It’s creeping up on February. The gym crowds have thinned—in quantity, not in body mass index. That meditation DVD you picked up is still in its shrink wrap. And, if you’re like more than half of January goal-setters you’re likely to fail by the six-month mark, according to John C. Norcross, Ph.D., psychology professor at the University of Scranton in Pennsylvania.
But just because the odds are against you, doesn't mean you should give up. Motivation expert Steve Levinson, author of Following Through: A Revolutionary New Model for Finishing Whatever You Start has some advice that can help you with your follow-through and hit those goals. Best of all, this approach can be applied to anything from your weight-loss efforts to your professional aspirations.
Successful follow-through requires some up-front prep, including understanding what the true goal is. You might say that you want to get a promotion by the end of the year or hit your sales numbers out of the park, but why?
Are you motivated by more money or greater recognition within the company? Are you on a specific career track and want to hit a milestone before a certain age? Get to the heart of what it is you really want and embrace it. When you’re honest about what you’re really seeking, you’ll be more motivated to do what it takes to get there, he says.
Every act takes away time or effort that could be committed to something else, Levinson says. Are you ready to make the trade-off? If your goal is to be more organized, you’re going to need to spend time every day maintaining the system you put in place. Sales increases require more time prospecting and calling clients. Writing that book means planting your butt in the chair every day actually writing. Make sure you that you don’t set yourself up for failure by creating demands that conflict with other priorities.
"Just do it" doesn’t cut it, Levinson says. Invest a little time and maybe some money into your future success. If you’re committed to following through on more leads, set up a system to capture the prospect’s information make it easy to follow up at regular intervals.
Create systems for as many of your goal-related tasks as possible. For example, use your accounting or customer relationship management system to follow up with 20 of your prospects every Monday morning. In some cases, you’ll need to bring in other people or delegate some responsibilities so you can focus on what you need to get done, Levinson says.
Whatever your goal is, looking at the steps you’ll need to take and enlisting the tools and people you’ll need to help you get it done is a far more effective strategy than relying on sheer willpower.
"Willpower is both a precious commodity and an unreliable one. You really can’t count on it. It often does not come through for you when you need it the most and the best thing to do is to structure circumstances so that you don’t need to rely on it," Levinson says.
You know this, but it bears repeating: Break down the steps and assign a deadline to each. It’s the quickest way to tell at a glance if you’re on track with your follow-through or not, Levinson says.
As you’re in the process of following through, use incentives and motivators to give you the kind of motivation you need when you need it. Levinson says his favorite story of the carrot and stick is that of a guy who wanted to go to the gym more often, so he left his one stick of deodorant there. If he didn’t get up and go exercise in the morning, he was going to forego deodorant all day. Maybe that’s not realistic in the business world, but you can find ways to reward yourself when you hit follow-through milestones—dinner out with friends or a coveted purchase. Enlist friends or colleagues to help keep you accountable to the promises you make to yourself and others with regard to follow-through.
"The problem with follow through originates from the fact that the promises we make are not serious in the first place," he says. Raise the stakes by sharing them with others and you’ve suddenly got something to prove in order to keep your word.