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Stop Setting Goals!

It's that time of year again...when we've messed up on the goals we set for the new year. I know, you still have great ambitions and I get it, you are determined to meet those goals no matter what, even if there are some setbacks. But I wonder - "Should we set goals at all?"

I'd like to argue and say "No!" There is a better way to get what you want.

Not long ago I had set a goal to deadlift 405 pounds at the gym. This was a BHAG (big, hairy, audacious goal) and it fit all the criteria to be SMART. After several months of serious training, packing on an extra 15 pounds, and telling myself over and over "You can do this," I did it. I actually lifted 405 pounds off the ground! I was so happy and so impressed with myself. It felt amazing. I had reached a serious accomplishment.

And then I stopped going to the gym.

Wait, what?


Yes, that's right, I stopped going to the gym. I had worked so hard for so long to hit my deadlifting goal, I just wanted a break. So, I took one and I lost all the momentum I had developed to reach that goal. It's like I was a train traveling at 100 MPH, then I slammed on the breaks by taking a break. Nobody could stop my momentum and then after reaching my goal, no matter how hard I tried, I could not get my momentum going again.

Sounds familiar? Perhaps you don't lift weights, but maybe you've set a weight-loss goal? Or a financial goal? Or a goal to write a book? So, you set your sights on it, achieve it, and get demotivated. My brother-in-law hit his year sales goal the first month of this year. How much motivation do you think he has to keep working hard the rest of the year (I hope a lot, but if it were me I'd have a hard time staying motivated)?

Setting goals stops momentum. Out of the 53 Superbowl championships, only 7 teams have come back and won back-to-back.

The greatest enemy of tomorrow's success is yesterday's success - Rick Warren

So, if goals don't get us to momentum, what does? I believe that the best way to develop momentum is through an intentional growth plan (IGP). An IGP is a plan that takes place daily. There is no "done" to the plan. It continues to evolve and change as you grow and develop, but it is never finished. An IGP is also intentional. Successful people don't accidentally find success. They were intentional in their daily habits and after years, they became an overnight success.


Whatever you want to get out of life, you'll have a greater chance of getting it if you Go for MO. That is, if you focus on developing momentum through an intentional growth plan rather than setting a goal. Here's how to do it:

Step 1: Change Up How you Wake Up

The first step of intentional growth is analyzing how you wake up. Did you hit the snooze button this morning? How about any morning this week? Did you hit it more than once in any given morning? Maybe you didn't, but most people I talk with have developed a system or routine for waking up, which often includes hitting snooze 1, 2, 3, or more times. I'd like you to consider if this is truly how you want to start your day.

Psychologists say that the best way to improve self-confidence is to have good friends and to keep promises that you make to yourself. Each night as you go to bed, you set your alarm. This alarm-setting is a promise that you make to yourself. For me, it is as though I say, "Jason, I'm setting this alarm for 5 AM. I'm expecting you to get up when the alarm goes off." Yet, some mornings I don't feel like getting up at 5. So, it hit snooze and thereby break a self-promise. The first thing I do in the morning, the very first act of the day is to break a promise with myself! Well, that is not intentional at all. Why in the world would I ever do that? But I do. Do you?

If so, resolve to "refuse to hit snooze." That is, set your alarm and get up when it goes off. Now, some of you might say, "I intentionally set it 10 minutes before I need to get up so that I can hit the snooze." Unfortunately, this sort of trickery doesn't work on your brain. Set it for when you want to get up and get up. Keep the promise you make to yourself.

Secondly, I want you to ask yourself, "What is the first thing I do when I wake up?" When I ask this of my training groups, typically about 80% of the group will say that they check their phones. While this action may seem innocent, I wonder if it really is. For me, there are usually three types of notifications on my phone when I wake up: news notifications, emails, and social media. News threads inform me of a bombing there, a sandal here, and a political mess everywhere. Emails can be OK, but I've noticed that any email after 10:00 at night is usually a bad email. Someone needs something, a problem occurred at work, or there was a situation that needs to be addressed as soon as you get to work. Social media can be OK too. However, in my world, I often get social notifications of great things happening in the lives of others and no such notifications that people like the great things that I posted. In short, the news and emails drive me to a negative place and the lack of social comments on my posts makes me depressed. Is this the way you want to start your day? I sure don't.

