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.
What you think will happen when you try to achieve your goals will impact what will actually happen.
Thinking powerful thoughts on purpose will create an incredible result when setting goals.
If every time you tried to go on a run, you got a strong electric shock, would you want to run anymore?
Your brain does not like to feel negative emotions. Negative emotions are created by negative thoughts. Thinking negative thoughts about your run is comparable to an electric shock for your brain. Stop beating yourself up all of the time, and you will set yourself free to actually achieve your goals!
Will power can be described as using your higher brain to control your lower brain.
Your higher brain is the part of you that can set goals, create a plan, and hold yourself accountable. Your lower brain tells you that you are hungry, that you are tired, that Netflix sounds amazing, and that chocolate chip cookies are the only thing you should be eating.
From an early age we are taught to control the lower brain with our higher brain. We tell kids that they need to use a toilet, not their pants. They need to be buckled, not ride on the roof of the car. They need to sit quietly, not run around screaming. They need to eat their vegetables, brush their teeth, go to bed, and on and on…
As we get older we are no longer told everything that we have to do.
We get to choose.
Do we want to eat pizza or salad? Do we want to get up and shower or stay in bed for the day? Do we want to earn an income, or be homeless? It’s all up for grabs once you are an adult.
You don’t have to do anything.
The lower brain’s path is usually easier. The higher brain’s path is harder.
Look around you and you will see how much will power people are using in their lives to override their lower brains and choose the harder path. There are people using tons of willpower to control their appetites, desires, and bodies.
Using will power to achieve goals is possible, but it takes constant supervision of your lower brain. When your lower brain wants to eat the cupcakes, your higher brain has to supersede it and remind it to eat kale instead.
This can be done, but it is also exhausting.
Following the natural desires and instincts of the lower brain takes so much less energy.
Will power can be used, but often people become exhausted because they do not have a compelling reason to keep using a higher amount of energy to use their higher brain to override the lower brain.
Finding a compelling reason to achieve a goal is key in order to lessen the amount of energy it takes to stay committed to the goal.
This is why many people who homeschool are so committed to a compelling reason to homeschool, that they do it, even though it is challenging.
People who “try” homeschooling, and then have a hard time, are more likely to send their kids back to school, because they do not have a compelling reason to continue.
Likewise people who “try” to lose weight, and like treats, will struggle more to not eat treats than a person who finds out they are diabetic and literally cannot eat sugar without taking insulin.
Diabetics have a compelling reason to not eat sugar, so they often succeed more than other people at staying away from treats.
Compelling reasons are highly motivating. Combined with rejecting negative thoughts and choosing positive thoughts intentionally, these two things have great power to help you reach your goals!
And if you really want to be part of the small percentage that will actually achieve their goals this year, make sure you write them down.
92% of people who set a goal this year will fail to reach it. If you’d like to be part of the 8%, consider applying these principles in your process:
1. Choose your thoughts intentionally.
What you think about your goals and your efforts will make a difference.
2. Find a compelling reason.
You need something so powerful that nothing will get in your way, and when you mess up, you get back on track instead of giving up.
3. Know that you are already enough the way you are.
All human beings are intrinsically amazing and valuable just because they are.
God created you and He didn’t make a mistake.
If you have something you want to achieve, go for it! Not because you will be a better person, but because you want to.
There will be no spreadsheet for myself this year.
I will love myself as I am right now, then I will set goals, and I will have compelling reasons for them and create motivating thoughts on purpose.
I will notice the negative thoughts my brain will offer me and see them as optional.
I will miss days and fall short of my goals. It’s not a problem and it doesn’t mean anything about me other than I’m human.
There is no deadline, just a desire to continue forward.
If I never stop trying and believing in myself, success is inevitable.
I got this.
Here’s to a new year and a new way to set goals!
Hope you are loving yourself as you plan your new year.
You are amazing!
P.S. If you're having a hard time deciding what goals to set for yourself, read about the thought "I don't know" here. Hint: It's a lie every time!
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