If you want to achieve your goals, don’t focus on them: Reggie Rivers at TEDxCrestmoorParkED
If you want to achieve your goals don’t focus on them. That goes against everything we have ever said about goals, right? Everything everyone ever talked about goals, is you pick out what it is you want to do, you set your goals, you write them down, you stay focused on them, you check your list over and over again, you come back to it, and that’s how you achieve your goals. What I have learned over the course of my life, and watching other people, and studying other things, is that that’s not the way to achieve goals. We all talk about setting goals, but we don’t talk that much about how do you actually achieve goals. So, I started learning this lesson with my first girlfriend in life. Her name was Lasandra Johnson. You guys, who has never seen Lasandra, you have to take my word for it; she was the most beautiful 6th grader God has ever created. (Laughter) And for the record, I was in the 6th grade too.
(Laughter) I used to look at this girl and think every day, “I would love for LaSandra to be my girlfriend.” But I was young, and I was afraid, so I didn’t go to say anything to her. But one day I was standing on the playground during recess, I don’t know where the courage came from, but I decided today is the day, I wasn’t going to wait another day. I turned to my buddy, John Statura, and I said, “John, go ask Lasandra to go with me.” (Laughter) So he goes walking over to her, and he poses the question, her little group of friends giggles, she says something back. He comes walking back to me, he says, “Reggie, Lasandra said, if you want her to be your girlfriend, you got to ask her yourself.” (Laughter) But I am in 6th grade, I sent my best man.
What does she want? (Laughter) But there was no way I was going to ask her myself, so I continued to think about her for the rest of that school year. Summer brake came, and I thought about Lasandra Johnson every day of the summer brake. The next year was 7th grade, and at my school, you had a different class every hour, and lockers between classes. For the first hour I had Woodshop. Lasandra had Home Economics.
At my school, you’re allowed to change one class as long as the class you are moving out of met at the same time as the class you’re moving in to. So, I walked into the principal’s office and said, “I’d like to change from Woodshop to Home Economics.” (Laughter) I walk into a Home Ec room, there are 22-23 girls in this classroom, one boy named Jurgen Kuhn and now, me. I asked the girl named Tara Virgamini to move over so I could sit next to Lasandra Johnson, and that day I asked her to go with me, myself. (Laughter) Thank you. (Applause) Thank you. She said, “No.” (Laughter) That was my first lesson on the prerogative of women that would be many more, but, making a long story short, Lasandra did end up becoming my girlfriend for two weeks and three days later in that school year (Laughter) but I tell this story because that’s the first time in my life that I can say that I purposely focused on the part that was in my control and ignored the part that was outside of my control; that was the first time in my life that I purposely focused on my behaviors rather than my goal.
We set goals for ourselves, but our goals are things that are outside of our control. Whatever it is you want to achieve in your life. If you are a student and you want to get an A in a class, that’s outside of your control, you don’t get to write A’s on all of your papers, you have a teacher who is going to grade these papers, give you assignments, somebody else is setting the curriculum, somebody else is grading you, you don’t control what your grade is.
If you want to be the world’s best salesman, you don’t get to make all the sales yourself, you don’t get to do both sides of the transaction, you have to recruit customers into your life. Goals require you to have the participation of other people, therefore, they are outside of your control. So, if you spend too much time focusing on your goals, you’ll never achieve them. Behaviors, by contrast, are things that you alone can do, it doesn’t take a parent, a teacher, a coach, a friend, a neighbor, a spouse, a child; it doesn’t require anyone else, you alone can do behaviors, and behaviors are the things that you focus on in order to achieve your goals. And looking at the situation with Lasandra Johnson and I: when I was focused on my goal, which was to have this girl to be my girlfriend, I couldn’t speak to her if I was walking past her in the hallway. In my head all the time it was, “Lasandra is cute, I want her to be my girlfriend.
Lasandra is cute, I want her to be my girlfriend.” We’re walking past her in the hallway, I’d turn the other way. (Laughter) I wouldn’t even say “Hello” to her, because I was terrified, all I could think about was my goal. When she told my friend John, “If Reggie wants me to be his girlfriend, he got to ask me himself,” I heard, “Yes”. (Laughter) So, I stopped thinking about the goal, the goal had already been achieved, I came back to focusing on my behaviors. Once I started focusing on my behaviors, I figured out what class she had at first hour, I learned the rules at our school about changing classes, I went to the principal’s office talking to adults, “Hey, listen, I got to change classes, I got a girl to catch.” (Laughter) I walked into the Home Ec room, full of girls. I was afraid to talk to one girl, now there is a room full of girls, and I was like, “Ladies, I am here.” (Laughter) I asked Tara to move over so I could sit next to Lasandra, and she did! I had a little swagger to me because I heard, “Yes.” And when I heard yes, I stopped focusing on the goal and I started focusing on my behavior, and I got myself into a position to achieve my goal.
