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The goal setting framework you need in your business with Tara McMullin

There’s no doubt that planning and setting goals is key when it comes to business success. But sometimes how we intend to attain these goals can lead to burnout, exhaustion, and just overall frustration if we don’t hit them. We need to learn how to create goals in a way that prioritizes our well-being, along with finding a more fulfilling way to work towards what it is that we truly want. 

Tara McMullin is a speaker, coach, and author of the book, What Works, a comprehensive framework to change the way we approach goal setting. Our conversation will leave you feeling refreshed, energized, and excited to tackle your business goals in a sustainable way.

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Tara’s journey as a recovering overachiever

Tara is passionate about goal setting the right way because she spent years doing it the wrong way. As a ‘recovering overachiever,’ she’s gone through many phases of burnout and depression in an attempt to achieve her goals. 

Once she realized how her toxic relationship with goals was hurting her and causing her to disappoint others, she set out to change her approach to goal setting. Now, Tara sets more fluid goals and prioritizes enjoying the process. She also prioritizes celebrating her success instead of rushing to the next goal. 

To get to where she is today, Tara went on a long self-discovery journey to figure out what she really wanted out of her life and business. From there, she looked at her options and found a goal-setting system that allowed her to get more enjoyment out of her life.

Why we are driven to pursue our goals

Through Tara’s personal journey and academic background, she’s unlocked why humans are so driven to pursue their goals from cultural, political, and economic perspectives:

  1. From a cultural perspective, the protestant work ethic is ingrained in American culture, even if you are not a protestant Christian. We are embedded with the idea that work and achievement make us good and that the opposite is laziness, which makes us bad.
  2. From a political perspective, we live in an individualistic culture. Our success is up to us and us alone, which is why we have to keep pushing ourselves to achieve it. We believe that if we are not successful and self-sufficient, it’s because we are not working hard enough. 
  3. From an economic standpoint, late-stage capitalism is built on constant growth, which causes us to relentlessly push ourselves to achieve more and more, even at the expense of our quality of life.

All of these factors work together to create a subconscious narrative that our sense of purpose and validation comes from achievement. However, when we do achieve a goal and gain that sense of validation, the feeling does not last. Therefore, we’re driven to achieve more and more until we finally feel satisfied. The secret is that satisfaction does not come, and instead, we end up exhausted and burnt out. 

The questions you need to ask yourself before you set business goals

In order to escape the subconscious narrative that we must achieve more to live a successful life, you have to change your approach to goal-setting. Ask yourself these questions:

  1. Who do you want to become?
  2. How do you want to see yourself differently? 
  3. What do you need to do today to become the person you want to be?
  4. What do you not do today to become the person you want to be?

Exploring the behaviors you need to work on is an important step in creating better goals. Understanding the behavior you do and don’t want to lean into will help you determine how you approach your goals, projects, and business as a whole.

Why business owners struggle with sticking to goals

Setting the right goals is only one part of the equation. Many business owners can set goals, but they have trouble sticking to them. One reason for that is that we assume that there are right ways and wrong ways to achieve our goals. We are ingrained with the idea that there is only one way to achieve a successful outcome, and any deviation from that path will equal failure. 

Being so tied to getting it right instead of creating a process that works for you creates a false story in our heads. We believe we can’t stick to our plans, which becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Instead of focusing on sticking to a plan to achieve your goals, focus on working on your plans and goals. The plan should be a learning tool, not something that is set in stone. You should approach it with curiosity and learn from it. Based on the information you gather during the process, you may need to adjust your plan in order to achieve your goals in the way that feels right for you.

How to set better goals that align with your values for the new year 

Start by writing down your “shoulds.” For example, when you’re checking your email, do you think, “I should be posting something on social media instead.” When you’re on a client call, do you think, “I should upsell them?” Write down all of the things that you feel like you should do to be successful. 

After you track your shoulds for a few days, look at the list and ask yourself why you believe you should do these things. Where did that belief come from? It’s important to deconstruct what you believe and ask yourself if those beliefs are actually true. 

Next, ask yourself who you want to be by the end of this year, and how you want to challenge yourself throughout the year. Creating a vision board is a great tool to help you map out the big picture. 

The next step is to figure out your growth edge. Ask yourself:

  1. What am I doing now that I need to stop doing? 
  2. What am I not doing now that I need to start doing?
  3. What do I need to practice?

Based on the behavioral changes you want to make, set your commitments for the year. Examples of commitments include “embrace uncertainty” and “create remarkable content.” Your commitments will power you through moments when you feel stuck or can’t see the full vision for your business.

Next, set more granular goals by dividing the year into quarters. What projects do you want to do in each quarter? What do you want to create? What do you want to achieve? When you have the big picture of each quarter planned out, you can break it up into smaller tasks. Lastly, you can add your tasks to your calendar.

Why you should focus on practice over achievement 

One helpful way to reframe achievement is to think about your goals as a practice, like a yoga practice, meditation practice, or prayer practice. Change your mindset to value putting in the reps instead of only valuing the end goal. 

Yoga is not beneficial when you can achieve the most impressive poses. It’s beneficial because you consistently show up on your mat and make the most out of your practice in the present moment. Try thinking about your goals in the same way. The practice of your goals will benefit you and your business more than the actual achievement of them will.

