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Want To Reach A Long-Term Goal? Try This Counterintuitive Strategy

When it comes to achieving goals, sometimes the right strategy is “all of the above.”

Want To Reach A Long-Term Goal? Try This Counterintuitive Strategy
[Photo: Flickr user djpoblete09]

I’m a big fan of slow, steady progress. I don’t like to make changes in my life that I won’t be able to sustain. When I needed to lose weight, I paid a bit more attention to my food choices, snacked less, and lost about half a pound a week. That’s not much, but keep going and it’s 10 pounds over 5 months.

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That said, those early months are hard. Weight fluctuates, so losing half a pound a week looks like nothing for weeks on end. That’s why I wasn’t surprised to read, in self-help writer Linda Formichelli’s new book Commit, that a surprising number of people who’ve successfully lost weight point to getting a stomach bug as the triggering event. Obviously, being violently ill and unable to eat for days is not a sustainable strategy. But seeing a much lower number on the scale can provide the motivation to make longer-term changes in a way that seeing no progress for weeks does not.

The strategy of forcing initial progress, generally by attacking a problem with everything you’ve got, has a lot going for it.

“When you throw everything against the wall, you start out so strong that you kind of start rolling along using momentum,” says Formichelli. You use so many tactics simultaneously that something works and you see measurable progress. After that, “the project starts going on its own.”

Success Is A Numbers Game

She points to several life changes where a blast start can be useful. Maybe you want to start a business. Let’s say it’s a catering company. Rather than send out a few queries here and there, you send out 300 sales letters to prospects. You hire a PR firm to book you on local media. You hold a contest where the winner gets dinner for 10. That accountability will force you to get the business up and running, and chances are that by the time the smoke clears, you’ll have enough business to make it through those first critical months. Success is a numbers game.

Likewise, if you want to lose weight and get in better shape (and avoid the flu), you don’t just take my approach of cutting out one snack. You hire a trainer to come to your house twice a week, and get a workout buddy to meet you on the other weekdays. You throw out all the junk food in your house. You set up a consultation with a nutritionist and get 10 cookbooks full of healthy recipes. Maybe you even do a challenge such as a “Whole30,” and find an accountability partner, or pledge to give money to a political candidate you despise if you fall off the wagon during that time.

Habits Get Easier As You Go

Is this sustainable? No. But there are two arguments for trying this. One is that it often doesn’t take much more effort to do a lot vs. a little. Making that first cold call is tough. Making the 100th in a row will be easier. Why not capture these efficiency gains?

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Second, the sheer nature of “forever” makes people despair. But with many life changes, when it comes to the active painful part, “you don’t have to sustain it forever,” Formichelli says. “It’s just for the short term.” When she was first trying to make a living as a writer, she sent out hundreds of queries. But that effort landed her enough regular clients that she no longer had to hustle as much. She might have gotten there eventually sending out a query a week, or she might have gotten discouraged and given in to the inner critic that snuffs out all sorts of dreams. When you throw it all against the wall, “you get mentally so super-geared up, it blasts you right past that resistance,” she says.

If you’ve got a goal you’re serious about, it might be worth a try.

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About the author

Laura Vanderkam is the author of several time management and productivity books, including I Know How She Does It: How Successful Women Make the Most of Their Time (Portfolio, June 9, 2015), What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast (Portfolio, 2013), and 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think (Portfolio, 2010). She blogs at www.lauravanderkam.com.

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