Monday, July 11, 2016

4 Tips for Achieving Your Goals

Okay, it's Monday, and rather than start the week with more politics (you've had enough of that this weekend, haven't you?) or a treatise on why every gay man in America is playing Pokemon Go (okay-but really, am I going to have to start playing this thing to meet men, because traipsing around the city trying to catch sadly not the most embarrassing thing I've ever done to find a boyfriend), I decided to mix it up a little bit and start the week off with an article about goals, because nothing says "I'm keeping my goals for real this time" quite like starting said goals on an actual Monday (it's harder for me always to start midweek, and no I don't know why).

Anyway, if you know me in real life (or if you don't but read this blog vociferously) you know that I'm a big fan of goal-reaching, personal empowerment, and making sure that people are super organized about what they want to accomplish.  In real life I'm constantly asking people about what they hope to accomplish, what they're working on in their career or with their family or random hobbies/projects, and frequently I hear the same excuses for when something isn't going as planned.  Goals don't magically happen, they are the result of hard, determined work and something that you need to actively pursue, but along the way frequently you find yourself struggling and sometimes you don't know why.  As a result, today I wanted to go through the four most common mistakes I see from people who are trying to make a dream into reality, but consistently come up short.

1. You Are Not Respecting Your Resources

I start out with this one as it's probably the newest item on my personal list, and something that I've been noticing constantly (and something that I've become more-and-more aware of in myself).  What I mean by not respecting your resources is that you are putting other people's priorities before your own with little gained value to yourself; you are taking other people's needs or desires or their personal goals and focusing on them in place of your own.

This takes a lot of different turns, but here's a few examples.  Say that you are working on trying to save money for a vacation with your family.  It's a lot of money, but it's a dream vacation that you've always wanted to take with yourself and whatever family comes with that term, but you don't want to come away from it with a mountain of debt and the constant worry that comes with vacationing on your Visa.  However, you frequently are pressured by friends or coworkers to "go out for drinks after work" or "can we go to this seminar" or "let's go in on this present together."  You don't want to be spending money as you know eating out or going to a seminar is not in your budget, but you feel the pressure because you were invited and because you feel like you have to do something even though you don't want to do it.  This sort of pattern of behavior is something that we always find ourselves doing, and frequently it's at the detriment of our own goals.

Now I'm not saying that you constantly have to do everything that you want to do only, but what I am saying is that you need to acknowledge this behavior and realize when there's an imbalance in the friendship or when it's hindering your own ability to accomplish a goal.  With money, it's a case where you should, if they're a true friend, be able to be honest and state that you're working on a financial goal right now, so you can't afford the seminar.  Instead, can you bake them into a specific plan you have for yourself already, or do something free like go for a run in a park or do a game night at your house.  Too often, we don't realize that we have a choice in this situation to say no-we're afraid of FOMO situations or think the friend won't understand, but in reality they should be able to do so, and likely might also be working on a money-saving goal or an exercise goal that you two can do together.  Additionally, when it's more of a work acquaintance or a social obligation, really examine what you're actually getting out of this-if it's not for pleasure like with a friend or relative, is this furthering your career or your participation in an organization?  If not, perhaps it's okay to say no to something.  Too often we do something just because someone else told us to do it or because it feels like something we have to do, but the reality is that you can say no.  This isn't just true of money, but also of things like time or volunteering or even something as seemingly turnabout as someone else's time.  Oftentimes I hear from people who put someone they're a patron of before their own needs, like not getting precisely what they want from a hair stylist or a gym trainer out of "good manners" even though their goal for what they're spending on that session isn't being achieved.  That's ridiculous-you need to make sure to stand up for your resources (time, money, and energy) and if you're paying someone to achieve a result, they need to fulfill their end of the bargain or you should go somewhere else.  Respecting your resources, and viewing them as such (rather than just something abject) will give you more of said resources to accomplish a goal or task.

2. You Need to Have an Exit Strategy

For many people, the biggest step is just getting started with a goal.  Think of something like losing weight-you step on that scale or leave your doctor's office and instead of taking that plunge, you find yourself at a loss of what to do first.  When you're looking at a 30-40 pound weight loss, it's challenging to get started on where to go first.  The same can be true if you're thousands of dollars in debt or you want to finish a novel or you're striving for a promotion.  Getting into that goal is a challenge, and taking the plunge into a new behavior is a big step, and if you can take it, that's better than most people.

But where I think people also get lost is also knowing what the exit strategy is-how do you know when you've accomplished a goal?  This is actually a lot harder than it sounds.  I listed above some more concrete examples, but the reality is that there are few goals in life where we don't continue moving forward and they don't become lifelong journeys.  Look at something like weight-you might have in mind that you want to lose thirty pounds, but should you reach that goal there's the questions of what comes next and how do I maintain and what sacrifices that I'm currently making can I cut back on in moderation?  And that's just a goal like losing thirty pounds-most goals are much fuzzier than that.

We're going to return to the goal of money for a second, because it's something that usually requires a sacrifice.  Unless you're a counterfeiter, you don't have an unlimited supply of money so if you're shifting your goals in some fashion (say, saving up for a vacation or an emergency fund) you're either going to need to cut something from your current budget or increase your cash supply through a promotion or a second job of some sort.  Occasionally this is easy-you have a gym membership you never use or there's a Wine Club you don't actually "need" to be a member of, but generally you don't spend money on things you don't need or enjoy, so this is a sacrifice.  The thing that gets people hung up is the idea that this is going away forever or you are going to be doing this second job forever, and so either they don't do it or they start this sacrifice but then are deeply saddened by the idea of what you're giving up (because, again, respect your resources, and while you're gaining the resource of money, it's at the expense of time and energy).

