Why You Can’t Consistently Stick to Your Goals — And What to Do About It

 

How often do you start a new initiative with all the drive in the world, with such motivation and inspiration that you bring your A-game and carefully map out a winning strategy—only to soon end up losing all your excitement and feeling as deflated as a worn-out tire?

Don’t worry, you’re not alone.

We all have an infinite amount of good intentions, habits, and goals but, sadly, we’re usually very far from having an infinite amount of energy and perseverance.

And that could be for a lot of reasons.

Maybe “real life” got in the way of your plan to start an online business.

Or maybe you start doubting that your efforts to lose weight are really worth your time.

Or perhaps you started learning a new language but then just sort of stopped feeling motivated for some reason.

Or it could sneak up on you—you might have hardly noticed that you’ve been quietly abandoning, one excuse at a time, your goal to live a remarkable life.

And just to make sure that this isn’t completely depressing, I’m not even going to bring up the infamous New Year’s resolutions (yes, the ones that you were so pumped about in January but could barely remember by February.)

By the way, if you have an immediate goal you care about and you don’t want it going down the drain, don’t miss the practical step-by-step script I’ve attached at the end.

What’s Really Preventing You from Being Consistent with Your Habits and Goals?

A big part of the problem is the way the mind sets those intentions in the first place.

Specifically, how it assigns a level of commitment to them.

Just the other day, a friend told me that she wants to start running consistently again. The only thing is she’s concerned that she’ll abandon it at some point, because that’s the reason she stopped running in the first place.

It’s a perfect example of how our minds process intentions and goals. There’s a subtle sabotage that happens right there, at the beginning of the process.

Since she stopped running in the past, the first thing my friend tells herself is that this time she’s serious: she’s going to go running every single day—through rain, snow, and storms. She tells herself that running is important to her, that she won’t listen to any excuse that pops into her head, and that she’s going to be keep a strict and consistent schedule.

So far, so good. She’s programming her mind to expect, and stick to, a high level of commitment. That’s crucial to transforming her intention into an achievement; anything other than absolute commitment won’t work in the long term.

But why, then, do some of your goals fizzle out even though you’re sure you’re 100% committed to them?

Your Default Mental Wiring for Goals and Habits

Let’s go deeper and take a look at the mental wiring that takes place when you make a commitment to be consistent with a goal, especially when it comes to dealing with unexpected events.

Why unexpected events? Because those are the real test. And not in the way you’re probably thinking about them.

What happens if one day my friend can’t go running because something major comes up? This is no trivial matter—remember, she knows inconsistency is her Achilles’ Heel.

She’ll probably be able to muscle her way through the first couple of unexpected events. But what about the ones after that? What will happen on the day she’s really physically and mentally tired, drained by a really hard day at work and then an unexpected event, like her sister calling for help with some spreadsheets, happens?

Not really hard to guess, right?

She’d probably resolve to skip the running for that day. “Only for today,” she’d tell herself, “I’ll start again tomorrow.”

And before she knows it, she’ll have completely dropped her intention and goal.

Why?

As I said, the problem is the way that the mind is wired by default.

It defaults to understanding commitments in absolute terms.

And when it operates in that binary, black-and-white mode, it can’t make room for anything grey, for exceptions and unpredictable events.

Which in a way is good, right? You don’t want to give your mind room to look for false exceptions (commonly called “excuses”). But, on the other hand, when the black-and-white mind faces a true exception, one that isn’t coming from you but from your environment, it doesn’t have room for it and, instead, registers it as a total failure of commitment.

My friend’s mind’s default wiring goes something like this:

“If we run each day, just like she has told me to do, we’ll be successful—we’ll be runners. But if we miss a day, we’ll have failed irreversibly.”

Pay attention to the self-identity part. She’s allowing her mind to build an identity for her (to be a runner). It’s a really powerful thing to do, so bonus points for that.

But the problem is the way her mind is setting the conditions for building that identity, which is basically the rest of the statement.

What do you notice about that statement?

Does it sound like positive reinforcement? Does it sound like her mind is setting herself up to win?

Can you see just how narrow the definition of success in that mental statement is? It’s an all-or-nothing thing.

And maybe you’re taking the mind’s side here. Maybe you’re thinking, “But it makes sense! She said she wanted to go running every day!”

That’s exactly what her mind will be yelling at her the day that she can’t to do it for whatever reason: “You said every single day! We just failed!”

Now, she might get lucky. If she can keep it up every single day, without interruption, for long enough, it might just become cemented as a habit (but forget about the infamous 21 days, it turned out to be a myth and several scientific studies have already proven that it takes a lot longer than a month to form a habit).

But what’s more likely is that something will keep her from going out for a run before that habit is fully entrenched.

Her mind will chalk the whole thing up as a failure and it will erode her willingness to set out new goals and intentions (why bother when failure is just around the corner?)

What to do then?

The Two Biggest Mistakes You Should Avoid

That was how goals, habits, and consistency used to worked for me.

The worst part is that I didn’t even recognize it was a problem.

I truly thought that it was the best way to set goals: commit yourself 100% and you’ll to come up with enough willpower to follow through every single day.

Of course, there were a lot of days that it took a huge amount of energy to bring myself to live up to my commitment.

It was unsustainable.

By making commitments that way, I was making two big mistakes.

First, I set out intentions but relied solely on my willpower to make me follow through on them. That’s inefficient and it didn’t take me very far. Relying on systems and habits is much more efficient.