Thinking about your goals in this way will help you remain present and focus on how you want to show up for your daily business on a daily basis. It will also rewrite your priorities so that your daily actions are more important than achieving a goal. You’ll be able to derive personal satisfaction from your daily practice far more than you will from a momentary achievement.

How to set goals based on your personal capacity

Everyone has a different personal capacity. Some business owners have a high capacity for intellectual work and a lower capacity for social and emotional activities. Others may be the complete opposite. Getting to know your personal capacities can help you set realistic goals so that you don’t exhaust yourself.

It’s normal to want to say yes to every opportunity, especially if it looks good on your resume. However, when we take on more than we have a capacity for, we’re prone to do a mediocre job. Saying no to opportunities in the moment can lead to doing better work. You can always explore the opportunity again when you have a better capacity for it.

The biggest differentiator between businesses that succeed and the ones that fail

Tara believes that the biggest differentiator between the businesses that succeed and the ones that fail is that the businesses that succeed have a really clear understanding of the systems in which they’re working in, not just the process. It comes down to project management and being able to see beyond the step-by-step formula. They see how different systems play in and out, they understand that their business is a system and that it has multiple systems within it. 

Important sections of the conversation:

  • [2:23] Tara’s journey as a recovering overachiever
  • [7:20] Why we relentlessly pursue achievement
  • [16:19] The questions you need to ask yourself before setting goals for your business
  • [26:00] Why business owners struggle with sticking to goals
  • [31:31] How to set better goals that align with your values for the new year 
  • [38:35] Why you should focus on practice over achievement 
  • [43:42] How to set goals based on your personal capacity
  • [44:48] The biggest differentiator between the businesses that succeed and the ones that fail

Resources mentioned

Connect with the guest

Episode Transcript

Akua Konadu
It’s a new year, which means new goals in our business. And today on the show, we wanted to change the way that we do goal setting. There’s no doubt that planning and setting goals is key when it comes to business success. But sometimes how we intend to attain these goals can lead to burnout, exhaustion, and just overall feeling frustrated if we don’t hit them. And so today, we are going to learn how to create goals in a way that prioritizes our well being, along with finding a more fulfilling way to work towards what it is that we truly want. Sarah McMillan who is a speaker, coach and author of the book, what works a comprehensive framework to change the way we approach goal setting. And after you listen to this episode, you are going to feel refreshed, energized and excited to tackle your business goals. Now, let’s get to the episode. Hey, everyone, this is your host Akua konadu. And you’re listening to the independent business podcast, more people than ever are working for themselves and building profitable businesses in the process. So on this show, I get to sit down with some of the most influential authors, entrepreneurs and creators to break down the science of self made success so that you can achieve it too.

Akua Konadu
Hello, Tara, how are we today?

Tara McMullin
We are great. Thank you so much for having me. Oh, my gosh,

Akua Konadu
thank you for being here. I’m so excited for this conversation. And we have been sharing. So just great laughs because it’s been quite a day. But I’m so excited for you to be here. And really just kick us off into the new year because a lot of us are currently planning of what our year is going to look like some of us have started maybe a little bit earlier. But I know January two can be such a really important time for business owners. And so I’m really looking forward for us to be talking about all about goal setting your unique approach to goal setting, and how we can really create goals that are healthy and can really put us in a good place not only in our life, but also our business. So thank you.

Tara McMullin
Absolutely. I’m excited to talk about this. And yeah, January is the perfect time. But you know, every year I hear a little bit more. February is the new January. So you know if you’re late to it, it’s fine to

Akua Konadu
exactly I love that you know what I mean? I think again, as business owners, we need to remind ourselves like we follow this timeline, and we see everybody’s planning in December or January. It’s like, really just do what works best for you and your business. And so I’m really looking forward to this, this conversation. And so when you think about your own journey with how you approach goal setting, right, and how it’s evolved, how has that evolved over time?

Tara McMullin
Yeah, so I consider myself a recovering overachiever. I have a T shirt and a mug. And, you know, it’s it’s like my number one identity. But yeah, I mean, I was a classic overachiever. As a kid, as a teenager as a college student. Even after I’ve gone through multiple phases of burnout and depression, like I always come back to the overachiever kind of spirit or identity. And, and so I think that whole drive to achieve drive to prove oneself drive to find validation in performance and achievement. It leads to a really toxic relationship with goals and with sort of the kinds of things that you think that you want out of life or out of business or out of work. And so for me, that’s very much the story, I had a pretty toxic relationship to goals. I had always set goals, I borrowed this plan to goals, I consider myself goal oriented. But it got to a point where I was pushing myself in directions that led me to behavior that was less than healthy for me, it often, you know, would result in disappointing others or hurting others. And it often just wasn’t creating the kind of life and business that I wanted to have. It was creating something impressive. It was creating something that on the outside, it looked great and happy and successful. But on the inside, it was like what am I really doing here, I’d achieved all of these different things. But I didn’t actually have something that made me happy. That was something that I wanted. So about, what has it been now like seven years ago, now I started to come to terms with the idea that like, the way I’m structuring my life, the way I’m structuring my work around these goals, the goals that I’m shooting for themselves, are making it harder for me to be happy making it harder for me to feel satisfied. And so I started to think about like, why am I setting these goals? Why have I gone down this particular path? And how else might I go about doing that? And so it was a long process of learning more about myself learning more about what I actually wanted learning more about what my options were. But in the end, that’s gotten me to this point where My approach to goal setting is that I don’t actually set goals, the way people teach you to set goals anymore, it is a much more fluid, a much more curiosity driven, and much more sort of daily practice driven exercise for me, and it still gives my life and work a lot of structure. But it doesn’t pin me in to these behaviors and projects that have a tendency to steer me in the wrong direction. I

