I am the queen of checklists.
I have set so many goals in my life.
So many January’s have rolled around with me creating another spreadsheet, and planning for all of the ways I am going to improve myself and become better.
For many years, something was missing. I didn’t know what, but I did know that my well intentioned plans never made it past February.
I would start enthusiastically in January, but somewhere along the way I would start missing some daily goals here, and then missing some weekly ones, then I would tell myself that I needed to do better and that I was such a failure for falling short.
I’d pick myself up and start again, but inevitably I would fail again.
Every time I failed, I told myself how terrible I was. How I should be better. How I should improve myself. How many other people were managing to do the things I was trying to do and succeeding. What was wrong with me?
Now that I know how my brain works, I understand why this method failed year after year.
You can’t beat yourself up to reach a goal.
(Actually, some people do, but then they slide right back to where they were before after they hit it. For example, people who lose weight, only to gain it back.)
This happens for a few reasons, but two important ones are: negative thoughts, and willpower.
#1 Negative thoughts
Telling yourself that you are terrible creates emotions that feel terrible.
Remember Pavlov’s dogs?
Every time a bell was rung, they got food. They liked food, so their bodies started salivating every time a bell was rung.
If you set a goal to run a mile every day, and when it is time to run you tell yourself thoughts, those thoughts will impact wether or not you want to continue running.
Just like Pavlov’s dogs, your thoughts about what is about to happen will create excitement or dread.
Let’s look at two options for what you could think as you start your run:
You are such as slow runner. You missed two days last week! So-and-so runs 5 miles a day and never even misses days! You should have already started today. You always procrastinate getting out the door. Look how slow you are. You’ll never be a good runner.
I am committed to running a mile every day. I do my best to run 5 times per week. I have been making a good effort to keep my goal. I am making progress and getting better at running all the time. Running will be fun the longer I keep at it. I’m excited to run today!
If you think thoughts comparable to option one every time you run, do you think you will be looking forward to running a month from now?
But if you think thoughts like option two, a month from now you will likely still be on track to keep your running goal. Why is that?
Pavlov’s dogs liked food, so they salivated when the bell was rung. If when the bell was rung they got shocked, they possibly would have started cowering in the corner when the bell rung instead of salivating.
Just like Pavlov’s dogs, your thoughts about what is happening in your life have tremendous power to create a response in your body.