She said no at that time, but later she said yes. Years later, when I looked back and thought about that, I thought, “That’s really the model for what happens in life, it’s a metaphor.” If you think about what we all go through, say, weight loss. We all were on a diet at one point or another – I am on one now, involuntarily, my wife has put me on one – but we all were on a diet at one point or another. And how does a diet start? It starts with a goal. You say, “I want to lose 10 pounds by the end of the year.” OK, that’s great, you have a goal. If you stay focused on that goal, you will never lose 10 pounds. Because what the next thing we do? We go from our goal to the scale.
We say, “OK, I am going to step on the scale. Scale, please tell me if I’ve lost any of these 10 pounds. Oh, I haven’t lost any. I’ve gained a pound. OK.” (Laughter) And we keep coming back to the scale, and you go through a week where you eat well, you’re exercising, you’re drinking a lot of water, you’re doing all the right things, and you get on the scale, and you’ve gained weight; you quit the diet. If you focus on your goal, you won’t achieve it. Instead, you have to focus on your behaviors, your behaviors are what is in your control: you control the food that you put in your mouth, you control the liquids that you put in your mouth, you control how much exercise you do, you control how you feel about the weight that you are, you control how you feel about the amount of food that you’re eating, you can either feel deprived and miserable, “Oh my God! It’s the worst day in the world.
I’m eating less than I used to eat. I’m starving all the time. I feel miserable. I can’t believe I’ve almost died. It’s awful!” Or you can say, “I’m proud of myself. I’m eating less than I used to eat, I have this instead of that, I feel good. I know that if I keep this up, when I get on the scale, the scale is going to tell me something good. If it doesn’t tell me something good right now, I know if I keep this up, I’m going to get where I’m going.” Right now, we treat the scales as if it is an oracle sent down from God to tell us about ourselves. (Laughter) When you are on a diet, it is like, “Oh, mighty Oracle, please tell me what I should think about myself today!” – “You’re fat!” – “Ooh!” (Laughter) The Oracle has spoken.
If you focus too much on your goal, if you focus on what it is you weigh, then you’re never going to achieve your goal. You have to focus on your behaviors. Think about our kids. We have goals for our kids: we want our kids to be responsible, we want them to be mature, we want them to work hard in school, to work hard at their extra curricula, to hang out with the right people, we want them to be engaged. We want all these wonderful things for our kids, and because we want these things for them, because we’re focused on those goals for them, we spent most of our time as parents being agitated, “Why are you doing that? Told you not to do that. Get over here. Do your homework. What? You’re only on one page in? I told you to get your homework done!” And we spend all our time fussing, and fussing, and fussing because these kids won’t do what we have in mind for them in terms of our goals; we’re focused on our goal. If you’re focused on your goal, you’ll never achieve it. You have to focus on your behaviors.
Behaviors are things that are in your control solely. So, you can’t control what your kids do. You can control your reaction to your kids, you control rewards, you control consequences, you control your consistency, you control whether you deliver on the things you said you’re going to do, you control what you respond to your kids at a level 10 or a level 3, you control what you control. And when you focus on the part that is in your control, which is your behaviors, you tend to achieve your goals. So, how does this work? The way that I do it in my life: when I set a goal for myself, I make a goal, and I say, “I want to lose 10 pounds.” So, then, I immediately look and say, “Behaviors are very short-term. I only believe that I can control my behaviors for 7 days, that’s it.” So, when I sat a goal, I say, “What can I do today that is going to help me to get closer to that goal? What can I do tomorrow that is going to help me to get closer to that goal? And what can I do this week that is going to get me closer to that goal?” Today, tomorrow, and this week.
I write things down in those three categories and plan out how I’m going to go after the goals that I have in my life. And that keeps me focused on my behaviors, and I know that if I focus on my behaviors day after day, I keep myself motivated day after day, I feel good about what I’ve done because I say, “I did this, I did that,” I’m not worried about the goal, I’m not worried about how much I weigh, I’m not worried how many sales I’ve made, I’m not worried about anything – that is outside of my control – I’m focused 100% on the part that is in my control.
If you want to achieve your goals, don’t focus on them. If you want to achieve your goals, you have to focus on the behaviors that are the building blocks that get you to your goals. Thank you very much. (Applause).