Akua Konadu
love that, because I think there’s so many things that a lot of us can relate to as business owners, I think I know personally, for me, as well, overachiever, right here as well, as well. So I would like that mug and T shirt, please. But also, you know what I mean, we attach a lot of our worth to our work and getting that validation and getting that approval from others. And again, I think, you know, I always say in life, in general, in business, everything comes at a cost everything. And that can be something that’s good and or it can be bad, you know, it just it’s a huge spectrum. And so I think as business owners, we need to be asking ourselves, okay, like, I have this goal, this huge goal here that I want to achieve. Number one, what is that going to cost me and if it’s going to cost me my peace, my sense of well being my mental health, maybe not, or maybe really restructuring it into a way that’s going to that’s going to help you get there in a very more aligned and in tune way to where you’re still enjoying the process. I think sometimes we can forget, like, we’re so focused on the end goal that we forget about the journey, which I think the journey is way more important than than the goal itself. So I really liked hearing just that journey of the self work and the self reflection that you did, which I think is just so important, especially this time of year, really thinking and going deep as to why I’m behaving this way. And what’s and what’s the deep root cause of that. So I think that’s a reflection, I think, too, is just such a huge thing right now. And I love that you did that. And so another question I have is, What do you think drove you or what drives us in the pursuit of more in our business, right? When we are thinking goal setting, and we’re like, Okay, I have to have like a six figure business, I have to be able to attain, you know, a large amount of clients, I want to make this much amount of money, amount of sales. What do you think is the driving purpose for that?

Tara McMullin
Yeah, I love this question. My academic background, my sort of interests academically is religious studies and philosophy. And I’ve been driven my whole life around a question that’s basically like, why do we believe what we believe? And how do our beliefs shape what we do? I’ve also come to realize that sort of trying to unpack that has to do with my own neurology and how I perceive the world and how I perceive others. But I’ve so those are the questions that I’m always trying to get at. And so the question of why are we so driven to pursue more, I take super seriously. And I dig real deep into that. And so the first one is kind of jumping off of something that you were just saying, which is around validation. We live in a society in which we want to feel useful and valued. And the way we feel useful and valued, typically, in America anyway, is by proving ourselves through responsibility, through achievement through accolades. And we get into this cycle where, you know, no achievement, no accolade, no project, no responsibility ever actually scratches, the itch, that is wanting to feel useful and valued, is never satisfying. And so we layer on responsibility after responsibility project after project achievement after achievement, chasing that feeling of satisfaction and validation. And as we do that, we get more tired and more tired and more tired. Which means that each responsibility we take on each challenge we accept or opportunity we take, we have less to give to, which means it’s even less satisfying. It’s less fulfilling, we feel broken down instead of useful and valued. So I call this process the the validation spiral. And we can spiral all the way into serious clinical burnout. Other times, we’re just in this sort of treadmill of just trying to slog it out, right, trying to get to that point where we feel more satisfied and it just doesn’t come. So that’s one reason. Another reason that we pursue more relentlessly comes down to the cultural, political and economic narratives in which we live and the systems in which we live the stories that we tell about, you know, what is required of us So one of those cultural stories is the Protestant work ethic. And whether you are a Protestant or not, whether you’re Christian or not, doesn’t matter, you grew up, if you grew up in America, or really anywhere that American culture touches, which is almost everywhere, you have some relation to this Protestant work ethic, and the Protestant work ethic, at its core is a reflection of a set of beliefs around who is worthy and who is not on the most, you know, existential, most transcendent level ever, right? And so if we’re thinking about, like, how does our work and our attitude toward work, justify whether or not we’re saved, whether or not we get to go to heaven, whether or not, you know, we go to the bad place, like, that’s a, that is a big reason, to strive for more, it’s a big motivator, we’re not conscious of it. But that message is embedded into us work culture, at the very basic levels. So that’s one politically, we live in a narrative around individualism, we are responsible for our own success, kind of related to this, we also live within a narrative of meritocracy. If you work hard, and have art and are talented, you will succeed, you will be fine. And the truth is, neither of those narratives really play out in reality. And so we end up in these situations in which we feel like well, if I’m not successful, then I’m not working hard enough. If I’m not self sufficient, then I’m not working hard enough. And so that pushes us to set bigger goals, to work more hours, to expend as much energy as possible. So that’s the other one. And then the third is the economic narrative. And so we are all citizens of late stage capitalism. And late stage capitalism is built on constant growth. While we may not have the same pressure to kind of build our incomes in the way a company has pressured to build profit year over year or to grow in other ways, we’re still part of that overall narrative, we’re so part of that that belief system that believes growth is good. In fact, growth is the only good, right. And so with that, then we feel pushed to achieve more and more and more. So there’s all sorts of other reasons too. And I can literally talk about the answer to this question for hours. So I will stop. But those are the big ones for me of why we pursue more.

