How to become the person you’ve always wanted
And why goals might not be the ticket
Greg is a normal dude with ambitions and goals. He wants to start making money on the side. He has decided that he can make some money by writing Medium articles online. (smart guy!) He has set some goals for himself to develop his writing skills. As Greg is just starting out he probably has a lot to learn as a writer. Greg sets a goal of writing 5 articles a week, and he has a friend proofread them.
Why not goals
After a few weeks, Greg hasn’t quite been hitting the 5 articles a week quota. He starts a few per week, even finishing a couple, but not hitting his goal leaves him discouraged. His discouragement leads him to hardly attempt his goals the next week, and Greg’s ambition fizzles.
For a lot of people, goals aren’t quite the ticket. Inevitably, we miss some milestones, procrastinate, or a setback temporarily gets in the way causing us to put off our ambition.
For many, goals aren’t “the way.” (couldn’t get a Mandalorian image, sorry!)
This may be a controversial opinion. There are some people for who goals work really well. Those people are likely not reading this post because they don’t need to.
For the rest of us, there is a better way. That way is self-talk.
What is self talk?
When Greg doesn’t fulfill his goals of 5 articles a week, he feels down on himself. He feels stuck, as though he cannot change.
Every time you think something, it’s as if you’re having a conversation with yourself. They have a similar effect as someone telling you those same things to your face. You wouldn’t be friends with a person that says some of the things you might be thinking. Don’t be a bad friend. It is an easy trap to fall into. Be a kind friend to yourself.
Let's think about how to leverage the positive side of self-talk.
Envision the kind of person that you want to be but in terms of labels. Such as early-riser, entrepreneur, fit, etc… And then tell yourself that you are those things. For Greg, this would be “a writer.” The label doesn’t have to be one thing either. It can be “hardcore, empathetic, or a champion” You can have more than one, but one to start is great.
Greg when he first starts telling himself that he is a writer feels two things. He feels a little uncomfortable. He thinks, “I can’t be a writer, I didn’t hit my quota!” This is expected. In spite of this discomfort, Greg also feels energized.
Greg starts to think of himself as a writer, and his positive self-talk makes him think of things that writers do during the day. After Greg’s 9–5, he plops himself on his couch, ready to watch the next episode of Black Mirror. As he is finding the show on his phone, he thinks to himself, “I am a writer.” Do writers watch Netflix? No. Well, they probably do. But watching Netflix isn’t what makes them better writers. Since Greg has relabeled himself with his self-talk, he stands from the couch thinking, “Writers write, and I am a writer.”
He gets up and heads to his desk to write without a quota to be met. He does just enough to declare himself a writer for the day.
By small actions, you prove that change is achievable. With the constant thought that I am an early-riser (as an example) whenever the temptation to sleep in arises, you have thought similar to “no, I am getting up because I am an early riser!” The ever-present thought helps you take action.
Greg, after a few weeks of self-talk, has written 10 out of the last 14 days. That's pretty good! Most people would say that anyone with that record is a writer. Greg doesn’t get discouraged by missed goals, because there aren’t any.
As you become consistent with the labels you have decided to put on yourself, you will actually become the type of person you want to be.
It is ok if you miss occasionally; as long as over-all you actually have proven to yourself what labels you have decided to adopt.
There is no need to ever feel down on yourself either. Right after you make a poor decision/mistake, decide again in the next second to get back on the path to affirm to yourself who you are. You didn’t miss the mark, you took a detour. Detours are the norm.
Fast forward six months and Greg is even more consistent than 10/14 days per week. He feels momentum. He now writes every day; not because of some goal, but because writing has become a part of him. A few months ago, he started publishing some of his work, and is making a small side income! Good for you, Greg!
The key to change is consistency. Short intense bursts won’t make lasting change. It is the small 1% improvement each day that turns into a large transformation. Goals have that intention, but the psychology for a lot of us gets in the way and discourages us. Self-talk helps overcome those hurdles.
Try on this method for a little bit and let me know what you think. Take stock of all the labels you hope to develop in who you are, write them down, and then try and live as if you are already who you want to be.
Months down the road as you think about the person that you have become, you will notice that you have changed more than the actions you have consciously taken. Embodying the label you put on yourself will change you in more ways than you think. This will be visible in hindsight, but hard to perceive in the short term.
I was inspired by James Clear’s Atomic Habits (affiliate link).