We all have goals. But we all also know it can be difficult to turn a goal into reality.
The details may differ from person to person, but the common narrative usually goes something like, "I want to do better, but I just can't seem to get started."
Or, it might be along the lines of, "I start with a lot of enthusiasm, but I can't sustain it and then I give up."
Have you ever wanted to accomplish a goal but didn't know how to start?
Or do you struggle with maintaining the momentum and progress you achieve out of the gate when you tackle a project?
I'm guilty of this too.
I'm a sucker for good ideas. Whenever one comes my way, it's hard for me to contain my desire to turn the idea into something creative. This is a strength and also a weaknesses of mine.
Why? It leads me down the path of either wanting to start something new and not knowing how to, or, it funnels me into a surge of early stage excitement that I know I can't sustain in the long run.
Maybe you can relate?
If you know what I'm talking about, you also know how painfully frustrating this cycle can be.
Starting over and over again at square one chips away at your resiliency. It's a slow corrosion of your bravery. Soon, if your process of starting a new goal doesn't change, you won't have the courage to even attempt it.
Fortunately, a piece of playground equipment that we all enjoyed as kids can teach us how to start anything and create unstoppable momentum.
The Merry-Go-Round Story
Remember when you used to play on the merry-go-round?
You and a bunch of kids would pile on the merry-go-round and weigh the thing down. All of you were excited to get moving fast.
But in order to do so, momentum needed to be created. So, you'd volunteer to jump down and be the one who would push the merry-go-round to get it moving.
Your friends would chant and holler words of encouragement as you put all your effort into getting that thing to move.
Since there were a lot of kids on the merry-go-round and it was at a standstill, the first push was always the hardest.
It felt like the amount of effort was disproportionate to the amount of movement you could generate. Even though the first few steps were slow, it was a start.
Then, you suddenly begin to pick up some momentum.
Your friends start to cheer you on with louder shouts of excitement. You keep pushing.
Now you're running along side the merry-go-round because you've built up so much momentum. And then finally, it's going so fast you can't keep up: You've built so much momentum you have to jump on and join your friends for the ride.
A New Way To Approach Your Goals
The merry-go-round story illustrates how we can approach goals with a different, but more effective strategy.
When we pull a goal out of the clouds and decide to pursue it blindly, two things happen: One, it remains a goal and never transpires because you don't know how to take action. Two, early-stage excitement deflates once you get hit in the face, leaving you with no contingency plan on how to adapt once an obstacle comes along.
Whether you have a hard time starting or end up running out of steam shortly after you start, these three strategies will equip you to begin and finish strong.
1. Get specific
Having a bone-deep conviction of what you want will help you stay motivated to get there.
When you were a kid pushing the merry-go-round, your aim was to get that thing to move as fast as possible. There weren't any other objectives.
Defining what success looks like is a practical way to measure how you're doing.
Once the merry-go-round hit momentum that was to fast to keep up with, you jumped on for the ride. You had a specific measure of success; once you couldn't run along side the merry-go-round, you knew you had reached your goal.
In fitness, business or in the arts, what is your specific measure of success?
Taking the time to identify what this is for you drastically eliminates the possibility of you settling for anything less.
2. Leverage your willpower
Have you ever seen a child who was tired and ready for a nap try to push a merry-go-round with 20 other kids on it? It'll never happen. The child doesn't have the mental capacity to muster up the effort.
As adults, we try to push forward on our goals and agendas even when we don't have the mental capacity to do so. And then we wonder why if feels so hard; like slogging through mud carrying a 45 pound backpack in a rainstorm.
After a long day of work, on your commute home, it's a lot easier to drive past the gym and into the drive through of Taco Bell isn't it?
There's a reason why.
Everyday actions and decisions like answering email, deciding what to wear, making a good impression on your manager, remembering to text your mother back, calling the angry client with more bad news, and choosing the lunch spot for all your co-workers all require willpower.
The more decisions you make, the more fatigued your brain gets.
So at the end of the day, your willpower tank is running on low or even empty, leading you to give less thought to your next decision or choosing the most convenient option.
Your decision making capacity is lowered as the day progresses.
That's why skipping the gym and opting for fast food is often the decision after a long day at work.
Whatever your paramount goal is, it would be wise to schedule that behavior earlier in the day. This is when your willpower and decision making abilities are at the highest.
If you want to start writing 500 words a day, schedule that in the morning.
If you want to start working out four times a week, schedule your training sessions earlier in the day.
If you want to make more sales calls, block out 75 minutes in the morning to be on the phone.
3. Ditch the sophomoric attitude that it will be easy
There is a subtle difference between believing in your ability to succeed, and believing that you will succeed easily. There are plenty of methods, strategies and systems that can make things simple, but achieving a worthwhile goal is rarely easy.
When you strip away the details the endeavor, the process is simple.
Think of the realtor who talks to 100 people a day versus the other realtor who only talks to 10 people day. Who do you think will sell more homes?
Think of the lifter who manages to fit in 14 workouts per week versus the lifter who trains twice a week. Who do you think will be stronger?
Think of the writer who writes 1,000 words a day versus the writer who writes 500 words a week. Who do you think will get published more often?
Think of the guitar player who practices four hours a day versus the guitar player who practices four hours a month. Who do you think will get booked for that paid gig?
Anyone can look at the process and understand this: If you do the work, your chances of success are greater. On paper the process is simple.
But the problem lies in the fact that we think the process is easy. We soon discover that it's mind-numbing. Boring. And this is difficult for humans. Especially today, when distractions are at an all time high.
The ability to forge an unbreakable spirit when things get arduous, is a huge advantage. Often it's what separates the ones who give up and the ones who can keep going.
Sophomores are ones who have gained enough knowledge to pass the first year. But, they are still sufficiently untutored on how to proceed without further mentorship. In another definition, sophomores are wise fools.
When it comes to personal goals, a lot of us are sophomores. We have enough knowledge that we aren't complete newbies.
But I think the glaring gap in wisdom lies in the fact that pursuing the respective goal will be easy. Anyone who has conquered a worthwhile goal, will tell you if you think it's going to be easy, you're a fool.
Ditch the sophomoric attitude. When you were a child and you jumped down to be the hero and push the merry-go-round, you had a "whatever it takes" mentality. You didn't expect it to be easy, but you put all you had into it.
That's what it takes.
You've got something you want to achieve.
In recent past, maybe you've keep this goal on the shelf and have never figured out how to start. Perhaps, you charge out of the gate with bravado on a lot of goals, but can't seem to finish them.
Those days are done.
Invest in yourself and utilize the merry-go-round story to leverage sustainable progress on your goals. Step away and step up from your goal to gain some "above ground" perspective.
Are you crystal clear on what it is you exactly want?
Are you attempting to chip away at your goals during times when your decision making ability is lowered?
Have you adopted a mindset that the journey will be easy?
When you were a child who set out with the goal to get the merry-go-round to go fast as possible, you were specific with what outcome you wanted, you gave it your best effort when you had the mental capacity to do so, and you knew it wasn't going to be easy but you did it anyway.
The alternative is to keep doing what you've been doing. And if you're tired of starting over, maybe it's time to try an approach that you used years ago on the playground.
Question: What lessons about goal achievement have you found most useful? What's the one or two methods you can always count on when you need to achieve something? Share you answer on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter.