We all have days when we have a hard time motivating ourselves to do the things we should do. We also have days when we have a hard time motivating ourselves to do the things we want to do. But what if this happens every day? What if you start and end every day with the feeling that you are accomplishing nothing. Are you subconsciously counting your days by your failures? Think about it. If you have a list in your head every day of what you feel you must accomplish, do you constantly beat yourself up for what you didn’t get done? If so, then this is precisely why you can’t get anything done.
If you can’t accomplish your goals, there is nothing wrong with you; there is something wrong with the goal.
Simplify Your Goal
It’s likely that your goal is overwhelming—whether you want to write a great novel, or you need to finish that report by the deadline. No great novel was ever written in a day, or maybe you already know that it’s going to take you more time than you have to finish that report. If your goal is to “finish my novel” or “complete the report,” then you are not giving yourself opportunities to feel your successes daily.
If you’re writing a novel, a more realistic goal might be write one page a day, or one chapter. Or it may not have to do with writing at all to begin with. Maybe your goal is to be at your desk by nine o’clock in the morning to do research. Or if you know you can’t complete the report in one day, then the goal should be to negotiate a new deadline or ask for help.
Whatever you decide to do, make sure that you experience some success every day. Success builds on itself, the same way the feeling of failure does. Once you succeed at meeting a goal consistently, add another piece of the project. “I will be at my desk at nine o’clock” may become “I will be at my desk at nine o’clock doing research for my novel,” which then becomes, “I will be at my desk at nine o’clock to do research for my novel, write ten pages, and stop by three-thirty.”
If you add expectations to your daily goal and find that you are consistently not meeting the goal with the added expectation, return to a goal you were meeting, and then try again. It’s important to keep yourself in a place where you can experience success every day. And it’s also important not to beat yourself up if you need to go back and find that place. Remember, if this happens, there is nothing wrong with you. There is something wrong with the goal.
Evaluate Your Goal
Is your goal realistic? I had “Be an Actress” on my to-do list when I was fourteen years old. I did, at some point, come to grips with the fact that this was never going to happen. Sometimes you have to be brutally honest with yourself. This does not mean you should give up, or that you shouldn’t have lofty goals, but it does mean that sometimes you should shift your focus in order to stop the cycle of feeling like a failure. I will never be an actress, but I do think I can write an academy-award-winning screenplay. I didn’t give up my Hollywood goal, but I did change it to something that I honestly believe I can accomplish.
Is there a reason you can’t meet your goal? This can be as simple as not having the right tools, or as complex as suffering from chronic pain or depression. If you don’t have the right tools, your goals should center around what you need to accomplish your goal, long before they center around the actual goal. If you need sharpened pencils and paper, then that, as simple as it is, should be on your to-do list. It’s a pretty easy success to sharpen pencils and find some paper. If you need a new computer or a better Internet connection, figure out a way to get those things. That should be on your to-do list. If you need a new computer and this has been on your to-do list for awhile because you can’t afford one, then your immediate goal might be something like, “Figure out one thing I can change in my budget in order to save money for a new computer.” If you can’t accomplish that, your goal may morph into something like, “Barter with Dude down the street who tinkers with computers.” Whatever form your goal ultimately takes, you are that much farther ahead by simply having thought about it.
If you are not accomplishing your goals because of a chronic condition, you may have to make your goal pretty simple until you feel well. “Get out of bed” is the best some people can do some days. Make the simplest things your opportunity for success. Build on them every day that you’re successful, or back off if you are not succeeding. “Get out of bed” has the potential to become, “Get out of bed, feel grateful for another day, eat a healthy breakfast, be at my desk at nine o’clock, and write one chapter.”
If you are consistently not getting your “must do” reports done at work, then you may need to consider whether you are doing the job you really want to do. You may think you have no alternative, but you won’t really know until “Look for other ways to make money” is on your to-do list.
Is Your Goal Something That You Really Want?
We constantly clutter our lives with things we should do. Of course, there are things we most want to do, which often get pushed to the bottom of the list by things we should do. This can leave you feeling resentful and resistant. You will never accomplish a goal in this state of mind. If you hate yourself for always buying the brownies for the school bake sale and putting them in your own Tupperware, then stop doing it. Take volunteering for the school bake sale off your mental to-do list.
It’s Not About the Goal—It’s About the Journey
When you start feeling success every day, you may experience some profound changes. Feeling successful every day will help you to feel better physically and emotionally. I have actually come to the place in myself where I no longer believe in failure. Even if I never accomplish my loftiest goal, I have not failed; I will have learned something. I’ll have stories to tell. I’ll make new friends. I might accomplish something that never even made it to my to-do list. The point isn’t actually to accomplish everything you put on your to-do list. The point is to live your potential. The point is to do the best you can. Look every day for your successes—sometimes they will be the tiny whispered secrets in your soul. Sometimes they will be big enough for anyone who looks to see them. But they will be there. Every day. Without fail.