I’m confident you have your goals all worked out but if you are struggling to take the action needed to achieve your goals then all you are creating is frustration. The problem might be starting or it might be finishing – regardless – it’s an area where most of us need help sometimes.
Wouldn’t it be great if every plan we started was completed and every goal we set was achieved? We have big intentions and then we struggle to start or we start with huge energy but struggle to finish what we plan to do. You have the action plan but it just isn’t working. Why does this keep happening?
Actually there are a number of reasons – some to do with the goals and the action plans themselves and some to do with the way you are executing the plans – but thankfully it’s possible to assess all the reasons and to set yourself up to be successful at starting and finishing whatever you have decided to achieve.
Let’s start with the goals
Pick a goal that you have been working on but haven’t completed – one that has been put aside as you get “busy” with other things. Start by asking yourself the hard question – do you really want the outcome of this goal? If you can’t honestly say that you do then focus on what the outcome is that you do really want. You see, to achieve your goals you need to be driven by the outcomes that will result from the work you are putting in.
Can you rewrite the goal to achieve the real outcome you want or do you need a completely new goal? There’s no point in having a list of goals that you are never likely to achieve because you don’t desire their outcomes enough. That isn’t a set of goals – it’s just a list.
But even if your goals have an outcome that you really want it isn’t enough by itself to lead you to take action to achieve your goals. You have to believe in the reasons why you want it. That’s because you are going to need to give up other things to achieve it and that’s never easy to do unless you are incredibly passionate about it.
About now some of you will be thinking but I don’t want to give up anything or I can’t give up anything. You may unrealistically think that you can do it all. In that case what you are likely to give up is looking after yourself and your health. So, focus on what else you will give up first and ensure you are in a good state to enjoy your success when your goals are being achieved.
What if you are passionate about the outcomes of your goals but still aren’t taking the actions to get the results you want? Maybe you are setting yourself up for failure because you are setting too big a goal or setting action plans with time frames that are too tight.
Having big dreams and visions is wonderful but action plans need to be achievable in reasonable periods of time or we can become overwhelmed or disappointed. Our brains respond to finishing tasks by releasing dopamine which makes us feel very good indeed and encourages us to continue completing tasks. If we set action plans that are too complex then we miss the opportunity to experience pleasure as often as we could and this can hold us back from completion.
Research shows that we regularly over-estimate how much we can finish in a time period and this can cause us to feel frustration and to be more easily distracted. You know that feeling, when you realise that you can’t do it all in the time so you just give up and don’t do it at all.
So, the first steps to take action and achieve your goals are to ensure you have set the right goals with the right outcomes and that you understand why you want to achieve them. You then need to ensure that the time frames are achievable and adjust if necessary. Focus on completing half the plan and celebrate this completion before focusing on the other half.
Now you are on the way to being able to smash those targets but you can support yourself by using the right strategies to help with starting and most importantly, finishing your action plans.
Strategies for getting started
This might sound a little crazy but the first strategy for starting is actually considering what the obstacles or road blocks are that could prevent you from fulfilling your plan. That’s right, you need to think of the negatives first because every plan will have potential obstacles and if you don’t admit this to yourself and work out how you could deal with them before you get underway then you are not actually ready to be successful.
The biggest roadblock for most people is resistance. Doing different activities or more activities will take you out of your comfort zone and your brain is going to do it’s best to sabotage you and get you back to what is more comfortable. Think about when you go on a diet or decide to increase your physical activity – the first time you don’t follow through your brain tries to convince you to give up completely.
You can convince your brain to support you though, by making it easier to start your new action steps and by rewarding yourself often during the activities not just at the end. This way you rewire your brain to understand that this is the new comfort zone and you will find resistance lessening. That’s an important step in taking action to achieve your goals.
You also need to consider those life events which can interfere with the best laid plan. People get sick, they also need breaks and holidays, children have events which you want to attend, family need your help, visitors arrive from overseas or from somewhere else in NZ and cars break down. Just think about everything that has happened in the last 12 months to distract you from your plan and recognise that many of those as well as others will happen in the next 12 months.
Plan to overcome your obstacles or road blocks before you encounter them and you will have fewer reasons not to get started and less excuses for not finishing.
Make it easier to get started
Two of the best strategies that make it easier to get started are controlling your environment and setting up clues. They both take a bit of pre-planning but they work well to encourage you to be excited about getting underway.
Controlling your environment involves some discipline. You need to remove distractions and promote focus. This could include putting your phone into another room so you are not tempted to look at it when notifications appear or putting up a sign on your office door that you need to be left alone for an hour. Whatever it is that distracts you from working on the important tasks you need to control. And living without checking your phone every few minutes becomes easier with practise – I promise you.
Now you can set up some habit clues. These are reminders that you find encourage you to get started. You might have a special song that you play to initiate work or a ritual which you do to tell your brain that you are expecting to work now. Just as we all have habits that we do when we get up every morning and go to bed at night you can set up habits which remind you that it is time to take action.
If you are wanting to get into a new routine such as doing some exercise every day then putting out your exercise clothes and shoes so they are right there when you get up or get in from work works as a clue to remind yourself that this is what you have decided to do and getting into the pattern of taking your action steps in business is no different.
