Inductive Goals

Inductive Goals
Photo by JOHN TOWNER / Unsplash

I've been thinking about better goal-setting (and goal-finishing) this year, and for a system that actually works. So far, I've been rather disenchanted with what I've found. Perhaps, at some level, I'm jaded with the highly-"motivating" and "structured" systems. This was my cue.

This week, I pondered over how I've been setting my goals over the years, and what I can do differently this year. It turns out the answer is quite surprising.

Enter Inductive Goal-Setting.

Normally, when we set goals, we begin with a grandiose goal, say, I want to lose 30 pounds this year, and then, we work backward. This is deductive goal-setting. In contrast, inductive goal-setting is the exact opposite. Here, you set your goals for what you want to do now, with the explicit commitment that you don't have clarity for where this goal will lead you.

It's counter-intuitive, but it works. For example, a fitness "inductive goal" of mine is to train my core and shoulders. For this, I've been practicing specific exercises without a clear end-goal in mind. The results are motivating.

But here's the pièce de résistance: Inductive goals naturally lead you to set manageable, achievable goals for the entire year. With my fitness progress above, I've managed to distill my short-term inductive goal into a long-term 2023 goal, which is to do the human flag. Here's what I'm talking about:  

The Human Flag

Notice: To begin with, I did not have clarity about where these specific exercises will lead me. But the momentum and progress of doing those exercises allowed me to iterate on my current actions and automatically direct them toward a longer-term goal: the human flag.

I believe this approach to goal-setting is incredible because it gets you into doing the action first, and figuring out the goal later. In other words, the burden of being consistent to achieve a lofty, grandiose goal does not prevent you from taking one step in the present. And yet, by taking that step in the present, you inductively reach your end-goal. You self-adjust. You stretch your actions' timeframe. You become consistent. That matters.

So, my insight this week has been that it's better to not restrict myself to a system, but rather, to reduce goals' grandiosity, to start, and when rapid improvements follow, to iterate.

That's pretty much what I've been doing for some of my other initial goals for the year, which are:

  1. Complete my business research project,
  2. Prep for and do well at the GMAT,
  3. Journal daily; record 1 second videos daily; be more intentional with phone usage (reducing it); and write weekly,
  4. Complete the Harvard CORe online module, and
  5. Complete A1 Spanish.

As I list these goals down, I'm not particularly excited by each, yet each keeps me going. Which brings me to another realization as well: There is an inverse relationship between how grandiose your goals are and how likely you are to do them.

Building a company is much more grandiose than trying to solve a little problem. And the funny part is when you try to solve a little problem, you'll be so much more intentional with it that you might actually build the company you talk about. This is how inductive goal-setting works.

Writing a book is much more grandiose than writing weekly. But if you write weekly, inspiration will drive you to be intentional with your creation, ultimately leading you to craft the book (or that longform essay).

Regular creation will help rigorously develop the amorphous goal, and that is the real beauty of inductive goal-setting.

Until next time,