How to persevere to accomplish your dreams
Setting goals is the easy part. Maybe we look at ourselves in the mirror one morning and passionately declare: “This has gotten way out of hand! I’m going to lose weight starting today!” Charged up with conviction, we pack a healthy lunch before heading to work that morning and eat nothing but salads and whole grains for that day. Maybe we even go so far as to hit the gym after work and use that membership we’ve been paying for several months.
However, it doesn’t take long before the old excuses and rationalizations start creeping back into life. We skip a workout today. We “cheat” and eat some fast food for lunch the next day. And then another day. Eventually, we feel as if we’ve fallen off the horse, so we let our goals go and start indulging more and more, perhaps telling ourselves that “someday” we’ll start all over again and that this time things will be different.
We all struggle to control some behaviors in our lives. This struggle most often takes form not in our ability to GET motivated and SET goals, but rather in our ability to STAY motivated and see them through to fruition. Following the below steps will help you set a goal and stay committed to the process of achieving it.
Get Motivated. First, you must be honest with yourself and determine whether you really want to accomplish something. If you do want some change in your life, you will have moments when you feel very enthusiastic and committed to achieving this goal. Accept that these moments are most often short-lived, and take your initial burst of motivated excitement to …
Change your environment. In his excellent book, “The Millionaire Fastlane,” self-made millionaire and entrepreneur MJ DeMarco describes what he dubs “The Law of Chocolate Chip Cookies.” He states that if we don’t buy chocolate chip cookies at the store, they don’t get to our house, which in turn means they don’t get put into our mouths. The time to make needed changes in our environment (e.g. get rid of junk food, clean out the house, etc.), is when we feel motivated to accomplishing a goal. If we let our initial burst of motivation pass and put off modifying our environment until later, chances are this golden opportunity for change will fade away for good. The chocolate chip cookies will still be there in the morning, and we’ll be snacking on them before too long.
Tell someone about your commitment. Talk to an understanding and non-judgmental friend, family member, or support group about your goals, and ask them to act as your accountability buddy(ies). Keeping your goals secret increases your chances of failure if only because you know you won’t disappoint anyone if you back down. One big reason 12-step addiction recovery groups work is because they introduce a measure of accountability into the goal-setting process.
Set small – sometimes very small – sub-goals. We humans are creatures who enjoy seeing quick results. If we don’t feel like we’re getting anywhere, we’re often likely to stop whatever we’re doing and gravitate toward something that does give us immediate results and pleasure even if it’s not the healthiest of behaviors. Accordingly, to keep motivated to achieve long-term goals, we need to set smaller baby goals along the way. If your goal is to clean out the nightmarishly cluttered garage, consider committing only to going through five boxes today. Such a goal won’t seem so monstrously huge and accomplishing it will leave you feeling more motivated to tackle an additional small goal the following day.
Reward yourself during the process. Long-term goals take time to accomplish – that’s why they’re called long term. Acknowledge the progress you’ve made so far and treat yourself appropriately. Be honest with yourself and give rewards that won’t undermine your goal. For example, if your goal is to get out of debt and you’ve stuck to your financial plan for a week, don’t go out and “treat yourself” by buying a designer handbag. Instead, give yourself an evening at home with a relaxing bubble bath. Consider involving your accountability friend(s) in the process (e.g. asking them to treat you to an evening out if you accomplish X amount of progress toward your goal).
Build in time to rest. Whether this down time takes the form of a weekend, a day, or even only an hour, you need some time away from accomplishing goals. Again, this is not time to slack off and revisit your bad habits. Instead, use this time to recharge your mental batteries and not obsess about your goal or where you are at. Meditate, go for a walk, cook a nice meal, read a good book, watch a movie, or take a nap. You’re more likely to feel positively toward your goals if you’re rested and energized.
If you fall off the horse, get back on as quickly as possible. Setbacks and mistakes are common, particularly if our behaviors have been in place for so long that they’re conditioned to be our “go-to” responses. Instead of dwelling on your supposed failures, acknowledge that you made a mistake, analyze what caused you to fall, tell your accountability buddy, and get back to work. Be brutally honest about what happened and what factors led to it, and recommit to your action plan as quickly as possible. You will get depressed if you dwell on mistakes for too long, and your brain will want to just quit or revert to unhealthy patterns if you stay down in the dumps for too long.
Reevaluate your plan periodically. Goals aren’t written in stone. Sometimes, we discover that we set unrealistic benchmarks or were going about accomplishing things the wrong way. If this happens, reevaluate and change your plan of attack. Discuss your new plans with your accountability buddy to get some additional perspective on the situation. Again, honesty is essential. Ask yourself: Am I reevaluating my plan because new information/life changes have legitimately come to light, or am I just making things easier on myself because my goals are causing me discomfort?
Seek help if needed. There are some problems, such as serious addictions, that can’t be addressed with simple willpower and superficial environmental changes. If you have honestly tried to achieve a goal in the past and have routinely come up against a wall, look into joining a 12-step program and/or seeking therapy. There is absolutely no shame in admitting you need help, and it’s best to do so sooner rather than later.
We are all broken in some way and have struggles. However, it’s up to each of us to choose whether we let our pride dictate our life, or whether we choose to accept our hardships and take positive steps toward bettering ourselves. The best reward that comes from accepting responsibility for our lives is not even so much what we accomplish (e.g. losing weight), but how much we grow spiritually from the process. We grow to feel more in control of our lives and more personally empowered. This feeling radiates into other areas of our lives until one day we find ourselves accomplishing things and taking healthy risks we might never have considered before.