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Last Updated on September 13, 2018

How to Get Unstuck and Get Back On Track to Achieving Your Goals

How to Get Unstuck and Get Back On Track to Achieving Your Goals

Ah, procrastination—the silent killer of dreams.

You’re probably familiar with the feeling you get when you know there is something you ought to be doing, but you just can’t seem to get to it. When you’re feeling stuck, motivating yourself to get going is just the hardest thing to do. Maybe you’ve experienced this yourself: the sneaky voice that suggests you contemplate giving up on what you really want…

“Downsize your dreams.”

“Compromise.”

“Don’t reach so high… you’ll only be disappointed”, it says.

It’s not your fault you have these feelings of doubt now and again—not at all—and the really good news is there is something you can do to get unstuck right now. This method doesn’t involved trying to motivate yourself artificially, but it does involve getting back into your natural flow.

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Let me explain:

1. Find your natural flow

Have you ever had those times when things just seem easy? When everything falls into place, and you bounce from one task to the next effortlessly; time flies by, and your productivity goes through the roof whilst everything is harmonious and fun.

You know what I mean, don’t you? These are the times when you are working to your natural flow.

Now by contrast, when you’re not in your natural flow is when you feel STUCK. Everything seems to take forever, and each task gets more and more tedious, almost like your energy is being zapped out of you. I bet you’ve also had times like this too… am I right?

Well, don’t despair, because there is a way out of it, and it’s easier than goal setting. It doesn’t involve discovering your life purpose, and it doesn’t mean you have to rely on pure willpower and determination.

In fact, the solution lies in two simple lists. More on this shortly.

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2. Understand the root cause of your pain

The pain and frustration you experience lies in doing things that keep you out of your flow. You see, we’re all wired in our own ways, and while some of us light up in front of an audience, others may feel that giving a speech is the biggest stress they could ever imagine.

While some people love picking up the phone or networking, others thrive on the detail of a spreadsheet or a process map.

The point is, there are some things we each love to do, that are within our natural flow, and there are things that make us feel stuck.

The key to getting back into flow and overcoming the stuck-ness is simply a case of spending a greater proportion of your day on tasks that are within your flow. The degree to which you can do this, is the degree to which you will THRIVE.

The first thing we need to do is define when you are in flow, and when you are stuck.

3. Create a tale of two lists

These two lists are things that anyone who masters anything is on some level aware of as they go about their day. Here is the quick-fire way that you can adopt the same approach and make it work for you—starting right now:

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  • Step 1: Grab a pen and paper and divide it into two columns. At the top of the first column write the title “Things That I’m Doing When I’m Stuck”. At the top of the second column, write “Things That I’m Doing When I’m in Flow”.
  • Step 2: Think of all the times you’ve been stuck, and write down the tasks you were doing in the first column.
  • Step 3: Now think of all the things that you put off, or dread doing. They should also go in the “stuck” column.
  • Step 4: Now do the same for all the times you’ve been in flow, and pop those into the second column.
  • Step 5: You guessed it; now you need to think of all the tasks you look forward to doing and put those in the second column too.

Great job!

Now what you’ve effectively done is create a Flow List and a Stuck List, and these can then form the basis of all your decisions around where you choose to put your focus.

Essentially, what you want to do is to spend the maximum amount of time on things in your flow list, and a minimum time on things your stuck list.

If you can do this—either by picking your projects carefully, outsourcing or reallocating tasks within your team—you will very quickly find that being stuck is a thing of the distant past!

You’re in the driving seat!

Okay, now it’s over to you.

Knowing about this won’t change the way you do things, but sitting down and making these two lists is the beginning. Once you’ve defined on paper the things that make you stuck and the things that keep you in flow, then you’re able to make productive decisions about what you do and don’t do.

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It all starts with getting those lists well defined first: you have to do something, and the easy and most productive thing you can do right now isn’t to try and get more stuff done.

Instead, it’s to define where you are in flow and where you are stuck, so let’s get those lists done now before you even click away.

Go ahead—grab a pen and paper and create your two lists now. You’ll be amazed at how quickly things start to shift for you.

Leave a comment and share some examples, or simply let us know how you got on with this very quick life hack! I read every comment, and I’m here to help.

To your inevitable success!

Featured photo credit: averie woodard via unsplash.com

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Last Updated on July 17, 2019

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

What happens in our heads when we set goals?

Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

The Neurology of Ownership

Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

The Upshot for Goal-Setters

So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

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Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

Reference

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