How to let go of 2020 and begin anew
I remember being at a New Year’s Eve party, eating chocolate cake and drinking champagne with good friends and going into 2020 thinking: This year is going to be amazing. I’m going to accomplish so many things, in both my personal and professional life!
I was blissfully unaware of how much the world — and my everyday life — would change in just a few months. All that motivation and hope that I had started the year with faded away when I heard what was happening in the world — starting from the daily stress and worry of the pandemic; a major recession; political turmoil leading up to, and during, the election; riots in my hometown of Atlanta and other cities in the U.S. as a result of racial injustice… the list goes on and on. The only thing I could really focus on was surviving and staying sane through the lockdown — and trying to escape the reality of the situation. So my goals made their way to the bottom of my list, and stayed there for a little while.
Now that 2021 has begun and I’ve adapted to my new routine, I’ve gained some energy and enthusiasm and want to pick up where I left off. One thing I did manage to accomplish in 2020 is becoming fully certified as a life coach and launching my business. Well, actually, that’s a pretty big thing! So I’ll give myself credit for that.
As I’ve worked with private clients over the last year, I’ve seen that a lot of them also struggle with motivation. They have the best intentions to tackle big projects — some with the potential to change their life — but flopping on the couch to watch their favorite Netflix show and drink some wine tends to win out over spending time working on something that will bring them closer to their goals. They may make excuses saying that they don’t have enough time, when in reality they’re just choosing to relax vs. do more work (and in some cases, it’s actually healthy to do that). Or they make some initial progress, but then an obstacle comes up and instead of tackling it head on or pivoting slightly — they just quit.
So, what can you do to raise your motivation level, so that this doesn’t happen to you? Below I’ll give you my top four tips that I share with my clients.
But, before I jump in, I want to acknowledge one thing — last year was not a normal year. So, if you feel like you’ve judged yourself for not getting as much done as you would have liked, it’s time to give yourself a bit of grace and remember that we were dealing with a lot of collective trauma and staying healthy and surviving the pandemic was really our first priority. And in many cases, we’re still dealing with a lot.
If one of your goals fell to the bottom of your list because you had a family to take care of, a job to keep (or a new one to find), or a sick loved one to worry about, it’s okay. Not to mention that many of us gave our time and mental energy to helping others and giving back. For me, it was sewing masks for healthcare workers; for others, it was donating food or other necessities or helping out neighbors in need. So it’s no surprise that there may not have been much left to work with at the end of the day.
Now you can take the time to reassess and decide what does stay on your list going forward. Because if 2020 taught me one thing about productivity, it would be this: It doesn’t make sense to be productive for the sake of being productive, sometimes you need to just slow down and be really mindful of what you’re working on, and why you’re doing it in the first place.
Without further ado — here are my top tips to keep yourself motivated and moving towards reaching your goals:
1. Chunk down your BIG GOAL into bite-sized pieces.
Many times, we see our big goal as this insurmountable mountain to climb, instead of a number of smaller tasks that get us to reach the top.
Do you want to lose forty pounds? Take it one pound at a time. Set yourself up for success by planning out your weekly meals and exercise. And then, repeat.
You want to launch a successful business? Ok, then start with a business plan before you try and do too many things at once and give up because you feel overwhelmed. Shiny object syndrome is real, my friends.
Create milestones along the way and chunk everything down into realistic goals vs. just one big thing you’re trying to hit. And make your goals specific — the more specific they are, the easier it is to recognize when you reach them. You remember hearing about the S.M.A.R.T. goal framework? It’s not a bad idea to actually try it out.
2. Make a bigger WHY.
How can you make your reason BIGGER, so that when your motivation is lacking, you can remind yourself of the real reason you want to reach this goal? A lot of times, people think they want to reach a goal for a certain reason, but they’re staying a bit too surface level.
Say you want to lose that weight. Are you doing it to look better in your clothes? Great. But what is below that, underneath the surface? Maybe it’s actually that you want to find love and feel more confident in your skin. And even stronger is that you want to live a long, happy life and be around to see your children grow up and get married.
So think of the deeper why, and remind yourself of that reason whenever you feel your motivation start to dwindle.
3. Ask yourself: What is it costing me to stay stuck?
→ Fair warning: Only try this tip if you’re in an emotionally stable place, because it can get a bit dark.
For this one, you’ll want to actually feel the pain of staying where you are. Do you feel frustrated, depressed, anxious, lonely? What is it costing you in your life? Many of us have goals and dreams we want to realize and we tell ourselves we’ll go after them someday, but then we never do. That’s the irony of life — none of us know how long we’ll actually be here, so we have to make the most of the time we do have.
So take a look at how not achieving this goal or dream is affecting you now:
- Does not losing weight cause you to feel tired or a lack of confidence?
- Does not chasing your dream to launch a business keep you in a lackluster job where you feel uninspired and frustrated?
- Does being afraid to put yourself out there cause you to be lonely and without love, resenting people who do have happy relationships?
How does all of this affect your daily life and your overall mood? Do you take your frustration out on your family and friends, or do you bottle it up inside, eating away at you slowly?
Now think about what you’ll feel like five years from now if you don’t make a change. Will you be happy waking up every day? Or will you feel resentful, listless or helpless instead?
I told you, it might get dark. But that’s kind of the point. Because you want to use this information to make better decisions going forward. It’s your small, everyday decisions that add up to you either achieving your dreams, or staying stuck where you are now. So remind yourself of this exercise whenever you start to lose focus.
4. Visualize yourself succeeding.
Due to the science (and magic) of neuroplasticity — or the belief that the brain can change itself— we now know that visualization can be used to rehearse the future and actually help our brains reorganize themselves by creating new neural connections to improve the chances of us actually reaching a goal.
Studies show that neurons still fire and chemicals are released whether or not something is real or imagined. That’s why elite athletes and CEOs use visualization to rehearse before an event actually occurs so that when they’re under pressure, they can still perform well. The key is to pick something reasonable that your brain actually believes may happen; if it’s too outlandish, it will be hard for you to justify it and it won’t work as well.
In order to do this effectively, you’ll want to step into a future version of you that has already reached your goal.
- What does that feel like?
- How does your body feel; how do you carry yourself?
- Where are you?
- What can you see/smell/hear/touch?
Really get into the future version of you and “experience” what it feels like to have recently accomplished your goal. You’ll want to get super specific and speak in the present tense: “I’m sitting at my desk, looking out the window at my green, lush garden, sipping on some sweet Earl Grey tea in my white ceramic mug…I feel confident and fulfilled because I’ve been able to xyz…”
Use descriptive words and include all of your senses so that the future vision becomes as real as possible. And use positive language throughout.
So, it turns out, there are ways to increase your motivation, even if it you don’t have the best track record with getting things done in the past. Pick your favorite tip from above, and let me know how it goes!