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How to Better Execute Against Your Goals & Actually Stick to Success Habits

Articles

Daniel LeMoine is a social entrepreneur, change-maker, and writer. Here he writes at the intersection of faith, work, & building a matterful career.

How to Better Execute Against Your Goals & Actually Stick to Success Habits

Dan LeMoine

I was recently asked: How are you able to execute? In other words, How am I disciplined with sticking to things (habits, commitments, ambitions, etc.)

The short answer is to create leverage and decrease resistance.

I. Creating Leverage

I try to find ways to make myself do the things I should be doing (and to avoid the things which distract me). If I get leverage on something, it means I am applying force to get movement in the direction I want.

So I try to find ways — both implicitly (internally) or explicitly (externally) — to make sure I’m doing what I say I want to be doing, and to help create an environment of execution of my goals and ambitions.

a. External Leverage

For certain habits I need more explicit or external motivators to force myself to stick with things. I have someone else counting on me to deliver and execute in certain areas which keep me honest and true to doing the right things. For example, a few years ago my writing was sporadic at best. I wrote whenever I felt like it, whenever the “spirit moved me” to do so. It wasn’t until I took over the blog of a company I’m closely associated with, did my body of work really take off — my writing become tighter, clearer, and more consistent. The fact that the partners at this company expect a post published each week leverages me to shut up, sit down, and type.

We all have these external levers in some areas of our lives; we get up each morning for work whether we feel like it or not because there is someone (or many someones) who are counting on our input, leadership, and work, and because we need to provide for our families. We go to practice when we don’t feel like it because our teammates are expecting us to and because they’re going too. We go to the gym at 5:30a because our workout partner is there waiting on us.

What areas of your life (spiritually, physically, financially, professionally, relationally) could you build in some external leverage?

Maybe it’s finding a workout buddy, or an accountability partner who will ask you the hard questions no one else will. Maybe it’s finding a part-time or freelance opportunity in a desired industry where you’ll be expected to deliver — “forced" to produce work which will build your connections and body of work in preparation for a full blown career move.

b. Internal Leverage

For other things, or as our success habits begin to stick and become routine, our motivation shifts — at least in part — to more implicit internal motivation. 

This internal leverage is when we need less of an outside force to compel us to do the right things. We generally have a deeper understanding of why I must do a thing, or the success routine has become a full blown habit. 

I began lifting weights in middle school for sports. I have maintained a pretty consistent workout routine since then. Sports (mainly football and rugby) took up the majority of my athletic bandwidth until several years after college. These high school, collegiate, and mens athletic programs which I was a part of where great external motivators for staying fit. There was an expectation of athleticism which helped leverage me to get my butt in the gym. But somewhere along the way over the last 17 years I stopped needing that external lever as much.

Yet, while I’m no longer part of any official athletic program (no more external leverage), I still consistently hit the gym several times a week because I’ve conditioned myself to love it. I intrinsically know and feel the benefits (both short- and long-term) when I’m consistent with this habit. The leverage to get to the gym is much more internal.

We must also recognize that the need for external and internal leverage fluctuates and is not mutually exclusive. In some season, it seems like I need a workout partner to get myself out of bed at 5:30a, in other seasons I seem to have no problem making it happen from internal motivation. 

From my experience it’s a massively powerful spot when you’ve achieve both layers to help you execute against your goals and be successful in the things you want to achieve. Stoking the internal fire while also having someone else keeping you accountable to actively fanning the flame is when big momentum and movement begins to take place. 

After a while, once something becomes a habit, the external leverage (like a workout partner or hard deadline) is more of a safety measure and barometer rather than the primary source of leverage. That’s because once something becomes a habit, we’ve conditioned ourselves to automatically and implicitly motivate ourselves to do a thing.

II. Decreasing Resistance

a. Visual cues and line of sight.

The second aspect of execution which I’ve found highly valuable is decreasing resistance. It’s insane how keeping something out of sight does often keep it out of mind. For the morning routine, setting my gym clothes out the night before takes one more step out of the process between waking up at 5:30 and getting the gym. Putting my vitamins out on the counter instead of in the drawer help me to remember to take them.

b. Remove distraction.

I’ve also heard of writers who, in order to get right into writing at the onset of their day, make sure their word processing software is open when they turn on their computer in the morning. No email or social to distract, just right into putting thoughts on paper. 

Remove ambiguity by breaking down into bite-sized tasks

Clearly breaking down larger projects or goals in to small bite sized tasks helps remove ambiguity which is a form of subconscious resistance.

c. Schedule your intentions

Another way to decrease resistance as well is to give give it a time and place to live on your calendar. "If it’s not on the calendar, it doesn’t exist” as my friend Joshua says.

I’ve probably quoted James Clear on this countless times, but I’ll over communicate for the sake of driving the point home:

Research has shown that you are 2x to 3x more likely to stick with your habits if you make a specific plan for when, where, and how you will perform the behavior. For example, in one study scientists asked people to fill out this sentence: “During the next week, I will partake in at least 20 minutes of vigorous exercise on [DAY] at [TIME OF DAY] at/in [PLACE].”

Researchers found that people who filled out this sentence were 2x to 3x more likely to actually exercise compared to a control group who did not make plans for their future behavior. Psychologists call these specific plans “implementation intentions” because they state when, where, and how you intend to implement a particular behaviour. [1]

Where can you remove ambiguity, distraction or resistance in the different areas of your life?

Now, I don’t get it right all the time. There are moments where I don’t operate as I’ve intended for a multitude of reasons. These are just a few strategies I’ve used to help me execute and implement what I say I want to be doing to make progress in different areas of my life. I hope they help! 


[1] James Clear, "The Scientific Argument for Mastering One Thing at a Time" (www.jamesclear.com/master-one-thing)

ARTICLE NO. 72/100 OF #THE100DAYPROJECT AND 100 DAYS OF WRITING.

TO FIND OUT MORE ABOUT THIS EXPERIMENT IN CREATIVITY, DISCIPLINE, LEADING UP, AND SLAYING PERFECTIONISM AND HOW YOU CAN JOIN CHECK OUT THIS POST.