Have you ever set a goal and timeframe and thought that it was a foregone conclusion that you would hit all of your targets right on time but then struggled to even get traction?
I have. Many times. In fact, almost every goal I set seems much easier in my initial daydreaming than it really is. I don’t know exactly why but I feel that success will be certain.
But it never is. In all of that certainty is naiveté. I don’t know what I don’t know. I am in a cold mental state (not directly facing the problem and the discomfort around it).
When I face those challenges (in a hot state) then I suddenly see things differently. I see the reasons why things are different than I thought. But those reasons turn quickly into excuses.
This is called the hot-cold empathy gap and can somewhat explain this phenomenon. It says that it is difficult to predict how we will feel in the future (in a hot state) when we are in a cold state.
I’ve gotten better over the years due to systems thinking and the focus on building habits slowly over time, but I still tend to start overly ambitious.
In some ways this makes sense because if we aren’t ambitious we probably won’t even start. We need to have some naïve motivation pushing us along.
The key isn’t to stop before we even start because we will hit obstacles and very well could fail at reaching our target. No, the key is that we find ways to keep going and adjust when those inevitable obstacles arise.
So the next time you find yourself struggling to reach a goal, don’t give up. Don’t look for reasons why you should stop. Instead, look for ways to keep going and be patient. Realize that it takes time.
One thing that has helped me in the past is to focus solely on progress. I am very aware of whether or not I am making progress. I may not be as far as I thought when I started out, but am I making progress?
If the answer is yes, then I calm down and focus on my consistent actions to make sure I am still doing them. Then I look at what I can change to increase the rate of progress.
If I am not making progress, then I stop and think through the situation to see why. Is it just that I’ve plateaued a bit? Is it that I need to do the work now to see the performance increase later (such as a delay in a feedback loop)?
Then I make adjustments and keep pushing forward.
In the past I would do this. I wouldn’t focus on progress and making sure I kept taking action towards my targets. I would find reasons why I should quit. I would convince myself that the smart thing to do was to quit.
It is extremely easy to quit. It can also turn into a habit. Quit something you know you don’t want to do and you are fine. Quit every time the going gets tough and you become a quitter.
Therefore, before you just quit, examine what you are doing and see if you are making progress. Then make slight adjustments and keep going. Don’t just quit and don’t abandon the goal in search of something else.
Start to build resiliency by being resilient this time. Then do it again and again and just as quitting becomes habit so does pushing through when tough times come up. But if you do nothing else, just realize that anything worthwhile will take time.