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A lot of people make big plans when there’s a new year. Some people call them New Year’s resolutions. Others say resolutions are nonsense and they don’t work.

Either way, at some point you’re going to set a big goal and the new year seems as good a time as any to talk about seeing your goals through to completion.

Without fail, we will reach a point where it’s no longer fun to do the work required to achieve our goal. That’s where we often burn out.

Why does this happen?

Why do we stop enjoying the process? Why do we lose motivation and start to hate the mundane tasks along the way?

When you’re not motivated to do what you know you should be doing, it’s because you’ve lost the context of your end goal.

The goal you set determines the meaningfulness of your activities.

Tune in to hear us talk about staying motivated.

Highlights, Takeaways, & Quick Wins
  • Set goals that will incentivize you to take action now.
  • The goal you set determines the meaningfulness of your activities.
  • The anticipation of discomfort can put your motivation on pause.
  • Motivation is found in the doing.
  • Motivation is not a source, it’s a result of action.
  • Don’t make the mistake of waiting to start until you find the motivation.
  • Start with a commitment to take an action, even the smallest action.
  • What’s setting you back isn’t going in the wrong direction, it’s not taking action at all.
  • Action will lead to clarity.
Show Notes
  • 03:32 Sean: Ben, have you set any big goals or plans for 2017? Some people call them “new year’s resolutions.” This episode is timeless. It’s about staying motivated throughout the year when you’ve set big goals. It applies to any time, but we figured, what better time? It’s as good as any. We might as well talk about staying motivated and goals.
  • 04:01 Ben: I’ve definitely set big goals.
  • 04:09 Sean: Cory, how about you?
  • 04:10 Cory: I have also set big goals.
  • 04:12 Sean: As have I.
  • 04:29 Ben: I kind of framed this for myself in my talk at seanwes conference, but I’m categorizing my goals based on the three main areas of my life. I have goals, specifically, for myself and my fitness. I have a fitness goal, and it is a weight goal, but there’s an ongoing component of it. My weight goal is to get down to what I weighed in high school. My ongoing goal is related to how many times a week I work out, and it’s also related to the kind of foods that I eat.
  • 05:46 There’s that. I’ve got family goals. We’re trying to increase the amount of quality time we spend with each of the boys individually, and we’re also trying to increase the amount of quality time we spend together as a family. We have set some pretty big goals for that. I can’t remember specifically what they are off the top of my head, so I’m being vague right now.

A Year as a Unit of Time

  • 06:10 Sean: Needless to say, you have big plans for the year.
  • 06:14 Ben: Oh yeah. We’ve been thinking about this a lot. It’s not just a 2017 thing. It’s an ongoing thing for us. We’ve been taking it in smaller chunks. We have the bigger goals, but we also have the smaller chunks.
  • 06:33 Sean: I like treating it the same, where it’s not like, “We set goals and resolutions because it’s the new year,” but it’s a convenient check in point. We’re setting goals, staying accountable, and accomplishing things throughout the year, but the new year is a check in point. It’s a time to reevaluate and say, “How are you doing?” Pam in the chat was saying that she does it on her birthday. Instead of every calendar year, she does it for a new year of her life, which is kind of cool.
  • 07:04 Ben: I guess where it makes the most sense is if you’re thinking about a year as a unit that’s meaningful to your goal. You could also think about three years as a unit that’s meaningful to your goal. You could think about ten years as a unit that’s meaningful to your goal.
  • Wherever time units fall related to the size of your goal, those are great check in points.

  • 07:29 Evaluation, actually looking at your results, whether you accomplished certain tasks to reach your goal, is one of the most important keys to keeping on track with your goals.

