Bit depressing really innit?
One of the best predictors of success is persistence DESPITE repeated failures. As Arnold Schwarzenegger says, the loser is the person who stays down, and the winner is the person who gets up no matter how many times they have fallen down before.
It is a good idea then to take some time to analyse why you have failed before and then make a plan to safeguard against these obstacles because they will crop up in your next goal attempt. As the famous saying goes, madness is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. If you want different results to the ones you have now, you may well have to do something different.
Here is how to overcome the four most common obstacles to achieving a goal:
1. A perceived lack of time
Not having enough time is probably the number one cited excuse for non-achievement. Unfortunately, I am going to say something that will piss you off, so #sorrynotsorry.
You do have enough time.
Newsflash, everybody has the same amount of time every day. There are grandparents who are CEOs and grandparents who are cashiers, there are parents who travel the world and parents who never holiday, there are spouses who are amateur hobbyists and spouses who are advanced in their hobby, and there are singletons who are overweight and singletons who are fit and strong.
How you have used your time has got you to where you are. Therefore you will need to change how you spend your time if you want to move to where you want to be.
Firstly without even knowing you, I know that you could “make” more time for your goal by spending less time in front of a screen. Or if that feels too scary, you might be able to do what you need to do while you are watching TV.
Secondly, you might have opened up more time, but you need to make sure that the time is high quality and usable. Michael Hyatt says that time is fixed but energy flexes, therefore you need to manage your energy, not your time. For example, after about 10pm I am in shut down mode. I am too tired to write, exercise, clean the house, do anything except watch TV (hmmm… see above). I should go to bed at 10pm but often I do not go to sleep until 12am.
If I could go to bed at 10 and still get the 7 hours’ sleep I need, I could have my 2 hours in the morning from 5–7am which would be when I am freshest and most energised. Note — this is way easier said than done, I have NEVER managed to do this, but I feel a challenge coming on.
Thirdly if you still feel you don’t have enough time, then you need to look deeper. Time is probably a red herring for a bigger issue. Maybe you are scared of failing so you don’t want to start. Maybe you are scared of success so you don’t want to try. Maybe you are scared that it will be hard and unpleasant (it might be, but there is stuff you can do to help). Maybe you are scared of what people will think. Maybe you are scared of losing part of your identity. Maybe you are scared that you won’t know how to cope when you have to stop doing things that make you feel better.
These thoughts and feelings are often the real problems that hold us back. They are the cause of our procrastination and failures and can only be overcome once they are acknowledged and then the solution to getting past them is feeling that fear and doing it anyway.
Note — the remaining obstacles are three distinct things, however, they often overlap and interlink so it is helpful to consider them both separately and in combination.
2. People — who you are with influences what you do
We like to follow the crowd, it feels good to belong and have a shared experience. This is great when you are in alignment with your group and you can lift each other up, but if your friends are a bad influence on your goal, then you will feel tension and conflict.
If you want to stop smoking and you hang out with smokers, it will really make you want to smoke. If you want to lose weight and your friends are KFC fiends, you will really want to eat fast food. If you want to stretch when you are watching TV and your partner wants to cuddle up on the couch instead, you will really want to cuddle on the couch.
No one has the willpower to resist those temptations every time, but if you are struggling to resist them most of the time then you need to speak up. Tell your friends this is what you are doing and why. Ask them to support you. Suggest new activities for you all to do which are more in line with your goal. And be firm but kind. I love a cuddle on the couch but I tell my partner I need to stretch first and that if he wants me to achieve my goal then he needs to give me half an hour to practice, then I will be free (and guilt-free) for the rest of the night.
If your friends and family do not support you in achieving your goal, then you may need to take a little time out from them (just temporarily), and surround yourself with other people who are wanting to move in the same direction as you. There are all sort of groups and gatherings of people with shared interests in your local area that a bit of Googling will reveal. Also, check out Meetup.com to find other like-minded people.
The entrepreneur Jim Rohn says that you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with. This is meant to disrespect your current circle or to value people based on some arbitrary metric. it is meant to get you thinking and being more intentional about how you spend your time. Who are your five and are they helping you to become the person you want to be?
3. Environment — where you are influences what you do
Do not underestimate the importance of the environment. Often we do things habitually without a great deal of thought. After dinner, you look for something sweet. When you watch TV, you sit on the couch. When you start working, you get distracted and look up something unrelated. When you visit your parents you quickly switch from being a rational adult, into an impatient child.
You need to manage your environment before it manipulates you!
In order to do this, you need to become aware of what your triggers are and then plan to address them before they pop up. For example, I can write pretty solidly for about two hours. After two hours I still think I am writing but really I have become very easily distracted, looking up random videos on YouTube or reading articles that I think are useful, but really just give me an excuse not to write.
The thing is that it is very difficult to catch yourself when you have fallen down the rabbit hole of time wasting. It is much easier to prevent the fall. Now I set an alarm for two hours after I start writing, and when it goes off I know it’s time to take a break and switch to something else even if I feel I have more to write.
If you are trying to lose weight, it is much easier to not buy the junk food when you are out shopping and not craving sweets and chocolate, then it is to resist it once you are in your house and you are craving something nibbly after dinner.
