Have you ever met a type A person?
You can spot them like a fly on a pie. They stand out. They feel so different from the rest of us—they might as well be part of an alien race.
Every social circle seems to have at least one. They’re a highly competitive, achievement-seeking, go-getting, perfect-multitasking bunch who work hard and succeed by the sweat of their brow. They’re the natural leaders who excel at efficiency and get three-fourths of their to-dos done before you’ve even had your morning coffee.
And that’s me. Well, sort of. Actually, that’s the me I try to be.
At night, I set my alarm for my 5 a.m. morning run, prep my post-workout smoothie, write my extensive to-do list for the next day (prioritized in order of importance, of course), and move the chicken from freezer to fridge for tomorrow’s dinner.
With everything in place, I go to bed ready to have an awesome new day.
And then the alarm clock rings.
Snooze. Snooze. Snooze, snooze, snooze!
“Yeah…maybe tomorrow’s a better day to run.”
Because I work from home, I eventually waltz on over to my home office and get to work. But the day doesn’t prove to be as productive as I’d hoped. I try to tackle my most important tasks, and yet I always somehow manage to check my email instead. And I still can’t recall how I started watching the initial cat video that led to 10 other ones.
Not accomplishing much but still busy all day, I’m eventually ready to close for the night.
Then, as I think about dinner possibilities with the chicken I defrosted the night before, I find myself plopping in front of the TV…and binge-watching “The Walking Dead” on Netflix. For the next four hours. While eating takeout.
Can anyone relate?
The inner me has a type A personality profile that tries to achieve the bigger things in life. But the things that are genuinely worth it require hard work to complete, and it’s not always easy for me to push myself to do what I don’t want to.
So, I’m more of a “lazy type A.” I try, and I fail. And a lot of times, my days fall short of what I envision.
But I keep pursuing my ultimate goals, and I don’t give up. And neither should you.
Because, although some days aren’t successful, others are. And the only surefire way of missing out on our dreams and living a life we love is to call it quits.
So, what’s my secret to staying motivated day after day, even when I’m constantly falling short? And, more importantly, how can you do the same?
1. Put on blinders.
It’s not hard to feel inadequate when looking at someone who’s achieved great things or seems like they have it all together.
Unfortunately, we’re usually not making a fair comparison; a lot of times, we’re comparing our lives to someone else’s highlight reel.
That’s one of the reasons I’m not a fan of social media. Have you ever absentmindedly gone on Facebook to pass the time or unwind?
You feel dandy when you begin, but as you start scrolling through, everyone seems to be posting amazing travel pictures or talking about their wonderful life. They go on and on about how their thoughtful spouse did this or that.
Or, they post pictures of themselves lounging at the beach at 10 a.m. on a Tuesday, while you’re stuck slaving away under fluorescent lighting.
The list of things showing up on your feed that can depress you and bring up your insecurities are endless. Somehow, these Facebook posts convince us that everyone has it better than us.
But we’re not seeing that person’s day-to-day, what’s happening behind the scenes.
We don’t know they were able to afford their international vacation because they took on a second job or worked 80-hour weeks to save for it.
And the ones who talk every day about how amazing their spouse is? Who knows what really happens behind closed doors? Maybe they have a great relationship, maybe they don’t. If they do, and they feel the need to brag about it daily, doesn’t that say more about them than you?
The truth is, all we have when we look at those posts are snapshots of the high points in someone’s life.
When we stack ourselves up against other people, we’re not doing ourselves any favors. Instead of focusing on what others are doing or have done, we need to focus on our progress and individual journey.
Someone once said, “Comparison creates doubt, doubt is fuel for fear, and fear stands in the way of everything you want.”
Putting blinders on to what everyone else is doing keeps us grounded. It also maintains our motivation and doesn’t fuel the fear that paralyzes us to take action.
2. Dream big and keep going.
When we’ve had multiple failures, the tendency is to shrink back from our goals and strive only for the things within our grasp. We go for what we know we can handle and the things that are easy to tackle, instead of going after the ones that will create a life we love.
