“How Do I Stick To My Goal?”

Rock climber clinging to a cliff.Question:

Scott, I often find that when I set goals which involve a routine, I become a bit lazy about sticking to it.

For instance, if I tell myself that I will practice learning a language for 30 minutes each day, I might skip a day, or start doing 20 minutes. And then I think “well, I’ve been rubbish at sticking to it this week… How about I just scrap this entire week and start afresh with the routine next Monday.”

It seems like I get stuck constantly ‘starting again’ because I wasn’t happy with the way things were going. I have my own ways to try and minimize this but I would definitely be interested to hear your thoughts! A sort of ‘continuation methods’ guide?

Thanks once again,

Bobby

Answer:

Bobby, it’s easy to get tripped when we’re trying to develop a new habit, even if it’s a habit we need for only a short-term goal. This is because it often takes thinking ahead and creating a clear plan in order to stay on track, but most people don’t do that. If you’re lacking a solid plan—one that works closely with your present lifestyle—then the simplest thing can send you off course.  That’s why it’s so difficult for people to maintain the motivation to lose weight and exercise or to quit smoking.

The reason you’re having trouble with follow-through in achieving your goals may come down to one or more of these:

  • Goal not meaningful - You may have set this goal out of obligation to someone else or some other purpose that isn’t necessarily important to you on a personal level. You may have set the goal because you wanted to achieve it at the time, but now you really don’t care. Whatever the reason, the goal may not be important or meaningful enough to make you feel enthusiastic about achieving it.
  • Confusion – You may not have a clear plan, or understand how to take the next step. It doesn’t matter how small the very next step is, if you don’t know what it is or exactly how to take it, you’ll procrastinate and often you won’t even know why you’re putting it off.
  • Fear/Uncertainty – Sometimes achieving a goal can lead to unplanned consequences, some preferred, some not. You may be afraid of those consequences or afraid of what may come next, which may be an unknown factor to you.

It’s Not Because You’re Lazy

Sometimes it’s easy to explain away our own unenthusiastic behavior by saying that we’re lazy. But what appears as you just being lazy is still goal-oriented behavior.  But what’s the function of your behavior? Even though you may be thinking, “I should stop watching videos of kittens playing the piano and practice the first lesson in my Klingon language book,” exactly how you’re going to practice may still be fuzzy in your mind.

Maybe you were planning to do some research on the best ways to learn a new language before you begin studying but you aren’t looking forward to doing that research. Also, if your Klingon language package came with a textbook, flashcards, a workbook, audio files, online videos, and an Internet-based forum, where do you begin? How much time do you spend on each? Is there a practice format to follow? There could be many variables that you haven’t sorted out yet. So you’re facing two choices:

  1. Keep doing what you’re doing. (It’s familiar and you already know what to do.)
  2. Study how to speak Klingon. (Which is one big, tangled ball of confusion in your head.)

When you have several choices, you’re more likely to follow the one that’s clearest, easiest, and most familiar. When you only have two choices and both of them are equally clear but one is easier, that’s the one you’ll choose most often, unless someone holds a water pistol to your head and forces you to choose the other one.

 

Tips for Designing Your Study Strategy

Make it a Routine:  One of the best ways to develop a dependable groove for your behavior is to make it into a routine. For example, if you get home from work every day at 5 PM, grab a snack and practice for 20 or 30 minutes right away. If you know that you’re going to practice right when you get home, you’re more likely to follow through.

Follow the Planner: If your book or course has a pre-designed strategy for learning Klingon, try following it. Start with the easiest plan first, which would be the one that came with your materials since it’s already sorted out and ready for you.

Start Low and Slow: Don’t plan practicing sessions that will completely disrupt your normal routine. Start practicing just a few minutes per day. That way, you can easily fit it in and it’s harder to come up with a reasonable excuse for not practicing. Each week (or whatever time frame will work for you), add a few more minutes to your daily practicing sessions. Work yourself up to a block of time that feels productive while not making your life wonky.

For the first three weeks, you want it to be super easy to get yourself to practice. That’s because it’s more important to build your routine and make it a habit, first, then you can work in longer practice sessions.

Set a Timer: Don’t rely on a clock to know when you’re finished with your session. A clock can be a distraction if you’re looking at it every couple of minutes to see if your time is up. Get a timer, set it, and forget it. You know that it will ring when your time is up so you won’t have to watch the clock.

Wear a Blindfold: Okay, not literally, but if you have anything near you that could distract you, like a computer, TV, smart phone, or disco ball, you’re going to want to put them in the next room with your piano-playing kittens…speaking of which, you may want to tell the kittens and anyone else around, that you don’t want to be disturbed for the next # minutes. Basically, you need to become blind to distractions.

All or Something:  Keep in mind why you set your goal of learning a new language in the first place. It’s not an all-or-nothing goal. If you practice three days in a row, then miss a day, everything you learned doesn’t mysteriously disappear from your memory. So missing a day doesn’t ruin anything. Big deal, you missed a day. Just keep going. Don’t give in to all-or-nothing thinking. At the end of the week, wouldn’t you rather say that you practiced six days out of seven rather than two days out of seven? Seems like an easy choice, if you ask me. So stop letting one missed day ruin all of your successful days. After all, you’re not going to see a baby fall on its softly-padded behind and say, “Well, that didn’t work. I guess I have to start learning how to walk all over again next week.”

Stay motivated by planning ahead, and by taking small and frequent steps that will move you forward. Don’t let the structure of a calendar dictate your actions. Let each day be its own victory. Accumulate successful days by majority and don’t let a slip-up deter you from your goal. Motivation is directly tied to how we feel about our goals. When a goal is meaningful, seems achievable, and you know how to take the next step, you’ll find that your motivation will be pumped up and you’ll make a lot of progress.

So, Bobby, I hope that these strategies will get you going in a better direction. If you run into other difficulties or need some clarification, just write back.

Regards,

Scott

 

Comments

  1. Bobby GS says:

    Excellent analysis and great advice, as always Scott! Thanks! I encourage all of you reading this to get in touch with him with your questions- he knows what he’s talking about, and responds quickly!

    • Bobby,

      Actually, your great question made answering it a lot of fun. With clearly expressed questions like yours, answering them seems to happen automatically; the ideas and strategies flowed effortlessly. I hope to get more questions like yours in the future. Thanks again, Bobby! I sincerely appreciate your trust.

      Cheers!
      Scott

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