Do you find yourself daydreaming about traveling to Africa for a safari, Paris to visit the Eiffel Tower or to the Peruvian Andes to visit the ruins of Machu Picchu? Or how about leaving your day job to pursue an entrepreneurial venture working from home? Perhaps you’ve always wanted to pursue writing as a new career, but have never gotten started.
What’s holding you back?
Your “why” isn’t big enough to move you to take action.
“…if you can create a big enough why, your brain will figure out the how.” Tony Robbins
The simple fact is that if you have dreams and goals you haven’t taken action on, your reasons for doing so just aren’t motivating enough to compel you to do so.
There are two things you must do if you want to overcome the initial resistance we all feel when trying to move ourselves in a new direction. You must get clear on what you want first. Then you need to create some big, bold “whys” to get out of your rut.
“Act boldly and unseen forces will come to your aid…” Dorothea Brande
If you’ve ever driven in a bad rut, you know that to get out of it, you have to turn the wheel hard to get out. This is a great metaphor for how hard change can be. You have to take bold action, based on clarity of purpose, with some compelling why, to get out of the ruts in your life.
Define your what:
What are the changes you want to make in your life? A change in your diet to live healthier, a change in your career to be able to earn money working from home, or stepping out of your comfort zone to travel more and see the world. Whatever it is, you need to define it clearly so that you can measure progress. If we have no yardstick to measure progress, we can’t tell whether we’re making progress, or even moving in the right direction for that matter.
Write a paragraph “why”:
After you’ve defined your what, sit down and write your paragraph “why.” This must be compelling and personal. There are two motivating factors in all of life. The drive to gain pleasure and to avoid pain. Of the two, fear of loss is a more powerful motivator than the drive to gain pleasure. What will you lose if you don’t change. What will it cost you in time, health, unhappiness?
Make your plan and start taking action immediately:
This step is perhaps the most important. Now, you know what you want and you’ve created some compelling, motivating reasons why you must make a change in your life. It’s time to plan a course of action and start today with some small action you can take to get the ball rolling.
There are two mental laws you need to be aware of. The first law is called the law of speed of implementation (which I learned about here, big thanks to Stefan Pylarinos) which states that the sooner you take action (swift, bold, outrageous action is better) the greater the likelihood you will achieve your end. The reason for this can be found in the second law, called the law of diminishing intent. This law states that if you don’t act immediately on an idea, the intent to do so diminishes over time.
Have you ever been inspired to start exercising regularly, reading more or to start a new routine in your life? You thought about how great it would be. You might have even done a little planning, but you didn’t take action right away. Life and circumstance happen and the next thing you know, it’s lost. Months later, your talking with someone and BAM, the idea comes back in a rush.
Peter Gollwitzer  did a series of studies looking at the strength of intention in goal attainment. His studies showed that when a person developed an if__then plan, they were significantly more likely to achieve their goals. If your goal is to start eating healthier, your plan might include things like “if I slip and and eat McDonalds for lunch, then I will make sure to eat a salad with water for dinner. The development of this plan led to what Dr. Gollwitzer called implementation intentions. These two disciplines allow you to overcome the most significant reasons why people fail to achieve their goals. These two factors are
- Failing to get started- not taking action to get things rolling
- Getting derailed- getting off the path or stopping the process
The last thing you have to do, is to commit to someone else that you will make this change. Committing to others helps to provide additional pressure to follow through and push through the adversity we all face when making changes.
Remember, clarity is power. When you get really clear on your what, you can focus the power of your intention on it. Taking a trip is such a great analogy for this. A goal is a destination for where you want to be in some area of your life in the future. If you are not clear on what you want, how can you know if you’re making progress, or if you’ve arrived at your destination.
A powerful, personal why is the best catalyst for moving your life in a new direction. Life altering change can be difficult, so you’ve got to know why you’re doing it. Don’t skimp here. Make your why personal and compelling, and remember, avoiding pain is a bigger motivator than gaining comfort/pleasure.
Develop a plan but be ready to make changes along the way. The path to achieving your dreams often takes detours and side roads. Be ready to adapt and adjust. This doesn’t mean the goal changes, just the path along the way there. This can sometimes be difficult because we attach our identity to the path we lay out. If it doesn’t go exactly as we plan, we think of this as failure. Instead, take the new information and use it to improve the plan to reach your goals.
Make sure you take some small action immediately. This has been shown in several research studies to be one of the most critical parts of goal attainment. Taking action, even wrong action, gives us feedback to be able to improve our aim. In addition, once you begin taking action, things develop their own inertia and it get easier as you go.
Finally, commit to someone else what your goals are. This creates pressure and accountability, so that you keep going when you face the inevitable challenge you will face on the way to achieving your goals.
And our “secret sauce” recipe for goal attainment:
- 1-2 sentence clarity of “What”
- 1 paragraph compelling “Why”
- 1 paragraph “implementation intention“
- 20 days of focused deliberate action
Mix all of these together in a bowl and bake in the furnace of adversity and, Voila!
1. Gollwitzer, P. M., & Sheeran, P. (2006). Implementation intentions and goal achievement: A meta-analysis of effects and processes. Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, 38, 69-119).