Akua Konadu
Oh, my I mean, that I just think when you were just saying all the different reasons, I was thinking about my own me myself my own journey, right. And I do, it’s true. Like, when we have when we feel when we have responsibility, it just gives us a purpose, we feel a sense of purpose, that we’re contributing to something that’s bigger than ourselves. And I think that’s a really common thing that drives us. And then to your point of just living in a very individualistic society, and having to in a capitalism, I think these are really core things. And it also feels a relief to where in a sense of where you’re like that it’s not just me, right? These are other belief systems that have been ingrained in society that has contributed to this. And so I think the biggest piece is deconstructing and what you said earlier, I feel like, based on what you said earlier, seems like our really our values is what is a not maybe the majority of it, but a key piece in staying rooted and staying grounded, despite the fact that we have all of these other contributing factors that has really played a role into why we feel that we need to be in pursuit of more constantly, would you agree, or maybe not?

Tara McMullin
I agree, 100%. And the issue with around our values, is that the cultural, political, economic narratives that I was talking about, have learned how to speak the language of our values in order for us. Yeah, in order for us to do what those narratives are trying to get us to do, right? So there’s sort of this this idea of a pretty foundational sociological economic idea called the the new spirit of capitalism. And the idea is that we need these different stories to justify the things that we have to do in order to get by in a capitalist society. And whether or not you believe capitalism is good or bad. It does not matter in terms of this. It’s simply saying like, there are costs as you you know, we were talking about earlier, there are costs, and we are we get convinced to pay those costs, because of the way that the story gets. shaped and taught. And it has these components of like, you know, following your passion, doing what you love those, those pieces that we might hold as values, your creativity, collective care, companies know how to push on those buttons. We know how to push on those buttons and convince ourselves that we’re living up to our values, when really we’re playing out these other stories that don’t line up very well with our values. And so that’s a process I call values hijacking. Where we were bombarded constantly with messaging that cites our values, but then delivers a different story. And that story. Yeah, it’s that story that keeps us pushing.

Akua Konadu
Okay, oh, my gosh, like that is just so many things. I can’t wait to just like dive into your book. Because I think that I think these are really, really key pieces to know. So even within that, then how, how do you use? Or how are you keeping yourself grounded? How can we keep ourselves grounded to really make sure that we are aligned when we are goal setting? And really just again, reflecting and creating a plan for the new year? Yeah.

Tara McMullin
Oh, so much. So one of the first questions that I like to ask for myself, and for, you know, anyone that I might be working with is, who do you want to become? Who is it that you’re becoming, and that can change over time, it’s not a static thing. I love the idea that we have all of these different identities that we bring to the table constantly. And there might be times when I want to focus on a particular identity of mine, or maybe that I want to let go of a particular identity of mine, something that’s not as useful. But I always kind of start from there, like at the end of this year, who do I want to be? How do I want to see myself differently? And from there, I sort of start to probe what the growth edge is there. What is the thing that I do today? That the person I want to become? Doesn’t do? Or vice versa? What is the thing that I don’t do today that the person I want to become does. And so that, to me, is sort of a growth edge. From there, I start thinking about, okay, if this is a particular behavior that I want to work on, or it’s a particular way of approaching a conversation or a project, or whatever it might be, what is what’s the reminder that I need to approach that thing in that way. So this is what I call a commitment. And just as an example, in 2021 of my commitments for the year was embrace uncertainty. Well, that one worked out real well, for 2020.

Akua Konadu
Everybody was embracing uncertainty.

Tara McMullin
So it, but the the idea there was that I didn’t need to know what the results of any given action was going to be. Because what I wanted to work on was, you know, being sure of myself being confident in asking for what I needed, or stating what I wanted. And so that that commitment of embracing uncertainty reminded me anytime I was in a situation where I didn’t know how to behave, because I didn’t know how to get x result. Like, you don’t need to know how to get to extra result, embrace uncertainty, do what you need to do in this moment. That’s it. And that served me really well that year, even before March. But that’s an example of sort of how I approach that. And then the other thing, something I’m really leaning into in 2024 is what do I want to learn? What questions do I want to answer? How do I want to challenge myself? And what I love about the idea of kind of couching goal setting within a framework of learning is that it is inherently not achievement oriented. It’s about experimentation. It’s about asking questions. It’s about being curious. There is no way to fail at learning or experimentation, right? Because even failing is its own learning. You know, if, if you fail to get the chemical reaction that you want, well, you’ve learned something about what doesn’t produce that chemical reaction, right? And so that’s kind of how I’m structuring everything for next year. So as an example of that, I know that I really want to work on learning logic and argumentation so I can write more persuasively, right more clearly. And so I can start to formulate like what are the questions around this that I want to answer? What are the things that I want to learn how to do how Am I going to practice that throughout the year? And how can I how can I shape that to benefit me and to and to make me feel satisfied in a way that, you know, reaching a performance target just isn’t going to provide?

