Twenty days into the new year and we all might have an idea about what we want to achieve this year and how 2021 could be better than the last year. Maybe you have by now decided on a wonderful new strategy you want to implement into your life. You have read about how you can plan it (see our blog post from January 6th) and started to test the waters.
Congratulations, you are right on track!
This may also be the time when you encounter the first obstacles. This is why I am sharing some thoughts about how you can prepare yourself for bigger obstacles in order to stay on track.
We often think that a great plan cannot fail with a specific goal and enough determination. Only after another week we might want to admit: “it was not for me” because we did not find the right time for it, “I was too lazy / stupid / weak” because we did not meet our expectation of mastering the new skill during the first couple of times we tried. Or we decide “I failed” because we follow how others seem to effortlessly succeed on social media.
Example: “When I get frustrated with an aspect of a routine, I start to look for more things I do not enjoy. This is undermining my motivation until I give it up.”
A masterplan generally includes a variety of scenarios and thus should include frustration. Are you prepared to feel frustrated? The more detailed your steps are to overcome realistic obstacles, the more likely it is that you will actually be prepared and appear effortlessly to others in the process. This means you have to make the effort to locate your own weak spots. The more effort you put for example into preparing for what it takes to increase your motivation in difficult times, the more likely it is that you will have it available when you need it and that it will help you to proceed to your goal.
Example: “When I am busy focusing on my short term goal and the reward I chose for it, I can keep on going longer than I thought at the time.”
The daily routines might have changed fundamentally over the past year. Experiencing the feeling of being stuck in the waiting mode until we can “finally be ourselves again” or of being forced to adjust to the change, can be hard to take. Implementing a new habit or routine to improve e.g. our life, our relationship, our sleep are often necessary to deal with severe changes. It can impact our mental and physical well-being when we wait too long for the environment to change or for us being in a different mental or physical state.
Example: “When this is over, it will all go back to normal.”
Being proactive and changing the mindset from “waiting for the right moment to start” into “I am ready to change” can be liberating. Please remember that a new strategy needs time to be implemented. It means that we need time to test it, time to try different variations, time to adjust it and last but not least time to reward ourselves for keeping it up.
We usually forget to plan in this extra time, which is why we tend to fall back into our default mode – the old, well-known and established routines.
Since the concept of SMART goals (see Margaretha’s post from January 13th) was published there are some who made the goals even SMARTER by adding different components like Evaluation or Re-evaluation, Rewards or Re-adjustment to the list. The need for adjustability, reusability and lastability of a strategy shows how important sustainable quality management is when creating a routine.
Example: “Since no one knows how long this will take, I will establish a routine to exchange with my friends online on a regular basis.”
How do I make this strategy fit into my life without changing most of my life completely?
This is a valid question, considering how often we want a simple change, which usually means to copy-paste someone else’s success story into our life, having a lasting positive effect. As a consequence we do the same things, try to look the same way or eat the same things to take on what we think is the core of our misery.
However it often does not seem to work. Does this mean that we are wrong for it? While we choose our strategy, we often try to use a ready blueprint on our life. There is nothing wrong with inspiration, as long as you are aware that the work is not done yet. Change always requires time for preparation and reflection.
Example: “They look so healthy and happy following this strict diet, I need this diet too when I want to feel as healthy and happy.”
Take the time to make it your own. Take all the SMARTER factors and be realistic about yourself, your values, your situation and your goal. Turn your wish into a goal by making it achievable. If you aim at a fundamental change in your life, please be aware that a big change often has to be split up into smaller, more achievable goals.
Be supportive of yourself and reward yourself on the way. Be fair. Believe in yourself and celebrate even small achievements. Once you have chosen the right routine connect it to something you already do regularly without having to think about it. We all benefit from having a clear picture of our daily routines, our needs and accomplishments.
Example: “After drinking water regularly and exchanging my usual snacks to raw vegetables, I feel more energetic. Now I use the extra energy to reconnect with my friends after work. “
Stress has a great impact on this wonderful sustainable cycle of processing information, which means that changing routines should be ideally started from a place of stability. Especially during the testing phase there will be additional frustration, delay and some more stress. Usually we know that it is worth it for example when we learn to organize our work with flexible strategies or agile methods. When the frustration builds up over time or we experience one extremely stressful event, we might fall back into our safe “autopilot” routines, which have been proven to be soothing and comfortable to us. This does not mean that our newly established strategy was faulty, that the routine was wrong or that we have failed. It simply shows that the routine was not yet established, adjusted and tested enough against all troubles.
