3 Goal Reflection Exercises for a Boost of Motivation

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Triggers" by Marshall Goldsmith and Mark Reiter. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Why is it important to reflect on your goals? How can reflecting on your goals motivate you to push yourself harder?

Reflecting on your progress toward your goals is a powerful practice. When you reflect on how far you’ve come, you’ll feel more motivated to persevere and keep making progress.

Here are some goal reflection exercises to keep you going.

1. Ask Yourself, “Did I Do my Best?”

The first goal reflection exercise is to measure your efforts toward your goals by asking whether you did your best to meet them every evening. (This wording helps you reflect on effort, not performance.) Each question you ask yourself should assess a goal that’s important to you—a goal that, when you work toward achieving it, will help you become the person you want to be. For example, if you want to be a more engaged parent, you might ask yourself, “Did I do my best to give my child one-on-one attention today?” 

(Shortform note: Asking yourself whether you did your best helps you focus on actions you can take each day. In The Bullet Journal Method, Ryder Carroll recommends breaking large goals down into smaller, more concrete projects. He suggests asking yourself questions like, “What small step can I take to move forward right now?” Like Goldsmith and Reiter, his advice is aimed at finding realistic steps that, when taken every day, can help you make significant changes.)

2. Score Your Effort on a Scale of 1 to 10

Score your effort toward each goal on a scale from 1 to 10. Think about the actions you did or didn’t take. A score of 1 indicates minimal effort, while a score of 10 indicates maximum effort. You don’t necessarily have to have succeeded to earn a 10. You just need to have made a substantial and honest effort to work toward your goal. 

You can even ask someone you trust to help you with this process. The writers recommend reporting your scores to someone else each day. Having someone to hold you accountable can give you more structure to push yourself to change.

(Shortform note: Scoring yourself on effort rather than performance can solve some common problems with tracking progress. In Measure What Matters, John Doerr recommends using subjective self-assessment to look at what you did in light of the circumstances. If you only look at objective scores based on results, a low score might fail to capture extraordinary but unsuccessful effort. Similarly, a high score could obscure lackluster effort that, through luck or coincidence, happened to yield a good result.) 

3. Track Your Progress Over Time 

Track your answers to the daily questions over time. The daily questions have their utility in the moment. But if you collect your scores, patterns will likely emerge. For example, if you look at your data and see 9s and 10s for one goal but 1s and 2s for another, you can assess whether the latter goal really matters to you. If it does, you can change something to make a more substantial effort toward achieving it. 

(Shortform note: Paying attention to your progress can help you stay on track. It’s not enough to score your efforts each day and then forget about it. In Goals, Brian Tracy explains that reaching your goals requires monitoring your progress over time. Tracy suggests setting daily, weekly, and monthly benchmarks that will help you quantify whether you’re moving toward your goals. That way, you’ll be able to make changes if you see that you aren’t making the steady progress you expected.)

Criticism of the Daily Questions

The idea of committing to the goal reflection routine has drawn some skepticism and some criticism—in part because it’s challenging. Several writers have shared their struggles with Goldsmith and Reiter’s ideas.

Journalist John Dickerson reports that he tried the daily questions after interviewing Goldsmith and initially didn’t stick with it. Goldsmith told Dickerson that keeping up the daily routine is the hard part—and most people drop it after just two weeks. Dickerson writes that making his list felt like a chore and failing felt unpleasant. But the questions he asked himself in the evening began to insinuate themselves into his days, and he returned to the routine after dropping it.

Reviewing Triggers, author Art Kleiner gets a little more colorful when expressing his skepticism about the daily questions, particularly Goldsmith’s personal practice, which involves 22 questions. Kleiner characterizes Goldsmith’s dedication to the routine as “a neo-Calvinist 21st-century form of mental self-flagellation,” referring to a branch of Protestantism that emphasizes the independence of individuals. But Kleiner notes that he does want the results that Goldsmith and Reiter promise are possible—and he believes the writers when they say that self-discipline is necessary to make lasting behavior change. 
3 Goal Reflection Exercises for a Boost of Motivation

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Darya Sinusoid

Darya’s love for reading started with fantasy novels (The LOTR trilogy is still her all-time-favorite). Growing up, however, she found herself transitioning to non-fiction, psychological, and self-help books. She has a degree in Psychology and a deep passion for the subject. She likes reading research-informed books that distill the workings of the human brain/mind/consciousness and thinking of ways to apply the insights to her own life. Some of her favorites include Thinking, Fast and Slow, How We Decide, and The Wisdom of the Enneagram.

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