Akua Konadu
Oh, my gosh, I love that so much coming from we talk about this all the time on the podcast of just like, curiosity, I think that’s so key asking questions and surrounding your goals, around curiosity, what are some things that you want to learn because to your point, we say this all the time to your business, it’s experienced number of experiments that you’re running. And I think that just takes off so much pressure, when you’re coming from it from that perspective, and then also to you’re not being so hyper focused on this specific goal, and it keeps you more grounded. Because life is life, right? Life will always be lifing. Busy, you know what I mean, in life and in business. So when things come up unexpectedly, it’s you’re still, you know, you’re still anchored, you’re still anchored in that to it to where it gives you more of that opportunity to really just go with the flow. Okay, well, this currently just happened in my business, or, you know, this kind of happened in my life, where now it’s affecting my business, what questions can I answer in this season, so then I can keep pivoting and adjusting and embracing that uncertainty, I think that is just such a really amazing and healthy and also to more fun way like that feels more inspiring. Because you do you deserve to feel satisfied in the work that you’re doing, but also the in the journey of how you’re going to get to the goals that you want to achieve. I can’t remember who said this, but it was not me who said this, but somebody said, like, there’s no problem with chasing money, but chasing money is the quickest way of not getting it. And,

Tara McMullin
yes, I would agree with that. You

Akua Konadu
know what I mean? And I think just in general, we get so hyper focused on our goals, whatever that may be, it doesn’t have to be money, but whatever it is, when you get so hyper focused, you really do lose the deep meaning of it to where like, you’ll easily not get it. And so when you are coming at it from the way that you’re coming from it, it just makes the process more enjoyable, where it makes it more the barriers that like the, you know, mental barriers and things like that are removed where like you can get to it.

Tara McMullin
Yeah, can I give you a really nerdy explanation of why that happens, or how it can happen. Please, yes. One of my favorite contemporary philosophers, his name is Siti new when has this concept called a value capture. And the idea is that we have these kind of complex, nuanced deep things that we really value. And they’re hard to express in words in numbers in in these these things that make them easy to communicate to others who don’t have the same kind of feeling and connection to these values that we do. And so in the effort to be able to communicate them, or to compare one to another, we start to assign metrics to them. And metrics broadly defined, it doesn’t have to be like a particular number, but a metric broadly defined. And in that process, we learn to focus on the metric. And so we start gaming, the idea of, you know, how do I get this metric to where I want to get to the point where we stop doing the things that are related to the deep, nuanced complex aspects of what we value, and only do the thing that’s going to help us game that number. So GPA is his kind of classic example of this, you know, how someone performs in a class is a nuanced complex, you know, deeply meaningful value, and it’s deeply individual. And yet, in order to rank students in order to say exactly, you know, track performance over time, we give that that performance, a number. And then that number becomes the average of all the numbers we’ve received. And then that number gets added to other numbers that we’ve received over time. And at the end of the day, what do we have, we have students who are super excited to say, I have a 4.0, or high school students that are super excited to say I have a 4.2 or a 4.3. Because of all the hard classes I took, they’ve learned how to get that number, but what have they learned in the classes that got them to that number. And so this is this is how when we get so fixated on whether it’s a financial goal, or it’s a number of subscribers, or it’s a number of followers, we lose track of why that thing was valuable to us in the first place, why it was meaningful to us. And we end up doing behaviors that are counterproductive, and that make it harder for us to actually achieve the deeper, more complex values that actually drive us.

Akua Konadu
Oh my gosh, I love that. And so for me in my mind, I’d like to sum it up. Let go Just let it go enjoy the journey ever. Oh my gosh, that is so valuable. I think I love that thank you so much for that explanation because again, like I didn’t, I had no idea. But again, it’s like we for to your point we forget of like the things that we learned along the way. Because we are so focused on this one specific thing because in our mind, we feel like when I attain this, my life is going to be XYZ or things are gonna be better. Now, we’re not saying that metrics aren’t important aren’t valuable in our business and having these goals 1,000% however, you can do it in a way to where, you know, you’re just enjoying being an entrepreneur, you’re enjoying your work, you’re enjoying the clients that you’re working with, you’re and you’re also learning, right? You’re experimenting, you’re learning, and just becoming a much more better entrepreneur in general. So I absolutely love that. And so another question that I have is, What do you why do you think you’ve already touched on a lot of it? But what other additional reasons? Do you think why business owners struggle with creating goals? And sticking it sticking it out? as well?

Tara McMullin
Yeah, the sticking to it is a big, big thing I was just writing about this, one of the reasons that we really struggle to set goals and stick to them or to make plans and stick to them is that we’re trying to get it right. And this also ties into a lot of a kind of cultural, political, economic narratives that we have running throughout our lives. We learn early on very early on that there’s a right way and a wrong way to do things, right. And I don’t just mean morally, but I mean, like, literally, there’s a right way to add two plus two, and there’s a wrong way to add two plus two. And that’s true when it comes to two plus two, although some I think abstract mathematicians would probably argue with me, but that’s fine. They can do their abstract thing. At the basic level, there’s one way to do two plus two. But when it comes to reaching a business goal, there is no right way. There is no one way there is no many ways there is just the constant process of learning toward the thing that you want, or the thing that you want for your business. And so when someone comes up with a goal, turns it into a project starts planning it out. They feel like they’ve got to get the right set of steps in the right order to achieve the right outcome. And any deviation from that is a failure. Any deviation from that is a signal that you don’t have the ability to actually hit that goal. And over time, that breaks down our self efficacy, which is our belief that we can actually do the things that we want to be able to do. And so when we’re so tied to getting it right, and over and over and over again, we can’t quite get it right. When we think I can’t stick to my plans, I can’t stick to my goals. Because that’s what we’ve taught ourselves to think about ourselves. Yeah, that becomes a self fulfilling prophecy. So my advice is always to, don’t stick to your goals. Don’t stick to your plans, work your goals, work your plans, learn from your goals, learn from your plans. A plan is a learning tool, it is not something that is meant to be set in stone, a goal is not something that’s meant to be set in stone. It’s a structure for learning. And so with every step of that plan, I am learning something new, I’m gathering new information, I’m getting new sensory details from from my environment, new contextual information, it would be silly for me to not incorporate that new information into my plan, which necessarily changes the plan, which necessarily can signal to you or it does not necessarily can, but it can signal to you that you’ve not stuck with your plan again.

