The 4 Step Follow Through Formula for Tough Goals and Resolutions

“Hey mom, I’ve got it all figured out this semester. I’ve got a system and will make sure I stick to all of the work.”

My mom was on the other end of the line, growing more and more impatient with my college exuberance.

“I’m excited for you, but you’ve said this a million times before and it never worked. What makes this time so different?”

Ouch.

I was a junior at UPenn, and my procrastination and desire to do everything fun under the sun left me too little time to be competitive with my fellow Ivy League overachievers.

I still got good grades – just never as good as they could have been had I just “applied myself.” This pattern repeated across everything I did.

That semester, I finally broke the pattern of procrastination (not for good – I had, and still have, a lot more work ahead) and got to see my mom beam over the Dean’s List notification letter.

I can thank my mom’s question for that result. I may have burst into tears after I hung up the phone that night, but it shook me into asking myself some vital questions that helped me stick to my plan and achieve my goals.

This is a very powerful exercise, and you absolutely need it if you’re trying to achieve a goal you’ve failed at in the past. Especially if it’s an emotional one, like working out, losing weight, or getting the results and recognition you crave.

It’s quick – but not comfortable. It will put you face to face with uncomfortable feelings and force you to take action. That’s also why it works so well!

1. Be damn sure you want to do it

In other words, to paraphrase a gajillion other life coaches and public speakers, start with the why.

Take a piece of paper and write your goal on top. Then answer the question Why do you want this?

And answer it again. Why do you want that? And why do you want that?

Fill the page. Explore every nook and cranny of your desires.

Eventually, you will arrive at one thing that makes you go Oh. That’s why. Wow.

(now imagine me saying that in Danielle LaPorte‘s voice)

Even if you don’t feel like a brick of light hit you over the head out of nowhere, you still have a powerful list of reasons that fuel your motivation. (feelings or not)

Now, sit with your desire. Does it fuel your motivation for achieving your goal?

If it does, then you’ll have this list whenever you need to pump yourself up again. You can also create an affirmation, word, or symbol to remind you of your #1 desire (the one that gives your heart a jolt of love and excitement) that will jumpstart your motivation when you need it.

If it doesn’t, then it may not be the right way to go about in order to get what you want. Keep searching for a plan and goal that feels right.

2. Get real about it

Now that you’re pumped, your inner critic is also stoked to break down your motivation. We need to put our rebel hats on!

List every fear, worry, and objection you have about reaching this goal. Everything from “I’m afraid my best friend will be jealous and it will ruin our relationship” or “I hate being sore” (#truth) to “It’ll never be good enough” or “I’m worried I’ll give up and never finish this just like so many other things.”

Make sure you also include the potential obstacles you see ahead. Envision yourself going through your plan repeatedly (even after the initial honeymoon motivation period ends) and see what may come up and keep you from finishing.

Now go through everything on your list. Some fears look much smaller on paper, while others pick you up by the shoulders and shake you awake.

The latter is what you need to pay attention to. What can you do to prevent, address, or minimize them? Write next to each big fear, obstacle, or concern how you will address it.

This not only puts your mind at ease and gives you a plan – it also shows your inner critic that these fears and concerns are not going to end your progress. You’re going all in, and you mean it this time.

It also teaches you to think about your fears as obstacles that can be tackled and dealt with. Even the most successful people face fear every day – they just don’t see it as something that would/could/will/should ever end their progress. So they don’t let them.

Sounds simple, right? (Ha! Right. *snort*)

3. Visualize success

After I hung up the phone with my mom, I burst into tears when the realization hit me:

I didn’t really think I could do this.

I had failed at following through with my plans so many times that I literally could not imagine myself taking it seriously enough to stick to it.

It’s not that I didn’t want the grades or the success – but I had created a story about myself and the way I approached work through my past actions and experiences that was much stronger than my motivation to succeed.

So I started imagining success. I saw myself receiving the Dean’s List letter. I saw myself writing exams with ease and walking out of them happy and light.

Then I saw myself following through. I saw myself doing the work and being motivated. I saw myself following through and I saw it getting easier as the inertia of accumulated hard work would take over.

Finally, I saw myself resisting my inner critic. I saw myself not feeling like it and sitting down and doing it anyway. I saw myself sitting with my fear, resistance, and discomfort until they faded away and all that was left was the work in front of me.

