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The Chronological Goal Bias – and how to deal with it

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Chronological goals

I’ve fallen in love with the full-focus planner from Michael Hyatt this year. A bit of context: I went from planning my day ‘to do list fashion’ in early 2020, to not planning my day at all during the first school closures here in the UK.

This wasn’t because I didn’t have a plan, but rather because my plan was the same every day: make sure we’re all ok, do homeschooling, write novel. Then I discovered the full-focus planner. You don’t need me to tell you about it because there are training videos and all sorts online – link above – but I will tell you about one thing I’ve learnt along the way: it’s about chronological and non- chronological goals

What does Michael Hyatt’s planning system involve?

In a nutshell, the full focus planner process involves creating a life plan based on your values and your ‘roles’ in life, setting annual goals based on these, and quarterly goals based on these annual goals. Then you check in weekly, quarterly and yearly to see how you’re getting on.

In other words, aside from the focus on values at the start – which is important – this is a chronological or time-bound approach to goal setting. What I’ve learnt from doing this for six months is that some kinds of goals fit into a chronological time-bound framework pretty easily and others don’t.

Mixhael Hyatt hasn’t paid me to promote his planner – I just find them really useful. If you want to know more about his method of life planning, take a look at the Living Forward website – which has free resources available as well as links to Hyatt’s book of the same title.

By the way, if you’d like to think more about personal values,  there’s a long list here from author James Clear, who suggests a simple exercise to go with them.

Goals with a definite deadline

These goals fit neatly into a chronological approach. For example, I will go to Wimbledon this year.

I wanted to go to the tennis at Wimbledon in July 2020. It was cancelled. I didn’t achieve my goal. I’m planning to go in 2021. I can’t go in December, because the tennis isn’t on in December – this goal has a definite deadline. And we may be more likely to make goals with a definite deadline if we’re presented with a chronological framework.

How does this relate to writing? All of these goals have definite deadlines: I will attend X writing event, enter X competition, submit to a particular submissions window, meet my editor’s deadline, meet the deadline I set myself. All of these goals fit a straightforward chronological approach to goal setting.

By the way, ‘I will one day go to Wimbledon’ is an aspirational goal, but in order to achieve it, I had to turn it into a goal with a definite deadline. It’s no good me wandering around South West London aimlessly, hoping to stumble across some tennis. ‘I will one day finish my novel’ is similar. If you give yourself a deadline and work towards it, you’re more likely to achieve it.

Goals that have an ambiguous endpoint

These are goals that definitely will have an endpoint, but you don’t necessarily know when it will be. They can fit a chronological approach as long as it’s flexible. Some creative goals fit into this category. For example, I want to publish my novel has a definite endpoint – when the novel is published – but there are several contingencies. Finishing the novel, deciding how to publish it, finding an agent etc. These are all goals in themselves.

When a goal has an ambiguous endpoint, the deadline is either negotiable or difficult to pin down or achieving it relies on working with someone else’s deadlines. (Even Rafael Nadal can’t move the Wimbledon tennis championships to December.)

When you break it down into smaller goals, you’ve got some control over when you publish a novel but not total control – even self-published novelists have constraints on their time and rely on at least some outsourcing.

Value-based goals with no endpoint

You are never fully done with the motivation behind these value-based goals. They do have an endpoint in that you’ll get to a time when your thing is fully established, and at that point you’ll no longer think of it as a goal. These goals only fit into a chronological framework if you:

  1. Turn them into a habit
  2. Set a self-imposed deadline for the habit to get established,

which means you’ve got to take your value and get specific with it.

For example, one of mine – spend time with my family – will change as my family changes, but I’m not likely to want to give it up. A while back I chose a few specifics and regular walks on the beach was one example.

So, I changed the value-based goal ‘spend time with my family’ to ‘I’d like to spend more time going on walks with my family.’ Once I was going on beach walks most weekends (when we were allowed to), I didn’t have to think about it anymore, neither was it necessary to blame myself if we didn’t go on the walk!

Stop, start, get better at goals.

Sometimes you want to start or stop doing a thing or learn about a thing – and a habit might be what you need. But sometimes the habit isn’t the most important part of the goal. Perhaps these kinds of goals are better thought of as ‘I’d like to do this better’ goals.

Take the goal I want to cook from scratch more often. Key here is why I want to cook from scratch. For my health? To learn a new skill? To develop an existing skill? To save money? To teach a healthier way of living to my son? Because I’d enjoy the slower pace of life?

If I aim for too onerous a ‘cooking from scratch’ habit, this goal could:

  1. interfere with other areas of my life
  2. demotivate me if I don’t manage to do it regularly.

If this is a value-based goal and I really am trying to create a habit, then perhaps I want to cook from scratch every Saturday and Sunday if possible would work, and once I’m up and running, my goal is done with. As with my beach walks, I can tick it off and not think about it anymore. I’ll simply carry on cooking.

But don’t assume that a habit is the answer, if trying to form a habit would detract from the reason behind the goal. Keep your reasons for doing it in mind. The most important thing here is cooking from scratch, and the reasons behind it, not forming a habit.

If this was a ‘get better at’ goal, I would to focus on learning about cooking from scratch and implementing these new skills. I might still cook from scratch at weekends, but my focus would be different. Learning something or getting better at it only fits into a chronological framework if you deliberately make it measurable, which brings me neatly onto measurablility, which I’ll talk about tomorrow.

More soon. Until then, happy writing,

Louise xx

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