Akua Konadu
But in fact, you’ve done exactly the right thing,

Tara McMullin
you’ve changed course you’ve altered something, you’ve even quit, because you learned through the process of working your plan. That wasn’t the thing that you wanted, after all, or it wasn’t something that you know, jived with your disposition or your emotional bandwidth or your capacity. And that’s a really valuable thing. So yeah, my whole approach there is stop trying to stick to your plans, learn from your plans, turn them into learning documents, learning projects, and Forget trying to stick to them.

Akua Konadu
Oh, I love that so much. I think to just what you said of you know all the things that you learned about yourself that’s a really it’s a very freeing but it’s also a brave thing to let go of the things that no longer serve you and adjust and change because again, we have in our mind, we know that success success is not linear. However, we do have it in our mind what how we’re gonna get there? Oh, yeah, right. Like, we all we say, we know like, yeah, we know success isn’t linear, but you know exactly you’re in your mind how you’re thinking about how you’re gonna get there. And I think again, it’s like, just not being so stuck to it, it’s okay to just let go and let the journey take you where it’s going to be, I think, you know, I, myself, I’ve always thought, even with my own entrepreneurial journey, how I’ve gotten to this point, it truly was because I had no plan. I wish you know, I know like, that’s not the greatest. So you know what I mean. But I think I still, obviously, I plan as a business owner, but what I’m saying is some of the most beautiful, amazing, biggest moments in my business have come, because I was open to what was different than what I originally had in my mind. You know what I mean. And I think when you let go in that sense of those expectations, it can lead to things that you your mind could never even think of ever. And so I think that’s just what is just so important. And I think just such a good reminder of being open to the things that you just would have never thought of, because you just have you never know what it could lead you to. And it can lead you to something that is phenomenal. So I love that. So let’s break it down, then how can we as business owners, like can you share with us just some of your framework of how we can just create goals, in a sense where it comes from a place of curiosity, in a sense, where, you know, we feel fulfilled in our work, and we just feel very aligned in our path. Absolutely.

Tara McMullin
So one of the first things I always tell people to start with is just jotting down all your shoulds. So even before you start thinking about planning, start thinking about setting goals, making commitments, setting up learning projects, whatever it might be, start writing down all your shoulds when you are, you know, doing something in your email, and you think, oh, I should be posting something to Instagram, or I’m on a client call, and I should be upselling them something, whatever it might be, write it down, write it down, you don’t have to do anything else with it at that moment, but just start making a list of all your shoulds. Once you’ve done that for a day, for a week, however long you’d like to track your shoulds that go back to it, and ask yourself, why do I believe these things? Where do these beliefs come from? Because as you mentioned a bit ago, deconstruction is a huge part of being able to set healthier goals and make healthier plans, deconstructing why we believe what we believe and asking ourselves whether or not that thing is actually true for us. And so those, you know, mapping out those shoulds thinking about where those beliefs come from, who’s saying it, why are they saying it? What’s What is the incentive here, understanding that is key to taking the next step into thinking about what you actually want. So track your shoulds first, next thing, as I said, is, for me, it’s, you know, who do I want to be at the end of this year? How do I want to challenge myself this year? What do I want to learn this year? So I start with these pretty big picture questions. And as I start to think about that, and kind of maybe journal on that, or start making a vision board or you know, whatever tools you love to use, then I start thinking, what’s the growth edge? What am I doing now that I need to stop doing? Or what am I not doing now that I need to start doing? What do I need to practice? Once I start to see those categories of behavior, the things that I need to practice to become who I want to become, that’s when I set my commitments, and my commitments are with me for the whole year. And so those commitments are really simple reminders, like embrace uncertainty, or create remarkable content was another one for me from a couple years back. Once I have those commitments set, and those are really just ways that I’m showing up every day, things that I’m practicing every day, when I don’t know what to do when I find myself, you know, in the midst of self sabotage, when I find myself feeling kind of stuck on life stuck on work stuck on a project, I come back to those things, what are they? What can those commitments tell me in this moment, what I’m what I need to do what I what I want to do. So those are the commitments from there, then this is all real big picture. But from there, then I start to get more granular, and I look at quarter by quarter, what are the projects that I want to do? And a project is something that has something that looks a little bit more like a SMART goal. But for me, it’s it’s more answering the question, what does this project look like when it’s done? What is this project look like? Complete How will I know when I’m done with this thing? What do I want to create? What do I want to achieve? Once I have that in mind, then I can start to break that down into big, you know, big sort of buckets of tasks. And then finally, I can start looking at, okay, how am I gonna get this onto my calendar. But I do think that understanding the sort of tone, the philosophy that you want to approach the year with is key to then being able to create more concrete, objective projects that move you in the direction that you want to move, while also maintaining a, an amount of fluidity and ambiguity that allows you to learn instead of just pushing yourself harder.

