Welcome to December -- our month to reflect on how we'll raise our game and get out of our rut.
It's a perfect time to talk about goals. But I won't bore you with a pep talk about the importance of setting goals. Instead, I want to talk about how to become the kind of person who meets those goals.
I recently read James Clear's bestseller Atomic Habits (I highly recommend it!). This book made me rethink my approach to pursuing goals. Like most people, I used to think it came down to firm determination and proof of character -- you know, when we draw a line in the sand and tell ourselves that starting Monday, there's a new sheriff in town.
But we all know how the story ends. A few weeks later, life gets in the way, things shift, energy vanishes, and willpower fizzles away.
The book helped me rethink my "all or nothing" approach. You can't just steer a cargo ship to take a 90-degree turn in the ocean all at once. You have to reroute it gradually: inch by inch. The way to go is "a bit every day."
Tiny daily habits (good or bad) compound over time. They will either steer us toward or away from our goals.
You get more out of 10 minutes of exercise every day than three hours once every Saturday. Twenty daily minutes of being fully present will build a better relationship with your spouse than a single 4-hour date night once a week.
I tested whether I could sustain a daily morning workout routine, and it worked! Now, I'm hooked on small habits, and I want to share my key takeaway with you.
Let's dive in!
The universe responds to specificity.
As a creative guy, I've always equated specificity with rigidity. This is a mistake most people make. I used to tell myself that I'll work out every day, that starting tomorrow, I'll eat healthier, or that this is the month when I'll network like crazy.
The problem is that with more wiggle room comes less commitment and accountability.
The brain always looks for the most efficient route from point A to point B. And ambiguity is the enemy of efficiency.
Vague instructions cause the brain to waste energy imagining scenarios and weighing alternatives. The brain will try to close the loop as efficiently as possible by taking the path of least resistance: sticking to our familiar roadmaps (a.k.a. our comfort zone).
That's why despite our good intentions, Netflix wins against reading a book or completing an online job application trumps reaching out directly to a hiring manager.
I'll use my most recent example to illustrate:
For months I've been inconsistent with my yoga practice. This is how I used to verbalize my goal "I'll practice yoga daily to get in better shape."
Let's break it down:
1) A generic WHAT: "practice yoga."
2) A WHY that's disconnected from emotion: "to get in better shape."
3) A vague sense of HOW.
4) A variable sense of WHEN and WHERE.
But everything changed when I learned that the solution is to get hyper-specific and introduce triggers and rewards.
Hyper-specificity is efficient. It weeds out competing options and leaves only one roadmap for your brain to follow without distractions.
Once you have a hyper-specific goal, you want to make it automatic -- like a daily push notification. You do this by adding a cue that triggers the "algorithm".
Finally, to reinforce the loop, you add a tangible reward at the point of completion -- think Pavlov's dog.
How I applied this to practicing yoga daily without feeling like I was doing a chore.
Instead of saying, "I'll practice yoga every day so that I can get in better shape," I wrote down the following sentence... and posted it on LinkedIn to hold myself accountable. Writing it down is critical. Every morning I'll wake up at 6 am (WHEN)
... I'll go to the kitchen and drink a tall glass of water (TRIGGER #1 / WHERE)
... I’ll roll out my mat behind the living room sofa (TRIGGER #2 / WHERE)
... I'll turn on the lights and have my headphones and my favorite YouTube teacher ready to go (HOW/WITH WHOM)
... then, I'll start a 30 min guided power-yoga practice (WHAT)
... so I can be energized and fully present when my kids wake up (WHY)
... after my practice, I'll put away my mat and have a warm cup of coffee (REWARD)
See the difference? The first example is vague and detached. It feels like a lame chore to be checked off the to-do list. Whether or not it will happen is uncertain. In contrast, the second example feels real, palpable, and within grasp -- all thanks to specificity.
No questions, no ambiguity, and no room for temptations.
You can apply this approach to various career habits.
Expand your network
Set up exploratory interviews
Learn a new skill
Become a thought leader
Improve your work relationships
Become indispensable to your boss
Small habits (good and bad) compound over time.
Our daily habits either steer us toward or away from our goals.
When the desired habit is loosely defined, the brain defaults to the path of least resistance.
Be hyper-specific: why, what, when, where, how, and with whom
Tie it to trigger cues and rewards (think Pavlov's dog)
Small actions applied consistently beat occasional grandiose efforts.
As always, thanks for reading, and Happy Thanksgiving!
Hit reply and let me know how this post helped you. Your comments and feedback (good and bad) are pure gold!
If you are stuck in a mid-career crisis and are ready to start walking out of the fog, ask me about my 1:1 signature career transformation program.