Another week has passed. Take a minute to reflect on your goals. You want to earn more money. Or learn a new skill which will skyrocket your career. Or pursue an unrelated hobby. But you accomplished nothing worth mention last week. You didn’t take any significant steps to achieve your goals. You just couldn’t find the time or motivation.
Someday, you’ll find time. Someday, everything will fall in place. Someday, you’ll smile, satisfied with your lifestyle. Until then, you’ll wait. You’ll do whatever comes your way – at work, at home, and in life.
But deep down, you know the truth. You’ve played the waiting game for far too long, and it isn’t working. This frustrating pattern has continued for longer than you remember. It’s as predictable as Monday Blues. You’ve come to a silent, informal agreement with it. This frustration is now part of your everyday life.
Your improvement is incremental, or absent. You’re so immune to it by now that you don’t even notice it. You’re tired of wanting to get better, but not making headway. You’re tired of waiting for that flash of inspiration.
When will the inspiration come? Where will it come from? More importantly, will it ever come?
“Don’t worry,” well-meaning friends and family members say. “It will come. Anyway, you’re already doing enough. Why do you need to do more?” These talks reassure you for a while.
But deep down, you’re still dissatisfied. You can’t shake off the feeling that, despite their best intentions, the people who assure you don’t know what they’re saying. You can feel it in your gut.
Take my advice. Go with your gut. If you feel like they don’t know the answers, you’re right. They harbor good intentions, but are just as lost as you, if not more.
So, what should you do? How will you find the inspiration?
Inspiration to achieve your goals doesn’t come to you. You have to go after it with a bat. But which bat will encourage inspiration instead of frightening it away?
What Your Goals Depend On
You don’t achieve your goals because you stay inspired. You don’t become an overnight success. You achieve your goals because of a little something called habits.
“Each habit means relatively little on its own. But over time, the meals we order, what we say, where we save and spend, what we eat or drink, and the way we organize our thoughts and work routines have an enormous impact on our health, productivity, financial security and happiness,” bestselling author Charles Duhigg wrote in The Power of Habit.
Habits make a behavior automatic. For instance, what do you do first when you wake up? Do you check your phone? Brush you teeth and eat something? Pick the newspaper up or walk into the kitchen? Exercise or meditate? Or drink tea or coffee?
You don’t think before following your routine. It’s your habit. According to a paper published by a Duke University researcher, more than 40 percent actions people perform every day are not decisions, but habits.
Inspiration gets you started in the direction of your goals. But habits make you reach them.
Good habits are important… no, they are essential… for you to achieve your goals. Unfortunately, bad habits are easier (much, much easier) to form than good ones. And they are equally hard to break.
Checking your phone and email constantly, watching Netflix instead of reading a book, disseminating half-baked opinions instead of digging deeper, feeling victimized instead of feeling responsible, taking cover instead of taking action… the list of everyday bad habits can go on.
But the good news is that bad habits can be broken and replaced with productive ones. The better news is that you can master good habits with a little effort. The best news is that you can start forming good habits today, and achieve your goals successfully instead of feeling guilty about them.
Forming The Right Habits
How can you develop good habits to embark on a fulfilling lifelong journey? Here are five simple, yet remarkably effective ways:
1. Start Small
Most people start off with ambitious goals from the beginning. They expect to become overnight successes because of what the media portrays. They are blind to the effort the achiever put in before she became an overnight success.
As a result, they set themselves up for failure. They set a BHAG – Big Hairy Audacious Goal – and go out all guns blazing. With time, they discover that the goal demands much more effort than they imagined. They run out of ammo and abandon the field even before the war begins.
Don’t commit this blunder. Start small. Set the bar low for deadlines and goals. Don’t compare yourself with the best in the field just yet.
Starting small gives you the chance to experience a victory. With each victory comes a sweet experience. As the experience becomes sweeter, your mind craves for the happiness which accompanies it. Subconsciously, you start working harder. Before you realize it, you achieve much more than you could imagine.
2. Work Deliberately
Ever caught yourself thinking, “I wish I could find more time to do this.” Or, “I have too much on my plate already. This can’t take up my space now.” I have. Heck, I’m still guilty of it sometimes.
Here’s the solution. Don’t do too much. Allot only 30 minutes each day for what you want to pursue. During those 30 minutes, keep your phone in another room and block social media sites. Missing a few phone calls won’t trigger an apocalypse.
30 minutes a day is all it takes. Your mind will tell you when it’s ready to increase those 30 minutes to 45, and eventually an hour.
This action also offers an unexpected advantage. It makes that you realize that you can avoid most time-wasting activities which you feel obliged to do. Through conscious work you develop focus, improve your learning, and feel happier.
