We all have big goals–losing weight, starting a business, whatever. Big goals are great. They can transform your life. Problem is, after about a week, most of us lose motivation. Our dreams don’t die, but our gumption dries up. Then on your birthday or New Year’s Day or some other annual milestone, we look at our goals list and kick ourselves and feel like perpetual slackers for not achieving anything.
It’s a common problem, and happens because you haven’t stoked the furnace of your passion so you can persistently move toward your goals. Willpower and passion alone aren’t enough. Scheduling time to work toward our goals is helpful, but still isn’t enough.
So how can you reach your goal by ignoring it? It sounds counter-intuitive, but the strategies below really work.
It’s easy to get excited about a goal, but that excitement won’t put enough fuel in the tank to take you down the long road so you can reach your goal.
The trick to staying motivated and inspired
It’s tempting to keep your eye on the prize, your goal. Some people like to make a collage of goal-related images and quotes, and slap in on their wall to constantly remind them about their goal. A concrete, visual reminder can be helpful, but again, it’s often not enough to keep focused on a goal over weeks, months, or years.
Instead of focusing so much on your end goal–that thing far off on the horizon–focus on the immediate benefits. What you need is daily inspiration and reinforcement to keep you going. It’s like having your own personal cheerleading squad behind you every step of the way–even when you don’t feel like doing anything.
Create immediate reinforcement for taking action toward your goals. If you have immediate reinforcement, you don’t have to keep your eye on the prize as much. You don’t have to rely on unreliable willpower. Immediate reinforcement stokes your fire to keep you on track toward your goal.
How do you give yourself immediate reinforcement? By focusing on how you feel when you take action, no matter how small the action is. Pay attention to how you feel when you do something that’s related to your goal. Do you feel inspired? Excited? Responsible? Empowered? What are your thoughts when you take action on your goal? Maybe you find yourself thinking “This is easier than I thought!”, or “Look at how much I’ve done in the past week!”. Pay attention to these feelings and thoughts, since that’s what’s going to fuel your persistence, and what will ultimately make it possible to reach your goal.
A bonus trick to make it easy to start
But what if you don’t even know where to start? Maybe you’ve got a big goal you’re excited about, but are overwhelmed? Fear not.
Here’s your bonus trick: spend 5 minutes planning what you need to do to start. In your plan, list tasks that are so incredibly easy and tiny, that you’re guaranteed to do them. To paraphrase a Kaizen saying:
“You must be as certain you can do these tiny tasks as you are that the sun will rise tomorrow.”
For example, if you want to lose 30 pounds, don’t start by trying to run a 10k. Start by putting on your exercise shoes. Make that your daily goal. If you can do that–and want to do a little extra–just step outside. If you want to do more, then walk around the block. But make those first tiny steps, pay attention to your thoughts and feelings, and use them to give yourself immediate reinforcement for taking action.
These ideas are partly derived from the book Exercise for Mood and Anxiety: Proven Strategies for Overcoming Depression and Enhancing Well-Being by Michael Otto, Ph.D. and Jasper A.J. Smits, Ph.D. But even if you don’t suffer from depression or anxiety, and just want to get your butt in gear, the principles can be applied to any challenging task or goal.
Daily action and immediate reinforcement will snowball and allow you to reach your goal–without having to rely on your shaky willpower. So feel free to–almost–ignore your goal, but make sure to take daily action, and then reward and reinforce yourself for taking that action.
What’s your next action going to be?
Do it right now. In the comments, share your task/goal, your daily action, and how you’ll reinforce yourself.
(Photo credit: Penalty Shootout in Amatuer Football via Shutterstock)
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