Category Archives: Motivation

Why I haven’t succeeded in reaching my goals (and maybe why you haven’t either)

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Why I haven’t succeeded in reaching my goals (and maybe why you haven’t either)

As a self-proclaimed improvement junkie, I have learned all the common productivity tips, SMART goals, and motivation hacks. Yet applying these techniques can take as much effort as working toward the goal itself. I often find myself getting caught up in the process and not actually achieving anything. Furthermore, if I had the motivation to honestly apply these techniques I probably wouldn’t need them in order to reach my goals, because I had the intrinsic motivation to stick to a technique as I would working toward a goal.

I am not entirely lazy. I have achieved many wonderful things in my life and am for the most part happy. There remains however some lingering goals that are permanently on my to-do list, as well as a sense of emptiness after all that I have done and become. During my latest episode of self-evaluation I have begun to realize why this may be the case.

I tend to group all of my goals into one single package – The Things I Want to Accomplish. I realized today that I must instead group my goals into different categories that must be treated differently. I will explain the three groups below and how they should be tackled.

 

Group 1: Goals that must become habit

This category includes all the lingering goals that are perpetually on my list: exercise, eat healthy, learn Italian… These are aspects of my life in which the goal is to make the activity a habit. There is nothing particularly measurable about these goals. Of course I could turn them into SMART goals: for instance squat 30 kilos by July, but once that milestone is reached I must create a new one in order to continue the activity in a measurable way. This is a perpetual state of walking a staircase with no top. To view these activities as goals is a mistake, as there is never any real sense of completion.

Instead of seeing these as large over-arching unreachable goals, I need to take these day by day by making small choices. I must be aware every day of the choices I make and whether they are in line with the habits I want to create. It starts with changing my thoughts – as the famous quote by Mahatma Ghandi:

“Your beliefs become your thoughts,
Your thoughts become your words, 
Your words become your actions, 
Your actions become your habits, 
Your habits become your values,
Your values become your destiny.”

Now it is only the chunk in the middle that I find relevant here, but I still use it as a motivating factor. Sitting on my bed and thinking I want to eat some ice cream instead of yogurt and actively trying to justify this action to myself will ultimately lead to the negative behavior. Making  a choice to actively justify eating healthily in those crucial moments will make the difference. It is only the small daily choices that will allow me to cross these “habit goals” from my list.

 

Group 2: Goals that allow me to live an interesting life

This is the group that I have always put the most focus on, and is the easiest for me to fulfill. These are the activities that are fun, unique, and interesting – usually known as “life experiences.” Examples include travelling, creating artwork, organizing events. These things make us feel great in the moment and have a sense of accomplishment when each activity is completed. It’s something we look forward to and usually enjoy planning.

Throughout my life I have put weight on these activities because the entire process is enjoyable and allows me to grow and develop throughout the challenges of completing them as well. An example I can take is planning a three-day workshop session with a co-trainer and two mentors. Through the ups and downs of the preparation and implementation I learned so much about myself, and felt an extreme sense of accomplishment and relief when it was finished. What I left with were skills and maturity that were invaluable and unlikely to gain in other situations. This is what life experience is for.

However there is something I have been noticing with these life experience goals. When the adventure is finished, it is behind you. It is a life lesson you have learned and have come out a different person, but it doesn’t necessarily take you anywhere. If you are lucky you gain some realizations about yourself that turn into motivating factors, but this isn’t always the case and it isn’t always directing. I have observed when coming home after a trip I had been looking forward to, the high from the trip lasts for a few days or weeks, but then I quickly begin to plan the next thing. I feel I am running on the wheel of collecting life experiences and I am not really going anywhere.

Because this kind of behavior is natural for me, I have to deal with this group with caution. I love to gather life experience and I want to continue in this way. However I need to be realistic in its effect on my future. This is something that will require more thought.

 

Group 3: Goals that open new doors

It was only today that I realized how these goals are distinct from the ones in Group 2. The goals in this group are the ones that have the ability to directly improve my future in a measurable way. Examples I can use from my life are when I opened my own photo retouching business and when I paid off my credit card. These are goals that must be worked toward, and the process isn’t always fun or exciting. However the result is the most significant as it provides an opportunity to live a better future. This morning a friend asked me, “What are your goals?” and I had to take a moment to think about it. I have plenty of life experience goals, and habit goals, but I realized I am lacking some “door opening goals.” It is partly due to my current situation, but I was able to identify that this is probably the emptiness I have been feeling.

