Struggling With A Goal? 10 Ideas To Keep You On Track
Whatever your goal is, whether it’s saving for something, paying off a debt or trying to develop a new habit, it can often be tough to keep going. Big goals take a big effort and a lot of time, so motivation and drive are vital to keep going. But even when you start out with tons of enthusiasm it can wane over time.
Life gets in the way of your goals and dreams. Something comes up – perhaps an unexpected expenditure or another obstacle – and you start to go off track. Once you’ve “failed”, then it can seem easier to just give up. But wait! Before you throw in the towel, check out these simple ideas for how to keep going. Even if you have already quit, you can always restart, and this time you’ll be armed with more tips and techniques to keep going and reach your goal!
1. Was your goal too big?
We’re encouraged to reach for the stars, but turning a big dream into a reality does take a lot of effort and motivation. What do you do if you don’t have much of either? How about breaking up your goal into small, bite-sized mini-goals?
Big goals are like a marathon and you can’t sprint a marathon. You need to take it steady, and you need to split it up into smaller chunks. Many runners divide up their race into smaller distances; they run to reach the next water station, once they reach that they look for another goal to aim for, and so on until they complete the race. Reaching a smaller goal is much easier, and small wins will increase your confidence and motivation.
If you are not sure where to start, just take your current goal and divide it in half. If that is still too big, divide it in half again, until you find the right-sized goal to get you back on track.
Alternatively, you can just dedicate a certain amount of time each day. In his book “The Power of Less”, Leo Babuato recommends starting small – for example instead of setting a big goal to exercise for an hour every day, try exercising for 10-15 minutes every day instead. It’s much easier to find 15 minutes each day than an hour, so you are more likely to keep it up.
When you are trying to create a new habit, like exercising regularly, establishing the habit is more important than the result. When your habit is more routine, you’ll then be ready to increase the time. But don’t underestimate the power of even 15 minutes – that’s over 90 hours in a year.
2. What else can give?
If you are struggling with your goal because of a lack of time, ask yourself what activities you can stop doing, or do less of, to free up some time.
3. Track your progress
A few years ago a young comic asked Jerry Seinfeld for tips for a young comic. Jerry Seinfeld told him that writing better jokes was key, and to do that he needed to write every day. Seinfeld advised the comic to get a big wall calendar, hang it in a prominent place and to mark a big X over each day he completed his writing goal. Soon he would have a chain of X’s on the calendar and then he should focus on not breaking the chain.
If you track your progress, then you too can leverage the powerful motivation of “not breaking the chain”. Personally, I find this technique to be particularly powerful. I wanted to get into the habit of meditating regularly and once I had a “chain” going I found that I developed a consistent habit of meditation – even on days when I didn’t really feel like it, or thought I didn’t have the time. To date, my meditation “chain” is 1,506 days!
4. Get social
Are you struggling to work up the motivation to keep going? Why not buddy up with someone who is pursuing the same goal? For example, you may not want to go to the gym but if you’ve promised to meet someone there, then you’re more likely to go. Alternatively, tell your friends what you are trying to do so they can help hold you accountable.
5. Precommit to your goal.
Precommiting to a goal is a technique you can try to make sure you actually stick to your goal. This technique usually involves money. Basically, you are making a bet that you will achieve your goal or stick to a habit for a certain length of time, and if you don’t you’ll pay a certain amount of money.
Friends or family may be willing to take you up on your bet, to help you reach your goal. Or there are sites like Stickk, where you can sign a Commitment Contract, as well as receive support from a referee, or friends and support groups. According to Stickk:
A Referee increases your chances of success by up to 2x
Financial stakes increase your chances of success by up to 3x
6. Listen to the “naysayers”
Are there people in your life who doubt that you can reach your goal? If so, use their disapproval for good! Listen to them and what they say and they use that negativity to positively fuel your motivation. Get fired up and tell yourself: “I’ll show them”. You can write down their comments to remind yourself of your motivation.
7. Make your goal more tangible
Another way to battle low motivation is to remind yourself what you are striving for; for example, if your goal is to visit Paris, put a picture of Paris somewhere prominent so you see it every day. Also, treat yourself to some small French rewards when you hit a milestone; such as coffee and a croissant or picnic in the park with a baguette, cheese and wine.
8. Add more fun
As Jon Acuff says in his book Finish, “Make it fun if you want it done”. Pursuing a goal does not have to be all blood, sweat and tears. Jon Acuff suggests picking 2-3 small areas of fun that you can add to your goal. He also says that fun is often weird, so if you are struggling to come up with some ideas, then finish this sentence: “This is weird, but I find X fun”.
9. Reward yourself for the process, not just reaching the goal
Don’t feel that you have to wait until you reach your goal to celebrate. Keep your motivation high by honoring your efforts along the way. Have you kept the “chain” going for a week, or a month? Celebrate! Did you find more time to work on your goal? Celebrate!
10. Cut yourself some slack
We’re all human and imperfect, but too often we expect perfection of ourselves. If we miss a goal, or miss a day, we often give up because it’s no longer perfect. We stumble, and sometimes fall – especially if the goal we are pursuing is tough, so don't forget:
“There is no learning in the comfort zone, and no comfort in the learning zone”
I’m not sure who came up with this quote, but it’s important reminder that the worthwhile goals are usually hard, so it’s not surprising that we may encounter problems along the way.
Also, if you are struggling, don’t think of it as failure, reframe it. If something doesn’t work out as you planned, you didn’t fail. Instead you have learned what doesn’t work so now you can try something else. Just remember this other great, anonymous quote:
“There is no failure, only success or learning”
If you are struggling to stick to your goals, what is holding you back? Is your goal too big? Are you trying to pursue too many goals? Are you chasing perfection? Or something else?
Alternatively, if you’ve overcome roadblocks and continued pursuing your goal, what worked for you? Asking for a friend!