Success and failure: It’s all about goal structure

It’s funny how the tiniest tweak in the structure of an activity can completely influence your choices (and subsequently, your success rate). Don’t believe me? Check out this TED talk by behavioral economist Dan Ariely on irrational behavior.

As I get busier, I notice that these small structural changes to my goals make all of the difference. Here are a few examples:

a) I used to never be able to find time to watch TED talks – I think I watched one or two since January. But ever since discovering the download feature on the TED Android app, I’ve been watching 10+ talks per week on the subway.

b) I have a speech I need to write by June, but there is only so much creative inspiration I can generate on weekends, so I set a goal to work on the speech every day up until the deadline. In the past, I’ve always failed to spread out work over many days, and I always ended up cramming at the last minute. But I made a slight tweak to the structure of this goal that made all of the difference: I only need to work on it for only 10 minutes a day. A 10-minute commitment is so low, no matter how tired I am, it gets my butt on the chair and working. More often than not, I get into a flow-state at the 5 minute mark, so I end up working longer than the required ten minutes.

c) I’ve always wanted to learn to code in a high-level language like Python or PHP. But reading massive textbooks and lugging them around with me if I want to do work at a cafe is very burdensome. Once Codecademy came onto the scene, I found a means to learn to code right on my computer in a free, self-contained learning environment. The result? I’m three weeks into an intensive Javascript course.

Tiny tweaks in how you approach goals can make all of the difference, especially for those who are consistently pressed for time or lacking motivation. I plan on writing more about that topic in the future. But in the meanwhile, understanding self-gamification is a great first step to understanding how to properly set up and structure your goals. From there, conduct experiments on your own goals and see what you can discover about what drives you to take action.