We've all had it happen to us at one point or another--we've gotten off track from our goals. Things were moving along nicely, and something broke our routine for that one day. Then life decided to intervene, and it turned into two days, then three, then...well, you get the idea. Now you're staring at what once was a nice long streak of consistent days working on your goals, and now there's this chasm. It can fill even the best of us with despair, maybe even a bit of depression. You had put in all this hard work and now? Do you just give up? Throw it all away? I've felt that way before; I certainly get the feeling. That simple idea, "Well, I had a cookie so now I'm just going to go ahead and have the gallon of ice cream, that burger, etc." It is a strong pull to just throw in the towel (at least for today, maybe tomorrow, too).
It sucks to lose that momentum, and once your two or three days starts stretching longer, you now have to re-break that inertial pull of, well, doing nothing. And it is hard to do. Hopefully these tips will help you break through that barrier that you’ve erected so you can get some momentum again.
Just 5 or 10 minutes of X (whether it's writing, working out, meditation, whatever it might be). Just plan on that amount of time and do it. If you feel like going past 5 minutes, then keep going. If not, stop. Plan for 5 minutes the next day, maybe 10 minutes the day after. Move slow and be gentle on yourself.
Just one small task towards your bigger goal, even if that task is to figure out all the tasks that need to get done. Again, if you feel like tackling another small task then go ahead and do it. Same for the following day. Every little thing you get done helps you move the ball down the field towards the goal post.
Make a plan for doing something the next day (if you’re on day 1 or 2 of missing stuff). Plan the day out, maybe plan out the next two days. You’ll work better when there's a roadmap in front of you and you have made a commitment to doing something.
If it has been a week, or more, do not tell yourself, "I'm going to do 2 hours of writing today or tomorrow to catch myself up." NO. This will inevitably lead to failure and beating yourself up and possibly even ruining what would have been a successful kickstart to positive momentum. Review the first two tips - 5 or 10 minutes, 1 or 2 small tasks. Start slow. Get your feet back under yourself. Then keep moving.
Once you're back and have started gaining some momentum again, you want to prevent what just happened, but how? How do you prevent life getting in the way of your goals?
The real answer is you can't prevent everything, but you can have a plan for when it does happen and how to get your momentum going again.
Now, I'm not talking about life getting in the way, but what happened afterwards. Why didn't you just pick up the next day and start again? Did you just not feel like it? Was it a lack of motivation? Was it feeling like you aren't making progress?
Here are some things to keep in mind with this analysis:
- In order to maintain your motivation to keep writing, keep learning, keep getting better, keep working out, whatever it might be, you should have an emotional pull that helps you maintain that motivation. Maybe you don't have a very strong emotional tie to your goal. Losing weight isn't a strong motivator, but getting fit so that you can more easily play with your daughter is. Dig deep to help you find those emotional ties.
- If you're feeling like you aren't making progress, there may be a few things going on. First, maybe you're not tracking the right thing that will help motivate you. If you have a goal of learning new languages and you're measuring how many coding challenges you can get through, you might be missing the reason why you started learning that language in the first place. What has it taught you about your own programming? Have you shared your knowledge with others? Has it helped you approach problems differently? Write down all the things that you have picked up along the way that you wouldn't have ordinarily.
- Or maybe you aren't actively tracking what you have been learning. It can feel like you're spinning your wheels if you don't have daily or weekly check-ins with yourself to see what you're doing. Again, go back to your emotional why--why is it important that you do what you're doing? What kind of results are you looking for? How can you track those results? Maybe it's just simply, "Do I feel better after working out?" or, "Am I able to improve my press strength over a 4-week period?" Looking at the last might mean that you measure once before you start your 4-week set of workout and then once at the end. That doesn't mean you don't track each and every workout, but you are measuring against where you started.
- Is this goal still right for me? Sometimes it just isn't. Maybe when you started out you thought that achieving this goal would help you in your job search, or help you learn that new framework, and those are no longer pertinent. Things change, goals change, priorities change. But if you blindly continue moving forward with something “just because,” you will eventually start to lose your motivation to do that thing.
Another thing that can help is having an accountability partner (or group) that you can report to daily on your progress. Typically this is someone who is trying to achieve a similar goal, and you can help prop each other up on those down days.
You can also look to find a coach who will help you with the accountability as well as helping you define what goals are important and a plan for achieving them.
I would not recommend that you have a spouse or a significant other be your accountability partner, as this can place undue stress and wear on a relationship.
After building up your momentum, you will probably hit one of those days. Maybe life threw you a curveball, or maybe, even with every ounce of will you are trying to muster, you just can't get yourself to do the work. You, my friend, may need a break. We all do sometimes. Professional athletes do. Professional writers do. It happens. No one can be on 100% every single day or even 50% sometimes; everyone has their limit. Ask yourself honestly, "Do I just need a break today?" If your body begins to relax almost immediately, then the answer probably is yes, you most certainly do. Great, you've earned a break, take the day off, but before you do that, come up with a plan for what you will do tomorrow. Commit to doing the work, whether it's a reduced load or time or you feel you'll be ready to hop right back on. Whatever the case may be, make a plan and commit to yourself.
Now, if tomorrow comes and you again don't quite feel like it you may be heading towards a slump and you want to go back to the second section and analyze why. Are you goals out of whack? Are you not feeling motivated? Are you not feeling progress?
Now, this is where it gets to the heart of things. Maybe, just maybe, what you had as a goal is no longer what you really want. This is always a hard one. If it feels like your goal is no longer aligned with where you are heading then maybe you are going after the wrong goal. This may necessitate a few days off while you journal and think through things before making a final decision to either alter your goal, or dump it entirely.
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