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Five Tips to Start and Stick with Your Goals

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Our goals can only be reached through a vehicle of a plan, in which we must fervently believe, and upon which we must vigorously act. There is no other route to success.” —Pablo Picasso

I hear a lot of brilliant ideas from a diverse sampling of people. I find it amazing.

The ingenuity of folks exploring their thoughts for new literary works, brainstorming to refine technical processes, and forming innovative solutions is astounding. Their concepts are superb. Their theories are interesting. Even if not a single word or piece of code has been formulated, I desperately want to see their potential final product.

Weeks later, I might ask, “How’s that idea coming along? How much have you completed?”

Too often, the answer is, “I haven’t done much of anything yet.”

At some point, nearly everyone has contemplated writing stories, composing songs, sketching portraits, or other creative endeavors. Similarly, at work, we’ve all daydreamed about discovering the next solution that will give our companies a competitive advantage and bolster our careers.

We all want to see our ideas flourish and thrive from conception to completion.

Staying dedicated to goals can be hard, but it doesn’t have to be impossible. Here are five tricks to tweak your mindset and push you past the mental barriers separating your aspirations from reality.

Act. Then continue until you make headway.

Sounds intuitive, right? If you want to accomplish something, then you need to make moves. But folks get so fixated on details, doubts, or distractions that they stop before they get out of the starting gate.

Getting hung up during the early stages of a project can be hazardous. You’ll lose momentum, downshift, and then idle instead of pushing forward.

For example, during the first stages of a writing project, the world is a blank page of possibility. Becoming overly focused on a specific line, scene, or fragment of dialogue can result in tunnel vision. Your focus becomes narrowed and ideas can feel muddled or bland. This erodes your motivation and makes you forget about the spectrum of ideas that you had at the start.

Similarly, during the beginning of a new work project, you may have brilliant ideas but not know how to move forward with them. But if you linger in the uncertainty, you may never make it to a final solution. For instance, taking hours to research a complex Microsoft Excel function instead of fully documenting your eureka moment could trip up your overall advancement.

Start big. Get your fresh ideas down on paper or the screen. Revisions can come later.

Don’t let the three Ds -details, doubts, or distractions – prevent you from chasing success. Once you start driving towards your goal, the three Ds will look microscopic in your rearview.

Stop being hard on yourself. Seriously.

We all make mistakes. Stumbling along the way is a common side effect of moving towards success.

If you’re driven, you’re likely to be your own worst critic and excessively tough on yourself. But you don’t have to carry the weight of the world on your shoulders, even if it feels like you need to.

Being too hard on yourself yields negative thoughts and feelings of self-blame, self-criticism, self-judgment, etc. You start worrying about pleasing others even if you are not pleasing myself in the process. You’ll feel like you need to say yes to everything even when you want to say no. I overwork myself until you fall apart, then pick up the pieces and do it all over again.

This behavior doesn’t help you hit your goals. Being hard on yourself can be a motivator, but only to a certain extent. It’s an exhausting habit. Your energy is better spent targeting your objectives instead of hating on yourself.

Be interested in your goals.

One of the most perplexing phenomena is when achievers sometimes lose interest in the goals they’re pursuing. They get a portion of a personal project complete but then can’t progress beyond that point. Their dream languishes. They get bored and drop their pursuit, despite it still being something they want to accomplish.

Are you interested in your goals? Well, you better be.

Something lured you to the desk to flip on your computer. Some notion prompted you to grab a sketchpad or journal. Some urgency pushed you to go to the dance studio this evening.

Recall that catalyst. What sparked that fire? What made you restless at night or seized your attention during the day? What passion sent your mind spinning towards a new purpose?

Once you remember that bit of inspiration that prompted you to start, don’t forget it. Clutch onto it tightly. It will not only assist during the initial steps, but it will also be instrumental during the later stages of lengthier goals like completing a novel or training for a triathlon.

Concentrate. Be passionate. Appreciate your goal and the journey. Believe in yourself.

Plan out a consistent schedule (and adhere to it).

You’re probably rolling your eyes. Schedule? Ugh.

It’s hard. We’re all juggling too much – careers, academic pressures, extracurricular activities, volunteer work, home life, health concerns, and more. Finding time to hunker down and focus on something while keeping these constraints at bay can be challenging. Depending on the chaos of daily life, it could come with some unfortunate trade-offs in terms of sleep and fitness. However, finding time to work towards a goal consistently (or daily, if possible) can be key to making that aspiration come true.

Why?

Because if your periods of working towards an objective are fragmented, your efforts might become fragmented, too.

A workout warrior who hits the weight room at 6 AM is often not the same one who shows up at 6 PM after a long day of work and fatigue. That person gets workouts in both scenarios, but one may be more focused than the other.

Or if you’re a night owl, you may be a more effective writer after the kids are asleep rather than trying to type a story when they’re getting home from school. If you mix and match, you might find parts of your plot are disjointed or the voice uneven.

Find times to sit down for a set period and work towards the goals you care about. It helps to make those sessions consistent. If you want your goal to be taken seriously, be serious enough about it to develop a schedule that works for you and maximizes your potential.

Don’t just dangle the carrot out of your reach – set realistic milestones to close the gap.

When I started my coursework, the goal of getting an MBA felt arduous at first. I was taking classes in the evening while working at a consulting firm during the day. Most people following this path take three or four years to finish, or maybe more.

After my first class, I knew I wouldn’t make it 3+ years. All the things I hated about school – teachers playing favorites, people talking just to hear their voice, inconsistent grading –were amplified like a stereo turned up to full volume. I wanted to drop out and shirk the whole thing,

It took nearly quitting something I cared about to convince me to set milestones for myself.

I couldn’t stand the rigamarole, so I strategized on how I could finish quickly. I charted my path to get done with my MBA in two years – like a regular full-time student – yet maintain the day job/night school dichotomy. I mapped out professors I wanted, potential summer classes to get ahead, and dedicated myself to mastering speed reading. I executed the plan, getting an MBA in two years despite only taking night classes.

It worked because I set up intermediate milestones to hit. Short-term goals morphed into long-term successes and pushed me to stay focused despite the short odds and persistent naysayers.

Milestones are one of the most critical steps of attaining success. And the most personal – your milestones don’t need to match anyone else’s. They should be tailored to your skills and comfort level. Any interim goal is a valuable goal. Focus on the endgame. Envision yourself at the top of the mountain, then get there.

Set goals. Evaluate your effort and be honest about your progress. Make adjustments to win.

When it comes down to it, you get motivation by what drives you forward. These tips aren’t groundbreaking, but they can help you focus and ensure you won’t fizzle out after you first few days of goal chasing.

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