In order to ensure that you start your day right, set your alarm for a certain time, refuse to hit snooze, and then leave your phone alone. Determine what intentional actions you are going to take to feed your mind. Instead of looking at your phone, maybe you do some reflection, you listen to a podcast, or you read something inspirational. Whatever you do, make sure it is something that you've intentionally decided to do to set your mind in the right place for an uncommonly successful day.

Step 2: SHIG in the Morning

The next step to your IGP is to create a regular morning routine. This routine should consist of at least 4 things:

Shock - Exercise, take a cold shower, go outside, splash water on your face, do 15 push ups or do anything that will shock your body into being awake.

Hydrate - Your brain is made of cells. During the 8ish hours you were asleep most of these cells became dehydrated. Take a large drink first thing to rehydrate your brain.

Inspire - Find something that will inspire you. Read a quote, listen to a podcast, find some time for the Bible, look at your vision board, repeat your positive affirmations, or whatever else can get you excited in the morning.

Gratitude - Life is amazing and we should start every day expressing it. Whether it be in prayer, a journal, or simply in your mind, start your day with gratitude.

Step 3: Determine the Best Time of Day to Learn

Daniel Pink wrote a book called When. In this book, he explains that we each have a "chronotype," or a hidden pattern of daily life. He argues that some of us are early birds, some are late birds, and some are middle birds. That means, some of us learn best in the morning, some best late at night and some in between. When do you learn best? Once you've identified a time, place a learning block of time into your schedule.

Keep in mind that you may not be able to organize your schedule like this. Don't use this as an excuse not to grow. If your schedule only permits you to read for 30 minutes just before you go to bed and you are an early bird, screw the chronotype and read. If you learn most by doing and the most opportune time to do it is right after lunch and you're a late bird, go ahead and do it. The important thing is that you have intentionally chosen a certain time every single day when you are going to focus on learning. For me, it's 7:00 AM. For you, it could be earlier, during lunch, right after work, at 8:00 in the evening, or 12:00 at night. I don't know and honestly, I don't care. What I do care about is that you choose a time and determine that this is going to be your time to learn. If you don't become intentional when you learn, you take the risk of becoming an "accidental learner" by hoping that you find time someday to learn. This is the opposite of what I'm trying to emphasize here.

Step 3: Determine What you Want to Learn

Third, it is hard to get the motivation to learn unless you take some time to know what you want to learn about. Sure, you could just pick up a book, choose a random podcast, or scroll through your LinkedIn feed and find great things to learn. This is definitely a strategy and if it is the only thing you have time now to do, do it. But if you want to take your learning to a higher level, if you are interested in raising your leadership lid now, and if you want to ensure that you have the motivation to put in the work today, tomorrow, and all of next week, it is critical that you take time now to determine what you want to learn about. This will give you direction and it will save you time each day wondering where and what you should learn about.

Instead of randomly grabbing a book or reading an article, consider the following 7 areas of life. For each area, think about what you'd like to learn. Where are you and where do you want to be? Following each area of life, I've given you some suggestions to prime the pump of your mind.


  • What is the proper balance between proteins, carbohydrates, and fats?

  • What are some different forms of working out that would be more appealing for you?

  • How important is sleep and how can you get to sleep faster?


  • What historical events have shaped our nation?

  • How can a black hole eat a neutron planet?

  • What is the climate really like in Antarctica?


  • How can I draw closer to God?

  • What can give me more confidence to take risks?

  • How can I cope when bad things happen to good people?


  • What is the best recipe for making root beer?

  • Where is the best location for a deer stand?

  • How can I fill a dent in the car I’m restoring?


  • What are the best techniques for disciplining kids?

