I was lazy, unmotivated and didn’t trust myself to follow through on anything. Defeated. Yet, I had dreams.
I used to be a productive, reliable, go-getter. I worked a demanding full time job and worked on developing new skills at night and on weekends, to the point that I was able to leave my six figure job and start a company without affecting my income and later, earning even more than I thought was possible.
There were several life events and health issues that caused me to spiral down to the point where I was doing the bare minimum to survive. I had no excuses. I work at home and manage a light load of client work. My lifestyle was pretty good. But I knew I was capable of more. I needed a sense of accomplishment. Preferably the kind that produces more income.
Just one problem. I couldn’t follow through on anything. I couldn’t keep promises I made to myself. I knew I lacked the discipline to complete a major project. This was going to be yet another waste of time.
I made a decision to create an online course to help freelance web designers grow their business. I was excited about the idea because my husband and I had grown our business very quickly. We had processes and documents and I’ve done a lot of sales training back at my corporate job. If I can do this, I can do anything I set my mind to.
Fast forward three months later. Close to zero progress. Fast forward 4 more months later. I am more than halfway done, I have all the hard stuff completed, I am consistently following through on my assignments to myself and I am enjoying the process.
Here are the simple changes I made to my daily routine and mindset that got me out of my slump.
Build Momentum and Consistency
If you decide to run a marathon and you are a couch potato, you’re not going to start out doing 10 miles a day. You have to train your body and build up to 10 miles. Start with one. Every day. Next week do two. Every day. Why would it be different with any other endeavor we take on?
Exercise a little every day, preferably in the morning.
I know what you’re thinking, but hear me out. I was getting very little exercise. A hike or walk on the weekend, maybe a yoga class here and there. The thought of exercising every day did not seem possible for someone like me. And I have never been a “morning person.” My body just doesn’t like to move in the morning. My bed is my favorite place on earth.
I started an experiment to see what I would feel like if I exercised every day for 2 weeks. I have a room where I have my yoga mat unrolled at all times (because that seems to be the hardest part). The days I didn’t feel like it (almost every day that first week), I did a really easy 20 minute class on MyYogaWorks.com. Then some days I felt like I could do 30 minutes. Next thing you know, I’m doing over an hour a day or two each week.
At the end of my two week experiment I felt stronger, more energized and pretty proud of myself. I am now addicted, and can’t live without it. There are still days when I don’t feel like it, but I just do 20 minutes, because that’s all I’ve committed to. It’s the first step in keeping a promise I made to myself; building that discipline muscle.
I work on a computer, so how does this help me be more productive at that? Well, that thing your head sits on is called your body. I didn’t use it much, but it produces hormones and chemicals that send signals to our brain. When I exercise, it changes my brain chemistry, sending “happy” chemicals to my brain, gets my blood flowing and helps me think better.
Side effect #1, I’m starting to look better and my saggy back side is shaping it’s way into a tight yoga booty.
Side effect #2, major confidence booster. Even if I can only muster the energy to do some stretching, I start my day honoring a commitment to myself and that makes me feel pretty darned good first thing in the morning. All that in just 20 minutes!
Create a plan to achieve your goal and do a little every day.
My first goal was to finish my course. I still have to market it, which involves a ton more work, but I wanted to set my first milestone goal. I broke it up into 4 mini milestones: complete an outline, complete supporting worksheets and course materials, create slide decks and record all the lessons in each module.
I built in some margin in case I got off track.
For my mini-milestone goals, I wrote each task on a post it note and placed it on my whiteboard with two sections. One for tasks to do, the other side for completed tasks. I moved the tasks that I completed each day on to the completed section.
I had a visual representation of my accomplishments.
I learned this and other techniques from Rich Roll. He finished an Ultraman Triathlon, which is like two triathlons, 320 miles of biking, swimming and running. Here’s the kicker; he never even ran a marathon in his life. He used this method for his seven month training schedule.
Create success enforcing rituals.
After yoga, I meditate for 20 minutes. Most mornings it’s five or ten. You know all those voices in your head that tell you you’re not good enough, what will people think, you’re so lazy, you’ll never finish? They were drowning out any words of encouragement. I wasn’t even aware of how verbally abusive I was being to myself.
Meditation strengthens the muscle that allows you to recognize those thoughts and choose thoughts that serve you better. I’m not a victim of my inner demons, I choose what I think. Emotions follow thoughts. First you have a thought, then you have a feeling. If you want to change how you feel, you have to change your thoughts.
I wrote an earlier post on choosing thoughts.
I set a timer for 20 minutes. I write whatever comes to mind. This opens my mind to be more creative because I practice expressing myself with no judgement or editing.