Staying Motivated

  • 07:47 Sean: I want to talk about staying motivated with these goals. Inevitably, whether it’s a new year or any time of year, you’ve set this goal, and you’re excited about it. You have this adrenaline and energy, but eventually, you hit this point where it’s no longer fun to do the work, the mundane tasks, and that’s where we tend to burn out. I want to talk about persevering through that, getting through that. I usually save questions for the end, but I want to bring in this one a little bit early, because I think it’s relevant.
  • 08:25 Ryan in the chat says, “Many times I feel like a goal tends to be treated as a big north star in the sky that we look up at once in a while to remind ourselves of what we want. Because of this I’ve started to think of goals as projects. Should a goal always be treated as a project with tangible steps and processes? And if so, is it okay to keep iterating on those processes as you go and making adjustments? Sometimes I feel guilty for adjusting as I go when I call it a ‘goal’ but not when I call it a ‘project.'”
  • 08:58 You said that we have these check in points. People feel guilty when their goals change or when they want their goal to change. Is it right to change your goal? Should it have been called a project and not a goal? I think it is right.
  • The purpose of a goal is to incentivize you to take action right now.

  • 09:27 Once you’re moving, going in a direction, taking action, as you get closer to that goal, you start to see greater definition of that goal. Maybe you start to realize that it’s not quite what you had in mind, but something similar, a step away, may be what you want to go after. That kind of calibration is good. I think it’s appropriate. That’s where those check in points help us reevaluate where we’re going.
  • 09:58 Ben: You’ve used a metaphor that I really like in the past, where you talk about driving to a city. Take any large city, but let’s say San Antonio for example, with so many different suburbs and boroughs. You have Stone Oak, Live Oak, Alamo Heights, and you could say, “My goal is to get to San Antonio.” When you look it up on the map, it just drops a pin in the middle of the city. It doesn’t give you a specific place that you had in mind unless you give it specificity. If you don’t know what that specific place is, you’re not going to set out on your journey until you’re driving to some location.
  • 11:01 Sean: For 98% of the journey, it looks the same if you’re like, “I’m going to San Antonio,” vs. “I’m going to Torchy’s Tacos.”

Remember the Greater “Why”

  • 11:31 Sean: I want to bring in Cory here, because I had him writing some notes before the show. It’s not the official segment. I’m just bringing you into the show, Cory. Talk to me about some of the notes you wrote about staying motivated with your goals.
  • 11:51 Cory: It’s funny, just this morning I woke up really early and met with my accountability partner, Zach. We talked about this same thing, staying motivated. We asked ourselves so many times, “Why is it hard to do the action steps to achieve the goal?” It’s fun and easy to dream big and say, “It would be so cool to hit this weight goal, accomplish this great thing, or have this lifestyle,” but doing the steps necessary to get there is what’s hard. We finally found that it comes down to understanding why you have that goal.
  • 12:35 Why do you want the goal that you set for yourself? Once you ask that question, you realize that there’s a deeper meaning behind why you set that goal in the first place, and that helps motivate the action steps necessary to get there.
  • 12:53 Sean: To package that up, we came up with a phrase.
  • The goal you set determines the meaningfulness of your activities.

  • 13:16 Any activity is mundane in isolation. It can be. We certainly had some technical issues before we started today’s show. It’s always an adventure. I’m underneath the desk. I have wires every which way. It’s stressful. The monitors are going out, the mouse stops working. We have like seven Thunderbolt devices plugged into this Mac Pro. There are six ports on there. We’re daisy-chaining one thing. Even though there are six ports, there are three buses.
  • 13:56 You have to understand this stuff, because if you’re putting too much on a bus which spans two ports, you can overload the thing and it just tanks it. It goes straight to the motherboard. Fun stuff. It’s not fun, but it’s in the context of, “I want to share this message with people, get on the show, and start streaming live.” We have value to share. In the context of that goal, my activities are given meaning.
  • 14:32 Ben: Even then, if you wanted to get really picky about it, if your motivation was just to share your message, you could opt for a simpler setup. You wouldn’t have to have such a complicated mess, but you also have the motivation of quality, what that quality means to people, and how they receive your message differently because of the quality of your presentation. All of these other motivations come into play as well.
  • 15:13 It may not be just that singular motivation, but there’s a culmination of many different things that add up to make it seem like a no-brainer for you to do this mundane thing. You care that much about the motivation.
  • 15:31 Sean: Is it safe to say that when we lose that motivation, when we no longer feel like doing the work, doing the thing—waking up early, writing, running, whatever—is it that we’ve lost the context of that goal, the vision of the goal, to give our activities meaning?
  • 15:53 Ben: It may be that. When Cory first started talking about it, I was thinking about the trouble with unknown outcomes and our tendency to have a negative bias. What you have experienced in the past plays into it, too. You’ve experienced setting up all this complicated equipment, the discomfort of this mental load for something that seems relatively unimportant.
  • The anticipation of discomfort puts your motivation on pause.

