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7 Steps On How To Stay Motivated For The Long Haul

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There is excitement as we make a decision to do something big – help the homeless, start a business, run a marathon. But all too often these big dreams fall to the wayside. How do we keep the motivation to see a big goal through to the end?

Some people have called me “goal driven” because I persevere on projects that may take months or even years to accomplish. So I got thinking, what is it that helps me to keep going day after day while the end goal is still out of sight? Perhaps my experience can help other people to persist on their goals.

Here are the seven steps to help you stay motivated and stick to a big project:

1Make sure you have control over your goal

When you formulate your goal make sure that it is something under your power to achieve. For example, say “Apply to three graduate schools”, as opposed to saying “Get accepted to graduate school”. When your goal is stated as something that is under your control you are more likely to think of ways to make it happen.

“Everybody has goals, aspirations or whatever, and everybody has been at a point in their life where nobody believed in them.” – Eminem

2. Find subgoals that can be accomplished in 4 hours or less

It can be daunting to look at the big goal. You don’t know where to start. So first make a list of the steps that are required to accomplish a big goal. For example, the goal of writing an app can be broken down into large steps of design, coding, testing, submission, and marketing.

Each day I look at the step that I am working on and choose a small goal that should take four hours or less to achieve. By concentrating on the small goal I can stay focused and not worry about everything else that needs to be done. And, each time I accomplish the small goal I feel good about myself.

I chose four hours as the magic number because frequently tasks have a habit of expanding. Often a four hour goal turns into a three day goal, but that is still a short enough time horizon that I can keep the end in sight.

 

3. Each morning write down the single most important thing to do that day

It really helps me to have the goal for that day in writing.  Then, if I wander off topic, as I sometimes do, I can look at it and pull myself back on course. I know that if I do enough of the mini 4-hour goals that eventually I will accomplish something significant toward my big goal, so I don’t need to think about the big goal that day.

 

4. Live the dream

I can’t postpone good feelings until I have achieved the final result. What I am actually doing each day has to be the life that I want. If it isn’t, I have picked the wrong goal. For example, you will never achieve a goal of running a marathon if you detest having to run three or four times a week.

Having mini goals helps me to live the dream. Every day or two I am celebrating some small milestone that I have reached. When I reach a major milestone I generally take a day off and go do something fun to celebrate.

“If you can dream it, you can do it.” – Walt Disney

5. Take breaks for planning

Since I work towards a series of mini goals I need to have confidence that they are adding up to the intended target. Every now and then, perhaps every couple of months, I take time off from achieving a mini goal that day, and instead spend the day on planning. I consider whether there is a major step that I may have missed, and if so, add that to my list. I think about the major step that I am working on, and whether the activities I have been doing are actually bringing me closer to that goal.

If it feels helpful, I make a list of sub-tasks for the major steps. I like to get these things down on paper so that when I am working on a mini goal I am not constantly sidetracked by trying to think about other steps. Doing this planning step allows me to get it all out of my mind so that I can focus.

 

6. Decide where and when you are going to do your work

Studies have shown that if you decide on where and when you will do something that you are more likely to do it. I sit down each morning after breakfast at my computer and write down my goal for that day. That helps me to get started, and once I am started I generally find it easy to continue.

 

7. Don’t give up

Everybody has bad days, and some things take time to become fun. For example, the first time a person runs can hardly be called fun. It is difficult and tiring and sweaty. But after a couple of weeks, as your body toughens up, it can actually be exhilarating.

So hang in there when things are tough. Face the fact that it is no fun, but do it anyway. You should be back on track in a few days.

What can you do today to take a small step toward your big goal? Please leave your thoughts in the comment section below!

Susan de Jong is an app entrepreneur who loves to write software. Her apps include Lucidate, a brainstorming app that helps you explore your innermost thoughts, and Insight Personality Tests, a fun and motivational app. Download the apps today for free.

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4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. Sija

    Jan 8, 2017 at 1:48 pm

    Thank u Susan. I agree with your points

  2. Siew

    Dec 7, 2015 at 3:59 am

    A very precise, easy to follow and inspirational article. Good job, Susan!
    It conveys the need to set goals with sub-goals identified so as be able to cherish the accomplishment frequently. The message is also be pragmatic in warning the readers that there will be times when it may take more time and effort to achieve the goal, but not to be discouraged. The message is valuable to people in all walks of life!

  3. Ly

    Dec 5, 2015 at 4:35 am

    Thank you, Susan, for this solid article. I like the step to create subgoals that can be done in 4 hours. Sometimes, I get overwhelmed with my goals for the day. Focusing a subgoals into a 4 hour spot will help me improve my time management and help me feel productive.

  4. Evan

    Dec 5, 2015 at 1:47 am

    Susan,

    Nice article you have here! I love taking breaks for planning and am using this to my advantage better now. I used to get caught up in 16 hour days but realized it’s not sustainable…

    I always take Sundays off, no matter what I have going on that week. Sometimes it’s hard but after enough time passes of doing it, I easily and guiltlessly wake up anytime on Sunday and keep my goals ahead of me.

    – Evan

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Life

5 Simple Hacks to Help You Develop the Habit That Will Transform Your Life

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It’s excruciating when we know what’s killing us but we can’t do anything about it because as you know, it is not easy to pull the brake on a high way. According to Napoleon Hill, “remember this always – the best (and one might say the only) way in which old habits may be removed is to form new habits to counteract and replace the undesirable ones”. (more…)

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Why Do We Have An Unconscious Bias and How Can We Manage It?

