Play and let the score take care of itself.

January is the month of broken promises.

The first week of 2020 is already long gone, and most of us have given up on our resolutions. Once again, we started a new year full of hope and good intentions, yet, research shows that only 8% of us will stick to our resolutions.

Why is it so hard for us to achieve our goals?

For starters, most people fail because they fail to change habits. And many fail because they try to change too many things at once, or fail to build cadence.

However, there’s a bigger reason why we can’t stick to our resolutions: we focus on the goal, not on the why. Goals are great for measuring progress, but they fail to motivate us.

Success has to do more with what drives us than a checklist. Achieving your goals is the result of action — you don’t win a match by staring at the scoreboard the whole time.

Let the score take care of itself

The only way to win is to get better each day.

We don’t gain weight overnight, but gradually. So, losing it will take time, too. Constantly checking the scale every hour of every day doesn’t help. It won’t make you drop pounds the more you check it.

And this is precisely why most diets fail within the first seven days.

Organizations fall into the same trap, too. I see this all the time.

When sales are down, executives become obsessed with sales. They meet over and over to analyze (and overanalyze) the numbers. They put insane and unrealistic pressure on their teams. But, discussing targets won’t make sales grow. We have to get out and talk to our clients instead.

Bill Walsh, NFL’s greatest coach, famously said: “The score takes care of itself.”

Achieving your goals is the result of action, not the other way around. Stop obsessing about your goals; focus on playing instead.

In his book, Walsh explains that effort is the beginning of a continuum, “Today’s effort becomes tomorrow’s result.” The quality and intensity of our push will be reflected on the scoreboard. Each small improvement is connected to the next one.

Effort is vital to building momentum. Changing behavior doesn’t require a big bang approach; it’s usually the result of compounding small habits, as I wrote here.

Having goals is not a problem. The issue is when we become obsessed about achieving those goals, and forget our ‘why.’ A successful behavior change requires being connected to what drives us.

Stop monitoring the scoreboard and work on putting in the effort. Show up and play. Let the score take care of itself.

Find your why

Self-reflection is a powerful tool to prepare for changing behavior. Before embarking on a new adventure, we must understand what is working and what is not. But, more importantly, what motivates us.

Different things drive each of us. However, three elements motivate us as humans.

If you follow my writing, you already know by now that I am a big fan of Daniel Pink. I use his motivation 3.0 model in many of my workshops and consulting gigs.

The traditional carrot-and-stick approach is an ineffective form of creating action. Intrinsic motivation is far more effective. The three key elements that drive us, according to Pink, are: purpose, autonomy, and mastery.

Having a why doesn’t just drive achievement, it improves quality of life. Research shows that finding a sense of meaning is linked to better health and living longer.

I started reflecting on some of my achievements, and Pink’s model applies perfectly.

Autonomy: Owning my goals has always been critical for me. As I reflect on my professional and personal achievements, my goals were defined by me, not by someone else or social pressure.

When I decided to train to bike a century (a 100-mile-ride event), it wasn’t to please anyone or to post it on Facebook. The same happened with other challenges like biking 500 miles in July with my wife. Both doing it and how to do it was my choice.

Purpose: Four years ago, I started writing as a personal challenge. I wanted to embrace my vulnerability by sharing my thoughts to strangers.

I first challenged myself to write once a month. Then I upped the goal to once-a-week, and then I aimed for twice that.

That achievement wasn’t just the result of my determination (which is substantial) or of the thrill of feeling challenged. I found a more meaningful motivation to keep me going and make the time.

“Be a lamp, or a lifeboat, or a ladder. Help someone’s soul heal. Walk out of your house like a shepherd.” ― Rumi

The support from people like you, reading my stuff, was my core motivation. The stories of people sharing how reading some of my articles helped them, or how people from all across the world are adopting the tools I created is what drives me.

That kept me going — the realization that I was of service to others.

Mastery: Becoming better at something we like doing is energizing, not only does it give us confidence, but it makes us appreciate what we do.

I like to be challenged, as I mentioned before. Mastery is not just about getting better, but realizing that we can give more. Most people get frustrated not because things don’t go their way, but because they know they could have done better.

Liberating my full potential makes me feel happy and motivated. By challenging myself, I was finally able to write three articles per week for over a year.

Autonomy means you own your goal, not someone else. Mastery is about pushing yourself because you know you can give more. Purpose is the most significant form of motivation — it’s about creating a selfless, positive impact on others.

Those three elements have helped me so much more than monitoring a scoreboard.

I also realized that I use emotions as triggers. Certain feelings help me spark action.

Embrace your driving emotions

In my case, there are two emotions that help me succeed. One drives me into action; the other keeps me going. These emotions are thrill and joy.

Thrill-seeking excites me and drives me into action. Joy is the reward of mission accomplished; it’s why I keep showing up and doing the work.

Being a thrill-seeker doesn’t mean being motivated by danger. It’s the drive to challenge yourself and create new experiences.

“The best things in life make you sweaty.” ― Edgar Allan Poe

Thrill-seeking makes us chase experiences that will challenge us. It’s also what creates fulfillment and long-lasting memories. It breaks the inertia of living on autopilot.

However, when thrill-seeking turns into a goal, it seeds frustration. I moved from one city to another, from one job to a more challenging one, always looking for (more) thrills.

The luring thrill of being challenged vanished faster and faster each time.

I had to reconnect with my why. Feeling challenged should act as a trigger, not as what drives me.

“He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.”
 ― Friedrich Nietzsche

Joy is my more significant driving emotion.

Goals are not emotionally rewarding, per se. Even the sense of achievement doesn’t last long. Once you’ve accomplished your goal, the joy is gone.

Joy is about acknowledging and celebrating progress. It’s enjoying the journey rather than the end destination.

In No Sweat, Michelle Segar highlights how every little bit of improvement counts. Nobody prepares for a marathon overnight; it takes time and requires continuous effort.

A series of studies show that rewards predict adherence to long-term goals. It’s better to focus on progress than on the end goal. People are more likely to stick to a resolution when they receive short-term rewards.

Joy and thrills get along very well. When we do something for the first time, don’t know how to solve a problem, or experiment with new behaviors. Joy and thrills complement each other.

Thrill gets us started; joy keeps us moving forward.

What drives you?

Goals are useful but ineffective to drive us. When we focus on the scoreboard, we get distracted and stop playing.

Why you do things determines how (well) you work.

What about you?

Does the purpose, autonomy, and mastery framework work for you? What emotions drive you?

Goals are good for measuring progress; your why is perfect for making progress. In 2020, focus less on setting goals and more on why you want to succeed.

Find what drives you. Ask yourself, “Why do I do what I do?” Look inwards and find out why you want to achieve something.