Have you ever set an alarm for 5:00 am, only to hit snooze five or six times?
Or gone with the loaded french fries instead of the salad because, frankly, they taste better?
Or binged three and a half episodes instead of reading a book, cleaning your desk, and writing in your journal?
There are plenty of ways we rationalize why we deviated from our plan in the moment: “It’s cold and dark outside—I might get sick if I go for a run this morning!” “Just once isn’t going to make a difference.” “I left off at a cliffhanger; I need closure so I can think about something else.”
There can be legitimate reasons for changing tactics in the moment. However, if you’re constantly making excuses for not sticking with your plan, it might be a symptom that you’re making a classic mistake: you’re letting your brain make a decision without getting buy-in from your heart.
There are two inputs to behavior: what we feel and what we know. Heart and mind. Emotion and intellect. Both have to be aligned. Change either one and you’ll change what you do as a result.
Your brain can set an alarm to get up earlier tomorrow. When the alarm goes off at 5:00 am, it’s your heart that has to get you out of bed.
Having an intellectual connection to our goals is not enough. We won’t actually change. We won’t have the resolve necessary to sacrifice.
Having only an emotional connection to a goal is just as ineffective. We yearn to change, but we’re flailing about, unsure of what direction to head. All we know is we can’t stay here.
Here are some suggestions to make sure you have both an intellectual and emotional connection to your goals:
- Have a clear statement of why. This should be the first thing you identify, possibly before you come up with the goal itself. Why do you want to change? What will it make possible in your life that isn’t possible now? What is the consequence if you don’t change? Write out two or three sentences that describe how the change will make your life more awesome.
- Create a vision board. If you need a little extra motivation, create a vision board that will help inspire you when you need to fan the flames a bit. This might be a photo of a new closet or an inspirational quote. If you’re paying off debt, make a giant thermometer you can color in and hang it in your kitchen.
- Set a clear deadline. This is the T in SMARTER. Putting a deadline on it tells your brain this is something you’re actively working towards, not just something that’s going to happen when it happens. Also give deadlines to the subgoals, milestones, and next actions you’ve identified.
- Identify the next actions you can take. The change you’re facing may feel insurmountable. If you don’t know what the next action is, you’re going to stall out. You don’t have to plan out every step of the way, just the next step or two so you know what to do.
- Review your goals regularly. You can’t build a fire and expect it to last for long unattended. You need to stoke it and poke it so it has enough fuel and oxygen. Review your goals regularly—and I mean daily (it only takes a minute)—if you want to keep your enthusiasm and energy burning brightly.
When you set a goal, you need to define the SMARTER criteria. That starts the vision. Don’t stop there.
If you can get both your heart and mind behind the change, you’ll find the strength to change your life.