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When I hear someone using my name once in a while throughout the conversation we are having, I cannot stop myself thinking “this person must have read Dale Carnegie’s books or must have been influenced by someone who read them…” Have you just recalled a similar moment and it felt nice?

As Dale Carnegie famously said, “Remember that a person’s name is, to that person, the sweetest and the most important sound in any language”. Why did Dale Carnegie highlight the importance of an individual’s name to that person in his “How to Win Friends and Influence People” book published in 1936?

Each and every one of us wants to feel special and unique. I guess he recommends using the person’s name in the conversation because that is one of the easiest ways to grab that person’s attention so that we can enhance the chances of getting our point across. However, I am more interested in this from the other side; hearing our names directly addresses our individuality, our need or desire to feel special and unique.  

Let’s park this one for now and we will come back. 

Categorization is essential to our survival

There is countless scientific research telling us about how our brains recognize similarities and put things into categories, which has been crucial to our survival in evolution and still helps us with a lot of things from learning new things to coping with the continuous influx of massive amounts of information through our senses. 

The continuous influx of information is mostly handled by our subconscious mind rather than conscious. It is estimated that our brains receive about 11 million bits of information every second through our senses, of which only 40-50 bits can be processed by our conscious mind. We process more information than we are aware of. The magic here is the subconscious mind.

An example is when you are at a very loud party where you hear a lot of words flying around without you recognizing each one of them, then suddenly, you immediately catch it when you hear your name. Your subconscious had been processing all of those words, without your awareness, but informed your conscious mind when your name was out there because it was relevant to you.

In order to most effectively process this much information and inform the conscious mind with only the relevant ones, our subconscious employs categorization as one of its strategies.

When our ancestors encountered some deadly predators in the African savanna, their subconscious prompted their conscious mind to immediately fight or flight by categorizing the information gathered through their senses into “predator / life threat / take action”. Most probably we are not descendants of the ones that were frozen rather than fighting or flighting! 

Although it is a completely different situation, the same strategy applied in remembering lists. Let’s look at the below two lists.

  1. lion, eagle, shark, leopard, hawk, whale, panther, falcon and dolphin 
  2. lion, leopard, panther, eagle, hawk, falcon, shark, whale and dolphin

The second list is easy to remember because it is reordered into relevant groups even though the content of the both lists are identical.

Subconsciousness is the magic and categorization is one of its key strategies. It is essential to our survival, learning new skills and processing information as well as bringing back the information we had processed and stored. 

This amazing skill has its drawbacks

As a result of our brains’ categorization strategy, we also categorize people, especially if we don’t know them as well as our closest ones.

Imagine I am sitting at the table next to yours while you are having your favorite coffee and working on your computer or reading your novel at your neighborhood coffee shop. I stand up, very calmly grab your bag, and start walking away. Your reaction might be quite different depending on my outfit. It could be much more vocal and harsh if I have a dirty T-Shirt and a pair of torn jeans on. However, if I have some navy colored, 3-piece suit and well-pressed white button up shirt on, you might even say something like “Excuse me, you might have picked up my bag by mistake”. (There is an experiment done by social psychologists which reported similar results)

Similarly, I would not be surprised to hear that my co-worker’s spouse is very skilled and knowledgeable in English grammar and literature because he is an English teacher. However, I would not expect it from my co-worker herself because she is an outstanding chemical engineer.  

This is defined as unconscious bias or stereotyping, as a result of our subconscious brain’s categorization strategy. The outfit I have at the coffee shop impacts your response to my action, because it puts me into a different category in your mind depending on my outfit. My co-worker’s and her spouse’s backgrounds make me put them into different categories, which might mislead me sometimes.

Just like we categorize things, it is very natural that we categorize people.  

The key question here for me is; how do we truly treat people as individuals so that they feel unique, just like as they would want, while we know that our brains categorize people

We can overcome unconscious bias 

Leonard Mlodinow, in his enlightening book “Subliminal”, suggests that “if we are aware of our bias and motivated to overcome it, we can.” That doesn’t mean that we need to fight our brain’s categorization strategy. We just need to employ our conscious mind more when we are working or dealing with individuals. 

Our unconscious bias might tell us scientists are bunch of technical nerds who cannot understand abstract concepts that marketers are talking about or it might say that marketers are some daydreamers who need to be grounded by scientists to the real world all the time. I am an engineer and I love thinking in abstract terms and I worked with quite a lot of marketers who thought primarily in factual and concrete terms. 

Spending some effort to learn more about individuals will help overcome unconscious bias. Gathering more information and qualities about them will make it easier for us to treat them as individuals rather than a member of the category we put them in our minds. 

The moral of the story here is to recognize the fact that our brains do categorize, and it is essential; but also, to recognize that every individual wants to feel unique. When we appreciate these two and keep reminding them to ourselves, we are one step closer to figuring out our own way to overcome unconscious bias and treat people more like individuals. 

What was the most interesting part of this article for you? Share your thoughts below!

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The Problem Is Not Actually the Problem: Here’s Why

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5 Things You Can Do to Fend off Boredom and Stay Focused

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Curiosity is human nature and it’s only natural that humans will lose interest in a topic after a while. This has been a topic that has been extensively explored among children, teenagers and adults by a psychologist with similar results being reported from each of the categories. Human’s minds are therefore prone to boredom, making it important for each professional to spend some time to understand the factors that drive boredom and strategies the individuals needs to use to overcome boredom and focus on their profession and development. (more…)

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