☕️ Goals

Powering up your New Year's Resolutions
January 02, 2021 View Online | Sign Up

Daily Brew

The Ascent

Good morning. The Brew writers are wrapping up vacation, which means that the standard newsletter format (with the Markets graphic and bite-sized stories) is coming back on Monday. We also can't wait. 

But first, I wanted to devote this final special issue to something that's on a lot of our minds: New Year's Resolutions. I'm sure many of you are in the same boat, but when I make "resolutions" every year I do it half-heartedly and without any real game plan for accomplishing them. There has to be a better way.

So recently I dug into the research around goal setting and will relay some of the most interesting findings in this newsletter. I hope it's useful.

—Neal Freyman

SCIENCE

Goal Setting: The Fundamentals

To-do list gif

Giphy

Asking why people set goals is like asking why McDonald's fries last for several years without getting moldy—they just do and it's best not to ask why. 

But let's ask anyway: Why do goals exist? The answer isn't complicated. People, and companies and governments and nonprofits, set goals because they want to motivate themselves or their workforces to complete a particular task. It's probably the most popularly accepted method of brain hacking. 

Goals are everywhere around you. They're in...

  • Kickstarter campaigns
  • Quarterly earnings reports
  • Books ("let me just finish this chapter!") 

In fact, Morning Brew's referral program is entirely based on hitting goals: readers need three referrals for Light Roast, five for stickers, and so on. The system uses benchmarks to encourage people to share the newsletter, and it's been wildly effective

What's the best way to set goals?

Please, PLEASE do not type that into Google. I did and ended up in a listicle hellhole that burned a hole in my brain the size of 1 billion neurons. But, after some digging, I found some real science on the subject. A fellow by the name of Edwin Locke, together with a few colleagues, developed a goal setting theory that is generally accepted by the broader academic community. 

Here's the 101: You want better performance? Make your goals specific and difficult

  • Specific: If you want a healthier diet, you're better off pledging to "eat one dessert per week" rather than promising you'll "eat more veggies," which is vague. 
  • Difficult: Try to set your goals in the 90th percentile of difficulty. By having tougher goals, you'll simply work harder and be more focused than if your goal was easy to accomplish. 

You can't go wrong setting difficult, specific goals—unfortunately, there's more to goal setting theory than just those two terms. Without getting too in the weeds, I'll present several other useful concepts:

  • Commitment: As we all know, setting a goal is one thing...following through is another, far more difficult thing. There are several variables that affect commitment, such as who assigns the goal and whether the person believes they can actually achieve it.
  • Feedback: Feedback is an important tool on the goal-achieving journey. It helps you recognize what you're doing wrong, so you can improve your performance accordingly. Let's use a simple example: Hiring a tennis coach will help you achieve your goal of hitting a topspin two-handed backhand faster than if you don't have access to that training.

Bottom line: Squeezing decades of research on human psychology and organizational behavior into 400 words is a very specific, very difficult goal that I hope I've just attained. Keep reading as we dive deeper into the world of goal setting. 

        

GAMES

Goals and Video Games

Super Mario

Nintendo

You know when you used to jump on the flagpole at the end of a Super Mario Bros. level and this overwhelming feeling of satisfaction washed over you? That's because you just completed a goal.

Many video games, from Super Mario to Candy Crush, show how goals, constructed the right way, can lead to better performance and skills development. 

  • Video game goals are specific: Before I begin a level, I fully understand what I need to achieve. In Super Mario, I need to get to that flagpole before a turtle shell projectile sends me plummeting to my death.
  • They are difficult: Had there been no turtle shell projectiles on my path to the flagpole, I would have felt no sense of accomplishment and probably would've stopped playing the game.
  • Games provide feedback: If I keep dying on my way to the flagpole, then it's clear I'm doing something wrong. I can adjust my strategy to improve my performance.

Games are so effective at motivating people to accomplish tasks that non-game programs have borrowed these tactics in a process known as "gamification." The app Duolingo is a perfect example—it motivates users to learn new languages by allowing them to earn virtual coins and "level up." Many fitness apps also use gamification to help you become a better athlete.

        

CORPORATE

Bring in the Suits

Office space exec

Office Space

Companies are composed of a swarm of employees with their own desires, motivations, and foul-smelling lunches. How to direct them toward a common goal is a question that's weighed on managers for centuries. 

One of the most popular goal setting frameworks in Corporate America is "OKR," which makes sense because it is a confusing acronym. OKRs are the brainchild of Intel exec Andy Grove and were popularized by venture capitalist John Doerr, who learned about the method from Grove and introduced it to a number of companies, most famously Google. 

It's probably time to tell you that OKR stands for "Objectives and Key Results." 

  • Objectives refer to the main goals your team is trying to accomplish over a given time frame. They should be aggressive but realistic. 
  • Key Results are the 3–5 measurable benchmarks that form the roadmap to accomplishing your Objective. 

Over at Google, they grade Key Results on a scale of 0–1.0. The "sweet spot" is to hit a 60%–70% grade on your OKRs: anything higher means you aren't setting ambitious-enough goals, and a lower score means your goals could be unrealistic.  

OKR is just one strategy for setting goals at the corporate level (it can also be used in your personal life, too). This podcast episode featuring John Doerr provides a more in-depth introduction to the methodology. You can also check out his book, Measure What Matters.

