Fun fact: there are only 10 weeks left in 2018 from the day this post goes live.
If you’re like a lot of the people, that number immediately makes you think things like: “What the hell happened to 2018 – and to all those kickass health and wellness goals I set last January!?!” and “I allllways do this! WTF is wrong with me?”
That’s exactly what one of my past clients, Carter, said the first time he walked into my office last January. For 15 years, he’d been setting goals to sleep longer, exercise more and eat healthier because he knew those habits make him feel pretty freakin’ good. And yet, as Carter put it: “I never do the things!!!”
And Carter was never going to start doing them…until we figured out what was stopping him from succeeding in the first place. Which is where my tips to avoid six common wellness pitfalls came in. Once Carter made a specific goal and realistic action plan and knew how to handle the Instant-Gratification side of his brain, life gettin’ in the way and losing his mojo, it finally happened:
Carter set a goal and – for the first time in, well, ever – actually saw it through.
In fact, just a few days ago, Carter walked in my office with some majjjjor swagger, saying, “2018 was my year. This was the first year I actually did the thing!”
And even with only 10 weeks left in 2018, I KNOW you can start taking steps today to be able to say the same thing! Why? Because today’s post is different than toooons of other articles you’ve probably read about how to achieve your goals. Instead of just talking about what you should do, I’m getting real about what’s keeping you from nailing those goals in the first place! Plus, I’m sharing the exact same suuuuuper powerful tools I taught Carter that will help you overcome these obstacles and turn yourself into a goal-smashing warrior, whether you’re trying to lose weight, be more mindful or love your body for the first time in agggges.
So let’s not waste another second of 2018 talking. Let’s dive right in…
Achieving Goals Pitfall Number 1: Your goal is suppper vague.
Raise your hand if you’ve ever set a goal like, “I’m gonna meditate more” or “I’m gonna save money” or “I’m gonna make new friends.” Now, keep your hand raised if you’re still trying to achieve that goal, weeks, months or even years after you first made it.
Now, if we’re being honest, we all probably have our hands in the air. And right away, that should tell you something super important: struggling to achieve your goals doesn’t mean that something is wrong with you. Typically, it means that something is wrong with the goals you’re setting…like, in this case, setting goals that are waaay too vague.
Why’s that such a big problem? Well, think of vague goals like a state map that shows the city you want to drive to but not the actual road address of your destination. Sure, you can drive in the right general direction, but you’ll be wondering the whole time if you should be turning left or right or if you’re anywhere close to where you actually want to end up!
Trying to achieve vague goals feels just as frustrating and, in most cases, impossible. Because you don’t know exactly what achieving your goal would even look like (Does “meditating more” mean meditating every morning before work? For how long? What about?), you don’t know how to go about making it happen or how to tell when you’re getting off track. And that makes it a whoooole lot harder from you to go from where you are now to the smarter, kinder, wiser, more whatever person you want to be later on.
Solution Number 1: Decide on all the dirty details of your goal!
Did that map analogy hit a little too close to home? Don’t worry – I’m here to help! And like I tell every single one of my clients who have run into the same problem: to make goals that you can actually achieve, make them supppper specific and supppper measurable.
The easiest way to do that is by using a “day of the life” exercise. Close your eyes and pretend that you can time travel to December of this year. What exactly are you doing differently from right now? And don’t just think about your actions. What thoughts are going through your mind that day, from the time you get up to when you go to bed? How do you feel – physically, yes, but also emotionally and spiritually?
Keep thinking about your “day in the life” until it’s soooo specific, it’s like watching a movie of your goal happening right in front of your eyes. Once you can even imagine what color of shirt your goal-achieved future self would be wearing, you’ll have a goal that’s specific enough for you to actually work toward.
And if you’re not sure you can “visualize” your future on your own, check out my Future Self Meditation for help! In it, I guide you step-by-step through reflecting on your life now and discovering what you really want your future to be. To learn more about the meditation or to start defining your true goals and dreams today, click here!
Achieving Goals Pitfall Number 2: You don’t know how to get from A to B.
