Determination, Will Power, and Achieving Goals
February 14, 2014 11:04 AM   Subscribe

I have several goals that I have been working on for a long time, and I never seem to keep up with them. They're pretty standard - stick to my budget, develop an exercise habit, spend more time with friends and less time watching tv, etc., and I usually start out well, but fizzle quickly. I'm looking for resources that will help me create and sustain my plans better.

I know that goals need to be measurable, realistic, and attainable, and I have set pretty good goals for myself in those terms. They include things like exercise 30 minutes per day, at least five days per week, and create and stick to my budget. I usually can sustain my goals for a few weeks to a month, then things get chaotic and I let them fall. I know that prioritization is a big part of this, and I have to make achieving these goals a priority, but I'm looking for things to read or do that might help me frame things differently in my head to make it work better, or methods that people have used to help them follow through better on their own goals. I hear stories about people with much busier lives than mine achieving amazing things, and I feel like my goals are pretty modest, so there's really no reason I can't do what I need to to make them happen. So, please send any books/websites/ideas that have worked for you. Thanks!
posted by odayoday to Grab Bag (13 answers total) 40 users marked this as a favorite (which has a mefite group) helped me keep track of my goals on a daily basis, not sweat it too much when they slipped a little, and get back on the horse. There are probably other similar websites that help you check in with yourself each day and monitor your goals. They have the ability to create custom goals, so you could include things like sticking to your budget. It's not the most intuitive website, but folks are kind about helping new folks navigate it, especially in the mefite group.
posted by ldthomps at 11:21 AM on February 14, 2014 [3 favorites]

I've gotten a lot from, both in terms of inspiration/perspective and actionable tips.
posted by magdalemon at 11:28 AM on February 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

My only tip is to make your progress clearly visible to yourself. So, get a big wall calendar and stick stickers on it when you exercise, or get a separate bank account for your spending money and only transfer your budgeted amount into it, or whatever it takes to make it really easy for you to see how you are going.
posted by emilyw at 11:35 AM on February 14, 2014 [2 favorites]

Saying things to myself things like "my goals are pretty modest, so there's really no reason I can't do what I need to to make them happen" is something that makes my rebellious brain immediately start looking for reasons/rationalizations not to do it. That kind of self-talk also makes me feel like crap every time I fall off the wagon. Because I fell off a very stable and slow-moving wagon that there was no reason for me to fall off of. Cue further self-criticism.

So, ironically, what works better for me instead of the grim determination of willpower, is actually a lighter touch. When I set my goals, instead of a firm contract where I swear to myself that by all that is holy I will do this thing, I try to take a tone of, let's see how this goes. If I fall off the wagon early on, then instead of beating myself up for it, I try to think, wow, what I am trying to do here is harder than I thought it would be--now I know how much effort it takes.
posted by Bentobox Humperdinck at 11:46 AM on February 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

A personal log book helps a lot. Just take a few minutes a day -- and scheduling that should be an iron commitment -- to note how you are doing against your goals. Also, try doing one of these at a time, and when it is locked in place (this will take at least six weeks) add another.
posted by bearwife at 11:49 AM on February 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

It's so simple, but Don't Break The Chain is what keeps me truckin' on daily goals.

Also, pick one goal and work that goal until you establish a habit. Don't try to change: eating, bedtime, exercise, budget all at once. Pick one and stick to it for a month, then add a second goal.
posted by 26.2 at 12:48 PM on February 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

If you really want more time in your home life and less TV, get rid of the TV. If there's a TV in the house, I'll watch it. If there's no TV, I won't. I'll find something else to do.

Same goes for the Internet. Internet is everywhere. If it isn't at home, you'll have to go to a library or café to use it. You'll spend more time doing other activities because the TV and internet won't be there to pull you in.

This clears up your time. Spending more time doing other things will naturally follow.
posted by aniola at 1:23 PM on February 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

Goal setting doesn't work for me, unless I make it visible. This means no apps, no websites, no spreadsheets in a folder in my home directory, or even in a physical folder on my desk. Once I close an application or put a folder back, I'll forget about it for days or weeks, and then wonder why I haven't been keeping up with working on my goals. I've found that whatever I'm using has to be physically in my line of sight throughout most of my day - I'm terrible about "out of sight, out of mind".

I recently found this - Seth Godin's updated version of Zig Ziglar's Performance Planner. For the past few weeks it's been sitting next to me on my desk, open to the relevant page. Having it there, mentally nagging me, almost forces me to do something related to the goals I've set every day.

There is an exercise at the beginning of the book that walks you through some steps to get clear on your goals, and I found that to be very useful. I'm bad to skip over stuff like that, but this time I forced myself to walk through the exercise step by step. I think that doing that has made a big difference in which goals I picked, and how I'm following through on them.
posted by ralan at 1:30 PM on February 14, 2014 [2 favorites]

Set a recurring appointment to renew focus. Add encouraging words! Oh, you can use to email yourself messages at random or set times.
posted by goodsearch at 3:22 PM on February 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

I've failed at a lot of efforts, but my successes are due to two principles: 1) make things easy and 2) make willpower irrelevant.

Both require a bit of effort off the top, usually research.

Eg with fitness. I located a gym as close to my place as possible, along my route home. I keep a locker there so I don't have the problem of hauling stuff all the time. I also researched and bought gear for home strength workouts so I have no excuse if I'm crunched for time. The weights are located right in my closet in an easily accessible place, so I can just grab them without digging. For cardio in those situations, I settled on walking, and also read enough about fitness to choose and hack my own bodyweight workouts.

Willpower with food: for a long time I just didn't keep temptations in the house. If I wanted to eat it was going to have to be eg lentil salad or a grilled steak. So deprivation was not an issue. (There was research and trial and error in figuring out what to eat, too. For both, actually, it took about a year of quasi obsession for me to learn the good tricks and adapt them to my preferences. Maybe others could do it quicker, I don't know.)

That stuff I have relatively down now, though I'm still learning things in relation to dealing with an injured body (rehab and prehab). I guess you have to leave room for evolution, things change and you can't automate everything. But a lot of the above is just sort of in me, now, and reliable. So,with motivation and a commitment to learning, things can become second nature.
posted by cotton dress sock at 3:26 PM on February 14, 2014 [2 favorites]

(And maybe choose one thing at a time.)
posted by cotton dress sock at 3:30 PM on February 14, 2014

Joe's Goals is a nice simple website for tracking goals and creating habits.

When I was trying to built a habit, I had it as the homepage for my browser.
posted by kathrynm at 4:48 PM on February 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

What works for me is reaffirming my goals on a weekly basis. So every week, I figure out how many times I'm going to work out (by type) and write that on my to do list. I cross each one off as I complete it. This week, my list said 'lift/climb (x2), cardio/ultimate (x2).' For me, this is the right balance of accountability and flexibility.

It forces me to think through the detailed process of achieving my goal each week, for example 'looks like I have happy hours planned for three nights this week, better plan on morning workouts' or 'I'm not going to be able to do anything Tuesday, so I better fit something in Monday.'

It also lets me be realistic, so that if I have a very busy week, I can scale back my goals. I do much better with a more modest goal that I know I can hit then a stretch goal. And it re-sets every week, so I never accumulate a permanent sense of failure when things get even more chaotic than expected.
posted by oryelle at 7:40 PM on February 14, 2014

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