With a big couple of weeks of footy coming up I thought this might be a good time to talk about kicking goals and why it's so easy to get all those items ticked off the to-do list one day, while the next day we're flailing about getting nowhere. You know the feeling, some days you're bursting with energy and motivation, ticking actions of your list as you power through your day, the next day you're listless, bored and lacking the get up and go to go anywhere.
To achieve goals you have to engage in what psychologists call self-regulation. You have to regulate your behaviour in the face of the obstacles and challenges that life throws at you in order to push forward, keep going and avoid distractions. There are three key things that play a part in doing this:
1. Deal with competing goals
When you're a busy person juggling lots of different responsibilities - and aren't we all? - you are always going to be faced with competing goals. If you’re busy with work and parenting responsibilities, there’s little time left for jobs around the house. If you're tending to housework, kids and work need your attention. The challenge when it comes to ticking the important things off the to-do list is being aware of what your competing priorities are and making a clear decision about how you’re going to handle them.
If you've got a deadline looming at work and you know that there is a family function you need to prepare for and the kids have a dress up day at school you're much better positioned to decide how to prioritise your time and tasks if you've done a bit of planning. This is a great time to get the pen and paper out, make yourself a cuppa and invest a bit of time in working out the logistics of when and where you're going to get this stuff done.
2. Keep track of your progress
Known as monitoring in psychologist-speak, keeping track of what you’re doing and why makes a big difference when it comes to increasing your motivation and reducing the risk of your plans going wayward. Your ‘to do’ list is the king of monitoring devices. How good does it feel to see items scratched off your list at the end of a successful day?
Monitoring is also important when it comes to resisting the temptation to procrastinate. Research suggests that that we spend less and make fewer "impulse buys" when we record every purchase. In just the same way, you’re more likely to keep focused on your tasks if you keep a note of the key activities you undertake in a day and tick the important ones off as you go.
3. Give yourself a break
Psychologists have also learnt that self-regulation is a limited resource. You can only stay focused on a goal, avoiding distractions, for so long before you wear yourself out. This probably explains why a few days of goal gangbusting is followed by a slump. The good news is that self-regulation is rechargeable. A good night’s sleep will often do it and most of us feel better able to cope with any challenge (and to resist temptation) in the morning, when we've got more energy to give.
It’s important to give yourself a break – both literally and metaphorically. If you’re feeling tired and a little worn out, make sure you sleep and eat well. And if you have one of those days when you can’t find the motivation or focus to keep propelling yourself towards your goals, stop beating yourself up about it and give yourself a break. Take the rest of the day off and do something enjoyable or do one small goal related activity and then celebrate the progress you’ve made so far with a some fun stuff or a treat . You’ll recharge your batteries and be in better shape to get stuck back into those goals tomorrow.
Right, it's time for me to get out there and kick some goals. What are you going to get done today?