“But Caitlin,” you might be wondering. “What if I already know that I want to stop fighting with people or to start waking up at 6 AM every day..but I have nooooo idea how to get there?” That’s what I like to call pitfall number two.
With this pitfall, you’re often so focused on how ammmazing your future is going to be, you forget to look backwards and ask yourself what steps will actually get you there. Which is where my basic remedy comes in…
Solution Number 2: Create an epically specific action plan.
When I say “action plan,” I mean just that: a super detailed plan about every action you will take to achieve that awesome-sauce goal you have in mind. When creating it, consider questions like: What activities do you have to do? How often will you have to do them? When will you do them? Who will you do them with?
So, for instance, if you want to add more alone time to your life because you know you’re kinder to others when you have time to decompress, you’d think about different ways you can chilllll out with Me, Myself and I. Things like walking at a nearby park or going home during your lunch break. And then you’d decide how often you’d want to do these activities – maybe twice a week, to start with – and when (during lunch time!).
Once you’ve brainstormed about your activities, put them in your calendar and treat them as important and sacred as any other business meeting or date with a loved one. After all, we go to business meetings or spend time with friends to invest in and further our careers and our relationships. Considering that these goal-oriented activities are furthering your own strengths and dreams, how could they be anything BUT equally important?!?
Achieving Goals Pitfall Number 3: Your plan of action would take a PhD to understand…and superpowers to actually follow.
As helpful as a plan of action can be, you can take it too far and make it waaaay too complicated. How do you know if this pitfall is tripping you up? Ask yourself if this scenario sounds familiar:
Recently, you’ve learned about allll the super icky ways inflammation can tank your mood and mess with your mind. So you decide you’re gonna do EVERYTHING in your power to lower your inflammation levels. You’re gonna start yoga and go to the sauna and drink a homemade turmeric latte every morning instead of coffee and eat more greens and no dairy or sugar and meditate and start therapy…and, at least for a few days, you’re suuuuper pumped about all the changes you’re making and how you’re finally taking control of your health!
Until the day you don’t have time to make your turmeric latte that morning and during your meditation, all you can think about is how you’ve already screwed up your whooole goal and will never be able to feel happier about yourself or your life. In fact, your thoughts are even more down and anxious than they were before!
Solution Number 3: KISS (Keep It Sweet & Simple!)
Now, I know that totally “transforming” your life in tooons of new and different ways can sound more exciting or challenging. But you can only learn so many new things at once, and making too many changes right away can end up making you feel even worse.
That’s why you should make sure that your own plan of action has THREE or fewer concrete actions you need to take per week. Once these actions become habits, you can add more.
For instance, if you wanna turn into the queen of anti-inflammatory livin’, you could start by doing yoga once a week and swapping coffee for turmeric lattes. After three weeks, you begin meditating before each yoga sesh. More time passes and you lower how much sugar and dairy you eat…and you just keep building on your progress until you’re eventually doing everything you wanted to. Only this time, you don’t feel like you’re trying to juggle a billion changes at once!
Achieving Goals Pitfall Number 4: Your instant-gratification-lovin’ brain gets in the way.
Does it ever feel like there’s a little devil on your shoulder, whispering, “It won’t killllll you to skip your daily meditation just this once” or “You’re just tooooo tired to go socialize. You can make new friends later!”?
I like to call that little devil your Instant Gratification Brain. Unlike your Long Term Brain, it doesn’t care about putting in the work today to reach your goal in the future. All your Instant Gratification Brain cares about is getting what it wants – whether it’s a lazy night on the couch or a huge bowl of Ben & Jerry’s – right now.
And here’s the scary part about your Instant Gratification Brain: sometimes it can be pretty dang convincing! You can wake up feeling suuuuper motivated to practice your breathing and make time to journal. But then your Instant Gratification Brain points out how much “nicer” it’d be to spend all morning scrolling mindlessly on Instagram…and before you know it, you’ve broken your own promise to do that activity and keep working toward your goal. And you hate yourself for letting it happen.
