Sticking to Your Goals

Setting and Achieving Goals, Jay Wick, LMFT

Do you notice yourself coming up with a lot of ideas, setting big goals around these ideas, moving ahead full steam into these goals... only to realize a couple of weeks down the road that you have all but abandoned your plans without even realizing it? Yeah... me too.

A little over a month ago I started bullet journaling. The details of what that is aren’t really that important, other than part of it consisted of me writing out a to-do list first thing every morning, and reviewing what I had accomplished each evening. It was great. I felt super productive and organized. And somewhere a long the way a few weeks ago I realized I had totally forgotten that was a thing I was doing. The bullet journal is just sitting in my bag, untouched. I also set a goal to post to social media for marketing at least once a day, and I totally forgot to post the last two days. AND, I embarked on a journey to make my bed everyday for 30 days just see what would come of it, and the last few days I have come home to discover it has totally slipped my mind. Either I’m extremely forgetful (highly possible), or there’s something else going on.

This sort of thing is pretty common when trying to change any type of behavior or thought process. We tend to revert back to our default modes pretty quickly and easily. Our habitual ways of perceiving and moving through the world become pretty restricted over time, and we often lack the awareness to step outside of the groove we’ve worn down in order to be able to make new choices... and make those choices stick.

Here’s an experiment to try that helps illustrate this. Next time you go to walk up a flight of stairs, attempt to lead with your non-dominant foot. Usually, without thinking, you’re going to lead with the foot that you’d kick a soccer ball with. I would be willing to bet that 9 out of 10 people that try this are going to be all the way up the stairs and onto something else before they even remember that they were going to attempt this little experiment. Those same people might start catching themselves at the top of the stair, or half way up, before they remember. Soon they’ll remember after a few steps, and eventually one day they will be about to step up as they normally do, and remember to switch feet right before that first step. It will surely be a crowing achievement in their life. However, eventually they might fall back into their old patterns and forget about this little experiment altogether. 

And so goes the process with setting goals and creating new habits. It’s an on going battle with awareness. The old default operating system is in there running smoothly, and doing things the way they’ve always been done, so it takes concentrated effort and awareness to stop, step outside of the program, and make new choices. But, as I’ve demonstrated in my own goal setting, and as you’ll see if you attempt the staircase experiment or any other goal of your own, it takes a consistent effort over time to create lasting change. There’s the old saying that it takes 21 days to create a new habit. That would probably be fine and dandy if, for everyone of those 21 days, you had laser beam focus and execution of your goals. For the rest of us, it’s probably going to be a little while longer while we work to increase our awareness and ability to make new choices quicker. 

I’ll end with this, be patient with yourself. It is impossible to create lasting change overnight. But, you’ll find that if you can keep with it and get yourself back on track when you’ve slipped into old patterns, after awhile you’ll completely forget that you ever did things the old way, and the new way has now become your default mode. 

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