Teach yourself to recognise when you see certain clues then it’s time to do what it takes to achieve your goals. These can be anything which works for you just so long as they are very visible and encouraging. You might put on your “working” clothes or go to your work space at a set time. You may prefer to start very early or very late because that’s your best energy time or spend the first 10 minutes of the working day reviewing what you have already achieved and indulge in some positive thinking. Having clues to remind you to get focused and get started can be a great strategy if you otherwise struggle to get underway.
Make it easier to keep going
There are many great strategies to help you maintain momentum once you are underway. These are the 6 that I really love – small steps, say yes, find your carrot, eat the frog, create fun and set rewards.
One of the reasons that you are likely to procrastinate and lose focus once you are working on your action plan is that you are setting yourself tasks which are too huge. Whether it is developing your whole marketing plan or building your website or any of the myriad of big projects you undertake in business you are much more likely to take action and achieve your goals if you take smaller steps.
Breaking a big task down into dozens of small steps makes it less scary and allows you to deal with your time constraints because if you only have 30 minutes then there will be a task that you can complete in the time frame.
By doing this you allow yourself to be successful at taking action and getting closer to achieving your goals a number of times over the course of your work day rather than feeling a failure because the big project overwhelmed you and you gave up.
So now you can reward yourself every time you complete one of your small steps – remember this will help you rewire your brain to want to move out of your comfort zone and achieve more. Choose suitable rewards (maybe checking your phone?) that are pleasurable but don’t stop you from moving onto the next step. Rewards should be simple and easy to indulge in like listening to a favourite song (and dancing right?) or having a satisfying coffee or a break in the sun.
Another strategy for keeping the work happening is to find your carrot. What is the outcome that completing this step will help you achieve? When you focus on the returns you will achieve this will help to encourage you to keep going just like the carrot encourages the donkey to keep walking. When you recognise your carrot it is so much easier to take action and achieve your goals.
Never underestimate the power of building fun into your working day. Humans are supposed to laugh – often and deeply. We are not meant to be continuously serious and focused. When you take a break work out how you can build some fun into it. My personal favourite is to watch a Monty Python skit on You Tube (and yes I do know most of the words). Checking out cartoons or funny videos on Facebook also works for me. Whatever brings a smile to your face and a giggle to your throat will do nicely.
Saying yes out loud is also a great way to keep going when you are otherwise tempted to slacken off. Yes is such a powerful word and it will invigorate you when you say it and when you hear it. Maybe you will say yes I have completed these steps or yes I can complete another step before I finish for the day. Whatever you attach it to, your verbal yes will help you to stay focused for a bit longer.
A strategy that’s recommended by Brian Tracy in his book of the same name is to Eat That Frog! The frog represents the most important task of the day and doing it first means you will have that dopamine hit earlier which will help you to keep on track. Starting your working day with the most valuable task for your business today is a great way to take action and achieve your goals.
There is one more obstacle that you may need to leap over
So, now you are hopefully motivated to get stuck into those action steps but there is one more obstacle which could easily get in the way – perfectionism. Yes, that awful trait that gives us the excuse to never finish. Sometimes business owners use it as an excuse to do everything themselves (and of course they then can’t grow past a certain size) by saying that no-one else can do it as well as they can. That of course is utter rubbish. There was a time when they didn’t know how to do whatever it is that they now think they are the best in the world at and, with guidance, a staff member can learn to do it too. And don’t chime in with the good old “they don’t do it the right way” because there actually isn’t any proof that your way is the best or only way except in your head.
You need to overcome the urge to do it all and do it perfectly because actually what you are usually doing is just avoiding finishing.
But why would a business owner not want to achieve a goal? Maybe because they are afraid of what happens next. You can learn more about the Zen way of overcoming fear and doubt if this is an issue for you.
The fear of finishing
If finishing means that you finally have to go out to your customers and find out if they want to buy your product or service then it is normal to have some fear (or concerns if the word fear seems overly dramatic to you). Everyone faces this fear when they expose themselves to the market but if you don’t go ahead and finish it anyway then you face the very real consequence of having regrets later that you just didn’t try.
Finishing and sending out the goods or doing the service will give you very real feedback from potential customers (the ones with the want and the money) which means that you can keep working on improving while you pay the bills and put food on the table. And that’s what every small business needs to do.
Another fear attached to finishing is that of what next? When you take action and achieve your goals you need to set new ones because having goals is a necessary part of our natural human drive. You can always build on your achievements and move in the direction that your market is leading you.
How to take action and achieve your goals
Start with your goals
- do you really want the outcomes?
- why do you want them?
- is the goal too big or the time frame too tight?
Strategies for getting started
- plan for your obstacles
- overcome your resistance
- control your environment
- set up starting clues
Make it easier to keep going
- small steps
- find your carrot
- have fun
- say YES
- eat that frog
- overcome perfection
- don’t be afraid of the market
- set more goals
Anyone can take action and achieve their goals when they understand what is holding them back and they use strategies that work for them to get started, keep going and to finish with a smile.
The Biz Coach NZ