If you know that you have an important presentation to work on and you know that when you get stressed you procrastinate by cleaning your house, you can go to the library or a coffee shop, somewhere that you can work at but cannot clean.
If you have recognised that one of your biggest barriers that stops you exercising is that after work you go home and watch TV, then you can change your environment before you leave for work so that it is harder for you to watch TV when you come home. Maybe you can take the remote with you and leave it in the car (or even at work!) or perhaps you can cover up the TV with a blanket. Yes, you can take the blanket off easily and then watch TV, but it might be enough to jolt you out of your habitual pattern and remind you that in order to get different results, you need to do something you don’t normally do.
In order to manage your environment effectively, you need to make early preventative changes. Your emotional state and willpower fluctuates throughout the day, and you probably do the things you don’t want to do when you are in a less-than-best emotional state. So in order to give yourself the best chance to achieve your goals, fresh, motivated, rested you need to manage your environment NOW so that tired, cranky, stressed you can win in the future.
4. Emotion — how you feel influences what you do
The grandfather of all life coaches, Tony Robbins says that you do almost everything you do for one of two reasons; to pursue pleasure or to avoid pain.
In any given day you might feel good, or you might feel bad, but most of the time you are probably pretty neutral. You will often seek out short-term pleasures however as you think that these will make you feel good, and you like to feel good.
Common pick-me-ups are chocolate (yes!), alcohol, coffee, fizzy drinks, shopping, eating, social media and playing games. None of these are problematic per se unless you consistently rely on them to make you feel good and pursuing them works against your goals.
I’ll illustrate how I self-medicate at work when I feel mildly crappy. When I have a no meeting day I can be sat at my desk for 8 hours straight. Unless I have a crazy deadline that is keeping me extremely focused, I find that an 8 hour day is too long. I actually like my work but doing anything for 8 hours straight can make me feel bored, tired or frustrated so I tend to eat my lunch at my desk and then make sure to go out of the office for my lunch break.
As I work in the city centre I wander around and do some window shopping. And then the urge hits me.
“I could get a coffee right now. That would be nice and it could help to keep me awake this afternoon. Yes, I deserve it after going through all my emails, I don’t get one every day so just a little treat every once in a while is okay. And I won’t even get the super sugary ones with loads of calories, I’ll have a nice sensible yet tasty cappuccino. That will just hit the spot and make my afternoon a bit brighter.”
Before I know it I am standing in the queue of the coffee shop ordering my cappuccino and thank you yes I will have chocolate on top. Now I have gone from feeling bleurgh to “woohoo treat coffee!” and that makes me feel slightly better.
Dictionary.com defines “treat” as “an event or item that is out of the ordinary and gives great pleasure.” My problem started when my treat coffee became the ordinary. It was the go-to way I soothed myself when I was feeling down (or even neutral) and it was costing me money and calories I didn’t want to spend.
There are two ways to break this detrimental self-soothing cycle; you can either make a substitution and get a new pick-me-up, or you step into the negative feeling. The first can be implemented with relatively little effort but the second takes a lot more mastery and practice.
Firstly recognise if your pick-me-up has become problematic. If you do it every time you feel a certain way, if you feel compelled to do it and cannot easily walk away, if you are engaging in a self-justification monologue and if it is making you feel better then but causing you issues later on, then it has become problematic!
Don’t worry, you can substitute a new pick-me-up that still makes you feel good but without the downside.
I substituted my coffee for reading. Every time I felt the craving in my lunch break I walked away from the coffee shop and to the bookshop. I picked up a book I liked the sound of and sat down for 10 minutes and read a few pages. I never bought the book because then I could easily read it at home, and it wouldn’t be so interesting or novel (no pun intended). When my 10 minutes were up I put the book back on the shelf hoping it would still be there tomorrow, and as I left the shop I felt happier because I enjoyed what I read, and also because I beat my coffee craving.
I still am seeking pleasure at lunchtime but 9 times out 10, I do not find it a steaming cup of coffee. The 10th time I might allow myself to have one as a treat (because I am not a joyless bore), but at least then it can be legitimately defined as a treat.
Your substitution will likely be something completely different depending on what you find enjoyable. Spend some time to list ideas for free (and calorie-free) pick-me-ups that you could be your new go to’s when you are seeking pleasure. Some examples to get you thinking are :
- Call or message a friend
- Do something to get your heart racing, like star jumps or burpees
- Go for a walk
- Have a cup of tea
- Have a 5 minute time out to close your eyes and focus on your breathing
- Watch a YouTube video
- Write something
- Listen to a song
- Draw something
- Chew gum
The second method to break your detrimental cycle is to not do the thing that you are seeking and not do a substitute thing either. It is instead to step into the feeling of craving, of fatigue, of deprivation, of boredom, of frustration, of wanting and just be present with that feeling. You don’t need to feel good all the time and you will set yourself up for disappointment if that is what you expect. Instead, you can acknowledge that “this is the time in my day where I feel bored” and let yourself feel uncomfortable and be bored and know it will pass.
Easier said than done, but one to keep practising.
Thank you for reading! If you have enjoyed this post please share it with a friend and let me know in the comments below if you struggle with a particular obstacle. How are you going to overcome it?
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