Numerous studies have shown that 65% of us fail to keep our New Year resolutions beyond a few weeks. But what if there’s something special you’ve always wanted to achieve, a childhood dream, perhaps? What can you do to ensure that, unlike a New Year’s resolution, it’s something you do successfully complete?
Here are a handful of tips on how to keep your motivation going, and to give you the best chance of seeing that goal fulfilled.
Setting a Goal
First, think about your goal and write it down. Just one sentence will do – two maximum – but commit it to paper. Believe it or not, that really helps. However, it’s equally important to ensure we set the right goal – that’s key to subsequently being able to maintain motivation.
For me, my childhood dream was to write a novel, so I might have been tempted to write something like: “I will get a novel published and make $1 million from the first week’s sales”. But that’s not a goal – it’s a dream, and an overly optimistic one at that.
I’ve exaggerated for effect, but the difference between a goal and a dream is an important one: set yourself too tough an objective (i.e. a dream) and you will be dispirited when you begin to fail. One key to maintaining motivation is to set yourself the correct goal.
Go do research; read the available material. If you want to climb Mount Everest without oxygen, but you’re seventy and have severe asthma, you’re more likely to die than reach the pinnacle. So read to see what’s generally achievable and what would be optimistic.
Do your Research
I studied the art of writing – there are several good magazines and interesting websites on the subject – and quickly realized that to get published these days is very difficult. Therefore, I set my goal, instead, to be: “complete and edit a full-length novel so that it’s ready for a publisher.”
Don’t worry just yet that you might not be pushing yourself far enough. You want to achieve more? That’s brilliant, but make that your second goal, which you’ll set once you’ve completed the first, simpler one. Think of it as a sequence of steps with each one harder than its predecessor – let’s deal with stage one first, and remember that it’s only the beginning. So don’t be tempted to go straight for the big one in a single step – that’s setting yourself up for motivational problems.
It can also make an amazing difference how the goal is worded. Best is to describe what will be different after you’ve achieved that goal. Write about it in the past tense: pretend you have already achieved it, and describe what you’ve managed to do. That turns it into a more positive statement.
Mine came to be worded: “I have written and edited a full length thriller, and what I’m holding is ready to be sent to an agent or publisher.” Far more inspirational.Now write yours, print it, and stick it somewhere obvious. You need it as a constant reminder.
Continually remembering what you’re aiming at is key to maintaining motivation. It’s also worth giving thought to who you will tell. Studies suggest that those people who tell others about their personal goals are more likely to achieve them than those who keep it secret. If your friends know what you’re planning, you will feel that bit of extra pressure to keep working at it. And a little bit of pressure is good for motivation.
Break it into measurable nibbles
If a little pressure is good, how do we maintain it sensibly? The answer is now to break your goal into smaller nibbles, each with a measurable outcome. For instance, when I was writing Eavesdrop, I reckoned I could sensibly write 600 words a day between a busy working life and helping to bring up a family. For me, the nibbles were easy to define – I simply wrote my weekly word-count targets on a calendar. There it was – visible on my wall to harass me each day, and I annotated it weekly with progress.
There’s nothing like seeing obvious regular progress to maintain motivation, which is why you should break your goal down into nibble-sized objectives. But how to do that? Is it the number of minutes it takes to complete your running circuit, maybe? The total miles you’ve walked before breakfast? The tally of Mozart concertos you can play fluently? Whatever it is, write yourself a plan.
Do it right now.
Each week should have a well-defined tangible target that, together, will achieve your personal goal.
And now you’ve written your plan, you also know the final end date, right? That will be the wonderful day you will have achieved that goal, so now go back and add that date to your statement. Mine became: “It’s the end of June 2013 and I have now written and edited a full-length thriller, and what I’m holding is ready to be sent to an agent or publisher.”
Of course, you must also remember that the plan you’ve just put on your wall is only your first guess at progress. As you work towards your goal, you will learn whether you work faster than expected or (more likely) how incredibly.
So go modify the plan. You will kill your motivation if you keep slipping further behind week after week, so instead, keep that timetable as a live document and update those targets if it proves necessary to keep it realistic.
So you now have a description of your top-level goal stuck to your fridge door, you have a realistic weekly schedule of measurable intermediate targets and you’re ready to go.
But sometimes you don’t feel bothered; you’re tired and it’s too much effort. It’s a day when even the statement you wrote that now frowns down at you from the wall isn’t enough to kick you into action.
For those occasions, there’s one more thing to add to your motivational arsenal. And that’s a bit of encouragement from some time in your past; something that reminds you that you are capable of achieving that goal.
Look back over your whole life, including those days at school. What did you do related to your goal?
What successes did you have, however minor? Make a list and pin it alongside your goal. Were there any particularly memorable achievements? A competition won, an award received? If you could do it back then when you were so much younger, how much better will you be able to perform today?
Now’s the time to hunt them down – do it right now, not when you’re feeling despondent. Any certificates, badges or award photographs? Stick them up alongside your list of achievements. You did it then; you can do it again now.
For me, the best reminder of past success was a cup I won 35 years ago for a local writing competition. It has sat prominently above my desk ever since as a continual reminder that people have loved my writing in the past and therefore they will love it in the future also.
So with all the encouragement gathered around you, and with your individual weekly targets planned out, now go and achieve that personal goal. You can succeed and you will.