        

SPONSORED BY THE ASCENT

Decree: Old Credit Cards Banished From Wallet Kingdom

The Ascent

On the second day of this New Year, and with our readers bearing witness, we, Morning Brew, hereby decree that old credit cards are now and forever BANISHED from Wallet Kingdom.

Now that this card has arrived, our old cards wear our leather thin. Begone, outdated plastic!

Readers, our old credit cards charged us interest; this card has no interest until 2022. With our old credit cards we struggled to secure significant amounts of cash back for our families and allies; this new card has up to 5% bonus cash back, a figure nearly unheard of across all the credit lands!

Most offensively, our old cards wore smelly and unfashionable tunics, but this new card comes in lots of sleek colors, and will surely represent us well when whipped out at fancy restaurants!

May our chalices be full of cashback rewards and 0% intro APR offers

Here here (is thy new card)!

Q&A

Ask Ashna

Ashna Mankotia

Starter Hacks

Let's bring many of the abstract goal setting concepts we've talked about to the real world. I asked Ashna Mankotia, a product manager at Morning Brew and goal setting guru, a few questions about her approach to personal growth. 

How do you select your personal goals? And over what time frame? 

I set yearly goals in January and check in (and sometimes edit) them every 3 months. I try to make sure my goals are categorically broad and help develop me in more than just one way. For example: health/fitness, financial, and personal development. 

You tweeted, "I LOVE goal setting." Why? 

In my early 20s I realized that the life I wanted for myself was in fact achievable. I could have everything I ever wanted if I was willing to figure out how to get it. To me, goal setting feels like the first step in living the life of my dreams. 

What makes a good goal?

I think all goals should be two parts: 1) value-based and 2) accompanied with objective metrics. For example, becoming financially responsible could be your value-based goal, but creating and sticking to a budget, paying off 30% of your debt, or contributing x% of your income to retirement are all specific objectives that you can measure. Don't think of a goal as a pass/fail situation, but more like a progress bar. 

How do you make sure you stay committed? 

First, you are in a relationship with yourself. When you forgo your goals, you're kind of cheating on yourself. And you deserve better than that. Secondly, you can't rely on motivation. Motivation is fleeting, so do the thing even when you don't want to. That's how goals are achieved. 

What specific tools do you use to help you achieve your goals?

I use Notion so I have one central place to look back on my goals each year and see how they have grown with me. 

What's the most ambitious goal you've ever set? Did you accomplish it? 

In the beginning of 2019 I could barely run a mile but set a goal to run a 10k. This genuinely felt impossible but on June 9, 2019, I ran my first 10k in 1:03:07. Then, without really thinking about it, on June 21, I signed up for a half-marathon. I figured if I could do what felt impossible once, why not again? On October 20, I ran 21k in 2:23:58. Now, when I set my goals, I try to remember this and while I celebrate "10k" milestones, I set my sights on "half-marathon" goals. 

Do you mind sharing your goals for 2021?

Two of my 2021 goals that feel very ambitious (but exciting): 

1. I want to feel stronger. 

  • Metric 1: I want to be able to do 75 pushups at once (currently at about 15 lol)
  • Metric 2: Create, follow, and iterate on a workout program with more strength training and less cardio 

2. I want to own being a creator, and feel less self-conscious about the content I put on social media. 

  • Metric 1: Reach 10k followers on TikTok
  • Metric 2: Reach 5k followers on Twitter

Let's give Ashna's 2021 goals a jumpstart. You can follow her on Twitter and TikTok (I 10/10 recommend her accounts).

        

RESOURCES

Homework

There are more ways to set goals than ways to eat a Reese's. I dove into that listicle hellscape I mentioned earlier to surface some of the most popular and unconventional methods to help you get started on your goal setting journey. 

SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound) goals 

The OGSM model: Objective, goals, strategies, and measures

Warren Buffett's "2 list" strategy

One-word goal setting

Backward goal setting

Tiered goals: annual goals vs. quarterly vs. monthly 

A framework specifically designed for the 21st century 

BHAG: Big Hairy Audacious Goal

The Golden Circle

Alternatively, you could ignore the advice provided in this newsletter and set 0 goals. This article argues that our relationship with goal setting is toxic and sets us up for a life devoid of fulfillment.  

        

SPONSORED BY WALMART

Walmart

Well, this is a big plus. Introducing a new kind of membership that saves you all kinds of time and money: Walmart+. From groceries to gadgets and last-minute gifts, with Walmart+'s free delivery from your store* you can get it all as soon as today—and at the same everyday low prices you love. Start your 15-day free trial here.

BREW'S BETS

Warm fuzzies: For a feel-good read, check out this post by Weird Al about his 9th grade math class. 

New music: We bet most of the titles on Ted Gioia's "100 Best Albums of 2020" list will be unfamiliar to you. Check them out and expand your musical horizons. 

Fun with maps: This website will draw every single road in a city. Also makes for a fun trivia question.

GAMES

Brew Crossword: No Place Like Home

Crossword

Francis Scialabba

After a relaxing vacation in Tulum, the Brew Crossword is back. Readers who love a certain 1939 film will also love this puzzle, written by Maggie James. Give it a try here.

Remember, you can submit your own crossword to be featured in this section. Check out the guidelines

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Written by Neal Freyman

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