  • How can I be a better spouse/significant other?

  • What can I learn about from studying my family history?


  • What are the best techniques to increase sales?

  • How can I deal with an angry client?

  • What cross-training would I like?


  • How can I pay off my debts?

  • Should I invest in the stock market?

  • What is the difference between a traditional and Roth IRA?

Identifying growth for each of the 7 areas of life can be overwhelming, so I don't suggest trying to do it all. Rather, choose one or two areas and spend some time thinking about what you'd like to learn about. How would you like to grow? Get some ideas into your head and onto paper. Doing so is like taking the time to ensure that the trigger finger is placed right, the breathing is slow and steady and the tip of the arrow is correctly aligned. Taking the time to think about what you'd like to learn makes it so much easier to start learning.

Step 4: List How you Want to Grow

After teaching for a couple of years, I noticed a pattern in my students. Some of them loved my lecture days. They'd get out their notebooks, they would place a pencil or two on their desks, and they would hang onto every word I shared. For others, I could tell that lecture days were painful days. Rather, they thrived on my experiential days, where we would get out of our seats and do something. Still, others preferred group work, some liked most to read, and a few wanted no instruction at all…they preferred to dive in and learn by doing. At first, this was hard for me to cope with as a teacher. I believed that all learning comes from reading and listening. So, when I taught, I relied heavily on asking students to read something or lecturing to them. Recognizing that this didn't work for all students, I had to shift how I taught.

You might have the assumption that for you to learn you have to be a strong reader. Therefore, you pick up a book and start to read. It is boring, you can't stay focused, and you forget everything you've read minutes after reading it. This makes you frustrated about reading, so you tell yourself “Forget it," and go on with your average life. The problem here is not learning. The problem is that you've not recognized a way that you like to learn. You can improve your ability to grow by shifting how you learn.

Here are several different ways of learning. Read through the list and note which ones you'd like to try. As you do so you'll recognize that you can grow in many different ways.

  • Read a book

  • Listen to a podcast

  • Watch a YouTube video

  • Read a LinkedIn article

  • Find a mentor

  • Download a podcast

  • Listen to a book on Audible

  • Watch a webinar

  • Ask someone to teach you

  • Join an online course

  • Read a blog

  • Download a learning app

  • Study a graph

  • Draw your learning out

  • Make a song

  • Tell someone what you've been trying to learn

  • Teach someone a task

  • Ask to take on a new task

  • Collaborate with someone

  • Create/join a study group

  • Reflect in a journal

Step 5: Make it Easy to Grow

I've learned a simple fact: If I keep sweets next to my computer, I'll snack on sweets. If I keep a healthy snack next to my computer, I'll have a healthy snack. Why is that? We love convenience. If we sleep with our phones next to our bed, we will check them. If all of our couches face the TV, we'll watch TV. If there is soda in your fridge, you'll drink it.

What could happen if we were intentional in making it convenient to grow? Let's say that one of your areas of growth was better fitness. Your likelihood of doing something will dramatically increase if you place water bottles next to your working area, if you place a dumbbell next to your bed, and if you buy and then set out workout clothes for the morning's workout.

The trick here is to reduce the number of excuses that you could use for not growing. If you don't start reading about how to increase sales because you don't have a sales book, buy one…or five. Place them all around your house so that you can't go anywhere without seeing one. If you want to save more money, set up automatic transfers from your checking to your savings.

These may seem like simple steps but that is exactly why most people don't do them. They assume that they will have enough determination to save money, to go and find that book, to get up and work out. Then, when it comes time, they find every excuse they can to not take action towards growth. So, bypass all of that. Schedule a couple of hours out of your day and become intentional in making it easy to grow.

Step 6: Start Today

This step may seem contradictory to the previous step. You see, some of you read step 5 and it gave you an excuse to not start right away. You want to figure out the right way to ask your boss for help in your learning. You've got to do some research on the best workout clothes and then shop at a handful of stores until you find what you like. Or, you have to wait for Amazon to ship the books to you. True, it will take some time to make it easy to grow, but that does not mean you need to wait until everything is in perfect order. In fact, it is more important to start than to have it set right.

