In a new year, there’s usually a plethora of things that people want to accomplish in themselves, their business, etc. Most of the time, these things don’t happen.
It’s hard, right? Especially when the things we want to change are about ourselves – because ourselves are what we have to work with!
Usually we’ll start the year strong and determined to achieve a goal, whatever it may be: going to the gym, business development, studying a topic, art, or skill…
But after a month, this has dried up. We can’t keep up the momentum and discipline in ourselves forever, and we’re only 1/12th of the way there.
Why does this happen?
Because we’re focusing on the end goal instead of what’s in front of us.
We need to be told we’re making progress. We need to feel like we’re closer to our goal. Our minds need to feel and realize we’re heading in the right direction in order to finish. Ultimately, it is our minds that decide to quit or not finish, and we only have so much control or influence over them and our thoughts.
We need to cultivate the environment and experiences that will help us to keep going.
Let’s focus on one of my favorite things: a to-do list.
Man, do I love to-do lists.
First, you have to take a few moments to think about what you’re going to do that day/week, etc. What’s truly important? What takes priority? What’s the best way to go about everything?
Second, having that pause has so many benefits, and after you’ve taken that moment and time – BOOM, it’s time to get stuff done.
Thing 1 – done. Check.
Doesn’t that feel good?
Thing 2 – done. Check.
Alright! Making progress!
Thing 3 – done. Check.
So on and so forth until everything is checked and you feel incredibly accomplished.
However, let’s say you tackle a large, difficult task right out of the gate. You spend the entire day researching, writing, mixing, whatever it happens to be, but you don’t finish. Do you feel as accomplished? Productive? Are you rewarded in any way for your efforts? What if this happens for the next 3 days in a row and that list looks exactly the same as when you started? Some may feel accomplished, productive and rewarded here, but most people don’t because that list doesn’t look/feel any different. We crave that feeling of “done” as a reward of kinds. That slash through the item on the list is incredibly powerful. Without it, we aren’t getting that trigger or validation of progress, which can be that extra energy or fuel we need to keep going. I’ve read many people say that you need to start with the biggest, baddest task of the day to get it out of the way. While I don’t think this is poor advice, I do think it creates unnecessary barriers. You may spend most or all of your day on that thing. This does two things:
- Makes you dread getting started and prone to procrastination because the thing you’re going to do is so big and bad
- Removes or reduces those check/reward moments
Try starting your day with 1-3 small things on your list no matter how big or bad that one thing on the list is. You’ll get to check a couple things off your list to validate your efforts, and give you the fuel you need to “finish” out the day or tasks. Even if you don’t finish anything else, your list doesn’t look the same as when you started. There’s undeniable proof of the progress you’ve made. Those 1-3 check moments help train your brain into feeling rewarded for what you’ve done. For a brief moment, it’s not about the whole list or everything else you still have to do, it’s about that one thing. And it’s done, because you’re awesome.
Additionally, once you’ve felt a reward for your efforts, it’s easier to keep going for longer periods without another check/reward. The chances of you being able to keep going without additional checks/rewards and accomplish more are significantly higher.
I didn’t truly connect these dots until somewhat recently when I was reading an article looking at the most successful strategies for paying back student loans.
Conventional wisdom would say paying back the largest loan with the highest interest rate is the most effective strategy, right? You ultimately save the most money!
Conventional wisdom could not be more wrong.
Ultimately, of the borrowers who use this strategy only roughly 20% paid off their loans on their original timeline.
20% success rate? That’s an incredible amount of failure for something that is considered the “best” way…
Yet, there was a strategy where roughly 80% of borrowers successfully hit their goal and paid off the loan on their original timeline.
80%?! Wow! What was that strategy?
Do the exact opposite of conventional wisdom.
Start off with the smallest loan, then target each subsequent loan in ascending order ending with the largest principal amount and highest interest rate.
Wait, won’t that cost more money?
Yes, if the timelines are the same for both strategies. But if only 20% are successfully executing conventional wisdom, then the timeline for 80% of those people becomes much longer, causes more interest to accrue, and ends up costing them significantly more money.
We need to have that check moment to keep going. If the largest loan takes years to pay off, that “loan to-do list” isn’t changing. It’s much harder to feel like you’re making progress when after years you’re not “done” with anything.
But if we focus on those small tasks that add up to the major accomplishment, we are regularly recognizing and rewarding our efforts.
Don’t focus on going to the gym for a year, writing a symphony or hitting certain large revenue marks. Focus on exercising that morning, composing a passage this week, or completing one initiative of a campaign. Focus on checking off tasks that support your ultimate goal even if it’s still far in the distance.
Train your brain to feel accomplished and recognize the time and effort you commit. Your chances of ultimate success are higher, and you will appreciate and value yourself much more while doing it.