Back in my Southern California days, I regularly rode the Los Angeles beach bike path. It’s a delightfully flat, mostly-straight, 22-mile stretch, running next to the Pacific Ocean.
Now I ride the paths on the greenway system here in Raleigh, North Carolina. They’re a mix of steep hills, gentle rises, and flat stretches. The path curves and straightens, crosses streams and marshes, and fluctuates between heavily wooded and wide open spaces. Obstacles show up along the way: leaves and acorns in the fall, puddles and swaths of mud after a rain.
As I was huffing and puffing my way up a steep, curvy hill last week, it occurred to me that the LA bike path is the fantasy of how goals are achieved: a smooth, steady, straight line.
But instead, real progress occurs much more like the paths I now ride … up, down, and flat … easy, challenging, and everything in between … exhilarating, scary, and tranquil … comfortable and pushing me out of my comfort zone … all encountered at some point along the way as you work towards your goals.
We know this.
But when we run into obstacles, bang up against the edges of our comfort zone, or feel like we’re slogging up a hill, it’s easy to forget.
When you live in the fantasy that achieving your goals or creating change in your life should be as smooth a ride as coasting along the LA beach bike path, you throw the door open for your inner critic. He/she will offer up all manner of criticism, trying to tempt you into giving up.
Whenever you start working towards a goal, there are five critical steps that will help keep you on track, especially when the going gets tough:
- Commit. An occasional action here and there is dabbling. And dabbling will leave you feeling frustrated and stuck.Whatever your goal – learning a new skill, pursuing a promotion, reducing your stress levels or [fill in yours] – you need consistent action to be successful. And consistent action takes commitment. Take the time to decide what commitment looks like for each of your goals.
- Choose what thoughts you allow to hang out in your head.You might not be able to control what pops into your mind, but you get to decide which thoughts take up residence.Thoughts become actions and actions lead to outcomes. Hold the thoughts that will support you in getting where you want to go.And speaking of action …
- Keep moving. There are times I’m crawling up a hill so slowly that if I went any slower, my bike would tip over. And when I hit a patch that’s too hard to ride, I get off my bike and walk.The same holds true for progressing towards your goals.You don’t have to keep up the same pace every step of the way. When you run into a particularly challenging stretch, take smaller steps.And on those days where you’re wondering if it’s worth the effort, remind yourself why you initially chose your goal. Remember your commitment and then find one itsy-bitsy action you can take to move one millimeter closer.
- Be curious.Everything is a learning opportunity. Everything.Unless you’re extraordinarily lucky, you’ll run into unexpected obstacles. Something will take longer or be harder than you expect. And resistance will pop up.Curiosity is an incredibly powerful tool to explore the learning. “Hmmm, isn’t that interesting. What’s useful here?”It’s 100% guaranteed there will be a nugget to help point you in the direction of your goals.
- Celebrate progress. Every lesson learned, milestone reached, action taken, and good thought held is worthy of celebration.Build in mini-treats and bigger celebrations as part of your plans. You and your goals are worth it, and celebrations help keep your momentum going.
Working towards your goals and creating change rarely happens in a straight line.
But when you keep moving along the curves with commitment and curiosity, thinking good thoughts and celebrating your progress, you’ll be on the path to success.
“What you get by achieving your goals is not as important as what you become by achieving your goals.” ~ Zig Ziglar