What I think someone needs to realize is that they need a clear exit strategy from that sacrifice.  With money, it's both easy and difficult to attain this goal.  The reality is that, unless you have a drastic change in fortunes (you become a movie star or lottery winner), your lifestyle naturally adjusts to whatever amount of money you are now reaching.  Even with a second job, you'll start to spend a little bit more at restaurants or not look as closely at the coupons for a grocery trip.  The problem with this is that you are now sacrificing two resources, without gaining anything in terms of money, because you aren't getting that vacation or emergency fund.  You're instead just working longer and making trivial changes.  What you need to do here is set the exit strategy-know that you will leave this sacrifice (particularly if it's a second job) if you reach a specific set of goals.  Then, don't change your financial lifestyle at all (harder said than done) and truly treat the second job as something that you are doing just until all of those financial goals are met, and then stop the sacrifice.  That way, you are not taking on an additional burden without the intended consequence.

3. You Need to Be Honest With Yourself

If there's one thing that I think every single person does and is not willing to truly admit, it's that you lie to yourself all the time.  I remember a quote along these lines in the film Ex Machina and it stuck out to me because we do-we lie to ourselves all of the time.  We frequently don't admit things that we clearly want or want to change because we know the work involved or are afraid of not achieving success with that risk, and convince ourselves that we don't want these things, but we do.  Being honest with yourself is hard, because generally we don't want to get outside of our current comfort zone and so we lie to ourselves about what we want or (more commonly) what is possible, and that results in us believing excuses that aren't actually real.

Here's an example in case you're at a loss for what I mean by "lying to yourself:" I have a friend who has, for years, complained about her job and her promotion opportunities.  She will tell you a laundry list of things that she does better than her coworkers, that she feels she should be rewarded for, and that she knows she deserves better in regard toward; she is readily able to identify the many problems and obstacles that she believes others have put in her way.  And yet, when you point out that she is constantly having the same problems, but not willing to put in the tough work of pushing for a promotion (or finding another job) she balks.  She wants the change, but isn't willing to acknowledge that she plays a role in achieving it.  Her excuses come out that she's "doing enough" but clearly that's not the case as the result hasn't changed.

Listen, I get that life isn't fair.  There are things that you struggle with that other people don't.  Other people make more money, other people don't have to worry about their weight.  I've grumbled and punched my head against a figurative wall for years wondering why I struggle so much with my romantic life when it comes so terrificly easily to everyone around me.  Life isn't fair, and that sucks.  But the reality is that 95% of why you aren't achieving a goal is because you aren't working hard enough.  I truly believe that.  Unless you're in a situation where you're fighting a disease or you have a goal that might need to be incremental (if you're trying to be a billionaire and you make minimum wage right now, you might need to think in steps), almost all of why a goal isn't being accomplished is on you, which is hard to admit because we lie to ourselves with excuses.

Whenever I discuss a goal with someone else, quite frankly, it's almost always a case of lying to themselves that they aren't achieving it.  Whether it's my friend, who won't admit that she needs to do things that she doesn't like doing (like networking or bragging about herself to her boss or admit that she needs a new career) or whether it's someone else who struggles with money but constantly confuses wants with needs or someone who has an issue with work/life balance partially because they aren't willing to admit some of their work doesn't need to get done by them or a bathroom scale that doesn't go down because you indulge in cake every other day as a "reward" for eating a salad yesterday-there's almost always a reason you're not accomplishing the goal, and we give ourselves excuses to get out of doing that.  Being truly honest with yourself is hard, partially because we want our figurative cake along with the literal one, but it's the only way that you can actually make legitimate progress in your goals.

4. You Need to Accept Wins

Finally, you need to accept victory.  So often in life, we reach major milestones.  We lose the weight, we get the promotion, we pay off that loan, or we find that person of our dreams, and yet we intrinsically focus on the one thing that's wrong.  Negativity bias (yes, there's a name for it), is a real thing and something we are more susceptible to than we realize, but it doesn't help the situation because when we're feeling down or forlorn, that's a pair of resources (time & energy) that we are expelling pointlessly.

You know you do it-you know that you've finally gotten that promotion, but the bathroom scale is not budging, or you finally paid off your student loans but the mortgage looks just as mountainous as ever.  If you don't acknowledge your wins, though, by celebrating and feeling genuinely good about what you've just done, you're not going to gain the self-esteem reward that makes you want to tackle the next project.  And I'm not just talking about a momentary "this is good, now what's next" idea, but really celebrating it.  Treat yourself with something (like a day of rest at the beach or something along those lines) and brag a bit-if you've accomplished a major life goal, it's important to share that with those around you.  What I don't like seeing is someone making a major life change, actually making it work, and then not caring because another avenue of their life is not running as smoothly.

I'm guilty of all four of these bullets (hence why I know of what I speak), but am particularly bad at this one and am constantly reminding myself to celebrate the things that I'm working on-I have frequently hit a career milestone or personal goal, just to not care at all because I also don't have a boyfriend or because my weight is still too high.  And that's bad, because I end up not caring about something I worked so hard upon, and because I didn't celebrate it, paying off my credit card or getting a promotion didn't matter to me and I don't have fond memories of that when I start a new challenge.  So make sure and actually reward yourself, take a moment and really bask in your own success when it comes to achieving a goal, because that will inspire whatever comes next.

There you have it-one of my longer articles in a while, but hopefully one you enjoyed.  If you have ever struggled with any of these things, or have more tips for goal-achieving, share down below in the comments!

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