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Goal Setting & Motivation: How To Actually Do Things

January 13, 2014
I'm back from "hiatus," as are many of your fav TV shows. Unless you're a Sherlockian. If you're a Sherlockian, your wait was over not so long ago.. and has begun again... :(

Over the past several months I have been away not blogging, working on my dissertation, and getting other things done. I recently had a short vacation period, which allowed me to reflect on many things that I want to get done. Let's call it the New Years Resolution time period, a time when many of us set very important goals for the new year, and many of us forget them the following week. Is this true for you? Were you able to maintain your goals beyond week 1 of 2014? 

For those who did not, let's ask ourselves a couple of questions. What makes us lose motivation? What can help us maintain it? 

A common factor in motivation is time, of which none of us have enough. The problem with time is that there just is not enough, or there never seems to be. There will always be a million things to do. It's crucial, CRUCIAL to prioritize. 

Take the next three minutes to think about your resolutions. Personally, the first thing I did was scratch the word "resolution" and replaced it with "goals." For some reason, "resolution" seemed very big a word. I realized that if I thought of my things I want to do as "goals" rather than "resolutions" I was more likely to stick to them. Maybe for you, "goal" is too big a word? Maybe you have another word in mind? For now, I'll call them "things."

Grab a little notebook or something. Set this notebook aside as your journal of things. List the things in order of importance. What are the top three things on your list? Tackle each thing one at a time. Make the things specific and reasonable. Don't write "eat healthy" but rather, "go out to eat only on Fridays." Don't write "work out" but rather, "go to the gym on Tuesdays and Thursdays after work." See where I'm going with this? The more specific the thing is, the more concrete, the more realistic it is, and the more likely we are to go through with the thing.

It's very important that the thing is reasonable. If you want to "go to the gym on Tuesdays and Thursdays after work," but Thursdays you often work from 8am to 5pm and then you have that book club after, you may not feel like going to the gym at the end of the day! Write your thing in a way that sounds like something you can reasonably do.

A common mistake we make is setting our expectations way too high initially. When we realize we cannot meet our expectations, we are more likely to give up on our thing altogether. We may start to feel bad about it, we start getting these little negative thoughts of "I can't do it," "I wasn't good enough," or maybe even, "I'm a failure." We start thinking of ourselves as less than adequate. Oftentimes, when we feel less than adequate, it's because we've set our own standards too high, and cannot reasonably reach them. So start small. Think of it as a two story building. You're outside, and you want to reach the balcony on the second floor, but no matter how high you try to jump, you can't reach. You'll need to walk through the ground floor and up the staircase to get to that balcony. Break your thing down into smaller steps.

To continue with the gym example, if you've never been one to exercise, it is not a good idea to start with "exercise for two hours twice a week." Start small, say, 30 minutes. As you get used to the 30 minutes of exercising, you'll be able to handle little increases. Maybe by the second week of exercising, you can increase it from 30 minutes to 45 minutes or even an hour. Maybe by the second month you'll be doing it for 1 hour 15 minutes. Small steps!

OK, so now you've identified your specific and reasonable thing, and you've broken it down into small steps that you know you can accomplish. Now give yourself a reasonable time frame for accomplishing it. Don't be vague, this is not the time for that. Your thing is too important for you to be vague about it. Give yourself a time frame for each step. If your thing doesn't need steps, then just give yourself that one deadline.

As you complete each step, mark it on your notebook/journal of things. Give yourself a little reward for your hard work. But don't reward yourself every day you do your thing, only after you've accomplished certain steps. You decide which steps those are. If your thing has 10 steps, maybe reward yourself at the halfway point and then again at the end. Or if you need the extra motivation, maybe reward yourself after steps 3, 6 and 10. You decide the interval, and you choose the reward. A little intermittent reinforcement will serve to maintain your motivation.

Good luck!

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