Akua Konadu
I love that I think, Oh, that is so so good. And I even just love the first step, just, you know, write down your shoulds. Right, because that is true. As business owners, we feel like all the time, well, I should be doing this, I should be doing that. And it’s like you should like you don’t have to write like, again, we feel like we’re obligated to, you know, I think we forget as times as business that to your point, we see the success that other people have. And so we feel like we have to emulate exactly what they’re doing like, right, I should do what they’re doing, because that’s what they have, and I want that. But at the end of the day, right? They’re doing what works and is aligned for their business. I like even in my mind, I also cheat even when I’m goal setting, I even just body wise, I think about as I’m goal setting, I’m like, Okay, I should do these things, I think about how my body reacts to it, or how I feel about it and but differentiate I’m like, is this fear based? And then I asked myself is this fear because I’m afraid? Or is this like do I feel like this is just not aligned with me and my values. And I think that should piece like, they all obviously build on top of the other. But I feel like like all that reflection that you need to do is so important into making sure that you are creating these goals that truly are aligned with you. And that will work for you and your business. So I love that’s my whole favorite piece of that whole. But even to just like the work of that when you finally get to that granular piece that you feel more confident you’re, you’re when you do that self reflection piece you truly are like putting your blinders on. And it really makes it much easier to make decisions that feel really, really, really in tune with you. Because again, with goal setting, we forget that we see everybody else planning, we compare, we literally want what everybody what other people have, and so like you can get so lost in that. But that those key foundational pieces that you do first, before you even get to the project is so important. I love them. The commitment means like, what am I able to commit to it? The thing is that commitment can always change. I think we forget that that we’re so like, Okay, this is a goal that I have to have. But it’s like that can change at any point in time, because you’re not the same person. I’m not similar set I was yesterday. You know what I mean? We change as business owners, we evolve and this system really gives us gives us the freedom for that. So I absolutely love that. Another question I have too is you talk about practice over achievement, like that is like what your book really focuses on? And can you just kind of elaborate more on that and how we can implement that more into our Absolutely.

Tara McMullin
So when I say practice, I’m talking about what we think of as like a yoga practice, a meditation practice, a prayer practice, it is, it is practice sure, in that you’re putting in the reps. And it is a mindset for how you’re approaching that activity, that when I do this activity, I’m not doing it to get to, you know, from point A to point B, I’m not doing it to achieve something in particular, I am showing up present in this moment doing this thing because this thing itself has value. This thing itself is meaningful to me, right. And so I’m a yoga person. And so you hear constantly, it’s not about whether you can get your body into this pose or that pose or the other pose. It’s not as you know, it’s not about whether the person on the mat next to yours is doing something different than what your body is doing. What matters is how you show up to the mat. What matters is your attention to your own body, your own breath. And that the most important thing in that space is that you recognize how one day is different from the next and that you’re truly present where you are. And so I think about this when it comes to work as well. How do I want to show up to the piece of writing that I’m doing today? How do I want to show up to this client call that I have? How do I want to show up to a meeting that I have? What is it about how I’m showing up? What you know how I’m thinking about this how I’m present How I noticed, you know, the little things that are always you know, the little details, whether they’re in my body or in someone else’s body language? How am I noticing that? How am I taking that in? What am I doing with it? How can I be fully present within that. And so for me, what I’ve learned is that, you know, I think you said this very, very early on, which is that, you know, we forget about the journey, and we get so hyper fixated on the outcome that we’re looking at. And practice for me is not just remembering that the journey is important too. But that remembering that the journey is actually all there is, it is the every day, showing up to whatever it is that you’re doing, whatever it is that you know, is valuable to you in one way or another. And saying, This is what’s important. How I do this today is what’s important. And I find that satisfying, on a level that achievement, or outcomes, or you know, hitting a goal just can’t be, because when I learned to feel that satisfaction in the day to day, well, then I’m just feeling satisfied every day. That’s pretty good, right? It’s not something that we get a lot in life. And I’m, I’m always reminded of this, this passage from Audrey Lords essay on the uses of erotic power, where she talks about how excellence is something that we can strive for something that we can hold ourselves to, that we can resist mediocrity, and that in that process, we can find satisfaction. To me that’s like, if I can approach work, that way, if I can approach my relationship that way, if I can approach myself that way, like that’s a huge, huge lesson. She also makes it clear. And I think this is important that that aiming for excellence, practicing excellence is not the same thing as overburdening yourself over stretching yourself pushing yourself past your limits. None of those things are embracing excellence. So I think that’s an important piece too. But But that idea of how can I show up every single day with excellence with presence and create that sense of satisfaction? It’s been a really life changing thing for me. And I know, it’s been a lot a life changing thing for a lot of other people as well. Yeah,

Akua Konadu
I mean, even just hearing that, like, you know, I even just just a conversation I like just felt just like a sense of ease, you know, even just chatting like it just really just much more relaxed. Like I felt my shoulders drop. And I’m like, Oh my gosh, that is that just, it’s it’s very fulfilling to be able to, like I was imagining my own life of like, what that would look like for me. And I’m like, that is just so fulfilling. And I know, like so many business owners. That’s what we aim for. That’s what we strive for. And so I love and I love that it’s just such a much more healthier way to be able to attain that just show up what you like, you’re, you are more than enough, right? What you were able to give that day is enough, what matters is that you just continuously show up in a way that feels good. And asking yourself those reflective questions, I think are so so important. And so another question that I want to ask is, as we are, you’ve already touched a lot on it, but you just dropped so many, so much good wisdom. But even with mindset, is there anything else that we can be working on in our mindset to where of how we approach goal setting? Yeah,

