Have you ever chosen a goal and started out going gangbusters with it? Then it peters out and maybe even ends up totally abandoned?
Yeah? Me, too.
In my own experience and from observations of friends and family for whom the same thing has happened, one thing that keeps standing out is that we never sat down and realistically thought about what the path to achieving that goal would look like. We envision the end—the time where we have attained the goal—but not the route.
Maybe it’s a financial goal—you want to save for a holiday. Or how about a fitness or health goal? You decide on what you want to achieve and you pick the time period in which you want to achieve it.
The problem is we don’t always pick (in my unprofessional opinion) the right parameters. We seem to want to get things done in the quickest amount of time. Maybe we do it because we envision it to be an unpleasant process, so we want to get it over with as quickly as possible. Or maybe we aren’t even picking the right thing to start with.
The problem with that is we then make the process so unpleasant that we end up abandoning it. Or maybe we stick to it until that specific goal is attained and then we burst out of the restrictions we had placed on ourselves and go completely berserk in the other direction.
Here are some examples.
Example 1: I got it into my head about four or five years ago that I needed to pay off my mortgage before I retire. To get my full pension at work, I would need to work until I’m 66 (to have 35 years in), but I don’t want to work that long and my goal is to retire at 61, when I hit 30 years at this job. Because I won’t have the fully pension, having my mortgage paid off would help with the drop in pay.
Example 2: I decided about three years ago that I need to be more physically active. The things I really enjoy doing are very sedentary and as I age, I want to be able to maintain the same amount of physical activity as I do now, so I needed to start being more active now, to keep my joints and muscles engaged, as well as my heart and the rest of the inner bits and bobs. My goal was to do the recommended 150 minutes per week of moderate to vigorous physical activity.
I think you will probably agree that both of those goals, in and of themselves, are good goals to have. But what would it take to get there, for each of them?
For the mortgage example, I sat down and crunched the numbers. I could for sure do it. I’d have to stop buying new hobby supplies, give up any trips, and completely stop eating out, but I could do it right in the nick of time. At the time, I had about 12 years left till my planned retirement. I could do it.
But, as I sat back and considered what that would look like—12 years with almost everything I enjoy removed from my life—I realized that while the goal was a lovely one, the path to get there was not. It was not reasonable to put that expectation on myself.
I had to rethink things, including all the reasons why I wanted to hit this goal. The main thing, of course, was the fact that I will have a drop in pay when I retire, so I wanted to make sure I wasn’t house poor after that happens. And I also realized another surprising reason why I was trying to do it: All of my brothers have their mortgages paid off, so I was trying to keep up with the Jones’. It was hard being in those conversations of financial freedom and spending retirement winters in the Mediterranean and so on. I wanted a piece of that. But I had to realize that my retirement is going to be very different from all of theirs. Whether I liked it or not, I was and am in a very different financial position than they are. It was completely unfair of me to put myself under such unrealistic financial expectations.
I needed to start thinking more realistically—not just for when I retire, but for the time between now and then, too. I shifted my thoughts over to working out what would be more reasonable so that the time between now and retirement will be enjoyable AND I would still be able to provide myself with some more financial security when I retire. I won’t go into the details, but where I landed allows me to continue to put extra on my mortgage and, while it won’t be fully paid off by retirement, but it will be low enough that I can renegotiate much smaller payments at retirement to fit my drop in pay. And in the meantime, I get to enjoy the things I enjoy doing now, too.
If I had tried the original plan, I would have found out very quickly that I hated it. I would have been miserable and would have abandoned it soon after. The experience would likely have left a very bitter taste in my mouth and I might have fully given up on the whole idea because of how discouraged I would have felt.
But in giving myself the space to really think about it, I realized not only that the path to achieving the goal wasn’t one I wanted to follow, but that what I wanted wasn’t actually the arbitrary “have the mortgage paid off before I retire.” What I really wanted was to put myself in a position to be better prepared financially for when my income drops. That was an entirely different kettle of fish. Thinking about it that way allowed more options to come to my mind as to how I could be successful in achieving that goal.
For the being more active thing, I was much more realistic right from the start. One of the benefits of getting older is that you get to know yourself (if you allow yourself to). I know that I really, really, really, really, really dislike exercise. I was tempted to use the word hate because it’s such a strong word, but it might actually be appropriate. The only exercise that I can tolerate to any extent is my exercise bike. I’ve had one for years and years. Sometimes I use it and sometimes I don’t.
Now, for many of you—perhaps most or all of you—150 minutes of activity is nothing. Five times a week for 30 minutes a day—easy peasy. And, if it’s something you enjoy, it sure is easy! I spend hours and hours crafting a week. No problema. I can go for hours without stopping to eat, drink, or even run to the loo. I love it. LOVE IT. It is definitely not the same for exercise. Even though, I might add, the bike is in the living room, with full TV-viewing access. There’s really no reason not to do it, other than the fact that I really don’t like it.
So, because this was a goal that I really wanted to achieve, I sat back and really thought about it. What would be the best way for me to be successful and turn this into not just achieving a goal—tick the box; I’m done—but into a new way of life for myself. I wanted it to be an ongoing, continuous thing? What does it have to look like in order for me to do it—not just right now, but for the rest of my life?
Here’s what I came up with: I would start slow—3 times a week for 10 minutes at a time. “But, Lucy, that’s just 30 minutes a week! That’s nowhere near your goal of 150 minutes!”
You are right. It’s 2 hours short of 150 minutes, to be exact.
Now, I knew I could for sure commit to doing the full 150 minutes right out the gate. I could go gangbusters at that for two, maybe even three or four weeks. And then I’d drop it like a hot potato and not look at the bike for months and months and months. Or for years. I know myself. That is exactly how it would go down. That’s what it would look like. Because that’s what has happened in the past. So, if I wanted a different result, I needed to take a different approach.
Instead, I did it gradually. The immediate goal was to incorporate the biking into a regular part of my week. That’s it. Then after a few weeks at that level, add a bit more. Then maintain that for a while and add some more. I wanted it to become so natural that I didn’t even really need to think about it.
It took about a year and a half or so, but I achieved it. Have I fully maintained it 100% since then. Nope. Not gonna lie. There are weeks when I don’t get on it. And I had to do another mind shift on it recently because of that. I had that 150-minute target in my head so strongly, that if I missed doing the biking earlier in the week and I knew I’d never hit the 150 minutes, I would think, “What’s the point?” and not do it at all. So now it’s, “Yes, ideally I’ll do 150, but if I forget or if other things get really busy, then any amount is good.” The point is for it to be a regular part of my weekly life and not to give up on it. To be more active than I was. If I hit 150 in a week, that’s awesome. If I don’t, something is still better than nothing.
For me, it has all come down to knowing myself and really looking at what the paths for both of those examples would look like.
Having taken the time to do that and be really—sometimes brutally—honest with myself have helped me achieve success in both of those things. Yay me!!!
So, if you are about to embark on some sort of plan to achieve something, take some time to really consider what will be required in order to achieve your goal. Think about those things incorporated into your life. What does that look like? If it’s a shift in lifestyle, does it involve behaviours you can see yourself maintaining not just for the time it takes to achieve that level, but for 2 years, 10 years, 20 years…the rest of your life? If no, then go back and re-evaluate until you land somewhere that you can say, “Yes…this can be my new life.”
The more important that goal is for you to achieve, the more important it is to consider the ways you can achieve it and pick the path that is most likely to bring you success.
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