Upon writing this I just realized that I do have one current goal that could fit into this category: obtaining my Italian citizenship. Once this has been achieved it will open new doors as to where I can live, work, and travel; it will as well be a symbolic statement of my commitment to my new family.

It is this category of goals that I believe require the most steadfast focus and dedication. Unlike the small every day choices of Group 1 and the fun easy planning of Group 2, goals in Group 3 necessitate hard, steady work and sacrifice but have a big payoff. It is here where I can apply the techniques I have learned through all my self-development reading and measure incremental success.

 

Do you believe I have left out a crucial category? Where do your goals fit into these groups and what methods do you believe are best to tackle them?

The Shame of Having Emotions

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In the past it has been hard for me to admit my flaws, which I think is a normal characteristic of many people. We try to present the best versions of ourselves as much as possible, and when a bad part sneaks out we try to camouflage it, deny it, or become embarrassed. Furthermore, I have believed (and I think I am not alone) that having a mental flaw or bad personality trait is worth covering up more than a physical flaw, which may be more obvious. It is hard to hide a broken leg when you have a cast and crutches or wheelchair, and even yet, it is not necessarily embarrassing to admit that you have a physical ailment that needs healing. But I find it to be quite rare to meet someone who openly states that they are taking antidepressants or seeing a therapist, as this implies they have some taboo flaw that must be suffered and treated in secret.

Emotional distress is not something that can easily be seen, and shouldn’t have to be a source of shame, just as you wouldn’t be ashamed to have the flu.

This is something I genuinely believe in, however I don’t practice non-shame based on social rules. I have to admit it is not comfortable to hear an acquaintance talk about an emotional problem that goes beyond what is expected—of course someone would feel grief if a parent dies, or nervousness to give a speech—what I am talking about is to openly admit a fear of failure or obsessive lust. Meeting someone who reveals these deep inner characteristics so leisurely invokes an awkward “TMI” moment and makes me think they don’t understand social boundaries and the “onion effect” of relationships.

Part of the reason I write on this blog is to help me overcome my flaws by giving them shape and form. The thoughts are forced into words and phrases which come out of my fingers and I can read them in front of me on my computer screen- yet I present them in a public forum so I must edit them based on what I am willing to reveal about my flaws. Part of social intelligence is understanding where those boundaries are. But I also want to push those boundaries and be able to let a little more of myself show, as I have considered one of my personality flaws in the past as not allowing people to see the deep parts of me. At least here on my blog, only people who are truly interested in my thoughts will read this, instead of it being plastered on my Facebook friends’ newsfeed or said out loud to someone who may not receive the information well.

 

I felt like I needed this disclaimer before writing what I really wanted to talk about.

 

I had my first panic attack about 7 years ago. It took me a little while to realize what was happening to me, and after some weeks I was able to go back to my normal life, and after several months of various treatment I was able to avoid having a panic attack altogether. Now, I am proud to say I have found a method of controlling my anxiety without cost, therapy, or medication.

My baseline of controlling any general feelings of anxiety is that I have completely eliminated caffeine from my diet. This means I do not drink coffee, tea, soda, or any kind of energy drink, including those that contain guarana. Additionally, I do not eat chocolate. Even small flakes of chocolate in some desserts have been taken off my list for the simple fact that part of my anxiety has developed into anxiousness over feeling anxious. Therefore the psychosomatic aspects of the disorder give me panic just by eating tiny amounts of chocolate that wouldn’t normally have the caffeine content to produce any effects had I not known I was consuming it.

You can imagine that completely eliminating caffeine has not been easy. Not only has the internal struggle of dealing with cravings been difficult, but the constant offerings from people around me reminds me what I don’t allow myself and often forces me to give an explanation as to why I’m refusing. I’ve also had to deal with uncomfortable refusals such as my husband’s grandmother making a special tiramisu just for me and I have to pretend I am not hungry. After almost daily practice, I’ve learned that the easiest way to refuse caffeine is by saying I’m allergic. It almost immediately gets people to stop offering things to me. Only with close friends or people I can sense would not judge me I will reveal that I’ve chosen to give up caffeine to avoid anxiety attacks. Even when occasionally someone will ask “what happens” when I take caffeine I simply say that I cannot breathe (which is true, when I’m having an attack) but I do not elude to any emotional disorder.

