In this episode of The Introverted Speaker Show, my podcast about public speaking for introverts, I’m going to talk about goal setting. Because, yes, if you want to improve, to improve at anything, you have to set goals.
When I say “improving at anything”, it can be related to public speaking obviously, like how to get rid of your public speaking anxiety, or how to prepare better content, or it can be related to anything else, like losing weight, passing an exam, or finding a new job. Anything. We hear a lot about “motivation”, about “motivation coaches”, about “motivational speeches”, about these “inspiring quotes” you can find here and there on the social networks, and many other things related to motivation. But quite frankly motivation is easy. It’s easy to get motivated. What’s difficult, once you are motivated, is to actually reach your goal. And that’s where the hard part begins.
So I’ll dedicate that episode of the show to the problem of setting and reaching goals.
Let’s take two fictional characters. Let’s call them Paul and Suzan. They’re friends, and they’re spending new year’s eve together. And Paul wants to lose weight, and Suzan wants to get better at public speaking. And this new year’s eve Paul says to his friends: “This year, I’m gonna lose weight.” And Suzan says “Oh, great! And I’m going to get better at public speaking.” In this going to work? Maybe, but probably not. Why? Several reasons.
The first thing Paul and Suzan have to do is to set themselves more detailed goals. Because if you just say “I want to lose weight”, for instance, and nothing else, well, probably nothing will happen. Because it’s too broad. It’s too vague. There is no deadline to it, and there is no objective goal. It’s subjective. It’s very subjective. So it never gets done. Because how could it? There is no finish line. There is no moment when you can think “I’m done, I’ve reached my goal”. Or “I haven’t reached my goal yet, I better hurry.” And it becomes one of those things we would like to do someday. “One day, I’ll be fit.” But it never happens. These things never happen, it’s just a fiction we tell to ourselves to feel better.
So, Paul should give himself a more specific goal. Like “I want to lose 15 kilograms.” That’s a little better. That’s a little better, because now there’s a finish line. Now there’s a moment when the goal can be reached. Now, at any moment, Paul can think “I’m done” or “I’m not there yet.” So, of course, that’s better. But that’s not enough. Now, as I say a few minutes ago, the next thing Paul needs is a deadline. For instance, he could say “I want a beach body for this summer, so I’ll lose 15 kilograms before the end of June. I will lose 15 kilograms in the next 6 months.” Now that’s even better. I’d say it’s the bare minimum. If you want to set yourself goals, you need an objective goal and a deadline, because nothing gets done without a deadline.
And Suzan could tell “I have an important speech at the end of the month. I’ll become so good until then that I’ll get a standing ovation!” And that would be good too.
But there’s still a problem. the thing is, they could do even better than that. Because, you see, losing 15 kilograms is not that easy. Even if he gave himself a wide timespan, it’s not that easy. He needs to lose 2,5 kilograms per month, which is definitely doable, but it’s not that easy. And there’s the risk Paul will fail. Because he has to be very careful, and he will want to do too much in a first time. What do you think will happen if, after 2 months, Paul sees he still has 12 kilograms to lose? Of course he’ll be discouraged. And there are several ways to solve this. The first one comes from Antique philosophy.
Stoics To The Rescue
You see, back in time, in Ancient Greece, then in ancient Roma, there were a bunch of guys, a bunch of philosophers called the Stoics. I’m pretty sure you’ve heard of them. Some of you are probably thinking “oh yeah, these are the guys who don’t fear anything, who don’t enjoy any kind of pleasure, and who don’t fear pain, right? They seem boring. What’s the point? Why are you bringing them in, Fabien?”
Well, actually, stoicism is a bit more complicated than that. But mainly, Stoics focus on what we have control over. According to them, and they are damn right, there are things we have control over and things we have no control over. Yeah, no kidding. But, what’s interesting is that, according to them, to become happy, we should focus all our energy on the things we can control, and never worry on the things we have no control over because, well, we have no control over them anyway. What are the things we have no control over? There are many: fame, power, money, status, success, love, health, pain, death, and many others. In the domain of public speaking, they can be: ending with a standing ovation, having thousands of people in the audience, being funny, being memorable, having a computer that doesn’t crash, and so on.
