So you made your resolutions–and you’re already falling behind. You’re already putting a pause on achieving your goals. You’re making excuses, adding caveats, and putting off what you said you wanted to do. I’ve been there. Most people who dare to set goals know how it goes. But it doesn’t have to end this way.
Here are 10 ways to keep moving forward when that nagging voice chimes in and tells you to stop. Here are 10 ways to stay fueled, stay committed, and stay on track to reach your goals.
1. Track Your Progress
Seeing your efforts add up is a great motivator. When every day or week seems to bring miniscule change—measured in ounces, cents, and words, instead of pounds, dollars, and pages—the going can get tough. It may begin to feel that nothing is happening, that your treading water rather than traversing the sea. But when you can see the ounces accumulate into pounds, the cents add up to dollars, and the words gather into chapters and stories, it all feels so much more doable. Measuring progress over time, especially visually, is a big boost for me. It can be for you, too. I record my word counts and time spent writing every day in a spreadsheet. When I turn those individual cells into beautiful charts, I’m inspired to see how putting one foot in front of the other and spending even small amounts of time each day really adds up to real goals. Tracking your progress is easy, enlightening, encouraging, and can help you spot patterns that enable you to improve going forward.
2. Require Accountability
Unless you’re incredibly determined and self-disciplined, you’re likely to falter toward your goals if you’re the only one checking in on your progress. A lot of us set out toward our dreams with eagerness and willpower. The fortitude at the start, however, doesn’t typically last long if we’re totally self-powered. We need accountability. Have someone you trust—or a group of people—commit to regularly ask you what steps you’ve taken toward your goal, what’s next, and how and when you plan to proceed. Accountability partners can keep you on track. They can also provide encouragement that adds fuel to the dying fire of self-determination.
3. Write it Down
When I record my goals and schedule on a piece of paper–when I actually see it in writing–I’m far more likely to succeed than if I just store a vague dream in the back of my mind. Writing down one’s goals, along with concrete steps to reach them, is an invaluable practice because it helps you figure out what you’re actually aiming at and how you plan to get there. If you put a copy of your written goal in a place where you’ll regularly see it—on the mirror, in your calendar, on your desktop screen—you’ll be regularly reminded of your goal and your plan. It’s amazing how easy it is to forget about (or neglect) the things we say are important to us. Writing them down helps to solidify, clarify, and remind us of where we want to end up.
4. Plan, Plan, Plan
Any good goal doesn’t stand alone. It also comes with 1) a timeline and 2) a plan of action. It’s hardly ever productive to set a meaningful goal—like, “I’m going to learn jujitsu” or “I’m going to write a novel”—and leave out these two key ingredients. This is part of turning your goals into an investment strategy (read about the bigger picture here). Without planning a timeline, you’ll probably end up putting things off and ambling endlessly down side-paths of distraction and perfectionism. And without planning your practical actions, you’ll probably waste so much time and energy backtracking, failing, and guessing, that you’ll give up. It’s true; some people fall into fame. Some people happen into success without trying. Most of us, however, require a gameplan to get to the finish line. Planning allows you to measure costs and challenges upfront. It makes you more realistic in your expectations. And it grants you the blessing of a roadmap so when you feel like quitting or when you don’t know where to go next, you have a blueprint to fall back on.
5. Love It
If you don’t love your dream, any motivation you have to achieve it will eventually fade. You don’t have to love the process, the hard work, the time and energy it will take to get to the finish line (though it helps), but if you aren’t passionate about the reward at the end of the race, you’ll bail before the end. To stay motivated, set goals that you want and need to set for yourself. Don’t set goals for yourself because other people feel strongly about them. It won’t be other people running, falling, running, and falling again on the way to the dream. It’s you. If you don’t love the idea of being an entrepreneur more than you love sleep and convenience and risk-free living, then those things will no doubt overtake whatever ambition you have for your own business. If you don’t sense the need to eat healthier or learn that new language more powerfully than you sense the pull and discouragement of all the challenges along the way, those challenges will win. Before you set your goal and make your plan, ask yourself how much you love the thing you’re aiming for. If you’re not thrilled by the idea and eager to invest, risk, and problem-solve, don’t waste your time. You need to love your dream.
