One day I realized I needed to start tricking myself into achieving my goals.
Maybe it was that I turned twenty-seven, inching ever nearer to the big 3-0. Maybe it was because I slept through the night for the first time in three-quarters of a year, and my brain was finally firing on all cylinders. Maybe it was months of nursing a newborn, and letting my brain process–whatever it was, I started taking a good hard look at who I thought I was, what I wanted to accomplish, and why I wasn’t accomplishing it yet.
I’ve been carrying around dreams for years. Dreams of blogging, creating, freelancing, running, and homemaking. For half of a decade I have walked around thinking about these dreams, mulling them over, reading about them, but not actually doing them. Every season was demanding–first I was in college maintaining my GPA, then I was a newlywed working two jobs, then I was pregnant–and a high-risk pregnancy at that, and finally I was a new mom, trying to figure out how to make time for a shower. When I finally came up for air this summer, I realized that I needed to make a choice: either take steps to make these dreams a reality (even if that meant doing things imperfectly, and/or failing), OR let go of those dreams. It was time to walk the walk or stop talking the talk.
I started reading productivity books. I read Jon Acuff’s book Finish: Give Yourself the Gift of Done where he said that while perfectionists are often seen as doers, that actually they are often not very high achievers, because they are afraid of doing something imperfectly.
Developing tolerance for imperfection is the key factor in turning chronic starters into consistent finishers.”
Then I read Rachel Hollis’s book Girl Wash Your Face, and while I didn’t agree with everything in her book, the one thing that hit me straight between the eyes was her writing that you need to keep your promises to yourself. She said that if you had a friend who was always promising to meet you for coffee, but always flaking out at the last minute, then you would stop trusting your friend. In the same way, if you are always telling yourself you are going to do something (lose five pounds, run a half-marathon, start a blog, write a book), but you never follow through then eventually you, too, will stop trusting or believing yourself. She said you need to always keep promises to yourself. I had never thought about it that way.
When you really want something, you will find a way. When you don’t really want something, you’ll find an excuse.”
I, also, began watching myself–what made me do the things that I do. Why was I able to so effortlessly accomplish some tasks, but put others off for days, weeks or months? How could I trick myself into being more productive?
I learned a few things about myself along the way:
1. I am motivated by rewards. Jon Acuff wrote that people are either reward-driven or fear-driven. Some people are motivated to run so that they can eat the donut afterwards, while other people run because they know heart disease runs in their family. Acuff wrote that we need to discover what motivates us. I realized that I do the things that I am motivated to do. Sounds so simple, right?
2. I started practicing keeping promises to myself. I told a friend I was going to lose ten pounds by my birthday–I actually lost five, but according to Acuff we all need to cut our goals in half anyways. I started going on runs instead of just always saying I needed to go on runs. I started only writing down things on my to-do list after I had given them some deep thought, and committed to actually doing them. I wasn’t perfect, of course, I still said I was going to do some things and ended up not following through, but my success rate was a thousand times higher than it used to be.
3. I started building in things to look forward to. When I up my mileage–I buy myself a coffee afterwards. The first day I ran four miles I walked straight into that coffee shop, soaked in sweat, and bought a small iced coffee. I was tempted to not do it, but then I realized that keeping promises to myself goes both ways, I had told myself I’d buy a coffee if I ran four miles, I thought about that coffee every step of the way, and afterwards I followed through.
4. I started using mantras and affirmations. I have always scoffed at mantras and affirmations–they just seemed a bit too woo-woo to me, but then I listened to the Boss Mom podcast, and she said something that changed my entire outlook–she said that if we are talking negatively to ourselves (“you can’t do this, you are not a runner, you are terrible at this…etc…”) that we are already using mantras. She said we will think affirmations one way or the other, we just get to choose whether they are positive or not. Ever since then, I have been carefully monitoring my thought life, and I feel so powerful knowing that I can choose what I dwell on. When I run, and a negative thought pops up: “you are weak, you can’t make it five miles, you might as well stop now, your knee hurts, you haven’t trained enough, just give up” I banish those thoughts, and I will speak outloud: “I am strong. I am powerful. I am ready. I am going to demolish these five miles.” And I do. The point isn’t to lie to yourself (I wouldn’t be able to run twenty-six miles just by saying I could), but to affirm what you know to be true.