Most of us start pursuing our goals with great focus and intensity, but roadblocks inevitably surface before we’re far down the road. We might be tempted to quit, or simply redouble our efforts in an effort to scale the obstacle, but the secret may be tossing our strategy out the window and trying an alternate approach.
I’ve been steadily working to reclaim my fitness, working out with a trainer consistently for several months, doing cardio on my off days, and dialing in my nutrition. In fact, it felt so good to feel strong again, that I pushed it a little harder than I should have.
Just as all my hard work started to pay off, I noticed a pain developing in my foot. I tried to ignore it for several weeks, but eventually I gave in and went to the doctor, only to discover I had a stress fracture in my fourth metatarsal. As I walked out of the doctor hobbling in my boot, I felt angry, defeated, and ready to quit. But I didn’t.
Instead, I went to a local gym, signed up, and started using equipment that would keep me active while letting my foot rest. It’s an example of a simple but powerful secret: The way to achieve our goals is to hold them tightly and our strategies loosely.
A Goal Setting Super Power
I used to feel like a failure when I would change strategy to accomplish my goals. I worried I might lack commitment, or just be a bad planner. After all, if I were better at setting goals, wouldn’t I have nailed the strategy the first time? But over the years I’ve realized my ability to zig and zag with strategy is not a mark of failure, but instead a goal setting super power.
This year, I’ve already changed strategy multiple times in three major areas—and those are the areas where I’m making the most progress. Whether it’s my health and fitness goals, Michael Hyatt & Co. growth targets, or my children, I rarely achieve anything significant that doesn’t require at least a handful of significant strategy changes.
Why? Because we only have limited visibility when we set our goals. Think about it: How could you possibly plan for all the contingencies that will happen in a 365-day period on January 1 (or whenever you set your annual goals)? I haven’t had a year yet where unforeseen obstacles, challenges, and opportunities presented themselves in a constant parade.
What Helmuth von Moltke said about war applies perfectly to reaching our goals:
[N]o plan of operations extends with any certainty beyond the first contact with the main hostile force. . . . [T]he commander in chief will always keep his main objective in mind and will not be swayed by the changeability of events. Nevertheless, the way in which he hopes to attain that objective cannot be laid out in advance with any degree of certainty.
Instead, von Moltke said commanders will keep their objectives in view but use their judgment to react in the moment.
4 Keys to Cultivate Your Super Power
Before I make it sound like this kind of magical flexibility comes naturally to me, I have to confess I am not naturally flexible at all. Just ask my husband and kids. In fact, on the StrengthsFinder test of 34 strengths, my lowest scoring strength is Adaptability. I’m basically a life-long underachiever in the flexibility department. That’s good news, because this is less of a natural aptitude and more of a skill that anyone can cultivate.
If, like me, you can’t rely on your natural ability to excel at flexibility, here are 4 keys to help you cultivate this in yourself.
- There are no sacred cows. Your goals may be sacred, but your strategy sure isn’t. All that matters is whether or not it works. If the answer is no, you should feel free—compelled, even—to chuck it out the window and try something else.
A plan is still important. You might be tempted to think creating a game plan to accomplish your goals is a waste of time. Far from it. After all, having a plan is what gets us in motion, moving toward our goals. Without it, we would likely never get out of the gate. Just remember to hold it loosely as obstacles arise.
Possibility thinking is the secret sauce. Shifting gears from one strategy to the next presumes that you believe a better strategy exists, even if you don’t know what it is yet. This is part of what helps you hold your plans loosely. Focus on staying out of a place of scarcity, and in a place of abundance that says, “My best thinking, and my best strategies have yet to be discovered. There are always more ways to get there than I can see right now.”
Show your work. If you’re leading a team, this is a critical final step. You must explain your rationale for changing strategy to your team, and you must enroll them in your vision. This sets your team up for alignment with you, and the willingness to follow where you lead, even if it’s disruptive in the short term. As a leader, you must also be intentional about building a culture where flexibility, change, and risk taking are affirmed, so when you display these traits, they are seen as positive, not negative.
I take my goals very seriously. Too seriously to think my strategies are sacred. Think of it like driving to an important event. Maybe the road you initially chose was the quickest way—until an accident ground everything to a stop. If you can turn off the road and find a better route, do you take it or just creep along and miss your meeting?
The key to developing your own goal setting super power is to develop your tolerance for “changing your route” as often as you need to get to your goal.