Example: “I know I agreed to inform the other team members about this change, but right now I don’t have the time, I can do that in the next meeting.”
Humans are creatures of habit, which is why our mind loves the autopilot mode. In this mode we complete tasks while our mind has time to organize the information. Once we are stressed, our brain needs to organize even more information to be able to regulate our emotions, which impact our level of frustration and motivation.
Learning something interesting and new on the other hand is especially easy for us, when the process of restructuring has created enough capacity to process new information. This means that we are open to learning and expressing our creativity when we are rested, have the time, the interest and feel safe. A good place to start is to admit that a stressful situation was hard on us and that we need some time to recover. Accepting ourselves and our own boundaries, by being compassionate and forgiving towards ourselves, will reduce the inner tension.
After we feel better and more stable again, we might want to re-evaluate whether we are still convinced of the benefits of our chosen strategy. Then we can adjust and return to it.
Example: “Keeping everyone in the loop by documenting our changes sounds time consuming but since then, it is so easy to check out specific information in real time. This helped the team members to work more independently.”
It is not about how often you fall off the horse, it is about how often you get back up again. When you decide that it is over, it is. What does your success look or feel like? What are you doing it for? Is the reward something you can give to yourself or does it depend on others to notice it?
Example: “When others ask me for help, it is hard to say “No” because it feels great to be trusted but it often ends up that I have far too many things on my plate.”
Once you decide that you keep on trying, you will get better at it. The habit, no matter how hard, will start to stick and you will succeed. What makes it easier for you to decide to keep on trying?
Choose a reward that is independent of the reactions from others because only you know when you have reached your goal. Make sure your reward increases your happiness. For some it can be more uninterrupted focus time for others it is a chocolate fountain. Treat yourself with something that you really want or need. A reward does not always need to be reasonable, it is meant to be rewarding!
Example: “Showing others how to get it done by themself takes a little longer at the beginning. However it feels as rewarding and I am not asked over and over for the same thing again, which saves me time in the long run. The positive attitude towards me has increased and I feel like I have grown too.”
The liberty lies in adjusting our strategy regularly by trying out new variations or by starting with a completely new strategy all together. Whatever we adjust, we will always have to give ourselves the time to test the adjustment carefully and make it fit into our lives.
Questions such as “Is my “small” goal worth the work?” or “Will I ever reach my goal if I constantly adjust?” and “How do I know that I have reached my goal?”, will come up. Self-doubt and self-criticism are negative ways to reflect, and usually are not particularly helpful.
Example: “When I procrastinate, I know that it is bad to avoid the work but I feel so exhausted just thinking how big that pile already is, that all motivation is gone. I have tried to plan in time and tried different reminders but nothing worked.”
So let’s ask ourselves instead: “Am I ready to take the next step?” Try to give yourself the time to be sure about the answer.
You decide when you are there. The step-by-step plan to reach any goal can be the same each time. Once you are used to the process, there is no limit to what you can achieve.
Every creature is capable of adjusting to secure survival. This is a sustainable circle which helps to continue until the goal is reached. This sustainable process of adjusting our goals to our needs and our environment as well as changing our behavior to improve our life is a necessity. At its core it means that we all are capable of adjusting to fundamental change with patience, observation, perseverance and a strong belief in ourselves.
Example: “After asking for support, reducing my workload, measuring how long I take for single tasks and writing down daily to-do lists, I feel more structured and in control. It was not the structure, it was the time management.”
Writing this piece brings up many nice memories of good constructive conversations and a good deal of self-reflection. Some examples will feel more relatable to you than others and I want to thank you for reading this post while hoping it feels useful for you. I have to admit that there are goals which are closer to dreams than others, but that does not mean they cannot be reached.
There are goals which are hard to define especially when the obstacles in the way are the byproduct of conflict. When pure determination and grit seem to fail, patience, diplomacy and compassion might keep you going instead. In the face of aggression or oppression towards minorities, it is especially difficult to give rational fact-based answers. However, it might be necessary to follow the idea that small steps will also bring us forward. We cannot force change in the way others think, but we can accept that many actions are caused by fear, a lack of knowledge and experience. Then all we can do is to address unjust behavior and help to spread valuable information.
Keep in mind that we can start anytime and from anywhere towards our goal.