What cooking taught me about achieving goals

One of the most important life lessons I ever learned came at the hands of my mother’s wooden spoon.

I’m sure this has you thinking my mother was a supporter of old-school, blunt instrument-based discipline, but let me assure you, the spoon was holding forth delicious tomato sauce and not the wrath of a parent scorned.

It was in these moments, in my grandmother’s kitchen, with my family engaging in the yearly sauce-making tradition, that I learned how to set and achieve goals. The knowledge and wisdom I gained through cooking has stuck with me throughout my life, whether it was getting my bachelor of journalism degree or starting my own social media marketing business.

So how did tomato sauce help me with goal-making? I’ll let you in on the four-step secret recipe:

Step 1: Figure out what you want to achieve and break it down into smaller goals

The ultimate goal when making sauce is having the end product ready for a heaping bowl of pasta, but getting there involves a series of smaller tasks: first boiling the tomatoes, then getting rid of the pulp and seeds, and so on.

Identifying and reaching a huge end-goal is great, but the stepping stones along the way are important too. Working towards these smaller goals will keep you focused. Odds are you will have to work your way up in your career by focusing on the next deadline or hitting a weekly sales target in order to get that coveted assignment or see your business thrive.

Step 2: Evaluate, learn and re-examine your goals

When my mother makes tomato sauce, she continually tastes it while it’s cooking to determine if she needs to add oregano, salt or some other ingredient. The same goes for your goals: it’s crucial to evaluate your progress and action plan frequently, and to adjust as needed.

Evaluating which techniques have been successful and which haven’t in completing a task will help you figure out how to improve, grow and be the best you can be. For example, my company submits monthly reports to clients with statistics, analysis, recommendations and goals for the next month. Try keeping a journal of monthly goals and review them every week and at the end of the month, making notes on progress, strategies, obstacles and how you felt about the process.

Step 3: Get input from others

My mother would always let me do a taste test and ask my opinion about the sauce. Asking others for feedback, constructive criticism or ideas will help you overcome obstacles and view decisions from a different perspective, not to mention helping you learn how to communicate better.

Getting input from others can help you reach your goals faster—and even lead you to new ones in unexpected ways. My company always asks the opinion of our clients because they know their industry best and can help us achieve results. Seek out people in your field of study, your industry or even your life who you want to emulate and ask for their input.

Step 4: Put in the time

One successful batch of sauce does not fill our quota for the day when my family goes into sauce-making mode. We are at it all day, carefully making sure every jar is full of the best product we can make. Achieving your academic or career goals takes a similar type of persistence, passion and long-range focus.

Take every day, every assignment, every project, and do the best you can. My company develops dozens of tweets, Facebook posts, emails and other online media every day and crafts them all with the same detail and love. We believe the little successes add up to big victories. Every effort you make, whether it’s getting involved in your industry’s association or going the extra mile in a report, is going to help you build up to your ultimate goal and make you a better person (and employee) along the way.

Achieving your academic or career goals does not happen in a day. It takes patience, planning and passion to get to where you want to go. Next time you get stuck along the way, think of my family food factory—because a spoon full of sugar might have worked for Mary Poppins, but for me, nothing gets the message across like a spoon full of tomato sauce.

Marc Cousineau

Marc Cousineau is the founder and president of Incline Marketing, a social media marketing company working with non-profit organizations and professional associations. He is a graduate of Carleton University’s School of Journalism. He currently lives in Toronto where he dutifully cheers on his hometown Maple Leafs.

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