I've always been curious about what motivates us to take action and achieve goals. However, I’m most interested in why we don’t act or why we quit.
Why don't we follow through on things we feel are important? Why do we quit too early? Why do we decide that something is too hard and give up? I think we can learn more about how to succeed at achieving our goals (a.k.a. resolutions) through these questions.
In our day-to-day lives we are often subjected to messages intended to motivate us to do something. They appeal to our sex-drive, greed-glands and self esteem. This stuff works, so we see a lot of it.
However, the motivation to start something new or buy that new gadget can be fleeting. How many times have you started something only to see your motivation retreat and then ultimately give up? How many times have you bought that new shiny gadget ready for how amazing it would make your life, but now that same product sits on a shelf collecting dust? My guess is that it's happened to you more than once. I know these things have happened to me more than I care to remember.
The Dip is coming. Are you ready?
Have you ever gone to the gym the first week of January and been amazed by how many people are there slogging it out on the treadmills? What about February? Half the treadmills are empty. I see it every year and I always wonder the same thing, "What happened to cause all of those people to quit?"
Through my self-study of psychology and behavior, I've realized that the real reward is reserved for the people who carry on even when motivation wanes. These are the people who continue to follow through on their commitments to themselves no matter what challenges, real or perceived, they face.
If you're at all familiar with the work of Seth Godin, this can be related to what he calls "The Dip." The Dip is that moment when you either decide to quit or work through your challenges because you know the rewards of succeeding are worth it.
The important thing to realize is that we will all come face-to-face with "The Dip" at some point. Nobody is immune to it. It's that morning you get up and you just don't feel like going to the gym to workout. It's that lunch out with your friends when you decide to have a huge cheeseburger and a milkshake instead of a meal that will nourish you and boost your health. It's in these moments that we decide the fate of our goals.
A lot of what determines your ability to keep going through the Dip is pure, pig-headed discipline and desire. You might hate hearing this, but it's true. You're not going to wake up tomorrow and have this type of determination, discipline and work ethic. It's like a muscle, you have to build it over time incrementally. It’s critical that you build up this your discipline muscle if you want to bust through the Dip and achieve your goals.
The Six-Step Framework to Get Through The Dip
1. Assess where you are now
2. Define where you want to go
3. Get very clear on why you want to go there
4. Build and choose strategies for getting there - define your action steps
5. Take immediate action - as in... NOW
6. Push through the Dip - it's worth it
Steps one through three set the groundwork for what we’re going to talk about. Make sure you’re brutally honest with yourself throughout the first three steps of the framework. I’m a big advocate for keeping a journal and that would be a perfect place to work through these steps.
The phrase "know thyself" really comes into play when deciding on the strategies you will use to achieve your goal.
Building a Strategy that Works for Achieving Your Goals
Let's say that you set a goal to lose ten pounds by the end of February. It is now January 1st. Depending on where you’re starting, this is a doable goal for sure. You’ve assessed your current condition, you’ve defined where you want to be and you’re very clear about why you want to be there. Now you have to answer the question, “How will I get there?” This is where you build your strategy.
You decide that your main strategy is going to be to get up and do 45 minutes of jogging on the treadmill every morning at 5am. Ok. Stop right here. Do you already get up at 5am? Do you enjoy running on a treadmill? Have you run on a treadmill for 45 minutes straight in the last week, two weeks or month? If you answered "no" to any of these questions you might want to re-assess your strategy.
Some of you would be able to decide on a strategy like this and follow through with it. Most others would get burnt out quickly and give up. This means frustration and, ultimately, quitting before you achieve your goal.
At some level you know what works for you. Does it work better for you to sign up for a CrossFit gym because you thrive on competition and group accountability? Do you need to get a personal trainer or a training partner to meet you every day so you're letting someone else down when you don't show up? Do you need to record everything you eat because you feel a sense of accomplishment from recording successes and seeing where you’ve been?
Be honest with yourself about what strategies will work for you for the long-term and commit to that strategy until you achieve your goal. It doesn't mean you won't make tweaks to your strategy over time, but it does mean that your foundation will be solid.
Take Immediate Action and Start Small
Once you have decided on your strategy you have to take immediate action. This confirms you are committed to your goal and builds momentum. It can be a small action. You don't have to go out and build the Eiffel Tower in a day. You just need to take a small action to get going.
I think a good one for people following the paleo diet is to get rid of all the processed junk food in your house. Just purge it out. You could also decide to go do some exercise that day. Do something like lift weights for 15 minutes or do 5 sprints. Sign up for a PrimalPal membership so you have a way to record your meals and hold yourself accountable. Nothing overwhelming, just a small action to get you moving in the right direction.
The Dip Might Wear a Disguise
Now, let's imagine that you're going strong for about two weeks and you’re feeling good. Sometimes just feeling great and energetic is enough to keep you going. Maybe you've already lost a couple of pounds and that's keeping you extra motivated. Great. Make sure to use that positive energy to keep your momentum going.
I’m going to warn you right now that the Dip is going to show it's ugly head no matter how good things are going. It will try to disguise itself as an innocent, well-meaning friend or family member asking you out to happy hour. It may disguise itself as catching a cold. It's anything that pops up and tries to derail you from doing what you set out to do. It’s going to test you and your commitment to your goals.
This is why your strategy is so important. If you're committed to the strategy then it will be easier for you to push through the Dip. If your strategy is flawed, you'll soon find yourself wondering where you got off track.
Most importantly... do not quit. If you have a bad day, a bad meal, bad workout or whatever, you must get back on track as soon as possible.
I adhere to the Flat Tire Philosophy with health and fitness. It simply means that you recognize the bad thing that has happened, you address it and you drive on. Use this philosophy to help you stay on course when you mess up; it works. If you use it you'll soon find yourself stepping away from the "I'll start on Monday" crowd and building true mastery.
In fact, go ahead and just throw the need to be perfect out the window. It's not going to happen. Don't let people and companies fool you into thinking that perfection exists. It does not.
Just keep taking those incremental actions that over time will lead to mastery. In fact, here are three books that I recommend you read immediately before setting out to achieve your goal...
All three of these are short and can be read in a day. Read them and apply the lessons to help you achieve your goals this year.
My best piece of advice is to not let others tell you that what you’re doing is not worth it or that you're stupid for trying. Who are they to decide that for you? Ignore them.
Give yourself permission to be unreasonable when it comes to your health and fitness goals. Don’t let other people’s thoughts, words and actions make you feel like you’re being inconsiderate, irrational or abnormal. Normal sucks anyway. Be the change and move forward towards your goals.
My Wishes for You in the New Year...
I not only wish you all the success imaginable in the new year, I also wish you all the pig-headed discipline you need to push through The Dip to achieve your goals and resolutions. I hope that this is the year that you build the most fit, healthy and confident you possible.
How to Get a Jump Start on Achieving Your Goals and a Free Gift for New PrimalPal Members
To help you achieve your goals this year we’re giving away free access to our 7 Day Paleo Success Plan. The Paleo Success Plan will give you a jump start on achieving your health and fitness goals by helping you establish positive goals and build a strategy for achieving them. All you have to do to get free access to our 7 Day Paleo Success Plan is sign up for a free trial membership with PrimalPal. Even if you cancel your membership you can keep access to the 7 Day Paleo Success Plan program as a thank you for trying out PrimalPal.
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