Why am I so ashamed to admit that I have an emotional problem that I treat, while covering it up as a physical problem? For some reason, an allergy that is not my fault is less shameful than a panic disorder that is not my fault. Even though I have it under control now, it is viewed by society as I have some kind of defect just because it cannot be seen with the eye or be explained by scientific research (maybe there is some research of nerves in the brain but I think if there was something conclusive there would be a known cure or definitive treatment). I have found my own treatment: eliminating caffeine along with breathing, controlling stress levels, and practice in erasing bad thoughts. I am more proud to say that while admitting I have a “defect” than sharing my cold remedy. And I cannot even remember the last time I had a panic attack….years ago for sure, although I still occasionally feel some panic feelings that I am normally able to efficiently suppress within seconds or minutes.

Although it is cliché, instead of feeling shame for this I have decided to feel proud; I have overcome a challenge and have been able to transfer those techniques into other areas of my life and become a more effective and strong person because of it. It worked for me, and might I suggest trying to gather the strength to eliminate something in your life that is doing more damage than comfort?

Daily Goals

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My husband often makes fun of me because I like to come up with a lot of new personal action goals that he thinks are just temporary whims. For instance I wanted to remove bad chemicals from my beauty supplies so I bought an extra pack of baking soda to wash my hair with. “Pff,” he said, “you will never do that.” Okay, that time maybe I didn’t. But it’s not like baking soda goes bad, we will use it! But actually, I have a reason for why I start these lifestyle-overhauls frequently. Its not about self-discovery or just being a silly kid with a new interest every week. It is because I always strive for improvement, and I know myself. I need some sort of harsh discipline at the beginning to get going. I have pretty good control over myself, but I cannot just say “be healthy” and viola. When I set strict rules in the beginning stages of a certain improvement, I become used to the feeling of doing or not doing a certain action, and then it becomes easier to continue it without the hard rules. For instance, I wrote a blog post earlier about my veggie-trials. I made a strict rule to not eat meat when I started to do that to see how it feels. Honestly, I became so obsessed with eating the right things that I felt it was unhealthy psychologically for me so I relaxed my rules a bit. However, I continue now with a reduced-meat diet that may not have happened had I not punished myself before.

So now, I will start a new one.

Today I had the idea to do a new small goal each day. I normally do this; I wake up and automatically go through all of the things I want to accomplish that day. Sometimes I even do this at the beginning of the week or month or season. But every day is different, and when I write things down, particularly here on this blog, it gets out of my head and I become more accountable to complete it. If I start to do this strict thing, and make writing my goal part of my morning routine, completing small daily goals can become a habit and I won’t have to write them down anymore.

It is true that each day is different, so each goal will vary in subject and intensity. For example, today I am trying really hard to recover from a cold. This is because Luca has given me a Thursday deadline to get better or I have to call the doctor. I really don’t want to go to the doctor, so I am taking these days to get rid of this cold once and for all. Therefore, my goal today is to drink three pitchers of water:

I think it something like 3 liters of water? Yesterday I drank two of them and I am feeling much better, so three today must be even better. Now the problem with this goal is that Luca also likes to drink from this pitcher, so if I am not monitoring it, it may be that Luca has drunk a cup that I thought I downed. So to be safe, I will drink three and a half. There. That is Tuesday’s goal. It is 7:30 and I don’t remember now how much I have already drunk…. well the first day can’t be perfect can it?

Making clothes (for real)

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I guess the title is a bit misleading. This isn’t a tutorial. I stumbled across these women a while ago who were making their own thread. I caught them in a the middle of the process but they showed me how to begin. They said that first they shave the animal or collect the plant that produces fibers and wash them. Then they put it on a brush to tangle it a bit I suppose.

Then they spin it on this contraption to make thread. Or you can twist it by hand. This is when a man on stilts came by to try:

After that you put the thread onto a loom and make fabric! The woman on the left in the first picture said she made the linen dress she was wearing, and I assume the shawl as well. I was really turned on to this idea of knowing exactly what goes into your clothes and creating something from scratch. No chemicals or exploitation. I asked how much a spinning wheel costs and she said “Not much, only like 3000 kronor.” Ummm… I don’t have that kind of money to invest right now. She also said they have a group where they meet and do this once a month. I was really intrigued but too many excuses have stopped me. Maybe in my future when I have a farm and more free time I can do this! Here is another picture of a stilt-walker:

Train my thoughts

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I cannot seem to get past “reward” in my search for motivation to do this paper. Somehow in the next hour or so I must train myself that I will get joy from learning all these great new things, and that I will have more joy to learn these things than to do something else with my time. Do I invest time and energy in trying to find the inherent joy in reading one thousand pages of conflict theory, or do I just settle on the “reward” of feeling smart and complete at the seminar? Do I waste time in making this decision or just do it? I have to figure that out soon, since I have 44.5 hours to complete this assignment if I abjure sleep and meals.