Around the end of the first month of the year is when crowded gyms start slimming down, vices begin slipping back into diets, and motivation dwindles as “life happens” to millions of people who have made resolutions in a temporary state of aspiration.
It might seem contrary, but my stance is to forget it all. Yes, forget about those resolutions and instead, focus on what you’re doing to make meaningful progress, right now.
It’s okay. The New Year is just an arbitrary point of time, anyway. While it’s refreshing to think of January 1 as a fresh start, it’s really irrelevant. Each day is no different than the previous day, just as how one minute is no different from the last minute.
What are you doing NOW to make meaningful progress in your life?
The meaningful progress doesn’t need to be what your resolutions were for the year. Perhaps it’s part of a larger goal or vision, which may take a year or multiple years to realize. What is important for progress, whether towards your resolutions or a larger vision, is to break it down into manageable pieces. In order to break it down effectively, you can only focus on the specific and measurable actions you can take now. In order to keep it going, it’s important to maintain a productive mindset, balance, prioritization and support system.
Here are 5 tips to make continuous meaningful progress:
1) Let go of knowing the future
For the greatest success, you’ll need to let go of your need to know what you have no way of knowing – anything that may or may not happen at a future point. This includes what the final outcome will look like, when it will be realized, what will happen next, and what you’ll do in a month, 3 months, or a year from now.
While it’s helpful to have some rough guidelines, being too detailed or fixated will impede your progression more than it will help. By being too controlling, you’re essentially setting yourself up for failure by unnecessarily placing some level of expectation over aspects you have little control over. You can only view the future from the perspective of what you know today. You have no idea what will happen or be the status quo in the future. Why waste your time and energy on it?
When you focus on the future, it will likely cause paralysis. The future is too big, overwhelming, and it’s (naturally) full of unknowns. There is no way you can know and there are so many possibilities. Thinking about it will increase the likelihood of not wanting to deal with it, and another day passes without any action. Don’t fall into that trap. Make it easier for yourself – stay in this moment and just do what you know for today.
2) Focus on what you can do today, and no more
If that’s only spending 5 minutes with the availability you have today, that’s fine. If you only edit a sentence of a novel (it was a really tough and long sentence, okay?!), that is totally fine too. At least you’re closer than you were earlier today. As we all know, life happens, and sometimes, true emergencies do come up requiring your attention. The difficulty is being able to differentiate between the urgent false emergencies and what’s truly important.
It’s also important to respect your own boundaries. While it’s good to capitalize on periods of time when you’re feeling energized or extremely motivated (in flow), you can easily wear it out to exhaustion. If you’ve budgeted an hour of your day to focus on a task, try to stick to it. Keep your promises to yourself – it does you no good, certainly over the long haul, if you don’t keep your own word to yourself.
Many people also fall into the trap of doing too much strategizing and planning in the moment. In this phase, you can plan for forever without doing anything of significance. It’s a false sense of progress, also known as analysis paralysis, with similar cons of thinking too far into the future.
3) Prioritize it over the miscellaneous errands and tasks
This is often the hardest for people to do. We have the best of intentions, however somehow the day slips away from us and we end up asking, “How is it already 10 in the evening?”…
There will always be urgent things demanding our attention and screaming for us to get it out of the way. They are very convincing. “Once I get X, Y, Z out of the way, I won’t have to worry about it, and THEN I will get to this.”
However, that’s the trap. Other things will always come up. Someone will call you to chat out of the blue. You’ll realize you forgot to do something else. And eventually, you’ll get tired or your energy level will run low (decision fatigue, anyone?). Get the point?
Do it first.
Yes, sometimes that’s not so easy. For example, the kids need to be dropped off at school at a certain time. The post office or the store closes at the certain time. However, maybe the dry cleaning can wait another day. It’s possible the kids can get a ride home with another neighbor. Another option may be your significant other or a friend could drop by the store on their way over. Ask yourself, how is this possible?
It’s easy to think of the short-term loss or all things you aren’t doing if you spend the time on this more nebulous longer-term goal. It’s harder to think of the long-term gain you’re losing when you don’t take any action NOW. To put it in perspective, what will be the thing you regret you didn’t do 10 years ago? Probably not picking up the dry cleaning and all the other little things.
If multiple days pass and you still simply cannot make the time, you’re the problem. Quit making excuses and get your priorities in line.
4) Be okay with shitty drafts or attempts
What if you’re not sure what you’re doing? Maybe other people will look at it and scoff. Perhaps what you put out there won’t be good enough.
It’s okay if it feels awkward and whatever you’ve done is rudimentary at best. At least you’re doing something – and that’s the first step very few people take. Know that you’ll improve over time if you consistently put in effort and continue making progress. Produce your best effort, and then come back to it the next day. Ask for help if you need it.
Everyone had to start off at the beginning. All toddlers learned how to walk by stumbling and falling a whole bunch of times before taking their first few steps. Any thing where you are learning or growing is supposed to be difficult, otherwise it wouldn’t be true progress.
If it’s easy for you, then what you’re doing is not meaningful progress. It’s sticking too close to what you already know within the stagnant comfort zone. You can do better than that.
5) Stay motivated by celebrating small wins for yourself and with others
Celebrate the progress you make along the way. Anything worthwhile will take time to build or achieve. Reward yourself in small ways for small milestones. If you’re writing a novel, reward yourself for the first draft of the first chapter. If you’re working on a fitness goal, treat yourself to something fun after a certain amount of time and effort.
Finding a supportive and inspiring community is extremely beneficial. These are people who are working towards similar goals and are making things happen every day. Likewise, minimize your time with the naysayers, the people who discredit anything you accomplish because they are not making any progress of their own, and the naymovers, the people who want you to stay the same because they are not going anywhere themselves.
Identify a specific someone – a mentor, trusted friend, or coach – who can keep you on track, accountable to yourself and provide motivation along the way. Share your longer vision, progress, and challenges with this person. This is also a good way to hear a different perspective from a trusted person.
With these 5 tips, you’ll be able to make more meaningful progress in any area of your life. Any tips you have?