How to reach a goal
Watching the Olympics this year reminded me of a childhood fantasy I’d had of being an Olympic figure skater. It wasn’t the glory (or the outfits) that most appealed to me – it was the regime.
Even as a kid, having a single focus and clear priorities sounded like a huge relief. The 4am wake-up times, the hours on the ice, even the fixed diet didn’t sounds like drudgery to me – it sounded like heaven.
Can you imagine if everyone in your life arranged their own lives around your particular dream?If not just your loved ones, but also the best coaches and experts in the world were thinking day and night about how to help you achieve your goal? Or what it would be like if every hour of your day was structured to maximize your learning and potential in this one arena? Think about what you could achieve if every decision about what you eat, when you sleep, and how you work, was made in advance, taking willpower completely out of the equation. There would be enormous sacrifices and pressure to be sure, but at the same time, doesn’t that sound great?
For most of us, when we have a new goal, it is just one more thing we are trying to crowd on to a very full plate. We are surrounded by people who may be supportive, but who are decidedly not going to make huge shifts in their own lives to back our efforts. And as we are forced to make adjustments and be flexible because of other obligations, our willpower is a shallow reservoir we have to go back to again and again. So how does a non-Olympian pursue a new goal and make the necessary changes, day in and day out? Here are some ideas.
In client sessions I often ask, “Which one are you?” Meaning, what is true about your particular nature that we need to work with? I am writing this at 5:19am on a Thursday, because my brain can write at this time in a way that is much harder for me at 2pm and virtually impossible any time after 6pm. This has been true for me for my entire life. But if you are someone who spends her first several hours’ awake feeling like you are emerging from general anesthesia, you will need a different system. By the time we’ve reached adulthood, we have a lot of information about ourselves. Imagine what would be optimal for you to reach your goal and work backwards from there to figure out what you can implement right now.
Get solid support
When we say someone is “supportive,” we sometimes just mean that they don’t actively impede our progress. No one is hiding your running shoes or telling you that you can’t go to medical school. This isn’t what I’m talking about. True support infuses your efforts with energy, connection, and accountability. This kind of support can come in two ways.
The first is someone who knows more than you about what you are trying to do, and will focus some of their time and attention on giving guidance and helping you succeed. This might be coach, a therapist, a teacher, or a professional mentor. This kind of support goes in one direction, is often something you pay for, and is consistent and structured. This person will help you make a plan and point out where and how you need to improve.The second kind of support is social support. Here you are helping each other and are often at roughly the same level. Running clubs, study partners, writing groups, a friend you meet with weekly to discuss your goals, all are ways to create momentum toward your goal and should be sought out. If you can find social supports that make achieving your goal more fun, your chances of success will go up immeasurably.
Consistency is the only metric
If I were going to customize a coffee mug for myself, this is what I would write on it. I say this to myself multiple times a day, every single day. When my alarm goes off at 5am and I am lying there thinking I don’t really have anything to write this morning so why bother getting up so early to try, “Consistency is the only metric.” When it is midday and time to go to the gym, but I am feeling wiped out and not sure I have enough energy to exercise, “Consistency is the only metric.” When I have set aside time to do the administrative tasks I despise and would rather see what’s happening on Feedly, “Consistency is the only metric.” Since adopting this mantra, the workouts happen, the writing goals are met, and the business stress has gone way down. Quality, especially if you are getting the support outlined above, will follow consistency.
Having a single focus and just one priority probably isn’t realistic, or even desirable, in your life right now. But that shouldn’t deter you. Take a minute to imagine what your life would look like if these three principles were firmly in place. What would that look like for your particular goal? What can you do today that will take you one step in the right direction?
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