Did you start the year off zealously making a long list of goals? And are you convinced that this time, unlike previous years, things will be different?
If prior experience is any guide, most of us know that even with the best of intentions, there is still a chance that we may not do what we set out do, whether it’s going to the gym 3 times a week no matter what, losing those last 10 pounds, or running that marathon.
There are a number of thought patterns and behaviors that can sabotage our success – but not if we are aware of how they affect us and we plan beforehand to stop them in their tracks.
This year, indeed, things can be different. Let’s talk about how we can conquer these pesky little goal saboteurs once and for all, and make 2015 our best year yet!
1. Use the “2-minute rule” to overcome procrastination and get started
Even with the most elegant plan in place, sometimes the goal that we set for ourselves can seem so daunting that we become afraid or unwilling to even start. Who hasn’t experienced writer’s block? The key then, as James Clear writes, is to make the task so small that you simply can’t say no. Tell yourself you will spend no more than 2 minutes. Maybe you’ll just come up with a title for your article.
Getting started has a huge psychic benefit. When it comes to goal pursuit, the brain operates on a simple principle: reduce discrepancies. When your brain detects a discrepancy between where you are and where you intend to be, once you get started, it will want to continue taking action until that gap is closed.
2. Shield your goals from distractions
Ever found yourself sitting down to work on your project, only to be tempted to check the latest update on Facebook. And, before you know it, all your time gets sucked by social media.
If you really want to give your goal the respect and importance it deserves, you will have to shield it from all temptations and distractions. One way to do that is to schedule your distractions. After 90 minutes of focused work, during which you say no to everything else, take a 15-20 minute break to do whatever you like. During that break, completely disconnect from work, so when you do get back to work, you come back with renewed focus and energy.
3. Manage your will power
How many times have you found yourself lamenting, “If only I had more will-power, doing X would be so much easier.” Psychologists have found that will power is not something fixed, which you either have or don’t have; it’s actually like a muscle, you can build it over time or with over-use, even deplete it.
The more you exercise your will power, the more it will grow. That first cookie might be difficult to say no to, but saying no does get easier over time. Plus, will power is transferable. Exercising will power in one area of your life has a positive impact on others as well. If you’ve been going to the gym regularly, you might find you also end up eating less-junk food or getting more done at work.
On the flip side, just like a muscle that’s been over-worked, if you over-use your will power, you will find you have very little of it left. The best example is if you’ve been really strict with your diet all day, by the end of the day, you find you just can’t resist temptation and you start binge eating.
The key is to manage your will power. You are drawing upon the same will power to accomplish several tasks at work and at home. Do the most important thing first thing in the day. Also, try not to pursue multiple goals that requires a lot of self-control at one time. If you know you have a particularly tough week ahead at work, it may not the best time to start your new diet. And to replenish your will power reserves, you must allow periods of rest. Allow yourself an occasional treat if you want to stay on track with your weight-loss goals!
4. Get comfortable with boredom
Of all the qualities needed for the attainment of a goal, grit is probably one of the most important, which is the combination of commitment and persistence.
We assume that successful people must be driven by an insane amount of passion to keep working towards a goal. That’s not the case. Even the most successful people feel boredom or a lack of motivation. The difference is that they have made a commitment to themselves, and they don’t let their emotions get in the way. They get comfortable with boredom, accepting it as inevitable, and embrace the routine or the plan that they have set up for themselves.
5. Don’t blame ability, blame effort
One way to increase grit is to make sure you are attributing your success to the right cause. If you are someone who believes your level of ability is unchangeable (“I’m just not good with numbers”), then you are much more likely to get anxious or depressed, and give up. On the other hand, if you believe you can improve your level of ability with more effort, you will keep trying.
Whether or not you believe your ability is fixed does not change the fact that scientific evidence suggests otherwise. Carol Dweck, in her book Mindset, cites several studies that show irrespective of the level of intelligence you are born with, if you work on developing your skills, you will get smarter. The same is true for athletic ability, writing, music or even social relationships.
Next time you have a self-defeating thought and you feel you are not smart enough or talented enough to reach your goal, ask instead, if your lack of effort or planning is the real culprit, and if you can tweak that to keep on going.
More times than not, motivation alone is not enough to ensure success with our goals. We need a plan in place so when the motivation starts to wane or old habits get in the way, we don’t falter, or even if we do, we have a way to get back on track.
Now, I’d love to hear from you. In the comments section below, tell us what are some of the ways you have found to successfully stick to your goals.