Picture yourself standing in a swamp. Waist-high in sludgy, goopy…stuff…you struggle to move in any direction. You are exhausted, both mentally and physically, wondering if you should just pull an Artax from The Neverending Story and give up because of sadness (I’m sorry for reminding you of this scene).
You ask yourself what you are even doing there. You started out so strong on your little journey, a nice warm beach where friends were cheering you on and things were going smoothly. Your nice beach, though, has turned into a cesspool of problems and your friends are just sick of your whining and went home.
Going after goals can feel exactly like this (with maybe less actual swamp and more actual friend loss).
We start out motivated and ready to take on a new challenge only to see ourselves get stuck before the end.
How can we trudge through the inevitable swamp of the road less traveled?
Something Swampy This Way Comes
Goals are nice. I write about them often. Thinking about what we want to achieve is fun and motivational. Achieving the goal is a blast. It’s that part in between that no one likes, and that’s because of the most basic fact of going after any goal worth a damn: You’re going to come across tough problems.
Trying to change yourself or your life for the better involves thinking and behaving in ways you haven’t tried before. You’re going to have to switch things up and challenge yourself.
With personal change comes personal problems. Our willpower gets tested, our emotions get thrown for a loop, our whole identity is thrown into question.
And while all that’s going on, the outward problems stack up as well. We’re trying to save money but the damn car keeps breaking down. I’m trying to learn this chemistry problem for the big test but no matter what I do I just don’t get it.
Any good goal comes with it’s own slew of issues you have to eventually deal with, forging yourself into the kind of person that can solve them. Those muddy, swampy waters are a given.
It’s up to you to figure out how to get through the swamp.
Before the Swamp
Any good game plan when it comes to goals knows the tough times, the daily grind, will eventually happen. A good plan will work with this in mind, taking steps to alleviate any potential issues beforehand.
This plan will be specific toward whatever goal you are going after since each presents its own problems, but there are several areas you can pay attention to that will help you no matter what you are doing:
You only have so much energy you can use to focus on a task before the practice isn’t worth it. Quality improvement on something takes deliberate practice and to practice deliberately takes energy.
For instance, right now as I type this article, I’m not going anywhere near my upper limit of typing speed. If I wanted to get better at typing, I would be deliberately trying to go as fast as possible with little errors. I’m not doing that because my current speed of a few words a second mixed with 5 minutes of Youtube distraction (rinse and repeat) is good enough for me. I want my energy and focus to go towards the content of my writing instead.
We need to prioritize our energy along with understanding our energy levels throughout the day and then take advantage of that knowledge.
A little preparation goes a long way. Know you are going to be working a long shift and won’t want to make supper? Prepare your meals in advance so you aren’t tempted to make a run to McDonalds.
Improve your energy levels and you will improve almost every facet of your life. Do this by paying attention to your sleep, your diet, and your stressors.
Setting Up Good Habits from the Start
You don’t want to be knee deep in problems before you start considering building some good habits. Get those started right away. Get organized, plan ahead, and set a schedule.
You will be better able to hold onto those habits once the tough times come if they are ingrained deeply already. When I started my current job I took steps to become as organized as possible, taking a bunch of notes and converting them to formatted Word documents to make them easy to access and change later as well.
It was a good plan and helped my initial training go more smoothly and quickly. The start of any task is when you should pay the most attention to your habits. It’s much easier to maintain a habit when the problems start piling up then build a new one when you realize it’s too late.
Deeply Consider Your Reasons for Success
Too many goals we go after are because it’s the thing we think we should be doing. I guess I should be going after a promotion. I could lose a few pounds. I really should save up more money. These things are nice, but the reasons sometimes don’t cut deeply enough.
We can’t just want to have a better life, we need it. We crave it.
It should burn at every edge of our soul that we want to be and do better, because the life at the end of the goal is a life worth living.
Think deeply about your reasons for going after things, those reasons will be like beacons, your guiding lighthouse when the dark and stormy swamp rushes in.
You will need them.
