Tips and Techniques for Self Improvement: Getting Back on Track

Since I discussed goal setting two weeks ago, I thought it might be interesting to look at how I get back on track with my goals if I find myself not really working at them or if I’m not making as much progress as I\d like.

In my opinion, getting back on track is one of the most difficult aspects of self improvement.  Setting goals and acting on them can be quite easy at first, especially if you set goals annually: we all have lots of energy at the beginning of the year when everything seems fresh and new.  As the year wears on, however, it becomes more and more difficult to stay consistent, especially when unexpected roadblocks or personal issues arise.  Here is the step-by-step process that I use when I need to get back on track after letting one or more of my goals fall by the wayside:

1. Ask yourself: is this goal important to me?

Everyone should be changing and evolving continuously.  Sometimes the main reason why we get off track with working on something is that it just isn’t as important to us in April as it was in January.  This was a significant issue for me in 2017, when I set several goals around social and political issues that I wasn’t particularly enthusiastic about several months later.  When I sat down and thought about why I wasn’t making progress on those goals, I realized that there were other ways to accomplish what I had set out to accomplish in January that were more approachable and interesting for me.

In my opinion, there is absolutely nothing wrong with letting go of goals that you realize aren’t getting you anywhere.  Giving yourself permission to let those goals go will give you more time and energy to work on the tasks that are still important to you.

2. Ask yourself: is this goal realistic?

While it can be easy to roll your eyes at the SMART method (make goals Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timely), it really is important to ensure that your goals are realistic.  If your goals aren’t realistic and you routinely aren’t able to accomplish them, it’s easy to get discouraged and give up on trying to make progress.  Setting realistic goals can be difficult, because it’s always easy to imagine things we might want to do without thinking about how we will actually achieve them.  It’s important to have a good understanding of your limits and then challenging them in a way where you can set yourself up for success.

I’ll use a personal example to illustrate.  One of my main goals for this year was to write as much as possible.  Of all the goals I set for 2018, this has probably been my greatest area of success.  The goal isn’t particularly specific, but I felt that the easiest way to guarantee that this goal was realistic for me was to leave it a little more open-ended.  Of course, I have a posting schedule that I’ve been able to stick with, but I also have cancer treatments to deal with, a relationship, a parent who can use a bit of help around the house and a puppy to train.  By going easy on myself and not stating my goal as “I will blog three times per week” I’ve taken a lot of the stress out of the equation and allowed myself to just write as much as I’m able.  My desire to keep writing naturally keeps me on track and I don’t have to punish myself if I’m not able to stick with my schedule.

3. Where are the barriers?

If you’ve determined that your goal is still important to you and that it is realistic, it’s time to try and find the barriers that are getting in your way.  Do you have all the materials you need to accomplish the goal?  Are you giving yourself the time you need to work on the goal?

For me, my most common barrier is time.  I can be terrible at giving myself enough time to accomplish what I want to accomplish and I’m an artist at letting it happen in a lot of different ways.  In general, I am very good at making room in my life to be consistent at one thing at a time.  Right now, it’s writing the blog, but I need to give myself time to accomplish all the other things I want to accomplish as well.

4. Brainstorm tools and strategies

Once you’ve figured out what may be impeding your progress, it’s time to brainstorm and find strategies to help you get back on track.  I usually write this down in the notebook I use to record my goals and monthly review.  Having my raw ideas written down is always helpful for me because even if I don’t use all of the ideas immediately, I will sometimes revisit them and find them useful later on.

The strategies you brainstorm can be very simple.  I generally find that it’s best make use of tools that you’re already using for other tasks.  For example, I recently started using my planner, which I bought at the beginning of the year to keep track of my writing schedule and my appointments, as a kind of project planner.  I have quite a few small business and de-cluttering projects that I am currently working on and, since my planner has a substantial set of “notes” pages at the back, I’ve been using those pages to track those projects.  It’s been a great help to write everything down in a resource that I’m already looking at and using on a regular basis.

5. Schedule time and give it to yourself

As I said above, time is usually a huge impediment to my making good progress on my goals and I think most folks are probably in the same boat.  If accomplishing a goal is really important to you, you have to give yourself permission to make time in your life for it.  I’ve found that a great way to do this is to schedule the time in advance.  It doesn’t have to be daily — you could schedule a few hours once per month or once per week.  Once you’ve chosen how much time you want to spend, write it down in your calendar (digital or physical) and set up reminders that pester you to work on it.  It actually works!

I’ve found this overall strategy to be super helpful for me over the years.  If you try it out, please let me know if it works for you!

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