Solution Number 4: Get cozy and real with your Instant Gratification Brain.
There’s a muuucch better option than self-hate, though: learning how to take control of your Instant Gratification Brain. And the first step is giving your Instant Gratification Brain a name! Call her Ursula or Susie or whatever. The name doesn’t really matter. What matters is that you talk to her. Hear when she says, “Oh my god, I’m just sooo tired. I wanna go home. I can’t handle the gym!” and have a conversation. Tell her something like, “Hey, the last time I listened to you and just sat on the couch, I felt soooo gross and blobby and bad about myself the next day. So why should I listen to you again?” And then hear what she has to say.
The point of this isn’t that you should NEVER listen to your Instant Gratification Brain. Instead, you should let the two sides of your brain talk and then decide which part of your brain knows what’s best for you right then. For instance, if you’re trying to get up earlier at least three times a week, maybe your brain sounds a little like this on Tuesday night:
Long-Term Brain: “Turn on your alarm for 5:30 AM, tomorrow! We’ve woken up before 6 every Wednesday this month. Keep it up!”
Instant Gratification Brain: “Giiirrrrrl – you crazy. I’m sooooo tired tonight. All I want is to lay in bed till 8. We cans skip meditating once, right? Is that really so bad?!?”
Long-Term Brain: “Ummm, yeah. Remember what happened when we slept until 8 last month? You were suuuuper stressed about getting to work on time and you didn’t have time to meditate, so you acted like a total bitch to everyone in the office!”
See how that kind of thought process makes getting up at 5:30 a whooole lot easier? Instead of just going through the motions of reaching your goal, listening to both sides of your brain duke it out lets you see which action would actually help you feel like the ammazing person I know you are.
But what about if Ursula actually knows her shit and makes a super convincing point? For instance, what if one week she points out: “Uh…getting up at 5:30 is NOT a good idea tomorrow. Everyone at work has the flu and you’re getting sick – you need the rest!”
Well, then Ursula might win the argument that time. But the second step of taking the power back from your Instant Gratification Brain is making sure that you don’t TOTALLY ditch whatever action you promised to make. Instead, try to do it in some smaller, more achievable way – like by giving yourself an extra hour of sleep but still waking up at 6:30 AM so you can have a relaxed, un-stressed start to your workday.
Once your brain can say, “Well, I’ve given up once…”, it’s a lot easier for it to think of tonnns of reasons why you should give up on that activity or goal for good. So no matter what Ursula has to say, make sure you do something – no matter how small! – to make progress toward your goal and stay on track.
Achieving Goals Pitfall Number 5: Life getting in the way.
It often seems like as soon as you make a goal, the Universe gives you the middle finger and majooorly gets in the way. You promise to start a morning yoga practice…and then break your ankle. Or you vow to make more friends…and then get a new job in a city where you don’t know a single person. And when those things happen, it’s easy to shrug and say, “Well, I guess it just wasn’t meant to be.” But that’s just one of the false stories we tell ourselves, and it won’t help you get any closer to achieving your goals in life.
Solution Number 5: Create backup plan B through Z!
What will help you achieve your goals – no matter what shit gets thrown your way? I like to call it a “premortem,” or a list where you name every single thing that could get in the way of you slaying your goal, and how you could succeed anyway!
So if you want to do yoga, write down “break my ankle” as a possible obstacle and brainstorm about how you could get around that. Maybe you’d write about focusing on the meditative side of yoga or doing only upper arm work. Or if you want to make new friends but are worried about possibly having to move to a new city, you could write about taking advantage of new-to-town meetups and checking out clubs in the area that sound suuuuper cool.
If you have a plan for every concrete thing that could get in your way, you won’t feel paralyzed when something goes wrong. You’ll TRUST yourself to keep going and figure out how to work around it, even if you need to tweak a few things or cut yourself some slack along the way.
Achieving Goals Pitfall Number 6: Losing your mojo.
