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The Gentle Way to Effective Goal Setting and Ending Procrastination

Updated on May 7, 2012
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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.

Example:

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.


* 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.

* 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

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    • gmmurgirl profile image

      Geimaria 5 years ago from Pilipinas

      Great tips! I've been guilty of procrastinating these past few days, and have never done much, not even a hub within 2 weeks! I like the time boxing tip. Upped this one. Thanks!

    • Crystal Tatum profile image
      Author

      Crystal Tatum 5 years ago from Georgia

      Thanks for reading gmmurgirl. I am very guilty of procrastination much of the time myself!

    • profile image

      kelleyward 5 years ago

      Voted up, useful and shared! You have great ideas here. My most difficult issue is lowering my expectations. I have struggled with perfectionism my entire life and it can really become an obstacle in managing my time. Thanks for linking to my hub! I'll add your to mine when I get home. Take care, Kelley

    • sen.sush23 profile image

      Sushmita 5 years ago from Kolkata, India

      Being an incorrigible procrastinator, I am always looking for quick fixes or tips to cure me. Some of your suggestions are pretty good (off course, the best is the rewarding bit;) ) Jokes apart I have been particularly struggling deciding on a methodology these last few days, and this hub helped clear the mist. Voted up and useful.

    • Crystal Tatum profile image
      Author

      Crystal Tatum 5 years ago from Georgia

      Kelley, thanks for the positive comments and for sharing my hub! I too am a perfectionist and an all or nothing thinker. It makes life harder than it has to be, certainly, but the good news is that there are coping mechanisms.

      sen.sush23, I am also a procrastinator, and I think that oddly, that goes hand in hand with being a perfectionist. Tasks seem so overwhelming, and there's so much pressure, when you require perfection of yourself, so of course the reaction would be to delay doing them. So glad you found my hub useful!

    • nancynurse profile image

      Nancy McClintock 5 years ago from Southeast USA

      I especially enjoyed the box idea. Thanks for sharing

    • MelChi profile image

      Melanie Chisnall 5 years ago from Cape Town, South Africa

      This is fantastic! Thanks for sharing and letting us in on a few tips. I'm going to spend this weekend following them :)

    • Crystal Tatum profile image
      Author

      Crystal Tatum 5 years ago from Georgia

      Thanks for reading MelChi. Hope you find these tips helpful.

    • Rice Girl 2011 profile image

      Rice Girl 2011 5 years ago from Southeastern United States

      Hah! I felt as if you had been reading my journal with the all or nothing thinking. That is so familiar, but you are the first person I ever saw have the courage to put it in writing and call it what it was, because you get it. I have heard of using a timer and I think that is a great solution. I think it would be a successful way to tackle particularly difficult or undesireable tasks as well as large tasks. Great post. I look forward to reading more of your work!

    • Doc Sonic profile image

      Glen Nunes 5 years ago from Cape Cod, Massachusetts

      I think you're right about perfectionism and procrastination going hand-in-hand. You don't want to do something unless you do it right, but it's such a big, demanding task to get it that way that it's hard to get started. You have some great tips here. Voted up and useful.

    • Crystal Tatum profile image
      Author

      Crystal Tatum 5 years ago from Georgia

      Rice Girl, I'm glad I'm not the only one! Glad to have you stop by and welcome to HubPages!

      Doc Sonic, again, it's nice to know others can relate to these thought processes and I'm glad you found the tips helpful. Thank you so much for reading.

    • MargaritaEden profile image

      MargaritaEden 5 years ago from Oregon

      Very useful hub, I need to learn to "lower to the bar" :) Great hub, sharing it!

    • Crystal Tatum profile image
      Author

      Crystal Tatum 5 years ago from Georgia

      Thanks MargaritaEden! I too need to learn to lower the bar for myself more often. It's not always a comfortable thing to do, but it can reduce stress and create more peace and freedom. Thanks so much for sharing!

    • mollymeadows profile image

      Mary Strain 4 years ago from The Shire

      Crystal, many thanks from a chronic procrastinator. These are practical, down to earth tips. Breaking things up into small tasks helps a lot. Useful hub!

    • Anselome profile image

      Steve Anselmo 4 years ago from Thunder Bay

      Great Hub Crystal! Good advice, I definitely have some new techniques to use now. Thank you!

      Stay Excellent!

    • Crystal Tatum profile image
      Author

      Crystal Tatum 4 years ago from Georgia

      I hope it was helpful. Thanks for stopping by.

    • Crystal Tatum profile image
      Author

      Crystal Tatum 4 years ago from Georgia

      Thanks for the share!

    • profile image

      Harry 3 years ago

      You may want to check out http://www.GoalsOnTrack.com/, a very nicely built web app designed for tracking goals, habits, and todo lists, and supports time tracking too. It's clear, focused, easy to navigate, and most of all, really works!

    • Crystal Tatum profile image
      Author

      Crystal Tatum 3 years ago from Georgia

      Thank you Harry, I am definitely going to check out this app. It sounds like it could be very useful. And thanks for reading!!

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