Five frogs are sitting on a log. Four decide to jump off. How many are left? Five, because deciding is different than doing.
It’s easy to decide we’re going to do something. It’s even easy to say we’re going to do it and really believe we’re committed. We can decide to start eating better—until we get a whiff of pizza at lunch. We can decide to work out daily—only to postpone a trip to the gym when other commitments get in the way. We can say we’re going to start saving money—only to “invest” in the latest iPhone rather than a savings account.
It’s easy to decide all those things. It’s easy to say all those things. It’s easy to really, truly, seriously, for realz mean it. But committing, really following through, really doing what we say we’re going to do is often not nearly as easy.
Here are five tried and true tips for reaching your goals.
Tell someone. The fancy term is having an accountability partner. Just as it’s harder to skip the gym if you’re meeting a workout buddy there, if someone knows you’ve committed to a goal—and checks in with you on a regular basis about it—you’re less likely to find an excuse to slack off. Note: Your accountability partner should probably not be your mother.
Keep track. Whether it’s an app to help you track workouts, an excel spreadsheet to track your savings goals, or a hand-written chart showing how many pages you have to study to get through all the material before finals, having a chart is a visible way to see your progress. Because it’s right there in front of you, it can be a not-so-gentle nudge to get studying—and a great reminder of all you’ve done so far.
Ask for help. We all have our strengths and not-so-strengths. For example, some of us are hilarious while others of us can kick a football directly through the uprights in snow and rain and heat and gloom of night flickering lights (extra points if you get the reference). If you need help memorizing French verbs, find someone who can help with that in exchange for learning computer programming (trade), money (tutoring), or an introduction to that girl down the hall (matchmaking).
Set small deadlines. If you have to memorize War and Peace before next Monday, set small goals and deadlines to get the work done. Don’t try to learn the entire thing at once. Determine how much you have to learn (a lot), how much time you have to learn it (not much), and what other obligations may take up time (eating, sleeping, going to class). Then allocate the workload: 10 pages before dinner, 15 pages by 8pm, 12 more pages by 11pm, review all before bed. By reaching your small deadlines you can be sure you’re on track to get all the work done. (When you are in the workforce you’ll do the same thing and call it Project Management.)
Reward yourself. Figure out what will motivate you and use it as a reward for doing something that is difficult. Did you go for a workout when you really, Really, REALLY didn’t want to go? Treat yourself to a new mascara or a new song for your iPod. Did you outline 10 pages of history when you would rather have poked your eyes out? Take an hour and go for a run. Did you memorize 22 formulas for chemistry? Hmmm, that deserves a big reward…call your mother (could there possibly be a better reward?)!
Most importantly, don’t give up. Remind yourself how important your goal is and keep working toward it. You CAN do it.
An inscription on the James Farley Post Office in New York City reads:
Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.
This is not the creed of the USPS as they don’t have one. It is a translation (by Professor George Herbert Palmer of Harvard University) of Herodotus (a Greek dude known for being the correct answer to difficult questions) describing the Persian system of mounted postal carriers ca. 500 B.C.E.
ca. is the abbreviation for circa which is Latin for “about” or “approximately.”
BCE stands for Before the Common Era, which means counting backwards from what we generally refer to as Year 0. One has to wonder how people back then knew to count backwards. Do you think they worried about getting to Year 0 they way we worried about Y2K? Oh, wait. You were a baby then and didn’t care.
But you probably knew all that.