How to Achieve Your Goals: the Simple Method That Blew My Mind

After reading the book The Practicing Mind by Thomas M. Sterner and this article by James Clear, I began to approach my goals in a different way.

Having a Goal with a capital G can be extremely intimidating. All the fears and doubts along the way can thwart you from your path and you might even want to give up altogether. What I do now instead is crazy simple: be consistent and enjoy the process.

For example, it’s common for people to complain about their weight, yet claim they are too busy to exercise and eat healthier. Instead, they go on a fad diet or juice cleanse for a couple of weeks and manage to drop a few pounds. The weight returns once they go back to their regular routines. Disappointment sets in. This can cause a vicious circle of going on fad diets and feeling discouraged until they genuinely believe that losing weight is impossible.

So instead of having a goal like “lose five pounds in two weeks,” or “get a six pack by June,” I go to the gym three days a week rain or shine and eat a healthy diet composed of whole foods 80% of the time. Sometimes, I go on trips and cheat, but I know I have my healthy routine to fall back on once I go home. It sounds really simple, but it’s actually impossible not to be in good shape if you’re going to the gym regularly and eating healthy. It might take longer to get to your desired shape, but the results will stick and your body will thank you in the long run.

The James Clear article blew my mind. Instead of getting discouraged when I can’t, say, do front squats at a heavier weight, I don’t beat myself up for it. I have time to get it right because I’m going to be at the gym three times a week for the rest of my life. A daunting concept but liberating at the same time.

A goal of mine right now is to finish writing a literary short story collection. It can be frustrating because I’m working on more than a dozen stories at a time, all in various states of progress. Sometimes it feels as if I’ll never finish the book because I have limited time to work on it.

Now, the pressure’s off because I realized I’m going to be writing fiction for the rest of my life. I devote a few hours to this project on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and sometimes Sundays. I’m not sure when this book will be finished, but I know it will be eventually if I keep to this routine. Even though I’m not writing fiction full time, who knows how many novels and short story collections I will publish in my lifetime.

A minor goal of mine is to get better at playing the guitar. My acoustic guitar has been sitting in my living room as a piece of decor for the past year. I made a deal with myself to practice for only 5 minutes a day on Wednesdays and Sundays. Sometimes I really don’t want to do it because I have so many other things to take care of, but it’s five minutes—only five minutes! Of course, once I pick up the guitar, I usually play a bit longer.

The hardest part is getting started, but once I begin practicing, I quickly get in the zone. I only have an hour at the gym on workout days and a fraction of the day to write fiction, but when I do, I give it my all. The Practicing Mind has good tips on how to develop focus and discipline while enjoying the process.

Sometimes what I’m doing is absolute torture—deadlifts, anyone?—but I know I need to get it done to reap the benefits later on. My mind tries to distract me so I don’t focus on the pain, but without concentration and fully being present, the work suffers. Ironically, when I focus on the pain and stay in the moment, the pain lessens and the process becomes rewarding. I take it one deadlift, one word, one guitar cord at a time.

With focused practice, you can get more done in less time. Again, the trick is consistency. If I pick up the guitar once every three months, play horribly, then let it collect dust again for another three months, why should I expect to be good at it? Ten minutes of practice every week will accomplish way more than three hours of practice every season.

Sucking at something shouldn’t be an excuse to give up. Sometimes we are so intimidated by perfection, we give up before we even start. I don’t want to become a professional musician and just want to nail a few songs for fun, so it makes no sense to not even try because I’m never going to play like Jimi Hendrix.

I still make goals, but I don’t focus on them so much anymore. That leads to frustration, which wouldn’t help in mastering a skill. Letting go of the result and concentrating on the process makes the journey much more fun. Having routines devoted to various projects is great because once you accomplish one thing, you can quickly move on to the next. For example, when I finish one book, sure I can throw a party to celebrate and feel happy about it, but I’m still going to be sticking to my writing routine and immediately dive into the second book.

Do you have any tips on achieving goals? Let me know in the comments below.

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