‘Tis the season. No, not the holiday season. ‘Tis the season for resolutions, goals, intentions, or whatever you call your plans or dreams for 2017. There’s a strategy I share in Chapter 6 of End Overwhelm Now that’s effective for reducing overwhelm, and it also works great for goals or intentions. Taking the right action is critical for counteracting overwhelm. AND, it’s the way you turn your dreams into reality.
Here’s the list of steps:
- Chunk and Celebrate It: Chunking means to break big goals or projects into manageable action steps. If it’s too big, vague, complex or scary, you’re likely to procrastinate. The longer you procrastinate or avoid, the bigger the mental hurdle you create, and the process perpetuates. So identify small actions to make it easy to succeed, then celebrate that success. When you celebrate (even your own little WHOO HOO! pat on the back), the reward center of your brain is stimulated, which makes your brain want to do that again.
- Plan it out: Writing out a plan helps mental clarity and consistency in action. The people who are the most committed to planning their days and weeks are the most likely to achieve their outcomes and the least likely to experience overwhelm. Who WOULDN’T want that?
- What – Why – How – When: A simple set of questions to help you take action.
- WHAT specifically is your most important outcome? How will you know when you’re successful?
- WHY is that outcome important to you? How will it make you feel? What is the pain if you don’t follow through?
- HOW will you achieve your outcome? What are just a few simple steps to get started?
- WHEN will you devote focused time to make substantive progress? Put it on your calendar and be realistic. Recognize what you’ll need to give up (maybe some TV/Facebook time, or intentionally letting go of something that’s less important).
Here’s an example with the classic January goal: to lose weight. I often hear people chunk that goal into, “I need to eat better and go to the gym more.” Or “I have to lose 50 pounds now.” Those goals are too big and too vague to take action. “Chunk and celebrate” might be to choose a specific diet plan to follow, and then celebrate each of the food choices as you go. Or you might chunk the exercise goal into committing to go to the gym 5 days a week and exercise for at least 45 minutes, then celebrate every time you go. I know it can sound silly to celebrate each step. But we’re not working with logic, here. We’re working with what will make your brain want to do more of the “right” actions.
In our “lose weight” scenario, the “Plan it out step” involves looking at your calendar and deciding when you can realistically take the kinds of actions you want to take. This is where I see so many people abandon their goals. They optimistically think they’ll jam it into their busy schedules somewhere, but they don’t make the hard decisions of when they’re making the commitment. Be willing to look at your calendar and make sure all the commitments will fit.
For the “what,” get clear about what part of the “lose weight” goal is most important to you. Maybe it’s to be able to wear your favorite clothes again – or to buy a new wardrobe. Maybe it’s because you want to be able to play with your kids without being completely sweaty and winded. What is the result that you really, really want? Then get clarity on “Why” you want it. Write down ALL the benefits you’ll receive from being successful, and how it will ultimately make you feel. If you can’t find enough reasons now, you’ll never find the reasons when confronted with the dessert tray, or the comfy couch. And finally, get really specific about “How” you’ll take action and specifically “When” EACH DAY. When you make a specific commitment at the start of each day of what action you’ll take and when, you are dramatically more likely to follow through.
I don’t know anyone who is 100% successful at every one of these steps all the time. Give yourself the gift of just getting started with these steps. Vow to practice and improve. Your important goals are worth it! Be clear about what you want, chunk it into manageable pieces, create a plan with the clear and specific outcomes you want, know why you want them, and how you’ll take specific achieve to achieve success. Congratulations! You’re turning your dreams into reality!