Make a resolution that sometime before you go to bed tonight, you spend at least 30 minutes doing something for your personal growth. You could find an article online to read, you could ask someone at work to train you on something new, or you could simply pull up the TED app and start listing to a couple of TED talks. These actions may not be in complete alignment with what you want to learn, but taking some action today and then taking action again tomorrow, and the next day, and the next, will help you get into the habit of learning and growing. Legendary football coach Vince Lombardi said, "Inches make a champion." That is, starting today, no matter how small, sets you on the path to developing the habit of intentional growth. Over the course of your life, what and how you study and learn will vary greatly, but none of that will matter unless you first build a habit of growth.

Step 7: Feed the Tortoise

By this point, the fact that we need to do something to grow each day may be repetitive. However, as you embark upon your Intentional Growth Plan, you'll quickly realize something. Day one and day two will be pretty easy. So will days three, four, and five. After a while though, it is going to get difficult. Perhaps the demands of the day will increase, or maybe you are disappointed because you've not seen much growth yet. In almost 100% of the cases when I've worked with leaders on their IGPs there comes a time when they want to give up. A time when they've lost their motivation, when they don't see the point, or when they are just plain tired of waking up earlier to get some reading and margin time in. Feeding the tortoise means that we are not in this for the short-haul, like the hare. Rather, we are focusing on how to grow through daily actions.

Personal growth is not easy. If it were, everybody would be doing it, but they are not. Having an Intentional Growth Plan is what makes people uncommon. It means that we are so determined in our development that we are willing to keep growing every single day, no matter the challenges or lack of motivation.

Author Seth Godin said, “We need to stop shopping for lightning bolts. You don't win an Olympic gold medal with a few weeks of intensive training, there's no such thing as an overnight opera sensation. Great law firms or design companies don't spring up overnight...Every great company, every great brand, and every great career has been built in exactly the same way: bit by bit, step by step, little by little."

People who have grown to incredible heights understand that one of the most beautiful words in the English language is consistency. They realize that growth at the beginning is going to be slow, but that doesn't stop them from being intentional in their growth. They also know that consistency creates momentum. In other words, even though growth, in the beginning, is slow, as we continue to grow, the speed and rate of growth increase dramatically. What we do in the beginning has huge dividends in the end.

As part of your Intentional Growth Plan, make a resolution that no matter how hard it gets, no matter if you don't see growth at the beginning, and no matter how tired you are, you will continue to follow the plan. Put your faith into the plan and allow the process to take you to new heights.

Step 8: Find an Accountabilibuddy

Lest you think you can do all of this by yourself, Step 8 is all about asking for help. As mentioned, personal growth is difficult. It does not come naturally and it can be slow at the start. To assist you with this and to sharply increase the likelihood of your growth, it's time to find an accountabilibuddy. An accountabilibuddy is a close friend that can hold you accountable for your goals. This is the friend that is going to check up on you, ask you about your progress, and even instill a little guilt if you've not stayed on track.

You may think that you can do all this by yourself, and you probably can make great strides. But if you are serious about your personal growth, it's time to find a friend. I have two individuals that I consider accoutabilibuddies. I meet with each one via Zoom once every other month. We share goals, we talk about disappointments, we get really honest about fears and frustrations, and they empower me to keep going. With the help of these two individuals, I am years ahead of where I would be without them. They have been instrumental in my Intentional Growth Plan.

Ladies and gentlemen, we have to take control of our personal growth. John Maxwell said, "While others may lead small lives, we cannot. While others see themselves as victims, we will not. While others will leave their future in someone else's hands we will not. Make that choice, and do not surrender." (Growth, page 220). By focusing only on goals, we are doing something that will absolutely guarantee the stoppage of momentum in our lives. Let's change that by creating a plan. Let's separate ourselves from the average, raise our leadership lid, and get better so that we can help others get better.

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