We Only Track One
by Steven M. Ledbetter
4 minute read
One of the best features of the Motivate Collective, in my opinion, is that it is a safe space to get advice about what to do with clients that happens to be populated by the best habit-based coaches in the world. Needless to say, the advice is insanely good. Yesterday, a coach asked for help with a client who had three habits he wanted to master and was down on himself for not getting everything right all at once. The conversation exploded with usefulness and even included comments from Seth Munsey (author of “The Client Centered Coach”), Georgie Fear (author of Lean Habits), Josh Hillis (author of the habit-based fat loss book, Fat Loss Happens on Monday), and yours truly. Very quickly, a consensus emerged, summarized by me as:
I’m eloquent like that. The thing about short-term goal setting (any habit that you haven’t mastered yet is just a really well-defined short-term goal), is that having lots of them not only doesn’t help anything, it’s pointless and often makes things harder than they need to be. In 1000+ clients, I have rarely seen a failure of willpower but I have seen 10,000 failures of focus.
Shah, Friedman, and Kruglanski (2002) showed that people with multiple goals only concentrate on one goal anyway. Gilliland and Landis (1992) showed that we tend to concentrate on whatever goal is the most clearly defined. And Fishbach, Friedman, and Kruglanski (2003) found that temptation makes us immediately start to prioritize our short-term goals (and then default to the one that’s the most clearly defined). So once the rubber meets the road and your clients are out there and tempted by anything and everything, they’re gonna be defaulting to one goal anyway. Now what do I mean by “clearly-defined?”
According to the goal-setting meta-analysis of Webb and Sheeran (2006) and all the fine work of Wendy Wood and David Neal, it’s better to work smarter, not harder in the pursuit of desired behavior. And smarter means habit-formation. And since habit means trigger, action, reward, we need to clearly define those right into the goal itself. After 4 years of iteration, here’s what I use (and you can steal it).
I am 90-100% confident I will [**action**] when [**trigger**] for the next 7 days. > > **action** = the tiny behavior they want to perform. > > **trigger** = the habitual behavior they're _already doing_ that they can piggyback on. > >
Then we track it. We track that one goal and only that goal. I give them feedback on that one goal. We talk about that one goal. We reflect on that one goal. Funnily enough they might notice they are getting better at a lot of things at the same time, but it’s because we’re staying focused. A client who has lots of short-term goals is often just operating in a feedback vacuum. They’re judging themselves on getting good at everything all at once because their attention is getting pulled all over the place and all they see is failure. What they need instead is feedback that they’re improving on anything. They need proof they’re mastering something.
So pick one well-defined, habit-based goal. Track it. And give your client feedback on it and only it. Yes, it’s hard. They’re going to want to do all the things. They’re going to want your permission to do all the things and they are going to think that doing all the things is what you want from them. But as coaches, we have to model the patience and focus we want them to learn. They’ll push you. But you only have to say one thing:
"We only track one."
Gilliland, S. W., & Landis, R. S. (1992). Quality and quantity goals in a complex decision task: Strategies and outcomes. Journal of Applied Psychology, 77(5), 672-681.
Fishbach, A., Friedman, R. S., & Kruglanski, A. W. (2003). Leading us not into temptation: Momentary allurements elicit overriding goal activation. Journal of personality and social psychology, 84(2), 296.
Shah, J. Y., Friedman, R., & Kruglanski, A. W. (2002). Forgetting all else: on the antecedents and consequences of goal shielding. Journal of personality and social psychology, 83(6), 1261.
Webb, T. L., & Sheeran, P. (2006). Does changing behavioral intentions engender behavior change? A meta-analysis of the experimental evidence. Psychological bulletin, 132(2), 249.