The beginning of a new year is typically a time when we start setting out our very best intentions for the year ahead (and beyond). You may have even set some challenging, life altering goals and are on your journey to accomplishing them. You really want to keep up the good work but then…life happens! Those routine tasks or chores get in the way, other things seem to take a greater priority or, at the end of a hard day’s graft, you just want to put your feet up and lose yourself in a bingeing session of TV and tasty snacks (you are only human after all and those TV series can be incredibly enticing!)
So, how can you stay motivated and make progress so that you don’t stand still, stay stuck and lose complete sight of your goals?
Here are a few techniques that I have learnt along the way which have helped me to keep going and remain on track when I have been working towards my own goals.
1. Reward yourself
You will (hopefully) be challenging yourself as you work through your goals by stepping out of your comfort zone or breaking those old habits that have never really served you. All this effort needs reward, a huge pat on the back for the progress and commitment you’ve made to developing yourself. So, after you’ve hit a milestone that you’ve set, or are being really consistent with those good habits, don’t forget to treat yourself. Make a list of fun activities you could do or inexpensive things you could buy for yourself.
Caveat: I don’t mean to be a kill joy but…try and keep the treat as healthy as possible and within your budget so that you can keep those good habits going! Everything in moderation after all…
2. Relax and recharge
Pursuing goals and stretching yourself can be rewarding, tough, exciting, demanding, an emotional rollercoaster, and, unsurprisingly, quite tiring! Build in time each day (or whenever is possible for you) to do something that completely relaxes you such as yoga, guided meditation, reading a good book, having a nice warm bath, savouring every sip of a nice hot drink, having an early night, laying down and listening to an audio book or inspirational podcast. Do something that will revitalise you so that you are ready to tackle your next challenge!
Sometimes taking time out and stepping away from working on your goals gives you valuable time to reassess and reflect on your journey so far so that you can gain some clarity on what your next move should be and, crucially, appreciate just how far you have come.
3. Get your tasks prepped for the day ahead
This is very effective if you find that you are not quite getting around to things or if a task is going to be a little bit daunting. Get as prepared as possible to carry out your tasks for the next day – gather the numbers you need to call, send yourself links to the webpages you need to visit, get out the papers or books you need to read and mark the pages you have to go through, write out a rough draft of an email or map out the structure of an article/report etc. It just makes you feel that you’ve at least made a start and therefore just need to carry on the task the next day rather than face the prospect of starting afresh.
4. Don’t wait for motivation – the time is now!
One key thing I’ve learned, as I’ve been reading up on managing depression and anxiety, that therapists particularly recommend is to not wait to do something until you ‘feel like it’. You can see why – that ‘motivation train’ may not arrive just when you want or need it to and I find that motivation can be so fleeting – one minute you are raring to go and the next, well, not so much. It’s a case of just getting on with those tasks in hand whether you feel like it or not. Admittedly, that’s easier said than done, and obviously if you are not feeling up to it because you are ill then you’ll need to take time out to get some rest and recover, but here are a few things that can help to kick start your day:
- Recite positive affirmations (to boost self-belief and the ‘can do’ attitude)
- Remember your ‘why’ (the benefits of achieving your goals, your purpose, look at your vision board or your written reasons for doing what you are doing)
- Look at motivational cards/quotes (strategically place them around the house or your office to spur you on) or create a Pinterest board containing inspirational quotes that you can browse whenever you need some encouragement
- Anticipate any distractions (those motivation drainers) and remove them (turn off the TV, bury your phone somewhere, find a quiet place to work)
5. Schedule tasks
Sounds obvious, but think about when you can realistically carry a task out and put it in your diary, set yourself a reminder (or a couple of reminders if you are anything like me) and then commit to doing the task on the date/time you have specified.
Pursuing goals does require a whole lot of self-discipline and, at times, assertiveness since other people may try and steal you away from what you are doing (they may have the best of intentions of course!) Remembering your reasons for carrying out the goal, communicating this to those who need to know about it, and exercising some control over how you use the time you have in the day will help if other people’s priorities try and creep into your schedule.
6. Be realistic about how long something will take to complete
Speaking from bitter experience here! Don’t set yourself up to fail and really think about how long something will take to do. This is the type of planning time that is very well spent since you can then schedule your day accordingly. Also, to avoid complete overwhelm, don’t try and cram in too many tasks in one day. I’m still working on this one by the way – my ‘To do’ list is always exceptionally ambitious!
7. Work in bite-sized chunks
If you find yourself having difficulty in sustaining concentration (and have done the whole eliminating distractions thing), then give tasks just 5-10 minutes of your attention or try alternating your tasks for 10-15 minutes at a time. Nine times out of ten you’ll get so into it that you’ll spend more time on the task once you get started. In addition, you can always break a task down into smaller actions if at first it seems too challenging to tackle all at once. Completing those smaller actions in short periods of time will still keep you moving ahead. Ask yourself: What one small task or activity can I do today to move myself closer to where I want to be?
8. Power hour (or half hour)
Seize the moment! If you find yourself with a chunk of time where you are not doing very much or you are able to set aside some dedicated time each day then use it to have some super-focused time to plough through some of your tasks. This is particularly good for those ‘quick win’ tasks that don’t take an awfully long time to think about or carry out but nonetheless are steps towards your goals. It is also handy to just help you get started or make some headway with a bigger task. It could mean taking advantage of that ‘dead time’ on your commute home or while waiting to be seen for an appointment, if the kids have gone out for a bit, or you’ve devoured your lunch and still have some time left over in your break for a bit of light reading or research.
9. Own your goals!
Your goals are your responsibility and you should want to carry them out so that you can reap all the benefits in the long-term. Some of the goals I had that I found were always being pushed back to another day were not actually my goals (I had either taken it upon myself to do them or they weren’t really what I wanted to do). I decided that I either had to own the goal (take responsibility for it and carry it out myself), realise it was something I did not actually want or need to do and remove it from my ‘To do’ list, or speak to a person who could carry it out and ask them to do it instead.
10. Tell someone what you are doing
Let someone know what you are aiming to achieve and how far you have got (you may have already heard the term Accountability Partner). This can be a formal arrangement you have with a coach, mentor or manager where you review your progress routinely or you can just ask a friend, colleague or family member to check-in with you now and again. You can also set-up a blog about your journey or post updates on social media. Providing such updates to others will make you feel accountable for carrying out your goals. Just make sure you are telling people you trust, who are supportive and able to be constructive with their feedback.
Final Point: Don’t beat yourself up!
It is ok if you don’t get around to doing something, berating yourself just makes you feel crappy and is not very motivating in the long run! Just reschedule the task for another time that week, work on removing or managing whatever barrier has prevented you from carrying out the task in the first place, and, if you can, just dedicate 5-10 minutes to the task so that you feel like you’ve made some headway.
If your progress is slower than you anticipated then just remember that progress, however small, is still progress and those small steps mean that you are still moving forward, in the right direction, towards your goal.