Knee Deep in the Mud
Once you’re enveloped in all of the problems on the way to your goal, your going to begin to get tired. Mentally and physically exhausted, each day will feel like a grind. You may begin to question your reasoning for even starting. You may have forgotten why you even started to begin with.
The things you’ve done before getting to this point though should help keep you trucking along, but what can you do to ensure you don’t give up yet?
Love the Grind
There’s no doubt about it, you’re going to have to grind. Just like when it comes to trying to reach level 99 in Final Fantasy VI, you are going to have to go through repetitive and mundane daily tasks in an effort to get the experience you need.
The grind is the given, the constant. Great tasks are great because of the details, and the greater the task, the more details to deal with.
You’re going to have to learn to love the daily grind. This is done in several ways:
- Make deliberate advances towards the goal. Nothing is worse than feeling like we are spinning our wheels. Sometimes the goal deadline is years away. If the grind isn’t moving you forward, you need to change your strategy.
- Solve interesting problems. The grind is monotonous, but that doesn’t mean it has to be zombie-fying. Both the factory line worker and the engineer may feel like they are “grinding,” but one is solving complex daily issues whilst the other fulfills a quota and nothing more. Eventually, you would like your daily tasks to be utilizing all of your skills, mental and physical, so that even when they become repetitive, they are still getting you the most bang for your buck.
- Think about experience correctly. Experience is the medium by which we live. Any good philosophy of happiness includes thinking about our daily experiences in a way which creates wholesome and optimistic thinking. Understanding that some experiences are necessary in order to achieve a fulfilling life gives a person the best expectations when they come across the tough times.
The grind is aptly named. Like a rock tumbler polishes the rocks through friction, we also become stronger, mentally and physically, with a little bit of resistance. Learn to love it and take advantage.
Manage Your Stress
Stress is one of the worst things plaguing our current daily life. We are bombarded each second of each day with problems and are forced to deal with them now or worry about them later.
The stress can really get to you in the grind. It will diminish your willpower and make you fail in your daily tasks. A stressful day at work can lead to binge eating or going home and watching TV instead of taking the dogs on a walk.
You’ve got to learn how to relax. Who cares if it is productive or not? Just find out how you can relieve stress and take the steps to do it often. It takes both times of stress and times of rest to grow. Don’t neglect one side of the coin otherwise you will continue to break yourself down, eventually leading to failure.
Progress, no matter how small, is still progress. When you first start an activity, you can relish in the noob gains, but after a time, progress becomes harder and harder to obtain. The kinds of activities that you really desire to master will require steady and consistent work in order to get better.
This means taking each step needed, no matter how small. Consistency is what separates those who are successful from those who are not.
When you take a wrong turn after a hefty snowfall and begin to doubt whether or not you are going to get stuck, the worst thing you can do is stop completely (barring oncoming hazard). Once you lose that forward momentum you will be stuck spinning your wheels and will probably have to get out and push.
This is how it feels to take some time off of a goal. When you finally want to get moving again you find yourself spinning your wheels until you expend a lot of extra energy pushing yourself out of the rut.
Keep moving forward. Keep consistent and even small progress will be better than having to call the tow truck.
Drive a Big Damn Truck
Like any rational red-blooded American male, I have long considered the kind of vehicle it would take to traverse a long stretch of muddy water. Luckily, the sport of Mud Bogging satisfies this burning curiosity.
Drivers compete against each other to either get through a swampy terrain in the shortest amount of time, or to get through the terrain at all. They fashion a vehicle capable of handling the specific terrain, whether it’s deep water, mud, hills, or hills and mud.
It is a sport of traction, with an effort to get the most out of the least.
We should drive a big damn truck with big damn tires, gaining initial momentum by utilizing the initial excitement of going after a goal. Blasting off onto the course, we use our energies to set up the kinds of habits that will keep our traction on the rough terrain ahead.
Once we are in the mud, we keep the wheels a movin’, understanding that even though we may be moving slowly, those that finish the course eventually are still winners.
We keep the prize in our mind, the reasons for wanting it close to our heart. This is the way to go after a goal.