How to Accomplish Your Goals Without Conscious Effort

Too discouraged to make plans…

A few years ago, I had completely lost faith in time management. I was so discouraged from not seeing the results that I wanted to see in my life. To-do lists, calendars, I chucked them all away. And you could imagine what my life, and business, looked like as a result.

I was so disappointed, so consistently, that I just didn’t have faith in planning anymore. I just woke up, did what I thought I had to do, and ended the day. Often with much frustration and discouragement.

One time I locked the door on my store/office, and went to work at another company the next day – I didn’t even bother to properly shut down my business.

It took years, but step by step, inch by inch, I learned that you can plan your time, I learned that you can set goals. Once I realized what goals to set, and how to use my time.

Yet, as much as I like using to-do lists and calendars nowadays, there is one thing that I usually avoid – reminders.

Why I don’t like reminders

I don’t want my phone bothering me with something that I can just snooze away. If it’s important, I don’t want to be able to snooze it away, if it isn’t important, then I don’t want to be bothered with it.

Until it hit me – not everything falls into the context of work. You see, all my planning and to-dos were strictly for one area of my life – work. But there were other things that I needed to remember. I needed to remember to take an alternate route when I drive my kids to school. I needed to remember to take our youngest son with me on the drive. I even needed to remember when to cut my hair.

These things all fall outside of the context of work, therefore, I don’t want them in my work to-do lists and on my work calendar. Because it would just be noise, clutter, that would distract from my work.

Then I realized – wait, I don’t want to keep a list of all these other things I need to remember outside of work, I don’t want another to-do list in my life. I want to remember these things instinctively – what I call “muscle memory”.

What to do when someone starts shooting at you

Muscle memory is described as:

…a form of procedural memory that involves consolidating a specific motor task into memory through repetition. When a movement is repeated over time, a long-term muscle memory is created for that task, eventually allowing it to be performed without conscious effort.

Former Navy Seal Mark Owen describes this process in his book, “No Easy Day”. He recounts a firefight he was in by saying that he responded by reverting to “muscle memory”. When the bullets start flying, you revert to your training. I saw a bit of that firsthand in my own combat experience. When the firefight starts, you revert to what you instinctively know – muscle memory.

“What gets measured gets managed.”

So wouldn’t it be great to do all those things you keep forgetting without conscious effort?

..and this is the case for reminders. As much as I don’t like them, today I set reminders for all the things that I want to remember instinctively. Once one of those things becomes “muscle memory”, I delete the reminder.

It’s less burdening than having an extra to-do list (that lies outside of work life), and it is intrusive. But knowing that these reminders are developing habits for my life and family that get us further along on our life goals is a great tradeoff.

So how do I choose which reminders to set for myself? There’s a great quote from renowned management consultant Peter Drucker that states:

What gets measured gets managed.

Here’s what that means for me:

Every week, during my leadership meeting with my wife, we talk about things we want to happen in our family. Sometimes we find ourselves talking about the same thing week after week. Then a red light goes on – why are we still talking about this? What needs to get done that isn’t getting done?

We translate whatever that thing is into an action item, and then I set a recurring reminder for myself until it becomes muscle memory.

Here’s the point:

  • There are things that fall outside of your work life that still require meticulous planning.
  • If there’s a constant theme in your life that isn’t getting addressed, turn it into an action item. (Ask questions – drill down – until you can find one action that will express progress in this theme.)
  • Try not to think of that action item as something you do or don’t do. Try not to look at it as a hit or miss. Instead, structure your life so that you’re constantly being reminded of it, until it becomes muscle memory. You may forget a few times, but the idea is to forget less and less.

We all want to change, we all want to be better fathers, mothers, husbands, wives, friends, neighbors, etc. Setting reminders to develop muscle memory is a step in doing that.

Is there a theme in your life that you’re constantly circling around? Can you turn it into an action item that develops into instinctive behavior? Comment below to let me know!

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