Is there a goal you want to accomplish, but just cannot find the time to start it? It might be something trivial like, to reduce the amount of TV watching, or time spent browsing the Internet. It might be, to become an early riser, or to quit drinking alcohol, or to start a home business. Whatever it is, what is keeping you where you are instead of reaching your desired destination?
I have several such targets in my life that I often think about, but rarely take action on. Each time I’m reminded of one of them, I would guiltily say, “I really should do [blah]”, and then forget about it until the next time guilt creeps back into my head.
One such target I have is to exercise. I’ve been talking about wanting to get in shape for about two years now. I even setup an arbitrary goal of doing a triathlon to get me excited. I did start to go running shortly after setting the goal, which lasted for about a week, before I became distracted with another target.
I like to think of myself as a pretty disciplined and motivated person - I mean, I write about this stuff! But, something about this particular target has been very psychologically challenging for me to take consistent action on. And I want to understand it.
Overcoming the mental blocks and actually taking action towards this outcome has been my focus over the past few weeks. I am proud to announce that I have been doing 5-mile walk-runs, every other day, successfully for fourteen days now.
I’m confident that since I have kept it up for two weeks, then surely, I can keep it up for a month. And if I can consistently do it for a month, I will have habituated the activity into my daily rhythm and be able to keep it up indefinitely.
The point of this article isn’t about running, but rather, extracting lessons from achieving a goal, and applying them to other areas of our lives.
Analysis of ‘Why It Didn’t Work’
Looking back over past failed attempts at this target, I realized that I didn’t have enough reasons to keep myself motivated, thus I wasn’t fully committed to making the change. Here are some observations:
1. Excuse: “I don’t have enough time”
I used to assume that it I was working too much and simply did not have the time. Well, I’ve come to learn that “I don’t have the time” is the biggest lie we can tell ourselves to justify for the lack of action towards activities that can (sometimes) significantly improve the quality of our lives. If we added all the time we spend on unimportant and not urgent things - like web browsing or TV watching - we would have the time, easily. We do have the time!
I used to tell myself, “When I leave my day job, I will have much more time to pursue the things on my lists, which I don’t have time for now.” Things like exercising.
You’d think, now that I’m in a position to create my own schedule (or lack thereof), surely, I should have enough free time to exercise. Well, ladies and gentlemen, I still don’t have enough time. It’s become obvious that without a measurable target and a reasonable plan, life has a way of magically inserting random (often unimportant) activities to fill up our day. The same items on my list while I had a day job are still on the list.
We don’t have time for things, until we create time for these things. If something is important enough to us, we will find the time, regardless of how busy we are. End of story.
It’s a matter of finding the compelling reasons why something is important to us - enough of a nudge to drive us to lasting change.
2. Focus on Pain
The more I focused on the uncomfortable factors associated with exercise, the less motivated I became, and the more excuses I made to skip workouts - before I stopped completely.
Here are my favorite excuses to justify not exercising:
- It’s hard! I can’t breathe.
- My leg hurts
- It’s cold outside
- It’s raining (I do live in Seattle, after all)
- It’s late, if I go jogging, I won’t have enough time to do X.
3. Lacked Motives to Action
Although I kept telling myself that I should go jogging, I wasn’t fully clear on why I wanted it. I wasn’t overweight, and didn’t have an explicit incentive to get active. I didn’t have the motives to justify the necessary action for a vaguely defined goal.
Did you know that we will do more to avoid pain than we will to gain pleasure? In this case, the affects of not doing it, was not painful enough to drive me to get it done. In my mind, the pain of doing was greater than the pain of not doing.
4. Language, Focus & Priority
The goal was a should and not a must. “I should go jogging”, I would say , when it’s better to say, “I must go jogging, in order to gain the energy I need”. When something is a should, it is wishful thinking, and we don’t get it done. When something is a must, it becomes a priority that deserves our attention. Because the target was a should, I never gave it the focused attention necessary for it to become a reality.
The Art of Change: From Desire to Result
The actual change happened very quickly - the moment I decided to change. Instead of thinking about it, and silently beating myself up for not doing it, I just did it. It was beautiful!
Photo: Kevin Russ.
Sometimes, the best motivators are the ones we find when we hit a personal low point. My low point came a few weeks ago, when I realized that I hadn’t been outside for seven days straight (Eeeek!). I felt groggy, my body was aching, my energy level was low and I felt a slip in my grip on clarity.
When my clarity is threatened, I start to take notice. I now had a strong motive. I got up instantly and went for a run - a long one.
The System of OPA
OPA is a trick I picked up from Tony Robbins, which when applied, will assist us in achieving the results we desire. It stands for:
- Outcome (O) - Having a clear vision.
- Purpose (P) - Focus on results and purpose.
- Action (A) - Create a massive action plan for meaningful results.
Let’s expand on these and apply them to the jogging example.
Most of us have vague ideas on what we want. We know roughly the direction we want to go, but because we aren’t clear on the vision of our destination, we get pushed into whichever direction the wind is blowing. Without a vision, we will obsess over “the how”, and will often overanalyze and fail to take action, or take ineffective action.