It’s also great therapy. All the whining and complaining goes into the journal. I dump it from my mind. I don’t have to carry the baggage around with me all day. I don’t have to vent to a girlfriend. I can spend my time with her in more positive ways. I can focus on the task in front of me.
I learned this morning routine from a book called Miracle Mornings by Hal Elrod.
This is actually side effect #3 of exercising. I didn’t want to make too many commitments to myself because I’d just set myself up for failure. But I notice that when I started exercising and feeling stronger and better, I naturally wanted to fuel that thing your head sits on with more nutrients. My diet isn’t great, but I used to use sugar to self medicate, now I’ve cut it down substantially. I’m making healthier choices because I cherish me.
Build an Accountability Team
I’m still working on incorporating all these systems and habits into my daily routine. Most days are not perfect. This is a lot to do in the morning before I even start on work. But when I do, the day is magic. And I have support.
I shared my calendar with my husband and asked him to support me on completing my daily goals. Every day he asks me how I’m doing, did I finish my tasks? He is hesitant to turn on the TV at night for fear that he may sabotage me.
I have regular calls with my business and accountability coach Mandy Keene. She helped me shift my mindset and reinforced most of the tools I talk about here. I’ve tried doing it on my own for months and it wasn’t working.
I’ve even heard someone creating a private Facebook group, inviting close friends and family to serve as accountability coaches. She posted her weekly goal and progress, and members provided words of encouragement to keep her on track.
Be compassionate and kind to yourself.
Move on from a bad day. Don’t beat yourself up. Don’t double up on work the next day; that’s another form of beating yourself up. That’s why you build margin into your schedule. Shit happens. It’s how you choose to react to it that impacts your progress.
In the past I’ve been my own personal drill sergeant. I scold myself and feel worthless. How has that been working for me? It has taken a toll. I try to replace the mental floggings with words of encouragement and praise. And if I’m this hard on myself how must I be to others? I’ve noticed I’m becoming much more kind and compassionate to others as well.
Focus on your accomplishments, not your failures. My coach Mandy had me write a list of 10 things I’ve accomplished in my life. I got to #3 and got stuck. It took me another half hour to to come up with seven more. I think back to that list when I catch me beating myself up.
“I don’t feel like it right now.”
If you only do hard work when you feel like it, you will rarely do hard work. You can’t feel your way out of a slump, you can only act your way out. When you “act as if” you feel like it and just start on it, your feelings start to follow your actions.
These are actually the days that I love the most. When I overcome these slumps, I’m the most proud of myself. It has helped me build my discipline muscle.
This is also where exercise comes in. When I’m in a really challenging yoga pose (which used to be all of them), I tell myself that this pain is only temporary. Feel it and lean into it. When I do it often enough, it’s not as challenging as it used to be.
I struggle everyday to keep all of these promises to myself. Most days I don’t get it all done. But I can see progress and progress takes time. With an exercise program you see the progress manifest physically, which is encouraging.
Remove negativity from your life.
Or at least try to limit it. You know who they are. It took me a while to recognize it (that’s where meditation helps). Those energy vampires that suck the life out of you. One conversation and you’ve lost the will to live.
They’re hard to avoid especially if you work with them or you’re related to them. Be mindful and limit contact. End conversations when they start going south. Limit your contact to email when possible.
Replace the negative thoughts with positive thoughts. It felt fake and kind of hokey at first, but eventually I kind of started to believe it.
“I will be a successful course creator and marketer.”
“I love you Ann. I forgive you. I totally trust you Ann. You got this.”
“I am confident that I can achieve anything I set my mind to.”
Celebrate milestones, not rewards.
In her book Better Than Before, Gretchen Rubin talks about a study with kids that were put into two groups. One was rewarded for working on a project, the other group was not. The group that wasn’t rewarded did almost twice the amount of work than the reward group.
The reason is the kids that were rewarded did enough just to get the reward. The other kids got their reward or satisfaction from doing the task. One exception, she sites, is if your reward is related to the task and enhances it. For instance, getting a new whiteboard to help you plan projects out easier or sometimes I’ll by myself a small bouquet of flowers to put on my desk to brighten my work area.
Make your WHY bigger than you.
This is the key; the golden nugget. And your reward for getting to the end of this long post.
At first my “why I want to achieve my goal” was money; to have another source of income. But that wasn’t strong enough. Afterall, I’m making ends meet. For now, there’s no urgent need to work harder than I am.
But, I want to prove to myself that I am capable of more. When I was a kid I wanted to grow up and be someone who did something great. There’s still time.
I want to have the confidence in myself that I can do anything I set my mind to. Be my own superhero. How peaceful and joyous my life will be when I know I have the ability to overcome big challenges.
And more importantly, I want to be able to share my journey with anyone else who struggles with achieving their dreams. Write that book, start that business.