I hate Januarys at the YMCA. Beginning January 2, the gym is clogged, and the classes are crowded with people who made New Year's resolutions to lose fat and be fit. By March, the numbers dwindle. Resolve weakened, these men and women are back on their couches watching television, rather than sweating and spinning in aerobics classes.
Statistics show that at least 50 percent of those who set New Year's resolutions abandon them by the end of January, and up to 90 percent give up by the end of the first quarter. Unfortunately, the statistics aren't much better for those setting career and life goals. As a communications and leadership speaker, writer, coach, and trainer these numbers concern me.
I know that when the training or coaching sessions are over, clients leave renewed, reenergized, and motivated. I also know that positive emotions and strong resolve diminish over time. That's why I make it a point to check in with clients periodically. But my prompting alone won't ensure they meet their goals. In order to make sustained, positive change, they have to stay motivated.
Assuming that goals are limited, specific, and realistic, and that the timing is right, I recommend five steps to stay motivated and actualize your dreams:
Step One: Find the right motivator by identifying your core values.
The first step is to identify what's most important to you. Let's use weight loss as an example. Health and fitness might not be one of your fundamental core values, so a vision of a trim body and vibrant energy might not be emotionally compelling; hence, you won't lose weight.
On the other hand, competition or community may be important to you. A vision of winning a half-marathon or meeting new friends at the gym will help encourage you to shed weight. Or perhaps family is a core value. Staying healthy for your children or spouse may be the perfect motivator.
Identify your core values by creating a bulleted list of what's important to you. Don't edit your thoughts. Instead, list as many values as you can. Then, cull your list by grouping similar items and crossing off the minor ones. Select no more than seven values; four is an ideal number. Whether you choose values such as family, success, integrity, or spirituality, creating a list of your core values is imperative to developing a powerful vision.
Step Two: Create a vision and focus on it, not the goal itself.
Vision is the catalyst that amplifies your ability to achieve goals and resolutions. As you work toward your goals, vision engenders the drive, passion, and resilience necessary to create momentum and stay the course.
Let's continue with our weight loss example. You set a New Year's resolution to lose twenty pounds. You've got many reasons to do so: your doctor says you should, you know you'll feel better, and you'll love the way you look in your new clothes. March arrives and your pants are even tighter than they were in January. Why? You didn't have a vision.
If you had crafted a clear vision of your goal, the results would have been quite different. Your vision could have included seeing yourself running through the neighborhood on a warm spring day, waving to the neighbors as you pass. As you sped by, some of the neighbors may have commented on how good you look.
A vision is a compelling description of your ideal future. It's a movie in your mind that shows in vivid detail where you want to be. At its most powerful, a vision involves all the senses and is emotionally evocative.
Some clients who want to project a more powerful image in the workplace use their personal brands as their visions. For example, a founder of a nonprofit agency selected Glenda the Good Witch from the Wizard of Oz as her brand. When she goes out in public she envisions Glenda. "And I hold my head a little higher," she says.
Step Three: Take it one day at a time.
"How do you eat an elephant?" the old saw asks. "One bite at a time." Meet your goal one day at a time.
Let's go back to our weight loss example. You'll probably find it's easier to achieve your ideal weight if you set specific daily goals, such as eliminating starches from your diet, drinking eight glasses of water, and completing a thirty-minute workout. Also, checking off these goals daily will help motivate you. Rewards offer yet another motivation.
Reward yourself for setting and meeting daily goals. Having something to look forward to always makes it easier to do the hard things. Rewards can be as simple as taking a few minutes to listen to your favorite song, sipping a cup of hot tea, or puttering in the garden.
Step Four: Practice not perfection.
When you feel you are taking two steps forward and one back, remember you are still moving forward. When making a change, or learning a new skill, you are bound to slip from time to time. When you do, set a time limit for how long you'll feel bad about it. For example, if you missed your workout today, give yourself permission to kick yourself for the next twenty minutes. When time's up, let it go and focus on tomorrow's workout.
All of us fail now and then. No one is successful all the time. But instead of letting failure stop you cold in your tracks, get up and dust yourself off. Most importantly, ask yourself: Why did I fail? What stopped me? What obstacles got in my way? And how can I get around them next time it happens? Then plan for next time.
Sometimes a setback will leave you feeling derailed and unmotivated. To regain your traction, go back to the basics: What made you want to start in the first place? What was your reason for change? What motivated you? Then, refocus on your vision and you'll find yourself back on track.
Step Five: Find an accountability partner(s).
Being accountable to others is an invaluable source of motivation and an excellent way to stay on track. Most people will do something faster, and often better, if they have someone they respect, admire, or plain "just don't want to look bad in front of" to report back to. This is magnified when the circle of accountability widens from one person to a group.
Find at least one responsible person to hold you accountable. An ideal person would be someone who knows you well-like a best friend, spouse, or sibling-someone who won't fall for excuses or other manipulation.
Ask this person to ask frequently how you're doing with your task. If your task is long and requires much time, let them know ahead of time where and when you plan to be with certain parts of the task after a certain amount of time (e.g., "a quarter done per day"). If your task is fairly short and can be completed in one sitting (like updating your resume, for example), ask them to "check on you" a day or two before the task is to be complete.
Most personal goals require us to change something about our behavior. Even for the most self-disciplined of us, that's a tall order. To be successful takes persistence over time, and to be persistent over time requires motivation.
Experience proves that these five steps will help you stick to your goals and stay motivated. Focus on them and you'll be on your way to realizing your dreams.
"The Career Engineer" Randy Siegel works with organizations to take high-potential employees and give them the leadership and communications skills they need to be successful as they rise through the organization.
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