If you want to do something, anything well, you need to put effort into it. This much, you probably heard from your parents time and time again.
But figuring out how to exert the effort needed, well, that’s a harder one. And unless your parents were psychologists, they probably didn’t have a great answer for you. Of course plenty of time, the effort (and progress) come easily. But it obviously becomes easy to struggle when you hit a rough spot no matter how excited you are about something. We’ve all hit those roadblocks on any long-term goal.
Part of the challenge with longer-term goals is what researchers call a “completion bias.” We’ve evolved to favor completing tasks such that doing so generates a small bit of dopamine. The key, as several sources note, is not denying this benefit, but rather effectively engineering your goals so that these small hits of dopamine keep you going.
Let’s take learning a second language as an example, among many you could have. It doesn’t matter if your goal is to start a podcast, get organized, run a marathon, and more. The important part is not the end goal but rather the process. And the good news is that this process is the same no matter what you want to do:
- Break the goal down into meaningful and measurable bites. This may seem like common sense, but very few people who just say “I want to learn a second language” will end up achieving it unless they put some planning into how they are going to do it.
- Set a schedule rather than a deadline. As James Clear writes, there’s a lot of downsides to setting deadlines for a goal – e.g. I want to learn German by the end of the year. These deadlines are bound to be unrealistic or quickly feel unrealistic when you mindset shifts. Rather, focus on setting up a sustainable process. Maybe in this case it’s to learn 10 new words each week. You’ll have a much better chance of reaching that target than if you just say “I want to learn 500 words by the end of the year.” Of course, this is also best done if you set time aside each week to do this and build it into your routine.
- Track your progress. Obviously, we’re big proponents of tracking progress. It may feel nerdy, but you’ll quickly be amazed by how motivating it is to see the sum of all these small steps and your overall progress even after a few weeks. Harvard Professor Teresa Amabile notes the dynamic in her research: “Many of the progress events our research participants reported represented only minor steps forward. Yet they often evoked outsize positive reactions.” But it’s hard to recognize these quick wins if you don’t see them happen and add them up! Basic tracking solves this and gives you these irrational-yet-powerful boosts to your willpower. For learning our second language this can be those 10 words each week. You’ll be shocked at how motivating even a basic graph of your progress is.
- Keep on executing. That all said, there’s no easy way out. You still have to keep on executing despite all the demands on your time. But it’s best to always be making some progress, even if you need to lower your expectations each week. Having trouble keeping up with 10 words, change your target to 5 instead. But no matter what, try to make some progress each week. It’s trivial to state, but projects only stop when you stop making progress. So the surest way to ensure the project doesn’t die is simply to make sure you always make progress 😊
If you aren’t bought in yet or if you want to learn more, there are a lot of great voices out there who speak to this concept. Tim Ferriss and James Clear are two of the most popular. But if you listen to interviews with any of today’s high performers, you’ll notice their discipline and focus on process coming through.
No matter how much you aspire to, we could all use a bit more success in getting there, especially in a world where only 8% of New Year Resolutions are met.
So if you haven’t been using this process yourself, there’s no better time to start than right now. Pick something you want to do and get to it! Don’t know where to start? Send us an e-mail and we’ll help you get pointed in the right direction.
Of course, we’d love to see you use the WeAchieve platform for all your tracking and goal setting needs. It’s free and we’re making it better and better every day. Visit our site to use the web platfrom or download our iOS app!