To quit or not to quit: The truth about goal-setting

When I first started college, I declared mathematics as my major because I thought that was the right decision at that time – I didn’t know what I wanted to do and math was one of my strongest skills. After pursuing the course for almost four semesters, I soon found out that I did not enjoy math after all, and that was reflected on my grades.

By the time I realized that I was in the wrong major, I had already done two years’ worth of schooling. That was when I thought to myself – should I continue pursuing mathematics since I was already half way through my major? Or should I switch my major and use my time doing something I truly enjoy?

What about those two years, where countless hours were already spent studying and completing math courses? If I change my major, there was a chance that I might graduate later than my peers.

I was torn between the two years that I had spent in school (sunk cost) and the things that I could be doing should I decide to change majors (opportunity costs).

It was a tough decision to make, but I ended up changing majors and graduated within two years.

The main reason that I was able to graduate within two years even after changing my major was because I had set my mind to achieve that goal. Goals are important because they give you a sense of direction in life. Setting a goal is the easy part.

Following up with that goal, however, is another thing altogether.

For example, if you are working on a fitness goal, it is easy to give excuses to skip your workout session. Below is a 3-step routine that I have found helpful in following through goals:

Step 1: Prepare your workout gear the night before. On the day of your workout, break down the steps of your morning routine by getting out of bed, washing your face and putting on your exercise clothes.

Step 2: Monitor your performance. For instance, you can observe your fitness level by looking out for improvements such as running at a longer distance within a short space of time. As you get closer to your goal, employ different tactics to mix up your workout routine so that it does not become mundane.

Step 3: Celebrate your achievement with rewards that are aligned with your goals. For example, instead of cheating on your next meal, you can buy new clothes that you can now fit into as a form of reward.

This principle of goal-setting also applies to business and management. A classic example is providing training in sales to café employees:

  1. Start with smaller and more attainable goals such as teaching employees on the right way to greet customers.
  2. Acknowledge employees’ success and set the next round of goals by introducing new tactics of selling to keep employees interested in the training.
  3. Celebrate employees’ success with congruent rewards such as “free drinks” for employees who perform well.

When you feel like slipping after setting a goal for yourself, remind yourself of why you set the goal in the first place. If you really want to give up, then the goal that you have set for yourself may not be a good fit for you or may not be worthwhile after all. In life, we need to know when it is time to quit. In my case, the emotional cost of pursuing something that I love offsets the sunk cost of spending those two years in the wrong major.

Quitting does not mean failure. It may be a sign for you to revisit your goals so you do not regret your action 10 years later knowing how far you have come.

Building habits

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“Rome wasn’t built in a day.”

Like Rome, habits cannot be cultivated overnight. Likewise, bad habits are just as hard to eliminate. Fortunately, with sheer willpower and consistent practice, it is possible to build new habits and get rid of old ones.

For most of us, we create New Year’s resolutions at the beginning of each year, some of which include going to the gym more often, eat less and so on and so forth. As for me, my goal was to wake up earlier every morning to do yoga. Last year, I gave myself excuses for not waking up earlier than I should and as a result, I can barely touch my toes. This year, however, I started to form a habit of waking up in the wee hours of the morning to do yoga and for the past few weeks, I’ve been able to not only touch my toes, but also do a backbend.

Growing up, I’ve been told that it takes anywhere from 21 days to a month to form a new habit. In my opinion, this idea holds true for people looking to form simple habits such as eating a fruit a day or greeting one person that you meet each day. Other habits, such as sticking to a diet or going to the gym at least three times a week, are more difficult to maintain and take longer time to form because there are many distractions as well as other priorities that can get in the way. More often than not, these habits may require you to make changes to your schedule and lifestyle.

It takes a lot of discipline and patience to build and maintain a habit. Below are some ways that can help you form a new habit, both in your personal and professional lives:

  1. Identify your goal and write it down

It is better to pick a habit that you want to build and work towards it one step at a time so that you will be more focused in achieving what you have set out to do. It can be overwhelming if you want to build too many habits at the same time and you may be discouraged when times are tough. Write down that goal and put it at a place where you can see it everyday to remind you of it.

  1. Start now

Don’t wait until tomorrow, next week or next month to start forming the habit, even if it’s something as small as running for ten minutes today. It will make you feel a whole lot better knowing that you are one step closer to fully developing your new habit.

  1. Break your goal (building a new habit) into smaller goals

When you break down your goal into smaller, achievable goals, it is easier to keep track of your progress. Write down your progress to see how far you’ve come and how much further you need to go to achieve your goal. If you want to wake up an hour earlier in the morning, start with setting your alarm five minutes early. In time, you will be able to train yourself to wake up 10 minutes, 15 minutes earlier and so on. If you are not making progress even with the smaller goals after some time, reevaluate what you are doing and make changes accordingly, even if you have to start over or find another way to form the new habit.

  1. Recognize your challenges and find solutions to each problem

You will definitely encounter some challenges in building new habits such as skipping your workout because you’re too busy or too tired to wake up earlier. You start giving excuses and if prolonged, you will become demotivated to build that habit that you wanted. In this situation, you have to be aware and acknowledge the challenges that you are facing and the reason that you are giving excuses. Once you’ve identified the challenges, try to find solutions to each problem. For example, if you are too tired to wake up early, ask yourself why are you too tired. If it is because you are overworked at the office, consult your supervisor to see whether anything can be done about your workload.

  1. Have someone hold you accountable

A good support system is essential in helping you to form a new habit. For example, if you want to make running around the park as part of your daily routine, it will be much easier for you to execute that plan if you have a partner or a group of friends who are willing to run with you. You will not only start cultivating the habit of running, but you’ll build a great relationship with the people around you.

  1. Reward yourself

Give yourself credit at the end of the day, week or when you have achieved one of your smaller goals by taking yourself out for dinner or buying an item that you really like. If things don’t go the way you expect them to be, cut yourself some slack because you are not doing this for anyone else – you are doing it for yourself. So enjoy the journey and never, ever give up!