As I’ve said before in previous articles, I’ve struggled a lot with my weight, for many years. Lately I’ve been thinking about why I’ve struggled, when I’ve been successful, and when I’ve faltered. A goal like losing and maintaining weight is a long–term one. There are liable to be many ups and downs, small victories and frustrating setbacks. So what enables inevitable success? How can we know that our footing is sure and our path is true? I think it comes down to a few basic principles that, if implemented, will not only make it manageable to achieve huge goals, but also ensure that our eventual success is just a matter of time. Here are the principles:
Consistently Take Action Every Day
Win the day. Meeting a long–term goal comes down to consistently doing what needs to be done each day. There’s no need to focus on the goal itself, looking far down the timeline to the exciting and scary end of it all. Better to focus on the tasks at hand. Instead of focusing on the goal, focus on what habits you need to build to make success inevitable.
Don’t let a day go by without doing something, however small, that moves you in the direction of your goal. Say your goal is to write a novel. Even if you can’t write for an hour, write for just 15 minutes. If you can’t do 15, do five. Write one sentence. Be consistent with your writing habit, day after day. Momentum will build, and you will be one sentence closer to your goal today than you were yesterday.
The book that finally got me to pay attention to self–help (which had always turned me off) was Robert Maurer’s One Small Step Can Change Your Life. He advocates taking the tiniest of steps each day toward what seems like an insurmountable goal. Does exercising seem overwhelming? Step on the treadmill and stand there for one minute. That’s all you have to do. When you feel comfortable with that, try turning it on for a minute. Then try two minutes, and so on. Ease your way into success, while giving yourself no chance to resist what is a stupidly simple task.
Our minds are often biased toward black and white views of progress. I either worked out for the full hour, or I failed. That’s simply not true in any objective sense. Five minutes of exercise is definitely more valuable than five minutes of sitting on the couch, if fitness is your goal. Don’t allow mental rules aiming for perfection to get in the way of real progress. Every step in the direction of your goal, no matter how small, is a win. Add those small steps up day after day, and you will see tremendous progress.
Effectively Deal With Moments of Self-Doubt
One of the biggest challenges we all face is getting our head on straight. We step on the scale, look down at the number, and immediately we feel like a failure. We see how far we are from the goal, and we want to give up, because it seems impossible to keep going. The steps we’re taking don’t seem like enough, and we lose faith in our ability to achieve what we set out to.
This kind of thinking is just a mindfuck. There is almost never a reality behind it. Usually, we are making great progress, but we are thrown off by what we think is momentary evidence to the contrary. Don’t trust the evidence of the moment. Trust the process, and trust what happens after three or four weeks of consistency. Patience—which is really just cultivating mindfulness around desires to give up—is of the utmost importance. Get out of the habit of wanting a quick fix. Fast results leave fast, too. Get your results slowly, deliberately, and you will be more likely to keep them.
Whether you call it Resistance, the lizard brain or monkey mind, self–sabotage is always easy to come by. By creating a system that you have faith in, one based on sound principles, you’ll have something to stand on when you’re inevitably assaulted by self–doubt and negativity. Mindfully re–engage with what needs doing today. Is there writing to be done? Exercise? Relaxation or self–care? Do it. Focus on the needs of today, and let the process work itself out.
Realize that you need not engage with thoughts of frustration, fear and self–doubt. What feels important, mentally, usually isn’t. In other words, these kinds of thoughts have a sticky quality that pulls you in. You start to feel addicted to them, like you just can’t stop thinking about what a failure you are, or you’re constantly mulling over whether you’re on the right track with your plan or not. This is unnecessary and damaging to your mental health. Don’t take the bait. These thoughts sing a siren song that will destroy your momentum, if you let it. Don’t fall into the trap.
Creatively Turn Failure Into Opportunity
When things do go off the rails, as they always seem to, how can we recover? The worst thing we can do is berate ourselves for failing. This is more of the monkey mind we need to let go of. Shame and blame don’t serve much purpose except to send us spiraling out of control. So let them go.
The best thing to do with failure is get creative with it. When we get a little emotional distance from what happened, we can start to wonder why it happened at all. Sometimes it’s as simple as realizing you didn’t sleep well, had been feeling irritable all day because of it, and felt too exhausted to paint after work like you said you would. The solution isn’t to beat yourself up, but to prioritize getting more sleep in the future.
Environment also plays a huge role in our success. If chocolate chip cookies are your weakness, don’t buy them. Don’t keep chocolate chips in the house. Design an environment where success is inevitable, because it’s the easiest option. Your weaknesses aren’t character flaws, just bugs in the human software, to be worked around.
Failure is also a good time to re–evaluate the system we’ve set up. Maybe it needs a small tweak here or there. Is it getting us the results we want? Can we actually stick to it? Sometimes we’re just trying to push ourselves too hard. We have fallen into the trap of trying to squeeze out results faster than our poor minds and bodies can deliver. The opportunity here is to re–commit to a system that will work and is sustainable over the long haul.
Often our habits and systems are fine, we just aren’t sticking to them. And that’s where determination comes in. Grit. We get the shit kicked out of us, and we get up and start again. Succeeding at long–term goals requires a level of tenacity that few people realize. We want it to be easy. But doing anything worthwhile is not easy. We look at the long days ahead, and we want to give up. So I would simply say, again, don’t look at what lies ahead. Tomorrow will take care of itself. Focus on consistency with your habits today, and success is inevitable. It’s not easy, but it is simple.