In the jogging example, “wanting to go jogging” is not the ultimate vision. The ultimate outcome I am seeking is actually mental clarity and physical energy. One activity that contributes to this outcome is regular exercise. Additionally, because I am focused on the desired outcome and not on the how, I have realized that there are other things I can do which will contribute towards this outcome, such as deep breathing, swimming, and yoga.
What is the ultimate vision for what you want? Be specific in describing the outcome you desire.
Knowing what we want isn’t enough to give us the push towards massive action. We must know why we want it. Why is it important that we achieve our desired result? When we achieve this outcome, what will it bring us? Without strong enough reasons, we simply will not be moved into action.
In the jogging example, my reasons for wanting mental clarity and physical energy are:
- To feel physical wellbeing. To live fully and consciously.
- To have the clarity to write articles that serve others. To empower and inspire readers towards a fuller life with more joy and passion.
- When I have energy, I can get more out of my day. I can do more activities which will benefit my personal wellbeing, and in turn make more contributions to others.
Why must you achieve the target outcome? What are the reasons most important to you? What does achieving the outcome mean for you?
Armed with your clear vision of the outcome and with the burning reasons why it is important to you, come up with an action plan for achieving the results you seek. Once you have your action plan, take one small action immediately. Then commit yourself towards taking some action regularly (everyday if possible) towards your target. Regardless of how small the action may seem, it will move you one step closer to your outcome, and - importantly - help build the momentum you will need to reach your destination.
In addition to knowing what you want, why you want it, and having a battle plan, the following are tips to overcome potential pitfalls on the road to lasting change.
- Quantify & Measure - What gets measured gets managed. It’s important to be able to quantify results, so that we can evaluate our improvements and effectiveness. For my jogging example, I got the Nike sport kit for ipod nano - which allowed me to measure distance ran, duration and calories burnt. Once I had the numbers after each workout, I just wanted to beat them! As if playing a video game and trying to beat the top score.
- Know Your Excuses - List out all the excuses you’re known to use in order to avoid action for a particular result. Now come up with an antidote for each excuse. Even without an antidote, at least, now you’re aware of which excuses might come up, and you’re ready to ignore them. For myself, “I am committed to going jogging every other day, regardless of weather, or how late in the day.”
- Focus on One Target at a Time - When we try to focus on many results at the same time, rarely will we succeed. When we focus on one thing at a time, we can devote our undivided attention and energy on realizing the single result, thus giving it a higher chance of actualization. Move on to other targets only after we’ve successfully reached or habituated the current target. I’ve found it helpful to write the targeted outcome on a piece of paper, and posting it on a wall where I can see it regularly.
- Change Your Language - Turn ‘should’ into ‘must’. The language we use carries with it energy. Notice that if you must do something, suddenly you feel a sense of urgency and priority? What is that thing that you’ve wanted to complete, and if you got it done will improve the quality of your experience? Now say, “I must do
, because it will give me .” See how much more energy this sentence has, versus “I really should do .”
- Consistency - When cultivating a new habit, consistency is more important than quantity. Have you noticed that when we skip a routine activity even once, it’ll be harder to get back into it? And the more we skip, the easier it is to skip it again the next time. Before we know it, we no longer have the habit which we’ve worked hard to create.
- Fun Ingredient - Find ways to make the experience fun and enjoyable. For example, I will listen to motivational audio books or personal growth seminars when I run, and it really enhances both experiences. This added enrichment to the running experience, makes me look forward to the activity.
- The 30 Day Challenge - If you can repeatedly do an activity for 30 days, it will become a habit, and will integrate automatically into your routine. Take it one step at a time, first commit yourself to following something for 7 days, then extend it to 14 days, then 21 days and 30 days. If you can do it for 30 days, you can likely continue it indefinitely (if you want to).
- Change Your Questions - If you’re not getting the kind of results you’re looking for, perhaps it’s the questions you are asking yourself. Ask questions which lead to possibilities instead of limitations. Here are some examples of the limiting questions vs. more resourceful alternatives:
- Why can’t I do this? Vs.
How can I make this work?
- Why can’t I make more money? Vs.
How can I add even more value?
- Why is this happening? Vs.
What can I do to help change this?
- How can they do this to me? Vs.
How can I use this?
- What is wrong in my life? Vs.
What am I grateful for?
- Why can’t I do this? Vs.
We are the ultimate author of our life story. Within each of us, we hold the power to change anything in our lives, and in doing so, experience more joy and fulfillment. Lasting change starts with a change in the way we think - a clear vision for our desired results, meaningful reasons why we must have them, and building momentum towards massive action to make our visions a reality.
With meaning, understanding, awareness, and conscientious planning; we can turn massive responsibilities into actual possibilities, we can incorporate healthy habits, we can realize dreams, and we can live more deliberately and intentionally shape our own destiny.
Thank you for listening to my jogging story and allowing me to share my own life victories, regardless of how trivial they may seem. Through observing this experience, the jogging example accentuated some simple fundamental principles of achievement that can be applicable to other outcomes in our lives. I wish you success!
* What are some outcomes you would like to see in your life? Share your thoughts and stories with us in the comment section. See you there!