On this 221st episode of my Monday Morning Pep Talk, we will discuss a topic that is on the mind of most "goal achievers.” As January draws to a close, it’s common for those who eagerly embarked on New Year’s resolutions and intentional goal setting exercises to reflect on their progress and momentum, or lack thereof. The statistics surrounding the success rates of these well-intentioned goals are often disheartening. Studies indicate that by February 15, around 80% of individuals find themselves straying from their goals, with a considerable percentage abandoning their goals within the first month of the year. Only 8% stick with them for the entire year. On this episode, I will delve into the main reason most goal setting exercises fail within the first month.
The main reason goals and resolutions fail is that most people set goals that would be "nice to achieve" so therefore they are "interested" but not 100% fully committed to those goals. The person that is "committed" gives themselves no way out. They've set out into the new year having "burned the ships" in the previous year. They have no choice but to act. They are all in. They are committed, knowing that if it doesn't get done in this year, it most likely will never happen. Those who succeed are not okay with that option.
The concept of "burn the ships" traces back to one of history’s most inspiring leadership stories in 1519. Hernán Cortés led a large expedition consisting of 600 Spaniards, 16 or so horses, and 11 ships to Mexico. The goal was to capture a magnificent treasure said to be held there. Upon arrival, Cortés made history by destroying his ships. This sent a clear message to his men: "There will be no turning back." They would either win or they would perish. Although you might assume that Cortés’ men would have become despondent, with no exit strategy in place to save their lives, they instead rallied behind their leader as never before. Within two years, he succeeded in his conquest of the Aztec empire.
At its essence, "burn the ships" represents a point of no return, a psychological commitment where you recognize that you have crossed a line never to cross back. There is no hedging. Everything now—all thoughts and efforts—must be focused on succeeding. There are times in our lives when we need to make decisions even when we are unclear which path to travel. We gather as many facts as we can, measure the risks and then use our best judgment and the insights of others to guide us forward. Once we make our decision, we have to be willing to stick with it and not allow fear and second-guessing to derail us. Instead of focusing on the "what-ifs", concentrate on the task at hand and the steps needed to be successful.
Safety nets and escape routes can protect us from pain and injury. But they also tend to reduce the effort, focus and commitment that we invest into a process. Once you have completed your goal setting process, you have to be willing to "burn the ships" behind you and trust your inner voice to pursue your dreams. Never looking back.
That is the explanation of "burn the ships" and it's so in line with much of what I've discussed all of last year when I brought you Take Flight V4.0. If you are in the camp of someone that is off track heading into February which is the busy season for most of us, here is what you can do to get back on or stay on track:
- Review the goals you set in Q4 2023 and recommit
- Chunk the goals down with specific time frames
- Track yourself daily (similar to a 75 Hard process)
- Visualize being successful in your efforts
- Repeat for all of your goals
This level of leverage works in the long run. In 2021, I set a goal for myself that I needed to lose approximately 25 pounds of pesky weight I had put on over the previous 5 years. I wanted to get back to a comfortable "playing weight" and stay there. My goal was to look good in my clothes, specifically a suit. I had the discussion with myself that if I didn't make it happen in 2021, I was willing to accept the reality that it was never going to happen. I "burned the ships" and set off to lose 1 pound a week for 25 weeks. I was successful using the formula above. I created habits and routines during that time that have kept me within a few pounds of the weight I find comfortable. Honestly, once I made the goal, and chunked it down into smaller chunks, the process was relatively painless.
What questions are you going to ask yourself to apply the leverage that you need to create momentum in 2024 to finally hit your quarterly initiatives and annual goals, putting you on the path to living the way you want to live and becoming the person you want to become? Here are a few to consider:
- "Am I interested or am I committed?"
- "Am I willing to accept that if I don't hit my goals this year, they might never happen?"
- "Is short term pain worth the long-term advantages that meeting my goal will bring me?"
70% to 85% of those who start Navy SEALs training drop out of the 24 weeks over 3 phases course. The majority drop out in Phase 1; rarely do they drop out in Phase 2 or Phase 3.
Team, we are in Phase 1 of 2024. How bad do you want it? Are you on track or do you need to find that different gear and re-commit? Is it time to "burn the ships"? These are all questions that need to be asked.
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