Tara McMullin
the thing that comes to mind, for me is a change that I’ve I made in the last couple of years. And so it didn’t actually make it into the book in any sort of fully formed way. But I noticed one of the things that I really pay attention to her myself is capacity, because my capacity is wildly different than most other people’s capacity, I have a super high capacity for like intellectual work and bad your mental bandwidth, that kind of thing, super low capacity for emotional bandwidth and for relating and socializing and things like that. And so I have to be careful to really pay attention to my capacity in order to keep from exhausting myself. And so, in the last couple of years, the mindset that I’ve brought to say being asked to do an interview or being asked to write an article or being asked, you know, do you have coaching available right now? Is okay, that sounds cool. I look at my calendar. I’m like, Yeah, I could squeeze that in. But do I have what I need to do this well, and so so often, we try to squeeze in that stuff. That sounds good. The stuff that sounds cool, the stuff that sounds Like, Oh, that’ll be a cool thing I can put on my resume, right? Or, you know, on my website, we want to say yes, I want to say yes. And I know that in saying yes, I’m very prone to doing more than I can. And not only that, I’m prone to doing it when I do it, not very well. And I find that not very satisfying. That’s not excellence that’s not in keeping with the practice. So that question of, do I have, what I need to do this? Well, is the sort of mental heuristic that I use. Anytime I’m thinking about what I’m committing to what responsibilities I’m taking on? You know, what I’m putting on my calendar? Do I have what I need to do this? Well, and there’s two ways to answer that question. One is, yes, I have what I need to do this well, and the second is no, here are the things I need. Here are the things I would need to be able to do this. Well. Am I interested in negotiating for those things or acquiring those things? Or is this just a no for me? So that it’s doesn’t have to be, oh, I’m at the end of my rope. And I can’t do this because I couldn’t do it? Well, it’s, it’s at the end of my rope. And that means I need to ask if I can do it six months from now is this opportunity still available six months from now, or, you know, asked me next year when you do this event, and you know, I can speak then or whatever it might be. But it gives you a way of reframing the things that you want to say yes to in a more productive, satisfying way. That ultimately, is going to lead you to doing better work, or being a better parent, or being a better partner, a better child, your parents. And I think that at the end of the day, that’s a really it changes how we approach whatever it is that we’re working toward, in a way that is that is even in the moment when you might be have to say no to something. It makes it more productive in the long run.

Akua Konadu
I love that. And that’s something I’m definitely gonna carry with me because I do this where people ask me something, and I say, Yes, instantly, I feel that excitement. I’m so stoked. I’m like, Oh, my gosh, this sounds amazing. I’m like, Yeah, for sure. Let’s hop into it. And then, you know, time goes on. I’m like, a cool. You know what I mean? And not because I didn’t want to do to just the fact that I cannot do it well, and then I get so hard on myself. And I know that there’s so many other business owners who do this. And I think it’s a good reminder that it is okay to say that you’ll take a minute and nobody, you know what I mean? And the few times that I have done that, people like yeah, no problem. Get back to me whenever and you know what I mean? And I think in our mind, we feel like we have to answer now, even when people are coming to us with requests from us, maybe like we have to have this, like we have this sense of urgency that we have to give them an answer right now. And you really don’t. And I think taking pause to be able to ask yourself those questions of like, Can I do this? Well, and if yes, or no, am I willing to negotiate and as an advocate for those things are just not at all and let it go. And I think that is such a strong and really intentional way to be able to create goals that feel just super, super aligned. And I have loved this conversation, Tara, it has been so much fun. And I hope if you’re listening that you feel inspired as well. The question that we love to close every single episode with is, what do you think is the biggest differentiator between the businesses that succeed and the ones that fail?

Tara McMullin
I think that it is the biggest differentiator between the businesses that succeed and the businesses that fail are that the businesses succeed have a really clear understanding of the systems in which they’re working in, not just process, I’m not talking about project management. But being able to see beyond the linear beyond the chronological beyond the step by step formula, they see how different systems play in and out, they understand that their business is a system and that it has multiple systems within it. And they can navigate that they can serve those systems. And they really embrace that kind of systems thinking to me that really is the differentiator.

Akua Konadu
I love that I think that’s a, I think such a great way to where it leads to innovation, it leads to like really cool. It leads to that creativity piece as business owners that like if you feel like you’re lacking, right, like just have just really been able to look at things from different perspectives. And I think some of our best ideas can come from that. That is amazing. And I have loved this conversation. Thank you so much for coming on the show because I could talk to you forever. I was like oh my gosh.

Tara McMullin
Well, thank you so much for having me. Yes,

Akua Konadu
absolutely. So for those that want to connect with you, where can they find you? Yeah, so

Tara McMullin
you can find my podcast where you ever you listen to the independent business podcast. It’s called what works. You can also find me at what works dot f y i, that is my newsletter and the podcast lives there as well. And then you can find the book what works a comprehensive framework to change the way we approach goal setting wherever you buy books.

Akua Konadu
Thank you. Thank you so much, Tara. And thank you everyone so much for listening. And until next time. That ends our episode of The Independent Business Podcast. Everything we’ve discussed today can be found at [email protected] headrow website to access for show notes, relevant links and all the resources that you need to level up. And if you’ve enjoyed today’s episode, be sure to subscribe to the podcast to make sure you never miss our future content. Drop us a review and leave our guests some love on social and thank you again for listening.

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