The skills it takes to achieve your goals differ from those required to set your goals.
Achieving your goals has to do with 1) setting the right goal, then 2) upgrading your mindset to match your goal (i.e., what you would have to believe about yourself to achieve that goal), and 3) creating starting rituals to get you to start.
A starting ritual is something that pushes you to start something (source: Mel Robbins). Starting rituals are useful tools because 1) starting a task “cold” requires much more energy than it takes to keep going; 2) sometimes a goal can seem intimidating or out of reach, and you can’t get yourself to take the first step, and 3) starting rituals also keep you from escaping (i.e., procrastinating) and thus, help you in maintaining your anxiety in check.
I will not talk about goal setting in this article but I will talk about both mindset and starting rituals.
Related post: 8 Reasons why you are not achieving your goals
Phase 1. Creating the proper mindset for your starting rituals
What follows is a set of behaviors and beliefs you should start cultivating and putting into practice right now and every day to create the proper environment for your starting rituals.
Step 1. Learn to understand your default modes, avoidance and procrastination, and why you need a starting ritual
Procrastinating is not being lazy. It’s the act of putting off intentionally the doing of something that should be done (source: Merriam-Webster). When you procrastinate, you keep delaying or postponing something you know you should be doing, but don’t feel like doing.
Procrastination is avoidance, plain and simple. And avoidance, in the long run, leads to increased anxiety (source: Very Well Mind).
It’s important to acknowledge that starting rituals are systems that stop you from escaping these difficult thoughts and feelings by getting you to actually start a task.
Step 2. Create laser focus by constantly reminding yourself of your goals
If you are procrastinating or want to avoid a task, it’s likely because you are feeling overwhelmed or you have too much on our plate. Too many conflicting priorities, too much to do and so little time.
In these situations, it can be tempting to walk away from it all and check out.
One way of getting out of that pattern is to make your goal your main point of focus. You must adopt behaviors that remind you of your goals every day, and engrave them in your mind, or you will be distracted by all the things that will inevitably come up.
Get in the habit of writing down your goals and reading them every day, either out loud and/or while touching each sentence with your finger, like a child reading. Read your goals; touch your goals; imagine your goals. (source: John Assaraf).
Better yet, create a vision board and hang it somewhere you can see it every day.
It’s easier to start and take the first step when you know where you are going. Keep your eyes on the ball so that your actions stay consistent with your goals.
Step 3. Understand that you don’t make mistakes, you learn lessons.
This means: actually learn the lesson.
Don’t dwell on all the things that didn’t go perfectly. Get in the habit of asking yourself: what happened? What could have I done differently? How can I improve?
And move on.
If you get rid of your habit of beating yourself up, you will procrastinate less, which will make you less likely to want to avoid challenging tasks.
Step 4. Focus on progress, not perfection.
When you focus on progress, no task is too small. Every step is a step towards your goals, and that’s how you achieve them.
Once you start thinking like this, it removes some of the pressure you feel that stops you from starting in the first place.
To see progress, you must track your KPIs. You know? All those steps and actions that move you towards your goals. Oh, and get into the habit of rewarding and congratulating yourself.
Related article: How do you reward yourself effectively?
Step 5. Repetition
Everything I’ve talked about so far (and later) will only work if it becomes a habit. And for a behavior to become a habit, you must repeat it, over and over, until it becomes one.
So, make it a habit to understand your default reactions. Make it a habit to be kind to yourself, to remind yourself of your goals, and to practice the next steps I will talk about.
Do it daily.
Phase 2: the starting rituals
Now that you’ve created the proper mindset, it’s time to talk about what you should actually do when facing that challenging task and can’t seem to get yourself to just start.
Step 6. Be kind to yourself
Do you know why you don’t start tasks and achieve your goals? Because you keep beating yourself up for not doing it or not wanting to do it, and that’s not helping.
Related article: Don’t beat yourself up: do this instead.
It’s a common misperception that beating ourselves up is a way of holding ourselves accountable and that it will help us do better next time. However, studies have shown that behaving like this creates more damage than good (source: Adams & Leary 2007), and in fact, being kind to ourselves and letting ourselves off the hook actually prevents relapses (source: Kelly McGonigal).
So when you start feeling overwhelmed and see avoidance and procrastination peaking through, one of the first steps of your starting ritual involves talking to yourself in a soothing manner. Be kind to yourself, and forgive yourself for not being a wonder woman or man.
This behavior will relieve some of the pressure you put on yourself and be much more effective in helping you start that difficult task.
Step 7. Think small, and ask yourself: What is the next best thing I can do right now?
A good habit to help you achieve your goals is to break them into small steps.
Don’t think of the dozen things you have to do. You will just get overwhelmed, discouraged, and be tempted to escape.
Instead, just think of one thing you can do. Just one. Better yet, think of the next best thing you can do right now. Just the one, and ideally, the “best”, “ideal” next one.
The idea is that if you break up a task that scares you into the smallest possible pieces, and focus solely on the single next smallest step, your brain will accept it instead of shutting down and procrastinate. And this will get you started.
That’s all we want. We don’t want you to build a castle. We just need you to pick up a hammer a place the first stone. That’s all.
Step 8. The 5-second Rule.
This is the starting ritual that will get you to move your butt, and start whatever task you are avoiding right now.
I often mention Mel Robbins’s 5 Second Rule but that’s because it works. If you are not familiar with the rule, the idea is that the moment you have an instinct to act on a goal, you must 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 and physically move before your brain kills it.
But you must count backward, and you must act when you reach “1”.
No joke, I credit this rule for helping me get myself out of depression, addiction, and transforming my personal and professional life. Of course, I had to educate myself, work on my mindset, start exercising, etc., but I was able to start all those things and achieve my goals because I used the 5 Second Rule.
So, the next time you want to procrastinate but still get an instinct or a slight urge to move, then be kind to yourself, remember your goal, focus on the next best step, and 5, 4, 3, 2, 1… and move!