In my visions, I finally discovered another approach to work – one that’s respectful, loving, and that treats everything I do like it’s my most important work (sans perfectionism, of course).

By holding that vision repeatedly, seeing myself take that approach in my mind over and over again, I finally began having the courage to do it in real life as well. It wasn’t comfortable at first, but over time it started happening on its own.

So close your eyes for a minute, and see yourself achieving success, following through, and engaging in your plan with the right perspective.

4. Ease into it

Switching tasks (including your energy level, mindset, and focus) is hard.

Switching to an uncomfortable task (like working or exercising) from your fluffy warm bed and unicorn dreams, or the easy mindless scrolling through Facebook or Instagram, is hard as shit.

The hardest thing is getting started.

That’s why you need to ease into the transition.

Before working out I always get dressed and do some light stretching and fun dancing around. This helps me feel good about moving and being active – which is a great mindset to have for a tough workout!

When studying that semester, I always used to start by transcribing my class notes. Taking my ugly scribbles and turning them into beautiful pages of organized points and clear graphs made me feel as good as clearing physical clutter does, and engaging with the ideas helped me form lasting connections with the material.

Easing into hard activities also helps your mind start engaging with it before you actually need to “do” anything hard, and allows the inertia of having a quick initial win take over and fuel your drive.

By the time I was done stretching and dancing, I usually knew just which fitness DVD I would pop in. Mentally engaging with the ideas my professor had taught in class brought up questions and ideas I felt motivated to research and learn more about.

In order for this to work, your starting ritual needs to be easy, relatively mindless, and offer you a quick win. Bonus points if it’s fun, too!

To help you out, I’ve created a simple worksheet for you:

The 4 step follow through formula for tough goals and resolutions

This exercise can lead to some serious A-HAs in only a few minutes! So take pen to paper for your toughest 2015 goal and share with us what part of this exercise helped you the most. Also, what’s your starting routine to ease into it? Let’s get some fun ideas flowing.

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Comments

  1. I love your graphic at the end. It sums up the process so well. Especially the part about fears and obstacles. It’s so easy to forget they’re there sneakily preventing us from achieving our goals.

  2. My favorite part of this? “And every time I will at least…” It validates that there will probably be resistance in following through on some part of the plan and at the same time keeps you moving in the right direction. 🙂

    • That little shift made a huge difference in my productivity. You’re literally practicing overcoming resistance. Except you’re making it less threatening than committing to doing the entire thing, and hopefully by the time you’ve done the “at least” part the resistance will already be behind you 🙂 Great insights!

  3. I LOVED IT! This post instantly reminded me of my old self where I used to plan big and do nothing. Procrastination and lots and lots of over-confidence, still the results always turned out to be good. But as I stepped into the professional world, this attitude totally knocked me out so this is exactly what I do now. I write my goals and imagine myself achieving them.

    P.S. The graphic in the end is superb. Keep up the good stuff!

    • Thank you Maria! I have a long history of doing just that, minus the over-confidence. For me it was always rooted in low self-confidence. And yes, it’s a total biz killer! Thank you so much for your kind words on the graphic.

  4. This article is perfection! Love how you incorporated the graphic at the end! I’ll be pinning this one for sure!

  5. Beautiful Laura! I’m a little more “through myself into the deep end” than “ease into it” when I goal set, but hey, to each there own! haha

    I love the simple approach of asking yourself “why” you want to create something. When I went to my very first life coach years ago I told her that I wanted to do 100 things. She smiled and had me read a Barbara Sher book (Refuse to Choose). Through the exercises I realized that I was interested in 100’s of things…but when it came down to it, I really truly couldn’t seem myself investing time and energy into 99% of them. My mind has been forever blown since 😉 i’m rambling here, but I figure the creative grasshopper in you would appreciate 😉

    • As soon as I read your comment I went to Amazon! I have to read that book, it sounds like just what I’ve been hammering on about here. And yes, sometimes throwing yourself into the deep end works too! But then you really can’t tackle too many things at once. Throwing yourself into the deep end can really lead to burnout that way. Thanks so much for sharing your story, and that book!

  6. Maisie Smith says:

    Laura

    I freaking L-O-V-E the worksheet at the end. Simple, yet entirely thought-provoking. I especially like the last two statements, as those are the ones that allow for more personal tenderness. Rather than beating ourselves up when things get tough or complicated, we can craft a statement that allows us to move through the obstacle with more grace.

    Thanks for this!

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