Every year around this time, thousands upon thousands of people vow to change their behavior. “I am going to walk every day!”; “I am going to eat healthier.”; or “I will read more!”, while these goals are great, they either set the expectation too high or do not give a means of measurement.
In order to obtain a goal, it helps to have milestones to achieve. This is good not only for the measurement of your progress but also for the motivation to move forward: “I can achieve this.” The important thing to do, now, is to establish a means for evaluating your accomplishments.
An Example: Running a Marathon
If you are aiming to be a marathon runner, you should not wake up one morning and say: “I vow to run every day until I can run a marathon.” — That is just unrealistic. You need to be able to relax for some days. You don’t want to turn yourself into a cruel taskmaster. Perhaps, you would say that you should run/walk one mile a day for three days followed by two days off. That way, you can make progress toward a final goal without exhausting yourself.
Over time, I can set goals to reach, such as I want to see if I can run 2 miles today! Setting goals, whether achieved or not, can help you to stay motivated. You could say, “I want to see if, by day X, I am able to run Y miles.” Even if you can’t achieve it by that day, you still will continue to make progress towards your goal. You may underestimate how long it would take to reach your goal; however, you will be able to see the progress you’ve made and can use your progress to motivate you further.
This method provides many tools to evaluate your success. You could place markers on your calendar of the days you ran your mile and days you haven’t. This could be a great motivating tool in order to get you to keep pace. Not only does that method allow you to monitor how well you are doing, but it similarly allows you to notice when you are not following through on your commitment.
Following through on your commitments to yourself and to others is very important. The most important part of becoming successful at whatever you choose to do is by following through with it. One of my college instructors used to say the most important parts of success, without which we wouldn’t have any, are to show up and to finish. The value in that advice didn’t dawn on me at the time, but it is absolutely correct. No matter what task you have to do, no matter what accomplishment you pursue, in order for any progress to be made, you must show up to do your work and you must see it through.
This sounds like simple, rather obvious, advice, but it is surprisingly difficult to do. Emotions waiver, interests waiver, and, over time, it becomes difficult to maintain a steady path. This is why we establish milestones; that way, we see the accomplishments we’ve had and we can see a path to victory.
I believe that the ability to follow through on your commitments is more valuable to success than any other ability. It doesn’t matter how smart you are, how strong, how charismatic; it matters how committed you are. A perfect example of this is compound interest.
With compound interest, when you start to invest, you see little gains, but over time, if you keep at it, it really pays off. Take two people: person A and person B, person A invests $1000 a month continuously for 20 years at a 10% interest rate; person B invests $1500 a month continuously for 5 years at a 10% interest rate, then just leaves the money alone - they quit after that point. At the 5 year marker, person B will have more money: $109,891.80 as compared to person A’s $73,261.20. What happens at 20 years, though? Person B will have $459,045.32 whereas person A will have $687,299.99. Person B started their investment with more money, but they quit instead of keeping with it; due to this, person A ended in a substantially better situation.
Don’t be afraid to start slow and gradually increase your efforts. It is better to start off slower and continue to run rather than to begin quickly and end quickly. Goals are not achieved in the short term; they are achieved in the longterm. One doesn’t become a millionaire overnight, it takes time. If you want to make a change for New Years', do so, but do it at a steady-enough pace so that you can see the fruits of your labor.