In other words, we settle.
If we have a to-do list, we might notice ourselves crossing off not the kind of things that move the needle, but the things that are quick to do and make us feel good, like we’re getting things done.
But all we’re doing is keeping ourselves on the hamster wheel we want to get out of so desperately.
There’s a quote by Sumner Redstone that says, “Success is not built on success. It’s built on failure. It’s built on frustration. Sometimes it’s built on catastrophe.”
It can be discouraging, even depressing, when you try and set a goal for yourself, only to not reach it time and time again.
In place of downsizing our goals, we need to shift our paradigm. We need to “set a goal so big [we] can’t achieve it until [we] grow into the person who can” (source of quote unknown).
This entails patience with ourselves as we build character and learn from our mistakes. It’s a frustrating process that can feel like we’re not making progress, and that we aren’t getting any better.
But that’s not reality.
The reality is we’re laying the foundation to develop the skills and tools we need to become the person we want to be, the one that’s able to accomplish those big goals we set for ourselves.
3. Understand willpower.
We often feel like willpower is an innate ability to just do something despite having no desire to do so. But Charles Duhigg explains in his book, The Power of Habit, that willpower is a limited resource that gets drained throughout the day. It’s also like a muscle, in that the more we push ourselves to do the things we know are good for us but don’t feel like doing, the stronger that muscle gets.
Often, we think the people we admire for their willpower ability are able to easily override what they actually want to do with what they should do. We feel like they’re able to just do the unpleasant things in life, while we get stuck and let our lazy alter ego take over.
But these people not only develop their willpower muscle over time, they actually don’t use it as much as we think.
They know instinctively not to constantly rely on willpower alone. Instead, they set themselves up for success first, and then develop a habit. The beauty of habits is that once they are in place, we no longer have to fight with the voice in their head.
Habits make the brain go on autopilot. Without thinking about it, we follow our pre-set program.
It’s like when you’re driving on the highway and pass the grocery store exit because you’re so used to driving to work instead.
If we want to start a habit of running after we arrive home from work, for instance, we can set out our work clothes the day before and leave our shoes by the door. We know we may be hungry, so the night before we think about what we can eat as a quick bite. We mentally rehearse what we’re going to do from the moment we open our house door to the moment we close it again for our run.
First, we’ve decreased our inner resistance by leaving everything ready. Eventually, as we run day after day, our running shoes by the door become a visual cue to start the exercise program. At that point, we no longer have to battle with ourselves if we want to run or not. Our brains take over and do it automatically. Before we know it, we’re already outside
So, successful people rely less on willpower and more on habits.
4. Take credit for small wins.
Taking credit for the small wins along the way is maybe the most crucial step of all. Sometimes we’re so focused on our future goal we forget to be grateful for our achievements along the way.
Recognizing our daily wins is a celebration of the tiny steps we took in the right direction. On their own, they seem insignificant, but they are the key to our progress.
If your goal is to make a full-time living from freelancing, celebrating a win could be reaching out to a new potential client, or even just creating a list of prospects to contact for tomorrow.
If you want to lose weight, taking that first step and researching what diets might work best for you could be your small win.
If you want to wake up at 5 a.m., your small win could be choosing to wake up at your regular time, but not hitting the snooze button.
It’s easy to gloss over these wins while we strive to complete our goals and dreams, but doing so would be a critical mistake. Taking credit for small victories by writing them down gives us enough of a boost to keep our motivation strong while we are living in the gap between where we are now and what we want to achieve.
I may not do things the fastest, and I’m not always the most efficient. I make mistakes and commit blunders. I don’t always get around to crossing off my most important tasks, and I’m easily distracted.
But I don’t have my eyes set on today; I have them set on the future I know I can achieve. Like Rocky Balboa, I’m convinced that as long as I keep putting one foot in front of the other, even if it’s just the smallest step, I’ll continue making progress. And progress will make me a winner in the end.
And it’ll do the same for you.