How to set your 2020 goals to drive flow
Set your 2020 goals; drive flow
In his usual kick ass way, Steven Kotler started the year with this exceptional blog, that I’m sharing below. He one of my absolute heroes, and I’ve been following him for 12 years. He is responsible for changing my game in sport mentality and it’s thanks to the things I’ve learnt through him, that focus is my super power.
I’m hoping that sharing the excerpt below with you will help drive your focus and flow for setting your goals this year.
As we break into 2020, the notion of goal setting has been getting a lot of attention.
And for good reason.
As a way to boost performance and productivity, setting goals is extremely powerful.
Unfortunately, as simple as this idea might seem, there’s trouble hidden in the particulars.
What the research shows is that not every goal is the same, nor is every goal appropriate for every situation and—most importantly—the wrong goal in the wrong situation can seriously hinder performance and actually lower productivity.
Let’s start with the facts.
During the late 1960s, University of Toronto psychologist Gary Latham and University of Maryland psychologist Edwin Locke—considered the godfathers of goal-setting theory—discovered what we now hold as truth: the establishment of a goal is one of the easiest ways to increase motivation and enhance performance.
Back then, though, this was something of a surprising finding.
Until Latham and Locke came along, the general consensus was that happy workers are productive workers, thus putting more stress on employees by establishing performance targets (that is, goals) was believed to be bad for business.
But that’s not what their research showed.
In dozens and dozens of studies, Latham and Locke found that setting goals increased performance and productivity 11 to 25 percent.
That’s quite a boost.
At the upper end, if an eight-hour day is our baseline, that’s like getting two extra hours of work simply by building a mental frame (aka a goal) around the activity.
Yet, as mentioned, not every goal is the same.
“We found that if you want the largest increase in motivation and productivity,” says Latham, “then big goals lead to the best outcomes. Big goals significantly outperform small goals, medium-sized goals, and vague goals.”
High, hard goals is the technical term for these large targets and why they work comes down to attention and persistence—which are two of the most important factors in determining performance.
High, hard goals focus attention.
They also make us more persistent.
The end result is that we’re much more effective when we work, and much more willing to try again when we fail.
Yet for high, hard goals to really pull off this magic, Locke and Latham further found that certain moderators—the word psychologists use to describe “if-then” conditions—need to be in place.
One of the most important is commitment.
“You have to believe in what you’re doing,” adds Latham. “Big goals work best when there’s an alignment between an individual’s values and the desired outcome of the goal. When everything lines up, we’re totally committed—meaning we’re paying even more attention, are even more resilient, and are way more productive as a result.”
None of this, at least so far, should be too surprising.
But this is only half the story.
The other half involves flow.
Since flow is an optimal state of consciousness—one where we feel our best and perform our best—it plays a huge role in our ability to reach our goals, especially when the goals in question are of the high, hard variety.
We also know that flow states have triggers, or preconditions that lead to more flow.
In simple terms, flow always follows focus, so these triggers are ways of heightening attention, of driving awareness into the present moment and onto present action.
And one of the most important of these triggers is known as “clear goals.”
This is where goal-setting theory gets tricky.
There are significant differences between clear goals and high, hard goals.
It comes down to timescale.
High, hard goals are mission statements. They’re our big dreams.
I want to become a doctor, I want help open the space frontier, I want to write the great American novel.
In other words, things that require years, sometimes decades, to achieve.
Clear goals, meanwhile, are all the tiny steps one takes along the way to the accomplishment of that mission.
They exist over much smaller timescales.
Writing a novel might be the high, hard goal—something that could take years.
Writing 500 words between 8:00 am and 9:00 am—now that’s a clear goal.
And this difference is key.
When it comes to generating flow, clear goals are important because they tell us where and when to put our attention.
When goals are clear, the mind doesn’t have to wonder about what to do or what to do next—it already knows. Thus, concentration tightens, motivation heightens, and extraneous information gets filtered out. Action and awareness start to merge, and we’re pulled deeper into flow.
This also tells us something about emphasis.
When considering “clear goals,” most people tend to skip over the adjective “clear” to get to the noun “goals.”
When told to set clear goals, we immediately visualize our high, hard goals—seeing ourselves on the Olympic podium, the Academy Award stage, or the Fortune 500 list—and think that’s the point.
It’s not the point.
These high, hard goals are actually distractions that can pull attention away from the present moment.
Even if success is seconds away, it’s still a future event subject to hopes, fears, and all sorts of now-crushing distraction.
Think of the dropped pass in the final seconds of the Superbowl; the missed putt at the end of the Augusta Masters.
In those moments, the gravity of the goal pulled focus out of the now, when, ironically, the now was all they needed to win.
If creating more flow is the aim, then the emphasis falls on “clear” and not “goals.”
Clarity gives us certainty.
We know what to do and where to focus our attention while doing it.
When goals are clear, meta-cognition is replaced by in-the-moment cognition, and the self stays out of the picture.
Applying this idea in our daily life means breaking tasks into bite-size chunks, and setting goals accordingly.
Think challenging, yet manageable—just enough stimulation to shortcut attention into the now, not enough stress to pull you back out again.
What all this means is that goal-setting requires setting both high, hard goals accomplished over the years and clear goals accomplished one minute at a time.
But it also means knowing which goal to focus on when.
Across the shorter timescales of the moment, attention needs to be on the task at hand (the clear goal) and not the reason for doing the task (the high, hard goal) and getting this wrong can actually block flow—depriving goal-setters of the very fuel they’ll need most to achieve those goals.
The key takeaway: When mapping out your 2020 battle-plan, make sure you’ve got the right stack of high-hard goals and clear goals. Definitely don’t underemphasize the clear!
If you’d like some helping mapping out your goals for 2020, you can book a free 45-minute strategy session with Steven Kotler’s team here.
So there you have it – a mixture of high, hard goals, clear goals and kick-ass flow. Good luck – and if you need to talk this through further, flow is my super-power.
Let’s chat and get your goals cemented for 2020.