What are the things we have control over? Our actions, and only them.
Our actions have consequences, but we don’t always control these consequences. We only control our actions.
So, for instance, let’s get back to Suzan. As I said a few minutes ago, she wants a standing ovation at the end of her speech. Sure, that would be great. But that’s not something she can control. It’s not her who’s standing and clapping in the end, it’s them.
The only things she can do for sure are:
See how that works? Sure, she’d love to have your standing ovation, but maybe it won’t happen even if she’s great. Because the audience is shy. It happens. Some audiences won’t make standing ovations. It’s very difficult with engineers, for instance. And I say that as an engineer myself. We don’t get excited that easily.
Or, maybe, on the other hand, they will make a standing ovation even though she wasn’t that great. Because they were in a good mood, because the speaker just before her was really great and now they’re all happy and excited. I’ve witnessed that phenomenon many, many times.
So, she just has to focus on doing her job. So her goal shouldn’t be “I have to get a standing ovation.” It should be something like “I have to insert relevant stories in my speech”, “I have to structure my speech around a key message” and “I have to rehearse 20 times before the event”, for instance.
Oh, and what about Paul? Yes, let’s get back to Paul. Remember? Paul wants to lose weight. But he set his goal as “I want to lose 15 kilograms in the next 6 months”. Which is definitely doable, the problem is: he formulated his goal as something he cannot control. You can’t say “I’ll lose x grams in the next week” or “I’ll lose y kilograms in the next month”. Well, you can, but it doesn’t work that way. Losing weight is not something you do, it’s something that happens when you take relevant action.
And what is relevant action that results in weight loss? Yes, changing your diet and doing some physical activity. So, rather than say “I’ll lose 10 kilograms”, Paul should say “I’ll reduce my caloric intake by 25% and run for 60 minutes every other day.” And now he’s less likely to get discouraged, because the situation is totally under his control.
There is still one problem however. Reducing your caloric intake by 25% is no small feat, and so is running for 60 minutes every other day. It’s a radical change if Paul is not used to physical exercise. And, as a consequence, he’s more than likely to give up at some time.
Big, one time improvements don’t always work. I’m a big fan of continuous, small improvements. The idea is that, rather than setting yourself a big, long-term goal, you set yourself small, daily goals. You don’t want to improve a lot, which seems like a daunting task. No. You want to improve a little, just a little, but you want to do that each and every day.
So, Paul could reduce his caloric intake by 5% for the next few weeks. And then reduce again by 5%. And so on. And, he should start exercising gently. By running, let’s say, 20 minutes twice a week. And then, after a month, when he’s used to it, run for 25 minutes, take 2 days off, and do it again. And so on. And now, it will be way easier for him to reach his goals. If he does it, Paul will be shredded in no time, without all the pain and frustration that usually comes with it.
What about Suzan? She has great goals too, but maybe that’s too much for now. Learning how to structure correctly her speech, and learning storytelling, and rehearsing for 20 times, if she hasn’t done any of it yet, is probably a bit too much in just a month. She should probably focus on one of these goals, and focus on a second one the next time she has to give a speech, and so on. Because if she tries to focus on all of them, she’ll probably fail at one or all of them, and be very disappointed in the end.
And what I said about Paul and Suzan, of course, can be applied to anyone with any goal. Let’s say you want to invest money for instance. Getting rich within the next 5 years through your investments? Not under your control. What if you lose your job, or the stock market crashes, for instance? Investing 20% of your income, although you never saved any money? That’s too much of a goal. Just invest 1% of your income this month, then 2% next month, and so on, and you’ll eventually get to 20%, or even higher, in the long term.
So, today, I’d like you to chose a goal, not necessarily related to public speaking by the way, but a very specific goal, a very small one, and something you have total control over, and I want you to focus on becoming better at it. Just a little bit better. It will compound over time.
And that’s it for today, that’s the end of that episode of The Introverted Speaker Show. I hope you enjoyed it, don’t forget to register to get the next episodes, and if you want to talk with me about this episode by e-mail, or if you want to subscribe to my newsletter and get daily tips by e-mail about public speaking and introversion, just go to my website TheIntrovertedSpeaker.com.