“I just can’t seem to get started on my goal.” “I have a goal I want to achieve but I don’t have time to work on it right now.” Sound familiar? Are you using a similar excuse to postpone a worthwhile goal that you’d like to be moving toward? If this sounds like you, here are some things to consider.
Is your goal your goal? The first thing you need to decide is if this is your goal. Not your parents’, not your spouse’s, not society’s, not a “should” or an “ought to”. If it isn’t something you can feel a strong desire to achieve (you may not feel it now but you need to be able to create the desire) chances are it isn’t your goal and either (1) you won’t achieve it, or (2) it won’t mean that much if you do make it. Be sure your goal is your goal.
Once you have a real goal in mind, compare the benefits of reaching it vs. the benefits of not reaching it. Make no mistake, by not working on your goal, you are getting some kind of perceived benefit, a payoff. otherwise you’d be pursuing it right now, right?
If you are not working on your BIG goal right now, it’s likely because, at least subconsciously, you see a bigger benefit to not working on the goal than to working toward it. Maybe because it’s easier not to change. Maybe you fear you’ll fail. Or succeed. Maybe you’re caught in the depths of the comfort zone.
Take a sheet of paper and draw a vertical line down the center. On one side, list all the benefits you can come up with for NOT working on your goal. On the other side, list all the benefits you’ll enjoy by working toward and achieving your goal. Hopefully, your list for achieving your goal will far outweigh your list for not working on the goal.
Seeing the benefits of each, side by side, can help change your perspective and propel you into action. If not . . . again, maybe this isn’t your goal. At the least, it isn’t one you feel drawn to strongly enough to achieve. Maybe you need a different goal.
Start Small (but start now!)
Once you’ve decided this is your goal and you are excited by the list of benefits to be realized by working toward and achieving it, action becomes of prime importance. Under-commit. Choose a step toward your goal that is too easy, ridiculously easy. If you think you can walk a mile, commit to walking a quarter of a mile. If you think you can do 10 push ups each day, commit to doing one.
A big reason to start small is the amygdala – that part of the brain that controls the “fight or flight” response when we are met with a new challenge. The fear of change evoked by a big goal — or too large a step toward the goal — can sabotage your motivation. Robert Maurer examines this phenomenon in his book, One Small Step Can Change Your Life.
“. . . big goals trigger big fear. Just as it happened with our ancestors on the savannah, the brain restricts the cortex to get us moving away from the lion — but now the lion is a piece of paper called a test or a goal of losing weight, finding a mate, or creating a sales result. Creativity and purposeful action are suppressed exactly when we need them the most!
“[Small steps] are a kind of stealth solution to this quality of the brain. . . . Small, easily achievable goals — such as picking up and storing just one paper clip on a chronically messy desk — let you tiptoe right past the amygdala, keeping it asleep and unable to set off alarm bells. As your small steps continue and your cortex starts working, the brain begins to create new ‘software’ for your desired change, actually laying down new nerve pathways and building new habits. Soon, your resistance to change begins to weaken.” [Maurer]
The 20 Second Rule
The key is to make it so easy to take the first step toward your goal, that it is easier to do it than not to do it. Shawn Achor calls this the “20 second rule”. When he decided that he was watching too much TV, Achor decided to try an experiment. He removed the batteries from his TV remote control and placed them in a drawer that was exactly 20 seconds away from the sofa where he watched TV. Near at hand to the sofa was a book he wanted to read and the guitar he wanted to practice.
For several days, when he got home, he plopped down on the sofa and reached for the remote, forgetting that he’d removed the batteries. He was frustrated when the remote control didn’t work, but instead of getting up and walking the 20 seconds to where the batteries were stored, he picked up the book or the guitar because that was easier. [Achor] By making the desired behavior easier to do than the undesired behavior, he was able to exchange an unhelpful habit for a positive one.
How can you take a small step toward your BIG goal? How can you make it easier to do than not to do? It could be setting your walking shoes by your bed where you’ll trip over them in the morning to remind you to take your walk. Or sleeping in your gym clothes so you’re ready for your work out when you get up. It might be placing healthy snacks on the counter or in the front of the refrigerator and placing unhealthy foods high up in the back of the cupboard. Or you might consider not bringing unhealthy food home in the first place.
Consider your goal and think of the smallest step you can consistently take toward it. Then come up with ways to make it as easier to take the step than to not take it.
Outcome Visualization Or Process Visualization
Research has identified two significantly different types of visualization. One is called outcome visualization, the other is called process visualization. One has been proven through experimentation to help people to reach their goals, one has been shown to be largely ineffective.
In outcome visualization, you imagine yourself and your life when a goal has been achieved. You imagine — in rich detail — what it feels like to pass the exam, buy the new car, move in to the dream home, find the true love. You visualize the end result of reaching your goal. “Hold the image of yourself succeeding, visualize it so vividly,” said Norman Vincent Peale, “that when the desired success comes, it seems to be merely echoing a reality that has already existed in your mind.”
The only problem is this: research has shown this type of visualization to be of absolutely no benefit in actually reaching the goal. (And in some cases, those who practiced outcome visualization did slightly worse on an exam than a control group who didn’t visualize at all. )[Taylor]
With process visualization, on the other hand, you visualize the steps you must take to reach your goal. You imagine — in rich detail — how and when you will study for the exam, what you must do to shop for and select your new car, the steps you will take to find and purchase your dream home, the places you will go and the activities you’ll engage in to meet your true love . . . and what qualities your true love must have.
You see yourself overcoming the inevitable obstacles and you feel the emotions, to some extent, that you have as you move toward your goal. Visualization — the right kind of visualization — evokes emotions which help motivate you, either away from – negative, or toward – positive.
With process visualization, as you visualize the process of reaching your intended aim, you begin to see the steps you must take to reach the goal, and you begin formulating a plan. [Taylor] Visualizing the steps can in turn spur you into action.
Time To Take Action
You came here with a divine purpose. When one discovers his or her purpose, however he or she perceives or articulates it, it usually involves learning, growth and service. Do you have a goal that allows you to live out your divine purpose? I suspect you do – whether you have stated it aloud to yourself or not. Now is the time to take action.
Compare the benefits of reaching your goal against not working toward it. Then begin to take tiny, easy steps toward it. Visualize the obstacles you’ll encounter and ways you will overcome them. Do something each day to move closer to your goal, and pretty soon, you’ll be on your way to achieving your BIG goal and flourishing on the way. And that, my friend, is Excelerating!
Excelerated Focus™ — aligning your actions with your true desires — is one step in creating your Excelerated Life™, a life of well-being, meaning, and purpose.
Achor, Shawn. The Happiness Advantage. New York: Crown Publishing Group, 2010
Maurer, Ph.D., Robert. One Small Step Can Change Your Life. New York: Workman Publishing, 2004
Taylor, Shelley E., et al, “Harnessing The Imagination – Mental Simulation, Self-Regulation, And Copint,” American Psychologist April 1998: Vol. 53 No. 4 429 – 439 http://www.culturedesoi.fr/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/Taylor-et-al-Harnessing-the-imagination-Mental-simulation-self-regulation-and-coping.pdf.