You know that feeling you get in the evening when you come home, pleasantly tired or surprisingly energized, and sit down on your couch with a glass of wine or a beer?
You look back at your day—it seems super eventful. And your life seems, well, relevant.
These are the days I live for. It’s when my blood flows with a particular sense of direction and my heart throbs “Pur-pose. Pur-pose.”
And it’s at the end of these days that I fall asleep with a huge smile on my face. And, if for some reason the adrenaline from the day is way too high and the zzz’s just seem to escape me, I lay there in peace, grinning in the dark.
“Man, being productive just plain sucks. I can’t stop myself. I wish I could be stuck just a little longer,” said no one ever.
I have yet to meet a person who doesn’t like feeling that they are being productive and making progress towards a meaningful goal.
Yet, far too often that feeling of productivity can be so elusive. It’s not that it’s a common human trait to lack ambition—not at all. Most of us start a project/goal/partnership with great enthusiasm and passion.
And then … stagnation sets in.
Take for example the MOOCs (massive open online courses). According to the latest statistics, “as few as 20 percent of students finishing an online course is considered a wild success and 10 percent and lower is standard.”
So if only 10 percent of people can feel like standard achievers, what about the rest of the 90 percent?
It’s likely that they’ve met progression’s greatest archenemy—resistance.
That’s the point when doubt and fear take over.
Am I ready for this?
Am I good enough?
What if (insert worse-case scenario here)?
What would people think of me if I fail—or, worse yet, succeed?
Now, before you roll your eyes at that last one, consider for a second that fear of success and the possible consequences most of us are conditioned to associate with it are some of the most solid building blocks for resistance.
Believe it or not, fear of success can be scarier than the fear of hitting rock bottom (and the judgment we may have to face—be it by ourself or others).
As the wise Jonathan Fields said:
“When you arrive at the bottom, fear of judgment has nothing to grasp on to.”
Our reasons for often stopping halfway through our journey may vary, but the general rule is that these excuses are potent goal- and progress-busters.
So how do you go from being stuck in the standard 90 percent to taking a leap into the enviable 10 percent?
Here are 3 things you can do to alleviate the pain and move forward:
1. Feed your brain bite-sized “action candy.”
Research suggests that pushing yourself to try harder isn’t sufficient to achieve a goal. Did you know that willpower is an exhaustible source?
Before starting a new project, the brain visualizes the challenges to come and instead of driving us to do the grunt work and forge ahead, it tries to simulate “real work” by focusing on small, mindless tasks, such as checking our phone/email, going on Facebook, reaching for snacks. This is also known as The Zeigarnik Effect—a pretty crafty way that the ego uses to keep us stuck.
Instead, scientists suggest to just get started—then, feed your brain bite-sized steps that require immediate and almost mindless action.
For Example: Instead of trying to “eat healthy” (a task that implies heavy mental work like researching recipes, portion control, figuring out what to eat every time you go out, counting calories and so on), aim to start by eating three servings of fruit and vegetables a day. You will make progress toward your goal to eat healthy, but taking action will be a no-brainer —reaching for the bag of baby carrots instead of the potato chips in the afternoon or swapping the mashed potatoes for broccoli with your steak at dinner (no offense, potatoes!)
And if work is what you are trying to avoid, you can “bite-size” the timing of your activities by implementing intervals and minimizing resistance. In his renowned 1993 study of young violinists, performance researcher Anders Ericsson found that the best players practiced in the morning, dividing their sessions in three increments of no more than 90 minutes each with a break in between. The same pattern was common among other musicians, writers, athletes and even chess players.
2. Change the Source of Your Motivation.
“People seem to be motivated by one of two forces. Either toward or against…both can be equally powerful motivators, but one seems to last.”
Richard goes on to explain,
“I’ve found that the people moving toward the new opportunity are more successful, happier, and continue on an upward career path. These people are energized by the future, by what’s to come, by what’s possible … Contrast that with the people moving away from a job. It seems that the very same things that they didn’t like about the one job magically seemed to follow them to the next!”
So learn to set “forward goals” where focus is on the desired outcome ahead as opposed to “escape goals” where the focus is on the not-wants you are so desperately trying to avoid.
3. Nurture an Ongoing Feeling of Contentment.
Don’t just wait to get happy at the end of your journey, when you have finally achieved your goal. Nurture that feeling by spending your resources wisely and enjoying the small victories along the way. Making progress should be fun.
Again, according to some very smart social researchers who conducted a study on money and happiness, it’s not so much the amount of money that makes us happy, but how we spend it. So if we apply the same concept to achieving a goal—the degree of our contentment isn’t so much about how many resources we have (time, energy, knowledge, passion, help) to achieve a goal, rather, it’s more about how we spend those resources that makes us happy in the process.
Having one free hour in the morning before you go to work won’t make you happy, but using 30 minutes to work out and 30 minutes to enjoy a healthy breakfast will; really wanting to start a business won’t make you happy, but setting up a meeting with a mentor to discuss your big business idea will; knowing how to write a book won’t make you happy, but sitting down and drafting an outline will.
And finally, recognize that productivity in any area, whether professional or personal, is a process. Have compassion for yourself and celebrate your willingness to move forward.
Tonka Dobreva is the lead writer and content curator for Cojourneo—a virtual social platform supporting conscious leaders, entrepreneurs and personal growth seekers. Digging out inspirational, quirky findings (preferably with a dash of science) makes her super happy. OK, maybe not as happy as putting ectopic heartbeat into words.
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Ed. T. Lemieux/Kate Bartolotta