With this last pitfall, life hasn’t gotten in the way and your Instant Gratification Brain isn’t screaming at you…but you just aren’t feeling it or in the mood to keep chasing that goal. And that’s totally natural, especially when you’ve started to make some progress toward your goal.
Now, I know what you may be thinking. Something like, “‘Natural’? How the heck is it ‘natural’ to be less excited the closer I get to kicking ass at my goal!?!”
Well, you can think of your goal like a gooooorgeous mansion that you’ve been admiring from afar and dreaming about for years. But then you get the chance to drive closer. And the closer you get, the more you realize that it’s just another house. A freakin’ impressive house, yes – but a more realistic and less dreamy house than you’d pictured.
Goals can feel the same way. We all love to dream suuuuuper big. And the closer we get to our goals, the less of a big, exciting change they seem…so the less motivated we actually feel to achieve them.
Solution Number 6: Remember your “why.”
So what can you do to hold onto your motivation? Start by going back to your “why.”
Let’s say you set a goal of eating healthier. Why’d you do that? Maybe because you feel tons more energized and happy when more fruits and veggies are in your life. So on days when you feel totalllly bored by eating your salad, you can go back to that “why.” And you’ll feel excited about your goal again because you remember what a kind, kick-ass wife, friend and business owner you are when you give your body the nutrients it really needs.
You don’t have to feel soooo tied to your action plan that you refuse to make any tweaks, either. Once you’ve reconnected with your “why” and used that to ground your thinking, you can make some changes to the activities you’re doing if you really need to. So maybe you satisfy your burger craving by turning your black bean and quinoa salad into a veggie burger on a whole grain bun. And you feel even better about eating it because you know that this burger will leave you energized and motivated to slay that day’s to-do list…versus spending the whole afternoon in a post-McDonald’s food coma.
Six Questions to Help You Set and Achieve Goals in 2018 and Beyond
Whew! I know that was a LOT of information…which is why it’s time for YOU to do the talking. Close your eyes, take a deep breath and think of a goal that you couldn’t stick with in the past and but still want to achieve. Then reflect on the following questions:
- What was your goal? Could you imagine EXACTLY what achieving that goal would look like…or was it a little too vague, like “journal more” or “connect with nature more”?
- Did you have a specific plan of how you’d go from A to B?
- …was that plan WAAAAY too complicated? How did you feel – physically, emotionally, spiritually – when you first tried to reach that goal? If you were feeling suuuuper stressed, frustrated or overwhelmed, that’s a good indication you were trying to change too much, too soon!
- Did it ever feel like part of you (what I call your Instant Gratification Brain!) was making excuses to avoid doing the things you knew you needed to do to slay your goals?
- Do you remember feeling discouraged by random obstacles that popped up or thinking that your goal just “wasn’t meant to be” when something got in your way?
- Did you find yourself feeling less excited about reaching your awwwwwesome goal soon after you started making progress?
Like you’ve probably guessed, your answers to these questions can help YOU figure out exactly what pitfall kept you from nailing your goal on the first try. And after you know, for instance, that you didn’t stick to journaling every day because you got bored once it began to become a habit, you can go back to that section of this post and see how you can avoid that pitfall this time around. Like by remembering you want to journal regularly because it makes you a more positive and grateful person!
And if you want to start with a totally fresh goal, the tools I’ve shared in this post are perfect for that too! Buy a super cute notebook and walk yourself through every step we just went over, writing down everything from a suuuuper specific goal to a realistic action plan (complete with backup plans A through Z.)
Once this reflective and prep work is out of the way, all that’s left is for you to, in Carter’s words, DO THE THING! Start drinking less coffee. Practice positive self-talk in the mirror. Swap office lunches for picnics in nature. Do whatever you need to do to finally live the balanced, joyful life you keep visualizing in your head.
And as long as you start small, make adjustments as needed and keep working toward your goals, no matter what happens, I know you’ll be amazed to see just how much you CAN accomplish by 2019…and beyond!
So, what about you? Where did you fall off the wellness wagon in 2018? And what steps will you take wash your face and get back in the game? Tell me in the comments!