The Gentle Way to Effective Goal Setting and Ending Procrastination
Forming an new habit, working toward achieving a goal or putting an end to procrastination and finally starting that task you've been avoiding can be stressful, overwhelming and even confusing.
Personal change, whether it's an attitude or a lifestyle, is not easy. Often, the pressure you put on yourself to change only serves to make it harder to achieve your goals. Here are a few tips for easing into a process of change.
* Lower the bar - The ego doesn't like to hear this, but feeling overwhelmed may be a sign that you're simply not capable, at least right now, of doing all that you think you need to do. The neural pathways in your brain have deep grooves that make it hard to deviate from your regular routine. It's easier to walk a path already well worn than to form a new one, in other words. One way to make change more tolerable is to lower the bar.
Here's an example: If your goal is to save money and get healthier by cooking more meals at home versus eating out, there are several changes you'll need to make: More frequent grocery shopping, meal planning, finding recipes, cooking. All of these tasks require time and energy that have previously gone into other activities.
While you might be motivated to devote the necessary time the first week or two, chances are, you'll probably burn out soon from all that extra work, especially if the reason you were eating out so much was partly due to a busy schedule, and it was easier just to go through a drive-thru or grab takeout.
Let's say you currently eat out lunch and supper, seven days a week. That's 14 meals a week. Your goal is to eat out only on weekends, and then only for the supper meal, reducing the total number of times you eat out per week to two. That's a great goal, but it might require you to stray too far from that neural pathway that's comfortable for you, resulting in irritation, anxiety, a sense of being overwhelmed with all the effort required to cook 12 additional meals a week. That resistance will eventually turn into rebellion as the goal starts to seem too difficult, and you'll give up. Then comes the negative self-talk: "I can't even do this simple thing? What's wrong with me? Now I'll never lose weight, get healthy, save money, etc." And so on and so forth.
Perhaps a better approach is to identify your ideal, in this case eating out two meals a week, on the weekends, and then developing a plan to work toward that ideal at a more manageable pace. For example, drop two takeout meals the first week, meaning you'll still eat out 12 meals. The next week, drop down to 10 meals. Keep reducing the frequency of eating out at a pace that is tolerable until you reach your goal of eating out only on weekends.
* Divide tasks into small, step-by-step components - In "The Sound of Music," Julie Andrews advised: "Let's start at the beginning, a very good place to start." Take her advice and keep it simple, beginning at the logical starting point. Another hypothetical: Maybe you've got a full-time job but you're hoping to change careers. A lifestyle change like that can be daunting and really get that hamster wheel in your head going. A helpful activity can be to take out pen and paper and break down the goal into chronological steps, then break those down further into small, manageble tasks.
For example, if you have a 9 to 5 job that you can't afford to leave, but you're aching to break into the freelance writing world, there are numerous steps you'll likely need to take to achieve your dream: Learning about online sites where you can build a following as a freelancer; exploring the possibilty of blogging; researching publications in your area that accept freelance work; learning how to write a query letter; learning how to market yourself and your work are just a few of the likely steps you'll need to complete.
Just thinking about all that is enough to send a person scampering back to the safety of that office cubicle, however miserable she may be there. Instead of trying to tackle too much at one time, break the goal down into small steps and then break those down into manageable tasks.
Goal: To support myself as a freelance writer.
Step: Learning how to market myself and my work.
Manageable Tasks: Today I will spend 30 minutes researching how to write a successful query letter. Tomorrow, I will write a practice query letter. Today, I will spend 30 minutes reading the advice of a successful freelance writer on how to break into the business, etc.
For a more thorough explanation of time boxing, see Kelley Ward's great hub:
- How to Timebox Your Way to Productivity
Looking for ways to increase your productivity and manage your time? Time-boxing just might be what you are looking for. It is a simple effective strategy that you can easily add to your hectic lifestyle.
* Practice time boxing: In short, time boxing is setting a time limit to do a certain task, setting an alarm, getting down to business, and when the alarm goes off, stopping the task. This is a great tool to help put an end to procrastination. It can also help with all-or-nothing thinking: 'If I don't devote hours to this task and complete it perfectly, it doesn't count. I don't have the time to do that, so therefore I won't do anything.' Time boxing emphasizes the value of each step in a process and is an effective way to bite off more manageable chunks of a project.
* Focus on the present: Obsessing over how to achieve your goal won't get you there any faster. Instead, you're more likely to become discouraged and give up, or wear yourself out trying to make something happen. Focus on each step at hand, value each task, knowing that it is an important learning experience for you regardless of the outcome. Do what you can do today and turn the rest over, to the universe, to a higher power, to something larger than you that is strong enough to hold all that worry, all that desperation for things to turn out the way you want them to. Having a so-called God box or worry box can help. Write down your worries about a situation, say a short prayer, and put what you wrote in a box for safe-keeping by your higher power. You can only do what you can do. Do your part, and ask for guidance and clarity in prayer and meditation.Then, pay attention. Guidance can come in many forms: an inspired or intuitive thought, a literal sign, a person who comes into your life at just the right time to mentor you through this phase in your journey. Hard work is likely going to be required, but forcing an outcome, or even the means to an outcome, usually won't be successful. Be willing to work, and be willing to accept guidance on the next step to take.
Ideas for rewards
- 101 Ways to Reward Yourself - Why Self-Flagellation is Not the Solution to Procrastination, Mistakes
Not sure how to reward yourself for your hard work? Here is a list of 101 ideas.
* Reward yourself - Keep motivation going by rewarding yourself. Reward yourself not just when your actions produce the intended outcome, like landing that job you've been wanting, but for taking all those necessary steps. Reward yourself for having the courage to send out that resume and make that phone call, even if it didn't result in a job. Reward yourself for taking the time to learn a new habit, to change an ingrained behavior, to take a risk. Reward yourself for the process of change you are engaged in, and reward yourself frequently, because regardless of the results, you may as well enjoy the journey.
© 2012 Crystal Tatum