3. Focus on What You Want
I love riding, especially around curves and corners. It makes feel like a racetrack rider. But in the beginning, I struggled, unable to find the right speed and line. One tiny change in perspective did the trick.
I struggled because I focused on where I didn’t want to end up on the road. And guess what. That’s exactly where I ended up! Then I changed my perspective. I trained my eyes to focus only on the part of the road I wanted to stick to. And voila! I started taking corners faster, without mishaps.
Our brains are hardwired to focus on fear and negativity. But we manually can override the autopilot and focus on the positive instead. When we set our sights on where we want to be, every step we take will guide us in that direction.
Remind yourself each day about small wins you want to achieve (the daily journal will help here). When negativity clouds your mind, focus on what you want. If the negativity gets too strong to fight, take a break. Watch a TED video. Meditate. Exercise. Then get into the driver’s seat again, and focus on what you want.
4. Make An Accountability Buddy
An accountability buddy can help you make large strides in your goals, Alicia T. Glenn wrote on the Huffington Post. Find someone reliable and committed to help you get farther with your goals. If you cannot find someone in your immediate circles, look on social media and online forums.
Look for someone who has accomplished what you want to. Thus, you also get access to guidance if needed. Prefer someone who lets you be honest with them, and still pushes you in the right direction. If you choose a slacker or cynic, you will end up drifting further away from your goal.
If you can’t find an accountability buddy, disclose your plans to a trusted friend or family member. Make them remind you to stay on track when they see you getting distracted. And when they do, don’t get pissed. Use their reminders to reflect on where you are, and where you want to be.
I made my mother and a friend ask me one question every week: “Vishal, are you drifting?” Eventually, it stopped. But it was good while it lasted. I think I’ll start this activity again.
What will you do for yourself?
5. Be Kind to Yourself
Being kind to self is the best gift you can give yourself. Life gets better, relationships improve, as does happiness.
Yet, it often is neglected, or makes people feel guilty for doing it.
We believe talking down to ourselves is right. This is because we have been talked down to, all our lives. As a result, we talk more trash to ourselves than political rivals do about each other.
When we don’t do well, we tell ourselves that we suck. “What were you thinking while trying this? You’ll never be good enough.” And we give up. But people don’t know how close they were to their goals when they gave up.
Be kind to yourself. Be your own best friend. It’s okay to slip up sometimes. It’s okay to have a cheat day while dieting. It’s okay to have a horrible day. Remind yourself that you have tomorrow to try again.
You won’t always find a buddy to pick you up when you’re down. Learn to pick yourself up when you stumble. When you feel low, tell yourself it’s okay and ask, “How will I get out of this?”
Will you be mean to your best friend or spouse when they feel low or defeated? Then why be mean to yourself?
The five points mentioned above will transform your life from a dissatisfying one into an enviable one. They will empower you to develop good habits. When you keep ticking them off your list, people will wonder where you find the energy and motivation. They will admire you, and wonder what your secret sauce is.
You’ll set an example for them. You’ll prove that achieving goals is not as hard as they think. Then, when they shake their heads and say, “If only I had more time,” you’ll smile. Because you had the same twenty four hours as them. You just made time for the right things. And you didn’t sit around, waiting for inspiration. You went after it with a bat.
But of course, this isn’t about what others will think of you. It’s about how you will feel. It’s about what you will accomplish. Imagine a life where you look forward to each day. Imagine waking up each morning before the alarm because you cannot wait to get started. Imagine living for yourself, instead of living by a fibbing textbook others wrote.
This life can be yours. You just have to have to imbibe the right habits. Develop them by doing the following:
Start small: Don’t set yourself a Big Hairy Audacious Goal. Start off with small goals and achieve them. In time, you will develop the ability to work harder for longer.
Work deliberately: Start off with working for 30 minutes each day. Work for 20 minutes and reflect for 10. Note what you did well, and how you can improve, in a daily journal.
Focus on what you want: Don’t worry about what will happen if you fail. Just focus on where you want to be, and you will get there. Change your perspective. Your actions will change automatically.
Make an accountability buddy: Find someone who holds you accountable for your goals and habits. It could be someone who is pursuing the same goal as you, or who has done what you want to, or a trusted friend. It will help you get farther in your goals.
Be kind to yourself: Allow yourself to slip up and stumble. Be your own best friend. Talk to yourself like you would talk to your best friend. Being kind to self is the best gift you can give yourself.
Champions don’t do extraordinary things. They do ordinary things extraordinarily well. You will live this life only once. Make the most of it. Achieve what you want. And use good habits to get there.