you lose focus and face diminishing returns. At that point you get lost in the whirlwind and it’s all over. The 4DX authors calls this a Wildly Important Goal (WIG).

The fundamental principle at work in Discipline 1 is that human beings are genetically hardwired to do one thing at a time with excellence.

Discipline 2 is to act on the lead measures. This is an important distinction from what most people do. We all tend to focus on the lag measures: What does the scale tell me? What did we sell yesterday? Did I finish writing the book by December 31st? Lag measures are important indicators of achievement, but they don’t move the rock. You need a lever to move it, and that’s what lead measures are. Instead of focusing on how much weight you lost today, focus on what you put in your mouth. Focus on how many steps you walk today. These are lead measures that move the lag measure over time.

“A good lead measure has two basic characteristics: It’s predictive of achieving the goal and it can be influenced by the team members.”

Discipline 3 is the discipline of engagement. This is getting things done. What things? The lead measures of course! Eat the broccoli and move more! Find creative ways to fit it all in when you’re caught up in that whirlwind of your day-to-day. But in order to stick with it you’ve got to maintain a scoreboard to track yourself. Without it you’ll get lost in the whirlwind. Remember that writing goal I had? The scoreboard is the stats. I can see clearly that I haven’t missed a day in three years and don’t want to break the streak, even when I don’t feel like writing.

Discipline 4 is creating a “cadence of accountability”. Find a support group that keeps you on track. Weight Watchers is successful because it’s based on a weekly cadence of accountability. Find people who will give you a nudge when you aren’t meeting your lead measures.

“The magic is in the cadence. Team members must be able to hold each other accountable regularly and rhythmically.”

The book is focused on the very real challenge of getting a team to focus on achieving a wildly important goal that makes a significant impact on an organization. But the same principles apply in your personal life. Decide what you want to be exceptional at and what the lead measures are to move you along every day towards that goal. Then make a scoreboard that speaks to you (it can be as simple as checking the day on a calendar when you do what you said you were going to do). And then build a support structure around yourself to help keep you accountable.

Execution on an important goal isn’t complicated, but it also isn’t easy. These four disciplines can help keep you on track in the face of the whirlwind. Just imagine how fun actually accomplishing that goal will be!

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