Have you ever made a (supposedly concrete) decision to tackle a task, or get a new project done, only to find yourself putting it off day after day? It becomes the forever-tomorrow task, always put to the bottom of the list simply because it’s bigger than all the other tasks you have to do. So much easier to get the housework done, make those couple of calls, sort your emails first! From best intentions to achieve more, we end up achieving nothing.
If, like me, you then get grumpy with yourself, set yourself an even BIGGER goal, determine to be even more disciplined, you’ll know that that lasts about a day and a half before you find a million other little things to do and just end up browbeating yourself for failing yet again.
I’ve spent many years acting out this scenario, believing that pushing harder, promising more, packing more time blocks into my schedule will get the job done, only to find that the solution is entirely different.
Quite simply, I lowered my expectations.
I’m great at getting a lot of small tasks done, but the big project….nope. Procrastination City. For me it really hit home when I decided to write a book. Setting myself a very reasonable goal to do about four hours of writing per day seemed achievable, yet day after day it wasn’t happening. Not only was four hours not getting done, not even part of it was getting done…try zero hours. It seemed like such a big block of time commitment and there was always so much else to do.
I found that because it was the biggest time commitment of the day, I would want to get all the small stuff done first so I could fully concentrate on the “big thing”. Trouble was, I’d keep going with the small stuff all day so that it just became too late to tackle the book writing. And the weeks flew past….
So this is what I did.
I decided to write just one hour each morning. That was all. It was small enough that I could get it done easily (and first) and without feeling the pull of all the other tasks. I made it into an easy blip in the day, quick to do, and so small that no excuse could possibly be enough to justify not doing it. And surprise, surprise…some writing got done every day versus big plans and zero writing before.
Lowering your expectations can reap great rewards. You need to find your “sweet spot” – that quantity or measurable size of task that is acceptable in your mind as an easy thing to do, otherwise it tips over into “too big” and you’ll end up procrastinating and putting it off. By promising to do less, you’ll get more done.
This works with exercise too – one of the most common self-promises that people fail at. They set the goal too high – it’s Do or Die, 100% or nothing. Their aim every day is to “get fit” or “lose weight”, to complete a certain workout, eat a certain amount of calories. It’s just too hard for most, we feel we can never get there - the hour of exercise we promised ourselves is just too great, and so the excuses arise and we end up doing nothing.
So lower your expectations to getting a task done that is just a blip, easy to do and with less pressure. Make the goal simply to do 20 minutes (or 10) of activity a day of whatever you feel like doing – walking, yoga, or more strenuous if you’re in the mood. You’ll find you’ll do it because it’s quick, it’s easy and it’s far more achievable. Most importantly, you really can’t fail at it. Soon you have a daily habit of 20 minutes of activity and you’re losing weight and getting fitter!
That’s not to say we shouldn’t set big goals – absolutely we can and should! But when it comes to the daily hard labour, the habit is more important than the quantity - set smaller goals and make them easy. A little every day will get a lot more done than massive intention in huge time blocks.
Stephanie Chan is a Sydney based Life Coach, Dating Coach and Presenter.
Her passion is in working with people to improve self-worth, confidence & strength in all areas of their lives.
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