Sticking to Goals in Tough Times

Whether it’s the weather, our busy schedules, frustration, depression, or sheer exhaustion, we all face the challenge. We struggle sticking to goals in tough times. We have a goal, a task, a responsibility even, but things happen, barriers, or we just – don’t – feel – like – doing – it. What if right now you’re just tired, maybe even discouraged. But it needs to be done, so how do you get past this moment?

The Rocky Road

These challenges are nothing new. Sometimes the stronger the goal, the rockier the road to sticking to your goals. It could be as simple as needing to go to the gym. Excuses are easy, sometimes even valid. It’s raining. You’re sick. Someone needs a ride somewhere. You didn’t sleep well. Those things happen and sometimes you miss a gym day (or class day, or insert-goal-task-here day), and that’s okay. But do you give up right then and there? Tomorrow is another day, and the day after, and so on. Shouldn’t take too much time to do a few push-ups at home. Start over.

Barriers to your goals are to be expected. Depending on the goal, you might even plan for them. If you’re dieting but you know there’s a birthday party coming up, plan to eat some cake. The planned cheat moment will actually help you stay on track because you’ll be less discouraged. It’s built-in so you don’t mess up; you actually end up feeling more committed!

Peaks and Valleys

Life has more complicated goals than dieting and exercising. Some goals are reaching out to estranged family members or getting clean. No one wants to plan for a cheat day on getting clean. It doesn’t work that way. In this case, you need to know the rule of peaks and valleys. A wise teacher, Mr. Little, once said, “Life is filled with peaks and valleys.” You need to recognize which one you’re in and realize we don’t have to stay there.

A peak may be realizing your goal, creating a plan, and having the support you need to get started. A valley might be falling backwards, losing track, or experiencing hardship. If you can recognize that you’re in a valley, realize that these happen and you’re not less for it. You’re not unworthy of climbing back up. Go back to the things and people that got you to those peaks. Get support. Forgive yourself. Read that again. Forgive yourself. It’s okay to fall; you don’t have to stay there.

Getting Back Up

When life gives you lemons, make lemonade, right? Sometimes when life gives you lemons, they’re rotten and you throw them out. It’s important to know the difference. When you’re getting back up from a fall (literally and figuratively), you need to assess your surroundings. You need to know what caused the fall, what’s available to help you up, will that thing or person support you, and what can you do to avoid the same fall again.

Did you go grocery shopping when hungry or stress-eat at home? Not a big fall, but an easy fix for the future. Did you hang out with friends who smoke and you easily picked up a cigarette and started again? Think about how you could have avoided that and what you will do now. Did you leave yourself home alone with access to substances you shouldn’t have in a moment of weakness? This is a great moment for an accountability partner.

Getting back up is about deciding all over again to recommit to your goal and learn from your experiences. No one’s perfect and mistakes happen, even bad decisions happen. Recommit and reevaluate what you can do going forward to stick to your goals.

Planning for Success

The best plan for success and sticking to your goals includes back-up plans for momentary slip-ups. The more serious your goal, the more detailed the plan. Dieting slip-ups aren’t as big a deal as getting-clean slip-ups, so the latter needs much more accountability and support. You can do this, but no one says you need to do it alone, no matter the size or complexity of the goal. Here’s some quick items to check off when planning for success.

  1. What’s the level of importance of your goal? Knowing where it lies in your priorities will help determine the amount of time and effort you need to invest.
  2. What steps are required to achieve your goal? Making a bunch of short tasks which can be achieved more quickly helps boost your morale as you strive for your bigger goal.
  3. Who’s keeping you accountable? Knowing you have a support system is encouragement in itself. When you hit those rocky roads, it’s nice to know someone is checking on you, will be there to hear you out, remind you of your goals and why you have them, and help you get back on track.
  4. What’s your timeframe and/or schedule? Having a routine and a timeline will help keep your plans in place, even if you need to make adjustments along the way.
  5. What’s your fail-safe? Whether it’s a back-up plan in case things happen out of your control or a regroup plan in case you fall off the wagon, you need something in place to deter you from outright quitting.
  6. What’s your motivation? You have something that led to this goal, so where can you put that reminder so you see it every day? Feeling positive and motivated toward your goal will keep you moving.
  7. Love yourself. Yes, that’s not a question. Wanting to get better or do better is a form of self-care and you’re worth caring for. We might be driven by a need to care for others, but we can’t pour from an empty cup. We need to care for ourselves as well. Your accountability partner will agree. Take care of you.