6. Laugh About It
At the same time as you need to love your goal, you need to maintain a sense of humor about the difficulties in getting there. You will face challenges, roadblocks, U-turns, and naysayers. You will face confusion, uncertainty, and the word “No”—both from others and yourself. When all those problems come against you, sometimes you’ll need to laugh it off and just start again in the morning. On more than a few occasions, I’ve deleted posts or whole chapters of my writing. Believe me, it’s not a pleasant feeling. But at some point I had to stop feeling frustrated and sad and just admit there was something funny about the whole thing. Writer’s block can be debilitating, but there are times when you’ve just got to smirk and sit down at the computer anyway. If you can’t laugh at yourself and some of the cruel twists of fate that will befall you on your journey, it’s going to be a far more painful ride than it needs to be—and one that could kill your motivation faster than it can be replenished. Seeing the humor in challenges softens the challenge, preserves your sanity, and allows you to persevere to the end.
7. Make It a Habit
Your mental strength and emotional health will play a big part in reaching the mountaintop, which is why it’s important to love whatever’s at the summit and laugh at the winding path along the way. But in addition to psychological and emotional strength, you would do well to add plain and simple repetition. Even people with the healthiest hearts and minds will wake up some days and not want to work toward the goal. That’s when habit will come to the rescue. Especially at the start of your quest toward your dream, do whatever you need to in order to develop a healthy habit of taking steps forward. Maybe for the first three or six or ten weeks, absolutely refuse to fall behind. Work on your action plan and knock out even the smallest task every day. That way, when you’re in the second or third month and you feel like taking time off, you’ll have the muscle memory and the mental practice to work at it anyway. The force of habit is strong. And the longer you build the habit, the stronger it becomes. So when you’re starting out, don’t miss a day, don’t miss a meal, don’t miss a session. That way, when month 12 comes around and distractions or exhaustion come up, the idea of bailing on your commitment won’t even come up. It will seem ridiculous to forego your action for the day because it’s such an integral part of your routine. When determination and desire fail you, habit can carry you through.
8. Give Yourself Rewards
Getting to your resolutions is a marathon, not a sprint. That’s why so many people don’t make it. But you don’t need to have your single reward at the end and view everything before it as drudgery. You can give yourself enticements along the way. Maybe every week or every month, if you achieve a realistic but not-too-easy goal, you grant yourself some little prize. Rewarding yourself along the way, when it’s warranted, will help to preserve motivation because you won’t simply be motivated to get to the end, you’ll also be motivated to get to the midway point, to the next chapter, the next phase, the next plateau. A few cautions on rewards: 1) don’t make the rewards along the way too big, or you may be satisfied with them and give up on the ultimate reward, which should be far greater; 2) don’t grant yourself rewards for easy tasks, because then you may become content to not work hard; and 3) don’t make leniency or “a day off” on your action plan a common reward, or you’ll break your habit and see postponement as more valuable than taking the next step. Reward yourself, but remember that rewards should be rare and useful if they’re going to propel you toward the reward you’re ultimately seeking.
9. Invest In Your Goal
In the same way that writing my goals down helps me, committing money and energy before I ever begin keeps me motivated. The bottom line is, I don’t want to waste time or money. If you spend some of your hard-earned cash or take time to train before diving into your quest, you’ll be more motivated to attain the goal of that investment because, if you don’t, you’re likely to view that investment as a waste. You’ll always be more committed when you have skin in the game. Of course we shouldn’t be driven by fear or anxiety at wasting resources, but a desire to get what we’ve paid for and achieve what we’ve spent so much sweat and so many hours working toward is a good motivator. Certainly, don’t overspend or invest unwisely, but putting some skin in the game at the starting line will no doubt nudge you forward when you feel like you’re running on E.
10. Remember Those Who Already Succeeded
Finally, it can be motivating to look at the people who have done the hard work and faced the seemingly insurmountable challenges to achieve the thing you’re running toward. I look at prolific writers and regular bloggers and am reminded that it really is possible to make it. Others have made it before me, facing the same or even more challenging obstacles. Whatever goal you’ve set out to achieve, someone else has gone down the same or a very similar road before—and reached the top. This isn’t a chance to compare yourself, to gloat or feel guilt, but it is an opportunity to recognize that you’re not alone. Long before you started your journey, someone else committed to do the good, hard work to reach the dream and they did it. They kept the motivation. And their motivation can motivate you, too.