If you read my last post, you may have seen that I have a long list of fun family activities I want to do before summer is over. These require very little motivation because, well, they’re fun. But I also hinted to a list of personal goals that I’m focusing on this summer, and for which I need a LOT of motivation.
Motivation is such a funny thing. Some days, my cup runneth over with energy and enthusiasm, and my dreams actually feel tangible. Other days, I scratch and claw at every shred of drive I can get because I’m afraid that if I don’t keep fighting for it, apathy or fatigue will overtake me and I’ll return to my old ways.
More often than not, the latter scenario is the one that prevails in my own goal pursuit. I mean, I’ve achieved plenty, but the list of goals I abandon is probably WAY longer than the ones I don’t.
Do I chalk all those abandoned goals up to apathy and defeat? Oh, heck no. Sometimes, abandoned goals are simply reflective of a change in preference or priority, or indicative of growth or maturity in and of themselves.
But a lot of my goals fall by the wayside due to a number of factors which beat me down mentally, physically, or emotionally.
So that got me thinking. There are certain things that have been helping me stay motivated to achieve my personal goals as of late. Some of them have to do with mindset while others are more physical. Either way, they all serve to insulate me with feel good positivity which has made it easier for me to stick to my goals day to day and (from past experience) long-term.
Here are the actions and principles that are currently helping me stay motivated to reach my goals:
- I am utilizing multiple tools as indicators of growth.
I work in an elementary school as a speech-language pathologist, and part of my job is to evaluate student performance. I try my hardest not to use the results of a single assessment or a child’s performance within a single session to form a judgement about a their abilities. This would not necessarily be representative of the child’s true abilities, nor would it capture the complexities of their skills. Rather, I use the combination of multiple assessments, both objective and subjective over several evaluation sessions, to determine where the child’s strengths and weaknesses are. Performance can be variable one day to the next, and sometimes the qualitative information can tip the scale.
Lately, I’ve been more mindful of applying the same practice to weight loss.
If you’ve ever tried to lose weight, then you’ve probably felt like throwing your scale out the window. Sometimes, a scale shows you exactly what you want to see; other times, it shows you the opposite. And too often, the scale is the ONLY tool we pay attention to. But that narrow-minded thinking can lead us to discount the other positive effects we’re experiencing as a result of our efforts and to perhaps abandon our goals too soon.
So what are some other indicators of growth you ask? Well, keeping with the weight loss example, I am:
- taking body measurements
- noticing when my clothes feel looser
- tracking/journaling my mood/emotions in response to food and exercise
- noticing changes in my energy level
- acknowledging the times I’ve made a particularly healthy choice that I otherwise might not have made
- finding motivation in encouraging words from friends and family (sometimes they are better positioned to see my progress because they don’t necessarily see me day to day but rather every few weeks or months)
These have all been excellent indicators that I am moving in the right direction, even when the scale is not.
But of course, this principle can be applied to more than just weight loss. Too often we choose one metric against which we measure our progress. But this can be limiting and false. Instead, we can challenge ourselves to create a list of other indicators that we can use to assess our progress.
In other words, let’s not put all our proverbial eggs in one basket.
2. I am reminding myself daily that progress is not a straight line.
Too often, I take one step forward and decide, “This is how it’s going to be from here on out.” But then life happens and I’ve taken two steps back without realizing. When this occurs, I can practically hear the motivation fizzle out.
But rather than seeing these steps back as a failure, I have been focusing on shifting my mindset to pull something positive from the experience. Did I learn a valuable lesson? Did I learn what doesn’t work for me? These are not failures. They are nuggets of information that I can use to keep moving forward.
3. I am being realistic.
Change doesn’t happen overnight. When I set my current goals for myself, I tried to think about how realistic it was for me to reach a certain milestone by a certain date. I didn’t set the goal with the unrealistic expectation that I would be able to focus ALL my attention and energy on this single goal until that date arrived, or that I would be able to do it “perfectly” or without faltering. I set the goal to fit within the context of my life and all the ups, downs, ins, and outs that go along with living (and all the delicious treats that go along with summer).
And hey, if I end up reaching my goal ahead of schedule, then good for me! Instant motivation.
4. I am limiting decisions.
Ever heard of “decision fatigue”? Google it – it’s legit. Essentially, decision fatigue is what we feel when we make too many decisions: tired, apathetic, defeated, frustrated. These decisions can be huge (Should I change jobs?) or they can be a sequence of smaller choices (What should I wear today? What should I eat for breakfast? Lunch? Dinner?). Either way, our decision making ability is a finite resource that we should be mindful of when pursuing a goal.
Some things that I remind myself of in reference to my own goals:
- I start with a certain amount of decision making ability every day.
- My decision making ability diminishes with each decision I make.
- I am less susceptible to straying from my goals when I am well rested (beginning of the day).
Some things I can do to work within the confines of this finite resource:
- I can make the most difficult/high-priority decisions early in the day.
- I can automate as much as possible, preferably the most trivial decisions I make day to day. (lay out work or gym clothes, meal prep lunches for the week ahead)
- I can limit the number of choices I give myself. (my magic number is 3)
- I can rely on the power of repetition and routine.
Basically, when I reduce the number of small decisions I have to make throughout the day, I reserve my energy and mental stamina for the bigger decisions and challenges that life inevitably throws my way.
5. I am eating dessert.
Both literally and figuratively.
Growth is hard. Relentless, single-minded pursuit of a goal will often lead to burnout and abandonment of that which we are pursuing.
This is one thing I am reminding myself of as I work toward my own goals.
When I get tired, I am resting.
When I get wound up, I am relaxing.
And when I want dessert, I am eating dessert.