As we set goals to advance our personal and spiritual growth, we are frequently presented with the dilemma of how to sustain our motivation toward our goals. We start with goals that are aligned with our personal values and hopes in order to avoid self-sabotage. We surround ourselves with a strong support system to help solidify that foundation. Inevitably, over time, our vision of our goals gets blurred from time to time. This is where the principle of self-discipline can keep us sustained, since we know in our heads that we want to complete our goal even though we don’t always feel it in our hearts.
But, when we are working toward a challenging goal and facing work, work, work and sacrifice after sacrifice, at some point, self-discipline becomes too difficult and we have to inject some joy into the process to keep ourselves motivated and reinforce the value of our goals.
So, how do we do that?
We celebrate! We break our large goals down into smaller, obtainable and appropriate milestones and make plans to reward ourselves when they are achieved.
When Do We Celebrate?
Every day! Acknowledge the actions you take toward your goal every day.
Then, setup longer term milestones with larger rewards. For these milestones, remember the following:
It’s more helpful to celebrate time-based milestones as opposed to trying to measure changes you’ve made. For instance, if you have decided to improve your physical health and are focused on, say, 10 pounds of weight loss, you may be frustrated and discouraged if it takes longer than expected or if you gain back some of what you’ve lost. Instead try focusing on 30 days of healthy eating and/or improved physical activity for instance.
-from How to Change Who You Are
Superficial milestones such as weight loss, income, miles run, pages written, etc. present us with a couple of problems:
- It is very often the case that our superficial milestones will take longer than we expect them to take. This can be real discouraging.
- Even more discouraging, often times we will reach the superficial milestone and take a few steps back. For instance, we might lose a certain number of pounds, then gain some of it back. Or we might write 50 pages, then throw 20 away. When this happens, our view of progress toward our goal will be gloomy and discouraging.
- Finally, when focusing on superficial milestones, we will tend to resort to unsustainable activities such as starvation, working overtime, exercising ourselves to injury or depriving ourselves of sleep in order to reach a superficial milestone without necessarily getting closer to our final goal. These efforts are not sustainable indefinitely, and we need sustained efforts to reach our goal.
It is our sustained efforts that need to be celebrated, because it is our sustained efforts that will ultimately lead to our goal. Efforts, however, are rather difficult to measure. That is why I suggest using time-based milestones. If you are struggling with weight, start with a celebration after 7 days of healthy eating. If you want to write a book, celebrate after 7 days of maintaining a writing habit of 1 or more hours per day, regardless of the final result. These are the actions that will lead to your final goal. They should be reinforced through celebration.
How Do We Celebrate?
Deciding how to reward ourselves can be a tremendous challenge. Normally, our first temptation is to reward ourselves by indulging in what we are sacrificing in order to celebrate. This is a mistake.
For instance, if I’m trying to lose weight and have sustained a healthy diet for 30 days, I might want to reward myself with a big, delicious piece of chocolate cake. This is a mistake for three reasons:
- It will undermine my efforts and set me back from my goal.
- It will reinforce the value of chocolate cake since I will be focusing on it as a reward. But, when I’m making sacrifices to change things in my life, I don’t want to be focusing on what I’m sacrificing. This will make the sacrifice much more difficult. Instead, I want to be focused on my progress and where I am going.
- Finally, and perhaps most importantly, if it weren’t for the sacrifice I am choosing to make, I would be eating that chocolate cake every day. So, it is not really a reward for my efforts, if I’m going to allow myself to eat it once after an extended sacrifice.
Similarly, if I choose to quit drinking and celebrate by getting drunk, I have set myself back and reinforced the value of getting drunk. And, since I would have been getting drunk anyway had I not chose to quit drinking, I am not really rewarding myself.
So, that’s how not to celebrate. Then, how do we celebrate?
Three quick steps to planning appropriate celebrations
- Congratulate yourself and express gratitude each day that you take action toward your goal.
- Produce a wish list of things that you want and things you would like to do. Allow yourself to brainstorm ideas: big and small. Seek help from your support system in coming up with ideas. Consider including people who are supportive of your goals in your “thinks you would like to do” items.
- Match items on your wish list with the milestones you set. For example, maybe after 7 days, you will buy yourself a particular movie or LP. After 30 days, you will go to your favorite restaurant with your favorite people. After 60 days, you will print yourself a certificate of achievement to display prominently. After 6 months, you will buy concert tickets for yourself and a friend. After a year, you’ll go on a vacation or buy a new iPod. These specific rewards may not appeal to you, so choose those that do.
Three rules for selecting appropriate rewards
- The reward must interest you enough to motivate you.
- The reward is not something you are sacrificing for your goal.
- You absolutely pledge that you will purchase and/or follow through with the reward if, and only if, you meet your milestone.
Additional Guidelines for selecting rewards
- Display physical rewards prominently to remind you of your success.
- Share your successes and celebrations with others.
- Consider rewards that take advantage of the payoff of your efforts. For instance, if you are working to improve your health, a great reward would be to do something physically challenging that you love to do. In this way, your reward will have a direct link to your goals.
- Think gratitude!
Start today by giving yourself a pat on the back for your progress thus far, even if that progress just consists of you reading this article and planning your next steps. Then break down your goal into smaller, obtainable, time-based milestones. Choose your rewards and start working toward them!
Of course, the ultimate reward will be the completion of your goal, but for those times when the work and sacrifice involved seem to overshadow your enthusiasm, these little rewards will help you fuel the sustained inspiration, motivation and efforts that will ultimately bring you to that final reward!