3 Tools to take action on your goals

3 tools to take action on your goals

What percentage of people do you think achieve their New Year’s resolutions? 50%? 33%? 12%?

It’s actually 8%. I’m not surprised. We sincerely want to quit our bad habits, pursue our dreams and be our best selves, but when it’s time to work on our goals, why are we suddenly compelled to clean out the vegetable drawer – or is that just me? Our intentions are good but our follow through, well, sucks.

To make matters worse, when I set goals I think I have superhuman powers and put unrealistic demands on myself and my time – who needs sleep? I never questioned this approach and each time I felt like a failure because not only did I NOT reach my goal, I barely got started.

I thought I lacked discipline but the problem wasn’t me, the problem was my approach. I didn’t need iron-clad willpower, what I needed was a system that took me from planning to DOING. Action is the only way to build momentum and create new habits and I’ve discovered a few tools that helped me move through my fears and resistance to reach my goals.

But first, I’d like to talk about how our brain works. Our brains have 3 parts:

  • the primitive brain handles our survival instincts,
  • The limbic is our emotional brain and is used for building social bonds.
  • The neocortex is the thinking brain, used for logic and reasoning.

For goal-setting purposes, it’s important to know that when you experience fear or stress, the primitive brain is going to override the thinking brain. Every. Single. Time. It’s going to do everything in its power to alleviate that stress. My unrealistic plans triggered some fear and my primitive brain reacted, thus the overwhelming desire to clean the fridge. I needed a subtler approach so my brain worked for, not against me. The tools that work for me are: break it down, the 5 minute plan and low expectations.

1. Break it Down

In my previous process, to use a writing analogy, I tried to jump from never writing to a finished novel overnight. It’s like expecting a baby that just learned how to roll over to start running. I was depriving myself of the learning opportunities in all those little steps and the habits and confidence they built. I finally realized that achieving a goal means growing into it, one step at a time.

2. Commit to 5 Minutes

The 5 minute plan is a another great tool to overcome resistance. I actually thought I could work 3 hours a night, 5 nights a week and another 16 hours on the weekend to work on my goals, in addition to my full-time job and everything else life threw at me. And I wondered why I couldn’t get started! Then a coach suggested I turn it down a notch and start with 5 minutes. It seems counter-intuitive, What could I accomplish in 5 minutes? Never mind that I wasn’t accomplishing anything before

Here’s the thing, getting started is often the hardest part and 5 minutes is ridiculously easy and non-threatening (remember that primitive brain?), that it was easy to commit to. And if you know Newton’s First Law of Motion, an object in motion tends to stay in motion. Five minutes is usually all I need to overcome inertia and get the ball rolling.

3. Lower Expectations

The final tool is lower your expectations. Now, I’m not saying lower your standards, always do your best. Just accept in the beginning your best might not be all that good. But in order to improve you have to practice. I read about a pottery teacher that did an experiment. He told one class that they would be graded on the quantity of pots they made. He told another their grades would be based on one pot. The class that was graded on quantity actually produced the best pots. Why? Practice! They were focused on the process while the one pot class was focused on the product. In the beginning quantity is more important than but will eventually lead to quality. It’s the process, all that practice that matters, not the product, which is just the end result. So quit worrying about how good it is.

Pursuing our goals is gratifying but the path is seldom easy. It’s good to have some tools that we can use that work with our brain to get us started as well as get us back on track if we slip into old habits when the novelty and excitement of our goal wears off. When you are having trouble getting started I challenge you to apply breaking things down, the 5 minute plan and lowering your expectations.

ACT your Dreams into Reality

I love writing speeches for Toastmasters. Writing has always been a way for me to work through problems and clarify my thoughts so it’s no surprise that with each speech I learn something new and gain valuable insight.

I had several epiphanies  working through Speech 3 that were so powerful that I wanted a way to remember them. Acronyms work and ACT fit perfectly.

I chose ACT because each point got me from planning to DOING.These ideas reframed my thinking so I could move past my fears and start but also keep me going when the novelty and excitement of my goals wear off.

So here is how you ACT your dreams into reality:

A – Accolades do NOT equal growth.

I got a lot of good feedback  and encouragement for my first speech and was riding high afterwards. I worked hard on my second speech and, in my mind, it was even better than the first. Not only did I think the content was inspirational but I thought I delivered it well. My head swelled with anticipation at my critique. While I got high marks, my evaluator did exactly what he was suppose to do. He pointed out both the good and bad (areas he thought I could improve on).  But there was no fawning, so I was deflated. I became unmotivated and it took me two weeks to recover. It was Speech 3 that helped me see what happened and change my perspective.

The reason I signed up for Toastmasters was to stretch myself beyond my comfort zone, learn and grow. Accolades are great but can be a double edged sword. It’s wonderful to get feedback that you’re on the right path, doing a good job, that all your hard work has paid off BUT it can stunt your growth if you’re not careful. I focused on approval and when people (rightly) didn’t fall all over themselves to tell me how great I was…it stopped me in my tracks. But when I switched my focus to improving myself, my motivation returned.

The takeaway – Switch mindset from approval to improvement.

C – Create value.

I had a fear of being rejected. It was so big and ingrained in my belief system that I didn’t realize it drove every thought and action. Or more accurately, inaction. I wanted to do great things and be so much more but I rarely followed through resulting in frustration and self-incrimination.  Once I quit focusing on myself (“what do they think of me?” “I don’t have the right degree”, “I’m too old”, etc) and focused on creating value, something amazing happened. I was no longer paralyzed by fear because it wasn’t about me anymore (phew!). It’s about making a difference.

The takeaway – Albert Einstein said it best – “Strive not to be a success, but rather to be of value.”

T – Tiny steps.

The buzzword in the goal-setting community is Big Hairy Audacious Goals. Dream big! And I whole heartily agree but I overwhelmed myself into couch potato status and the cycle of frustration and incrimination would begin all over again.

One of the cornerstones of the Kaizen Muse Creativity Coach model (where I received my certification) is small steps. The concept isn’t new and is based on ‘kaizen”, a Japanese word meaning continual improvement (weren’t we just talking about that?)

One aspect of small steps is committing to something for just 5 minutes (I’ll write for 5 minutes, I’ll exercise for 5 minutes…you get the idea). It works by overcoming the inertia or resistance we have to getting starting by being so ridiculously easy and non-threatening. If you become engrossed in the project, you can keep going or stop after 5 minutes and celebrate that you met your goal (these small successes keep us motivated and moving forward).

But thinking about small steps made me realize something else. Breaking a big goal down into little steps  not only keeps us from being overwhelmed, taking our goals one small step at a time helps us gain the knowledge and confidence we need to GROW into our Big Hairy Audacious Goals. My mistake had been thinking that I could skip right past “beginner” and be an expert. Growing into my goals was a game changer for me.

The takeaway – “The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.” Lao Tzu

Do any of these ideas resonate with you? What do you do to get started and keep motivated? I’d love to hear from you.