How I Finally Quit Procrastinating & Started Reaching my Life Goals.
I’ve always struggled with following through on big goals.
As a daydreamer with a deficit of executive functioning skills, I tend to aim high, only to putter out a few days or weeks later. I’m going to write a book! Launch a business! Eat five fruits and vegetables every damned day!
When I’m making these vows, I genuinely believe I can accomplish them. No matter what time of year it is, I feel that crisp New Year’s excitement, the heady high of knowing I’m about to launch.
But then reality sets in. After a few days or weeks of trying to keep up with my new goals, I hit a roadblock, and it’s not easy anymore. My enthusiasm wanes, and I decide I actually can’t meet these lofty goals.
In a fog of defeat and shame, I return to my status quo, until the next time I’m inspired to start the cycle in motion again.
Until this year.
Last December, I got tired. Tired of not reaching my goals. Tired of how I kept putting off the things that I claimed were important to me—like writing the book that had been living in my mind for over 15 years. Tired of making excuses, and tired of reaching the end of another year but being no closer to reaching important goals.
I remembered something that worked for me pre-motherhood when I was resisting getting things done, a routine that helped me feel both challenged and accomplished. Each week, I’d meet with a small group of friends for about an hour, and we’d take turns reading off our goals for the coming week. As a way of holding each other accountable, the rest of us would write each person’s weekly promises down, too. The following week, we’d report in on how we did with each item on our list, troubleshoot any goals we were struggling with, and make new lists for the coming week.
So just before the holidays last year, I reached out to one of the friends I used to meet with and asked her if she’d be willing to be my accountability buddy. She said yes.
Since then, my friend and I talk on the phone each week, reading off our promises for the week ahead. My goals often sound modest—like writing 2,500 words a week—only about five typed pages. But when you add them up in a month, that’s over 10,000 words. In a year, it’s 130,000 words—well more than the length of the average novel or memoir.
It’s been just over nine months since I’ve been making these weekly micro-goals with my friend. That book I’ve been meaning to write for 15 years? My first draft is almost finished. I’ve been exercising more. And I finally went to the dentist after years of procrastination.
Granted, I’ve had weeks when I didn’t hit my goals. One of my kids gets a tummy bug, work gets extra busy—life interferes. But more often than not, I keep my promises. Having a measurable goal—like writing 2,500 words or walking 15 miles in a week—focuses me. And even when life gets extra hectic, I’ll often still hit my goal.
Why does having an accountability buddy work so well?
Partly because I’m a people pleaser. If I promise myself I’ll get something done, I may or may not do it—either way, no one knows except for me. But if I promise someone else that I’ll do something? That people-pleasing tendency comes in handy. If I’m on the fence about keeping my promise, I remind myself that I told my friend I’d get to a yoga class, or floss three times this week, or get those 2,500 words typed. Also, because I keep my weekly goals bite-sized and manageable, they’re easier to attain.
For those who struggle to make the time to focus on what’s most important to us, whether it’s finally writing that book that’s been sailing around in our mind for years, improving our financial situation, or making time for exercise or meditation, I highly recommend finding an accountability buddy.
Here are five tips for making the most out of the process:
Find a trustworthy friend or acquaintance. My accountability buddy happens to be a lovely human being who isn’t afraid to gently ask me questions if she notices I’m neglecting areas that she knows are a priority for me. It’s important to find someone who is kind yet also committed to reaching their own goals and helping you meet yours.
Make goals that are measurable and attainable. It can take some tweaking to find your personal sweet spot with your regular goals—something that challenges you, but that is also reachable. For instance, over the summer, I started promising that I’d walk 15 miles a week. That sounds like a lot of miles, but when I broke it down into about 2.5 miles, six days a week, it felt doable.
Remember that steady progress adds up. For those of us with a tendency to proclaim large intentions only to quickly peter out, breaking these goals down into small, regular chunks can feel counterintuitive at first. But those baby steps, taken regularly over time, turn into miles.
Consider including self-care in your goals. My promises aren’t always about getting things done—they’re often about nurturing myself, too. For example, yoga is an important self-care tool for me, yet I often avoid going to a class in favor of getting other things done. But when I promise my friend that I’m going to go to at least one yoga class a week, it becomes a priority, and I do it.
Celebrate your success. It feels so good to have disrupted my longtime pattern of setting lofty, immeasurable goals, only to feel terrible when I hit a wall. Now, every few weeks, I remind myself that I’m actually finally writing that book I’ve been wanting to write—even if it’s unwieldy and imperfect—and a little shiver of delight skips down my spine. It’s the feeling of finally aligning my attention with my intention, and it feels amazing.