If you’re extremely grounded and your Doer Energy reserves are at their peak—which isn’t likely unless you’re coming off of a fantastic sabbatical year or are anticipating a mini-retirement—then you’ll have some ups and downs but in the end you’ll reach your goal. But even then, you’ll seriously wear yourself out along the way.

What’s more likely is that your Doer Energy reserves are depleted by the pace of modern life. In that case, you probably won’t manage to achieve your goal. You’ll stop running, quit eating healthy, skip your training sessions, forget to floss, or give up your morning meditations.

And that’s the second big mistake: letting your mind make absolute commitments.

As soon as you slip, even a little, your mind will jump to the conclusion that you’ve failed completely.

And the worst part is that it’ll come up with all sorts of justifications to support that conclusion.

Those are the two reasons the vast majority of New Year’s resolutions never see the summer and the reasons most diets are abandoned before they could even give results.

So, now that we understand what’s going on, the question is how can we make commitments without falling into the absolutist trap? How do we train our minds to avoid it?

How to Train Your Mind to Win

There’s nothing wrong with being 100% committed to your goal. In fact, you need to be if you ever want to see results. And if you’re not, then you might as well just drop that goal and find something you can actually devote yourself to.

But the key is to be 100% committed without being absolute about it.

See, the thing about being 100% committed is it doesn’t mean doing it 100% of the time.

Even if your goal is to run every day.

And your mind needs to understand this.

We’re humans, not machines.

You’re not perfect. No one is. You know that on some level, but your mind might need to be clued in.

When you’re setting goals and making commitments, help your mind understand that it can’t expect things to work in absolute terms. You can do this by planning beforehand how to handle those situations and what meaning to assign to them when you fail to live up to your goal. In other words, anticipating and preparing your mind for the “failures.”

You can’t afford to bypass this step.

Because, sooner or later, something unexpected will happen.

The False Illusion of Breaking

Perhaps you get sick and can’t go running. Maybe you went to a family reunion and gorged on all the fattening comfort foods your aunts made. Or it could be that you had a hectic, non-stop day and couldn’t find any time to dedicate to your personal project. Or you might have pulled a muscle and had to cancel your training session. Perhaps you slept in and couldn’t meditate without being late for work.

It could be anything; the reason doesn’t matter.

It’s not important that you failed to live up to your commitment on that day.

The important thing is that you don’t allow your mind to classify it as a failure or as a defeat.

And above all, you can’t allow this momentary setback to lower your level of commitment.

And you definitely can’t allow it to bring your quest for your goal to a complete stop.

When you hit those temporary setbacks, there’s only one good option open to you.

Acceptance.

That’s it.

You need to acknowledge the setback and get back to it the next day.

Use it as an opportunity to bring love and self-compassion to your human–not machine–nature.

If you can bypass your mind’s default, absolutist wiring, you’re setting yourself up to win because you’re going to come back to your task with renewed strength and a completely refreshed commitment—maybe even a stronger one.

You have to tell it that you’re going to fully commit yourself to running every day because it’s important to you, because you want to get in shape, feel good about yourself, feel the power of your leg muscles, and see how far you can push your body. And that you aspire to do it consistently, every single day.

But that if something external and unexpected stops you from doing it one day, that’s totally okay, because you’ve already planned ahead for those unexpected things. The only thing for you to do is to get back to it the next day with even more excitement and determination than before. Getting out and hitting the pavement on 80% of your days is what success looks like.

Think about that last line for a moment.

What’s better, a person who hits the gym for 5 days in a row, fails on the 6th, and then loses the motivation and quits?

Or a person who hits the gym for 4 days in a row, fails on the 5th, but pushes through and keeps going the next week for another 5 days, and then never completely stops?

The answer is obvious.

When someone commits themselves 100% to a goal, it really implies doing it no matter what happens. Even if “what happens” is them failing to work toward it for one day.

Because being committed means continuing to do it.

No matter what happens.

Remember: you’re not looking for absolute perfection; you’re looking for consistency.

Eventually, you’ll have fewer and fewer of those grey days. You’ll be far better at dealing with unexpected events because you’ll have integrated your goal into your daily routine. You will have made it a habit, not something that requires focused willpower to carry out. Not something, in other words, that you have to force yourself to do.

But you can only get there if you start by planning for failure from day one.

Now What?

I know that it’s a lot of information to digest and that it’s hard to bypass your mind’s default wiring. So it’s likely that the next time you set a goal for yourself, you won’t remember to plan for failure.

That’s why I want you to do two things:

First, think of those goals that were meaningful to you but that you dropped before you could reach them. Try to figure out why that happened. No, not the reason or the excuse you told yourself at the time (“I moved and I was so busy I lost my groove with training”). Think of the real reason. Was it because you didn’t plan? Because you made your willpower do all the heavy lifting? Was it because you needed some sort of system around that goal to make it work?

There’s nothing I would like more than for you to put into practice everything I shared with you in this article.

And that’s why the second thing I want you to do is use the practical step-by-step script I prepared for you. You can use it the next time you lay out a goal you want to commit to or apply it to a goal you’re already trying to achieve.

This step-by-step script is a simple and direct way to put the insights of this article into practice. It will help you plan for failure in a way that will guarantee success.

Get your copy of my practical step-by-step script here

Let me know what you think about this mental rewiring strategy and what kind of results you have from following my guide.

Don’t forget: download my practical step-by-step script and learn how to commit to your goals and habits consistently.

Written by:

Victor Espigares

Bestselling author, startup founder, multi-passionate entrepreneur, contemporary dancer, and dad in progress. I help passionate makers and entrepreneurs thrive and grow to enjoy a Remarkable Life.

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