If you’re like a lot of Americans, you probably struggle from time to time with procrastinating, getting started, and following through on your goals. You may have a meaningful conversation with a friend or loved one, or watch or listen to something inspirational, and be motivated to achieve a new goal. You think about how great it will be when you have reached your goal(s) and are successful, and it feels so easily within reach. The goal might be to exercise more frequently, eat healthier, pick up a new hobby, reach out to friends, plan more social events, learn a new instrument or a foreign language, build your own business, or practice mindfulness and meditation more frequently.
But then something happens, and taking that first step seems harder all of a sudden. You get busy with work or family or friends, or you make excuses. So why can’t you seem to follow through even though you know it would benefit your life to go after this goal?
For many of us, this is when self-doubt creeps in. The minute we sit down to start working on the goal, we realize just how little we have done in this area up to this point. It feels like we’re staring up at Mount Everest from the base. This can feel quite overwhelming, stressful, anxiety-provoking, or depressing. Thoughts may enter our minds about “why haven’t I achieved this already?” or “how am I ever going to get there?”
Fortunately, there are a couple of key things you can do to overcome this hurtle. First, be kind to yourself. Remember that you are a worthy person and have done great things in your life, and the fact that you have not accomplished this goal yet does not define you. Second, focus on the present! It is perfectly natural to have thoughts about past failures, or fears about future problems. However, these thoughts are not helpful and you do not need to focus on them. See if you can just notice the thoughts without getting hung up on trying to solve them. However you got to this moment, the past is in the past, and the only thing you have control over is the present, so start living in the here and now! And if you are feeling scared, anxious, or sad about your current status, make room for those feelings to be there. Emotions are ok, even the uncomfortable ones! Invite them along as you take the first step toward your goal.
In order to actually get started on the goal, there are a few things that will help you get going. First, break it down into small, manageable steps. Do not try to take on everything at once, as this can be quite overwhelming. Set a mini-goal that is realistic and not too stressful. You can always increase the rate, frequency, intensity, or whatever you need as you progress. Second, set a schedule for when you are going to accomplish your mini-goals. Plan out your week with specific days and times when you know you realistically can put in the time to work on this. Setting a specific day and time makes it become more real in your mind and provides structure and motivation to help you complete your goals. Third, build in a basic reward or punishment schedule for yourself. To do this, think of something that you enjoy and would be upset to have to live without for a short time (day, week or couple of weeks). Commit to yourself that you may only indulge in this reward after you have completed your mini-goals or tasks for the day or week. If you know that you will struggle to hold yourself accountable, then ask someone else for help. Make them the gatekeeper for your reward.
Follow these steps and you will start accomplishing the goals you have set for yourself. Make sure your goals are in line with your values and the person you want to be in life. Over time, this will help you build self-confidence and self-esteem, and generally feel better about what you are doing with your life. And remember that everyone stumbles, experiences setbacks, and fails from time to time. The problem isn’t failing, the problem is not trying in the first place, and not being willing to get back on the horse to pursue your dreams. So stop making excuses, and start going after the life you want today!
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Author: Dr. David Shanley
Dr. David Shanley has his Doctorate in Clinical Psychology from the University of Denver. He works in private practice, specializing in adults with anxiety disorders, social anxiety, and OCD.