Becca had been trying to lose weight and control her overeating for so long, she couldn’t remember a time when things were different. She’s extremely successful professionally, in fact, she’s at the top of her field. The responsibilities, lives, and budgets she manages daily would intimidate a lot of people, but she loves it and approaches her work with confidence. In contrast, she couldn’t feel more frustrated when it comes to her weight and her overeating—which she tells me feel totally out of control. She’s the heaviest she’s ever been and is running out of clothes that fit. Overeating has become a daily activity, and try as she might, she hasn’t been able to rein it in. “I can be good for a few days, and then I just can’t do it anymore—it’s like something snaps and I don’t care, or I’m too tired, or I just don’t have the willpower. I cannot believe that I can’t get control over this. It’s embarrassing. And I feel so stupid.”
Becca is definitely not stupid. In fact, she may be one of the smartest people I’ve ever met. Although I’ve changed her name, “Becca’s” struggle was real, and, until we untangled it, she was also making one of the most common mistakes busy women make when they are struggling to accomplish personal goals. She was making it way too hard.
Do you have a goal that you are trying to accomplish? What about one where it seems like you just can’t quite nail it—you know—you can stay on track for a while, but eventually, you always seem to get off track? It’s drilled into us that success comes from hard work. It’s great to know how to work hard (and know that you can), but the most successful path to change is often not the grueling path of deprivation, willpower, and diligence that some of us are all-too-prone to design for ourselves.
There are some easier approaches that can actually increase both short and long term success when it comes to achieving your goals – whether these are weight loss or healthy lifestyle change, a plan for better work life balance, or a specific milestone like writing a book.
Next time you find yourself mapping out a plan for “success” that leaves you feeling apprehensive or worn out before you even start, consider these simple, sneaky ways to be more successful with your goals:
1. Keep it reasonable. Overwhelm never helped anyone achieve anything. And yet, we’re so darn good at loading on the expectations. When I first talked to Becca, she had convinced herself that in order to fit into her clothes again, she was going to have to give up sugar completely, eat food she really didn’t like, and live at the gym. The likelihood of her being able to stick with this plan was slim to none—and she knew it. If it makes you tired just thinking about it, your plan isn’t going to last—at least without drastic modifications. When you are working to build a new habit or make permanent changes and the required step feels overwhelming or makes you nervous, try cutting it in half. A half-step taken will build a lot more momentum than one you dread but never take.
2. Do it the easy way—your easiest way. If you want to be successful for the long term, leverage your strengths. Becca had made the common mistake of creating a plan based on what she felt she “should” do, not based on who she was. Becca is someone who loves spending time with others and has a talent for making just about anything a fun social event. Yet she had decided that she could only eat well if she ate alone and avoided all the social events she loved—again, a pretty quick recipe for failure. In our work together, we tackled this immediately and instead put together strategies that leveraged Becca’s social strengths and her easy way of developing relationships. Instead of spending her time alone, Becca eventually partnered with a friend to help her stay consistent with one of her goals.
If you feel like achieving your goals is an uphill battle, consider your strengths, talents, and what comes easiest for you. Ask your friends what your top strengths are and consider how you might leverage these to accomplish your goal. Are you a natural organizer? What about creating an accountability program or a walking group? Do you always rise to a challenge? Maybe you need a little competition. Are you someone who has a finely tuned appreciation for beauty and sensory delights? Working out in your musty basement or eating skinless chicken breasts probably isn’t going to be a lasting plan for success.
3. Celebrate liberally. Break your goal down into smaller milestones and plan to reward yourself frequently for the progress you are making. When we initially talked, Becca only had one goal—the number on the scale she had picked as her final destination. Nothing less than that final step counted as a success. The problem was, on a challenging day, that goal seemed so far away and all the effort hardly seemed to make a dent. This was one of those places where Becca found herself repeatedly falling off course. Hard workers tend to focus on…the hard work. Busy people can make the mistake of deciding they don’t have time to celebrate the small stuff. Au contraire! Celebration and rewards, liberally applied along the way, are great lubricants for our motivation, our momentum, and our mood.
Do you have a goal you’d like to accomplish?