Six months ago I set three fairly ambitious goals. Clarification…ambitious goals by my desk-job-working standards. For me, these goals are what Jim Collins might refer to as “Big Hairy Audacious Goals (BHAGs)“. One of my goals was to run 400 miles over the course of six months. Much to my surprise, I am actually on track to achieve that goal. When I started this challenge I was running zero miles a week. Yes, zero is much less than the 15+ average weekly miles required to accomplish the 400-mile goal. If I achieve this goal who should I credit for my success? Did Edwin Locke, Charles Duhigg, or Facebook ultimately provide the assist? Sabina Nawaz’s Harvard Business Review article indicates all three might have played a significant role.
Although the concept of goal setting is thousands of years old, Locke is credited for defining the goal-setting theory of motivation. Locke proposed that when specific and challenging goals combine with moderators and mediators, performance is influenced.
My six-month challenge seemed to align with Locke’s theory. My goal of running 400 miles in six months was certainly specific and, at least for me, incredibly challenging.
In the Power of Habit, Duhigg builds on Locke’s goal-setting theory with an explanation of the role transformational habits play in achieving our goals. Duhigg provides insight into the core drivers of behaviors that will lead to success or failure in achieving our goals.
Initially, I struggled to make progress towards my goal. Several weeks in I knew I had to make some changes. I decided to make just one simple change. I set my alarm for 5 am every morning, even on days when I wasn’t running. Prior to that, I was alternating between 5 am and 6 am wakeup times. It took a bit, but after a few weeks, it became easier and easier to crawl out of bed and start my runs.
2.9 Billion Friends
When Facebook created its platform, they were likely well aware of the neuroscience of creating feedback loops in social circles. As one article explains, “we are all dopamine addicts” and early on Facebook found ways to capitalize on this addiction. They quickly found ways to utilize neuroscience to keep us coming back to their platform.
I had the most success in the past when I ran with a least one other person. With the impacts of the pandemic and other factors in play, I was limited to running these miles on my own. As with many other activities during the pandemic, I wondered if I could overcome the solo running impact another way.
I decided to conduct an experiment using Facebook. While I wasn’t able to physically run side by side with anyone on the journey, I committed to virtually bringing along a few friends. I reached out to several friends and asked them if they would allow me to tag them each week in my progress updates. I’ll be honest, I’m not sure which neurological aspects of the social media platform had the most impact. However, publicly committing to my goal, the encouraging feedback, and at times, a much-needed virtual kick in the butt all impacted my progress.
Sabina Nawaz & BHAGs Achieved
In my unscientific experiment, I essentially confirmed what Sabina Nawaz explains in her article “To Achieve Big Goals, Start with Small Habits“. While setting big and challenging goals is one component, Nawaz explains that most of us will fail to reach those goals if we don’t break them down. It’s breaking the big, seemingly unobtainable goal into minuscule regular habits that determine success. Nawaz finishes her article by encouraging us to surround ourselves with people that will hold us accountable, even in the small things.
I’d be lying if I said I had Nawaz’s wisdom and forethought to synthesis the knowledge of Locke, Duhigg, and Facebook to achieve my goal. However, in hindsight, it’s clear to see how each played a role. I started with a specific but challenging goal. Next, I used the power of habit to make regular progress towards that goal. Finally, the neuroscience of an accountability team kept me headed towards my goal.
While I used Goal-Setting Theory, The Power of Habit, and an accountability team to accomplish a personal goal, I believe the same can be applied to our leadership. As leaders, we add value by helping others accomplish BHAGs. We add value by supporting small, incremental habit shifts and creating a culture of support and accountability.