  • 16:44 It’s like, “I’m thinking about the negative thing.” Or maybe you don’t know what the outcome is going to be. You set a big goal, and it requires a certain task that you’ve never done before. You can only imagine, based on things you’ve seen and experienced with other people in the past, what the outcome of fulfilling that task would be. Again, if it’s a negative thing, that can really put a pause on your motivation.
  • 17:17 But, also, I don’t want to prescribe that we don’t think about those things. Don’t say, “Just don’t think about the discomfort,” because when we try not to think about the discomfort, it still tries to fight its way into our consciousness.

Motivation Is Not a Source

  • 17:37 Sean: Eugene just asked, “Sean, how often do you really lose motivation rather than just going through a flat spot?” I feel like I lose motivation all the time. There are things I needed to do for today yesterday that didn’t get done. The same over the weekend, the same last week. I will procrastinate on those things all the time, and I’ve gotten really good at not totally wasting time procrastinating. I don’t like how it feels during and after.
  • 18:17 I’ll go work on something productive, but it’s not the right thing, and I know it. That’s probably the least of all the evils, but I experience that all the time. I fight that every single day, but I know that motivation is not a source. You’ll never find motivation. The problem is that people think that motivation is this source that they need to get, that they need to pull from, before they take action. “I’m not taking action because I’m not motivated. I need to find the motivation.” People think that.
  • Motivation is not a source, it’s a result of action.

  • 19:00 Motivation is found in the doing. You have to do, to act, to move. Once you get going, once you get over that inertia, that’s where you find motivation. Motivation charges you and keeps you going. I don’t know what part of the engine that is.
  • 19:33 Ben: We are wired to see things that we’ve started through to completion, in most cases. Once we get started on a project, even seconds after we’ve put our hand on the mouse or turned on the computer, we’re ten times more motivated than we were when we were sitting there waiting, not taking any action. I absolutely agree with that. I also see the difficulty in that moment right before you take action.
  • 20:13 If you don’t feel like doing it, or if you’re anticipating discomfort or worse, maybe potential harm to your ego or something like that, there’s a mechanism in our brain that keeps us from moving toward things that could potentially harm us. Thankfully, a lot of people have found ways to overcome that or have moved forward in spite of that because they’re so inspired by the results of their goal that they take that first step. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have some of the amazing advancements in technology and new information that we have. How do you get from being stopped, not doing something, to taking that first step?
  • 21:09 Sean: I think people are going to experience that in this coming year. It’s exciting right now. You’ve got things you want to accomplish, but you’re going to experience that. You’ll feel like you’ve come to a dead end and you’re just stopped. You have no momentum. It’s like, “I don’t want to do this anymore.” I feel this all the time. Right now, I’m off of my early wake and running schedule.
  • 21:37 Every day, I feel bad about it. We did all of this traveling, the conference, and I know the same is true for Cory Miller. He did a bunch of traveling. I don’t know how many time zones he traveled through, but it messed up his routine.
  • You’ll get to the point where things fall flat, but don’t make the mistake of waiting to start again until you find the motivation.

  • 22:05 “Well, hopefully I find the motivation.” That can’t be what you think. Start with a commitment to take an action, the smallest action. Find the smallest domino. Have you ever seen that thing with the domino that’s 20 feet tall and hundreds of pounds? It doesn’t take much. It’s that domino effect, and it’s exponential.
  • 22:39 Do the smallest thing that you can do. If you need to write a book, don’t say, “I’ll just write a chapter today. I’ll just write one page today. I’ll just write 1,000 words. I’ll just write for ten minutes.” Say, “I’m going to walk into my office, sit down in my chair, and open up my writing app.” That’s it. That’s what you need to do. You don’t need motivation to do that. It’s just a choice. You say, “I’m going to go to bed at 9:30pm and I’m going to lay out my running clothes.”
  • 23:23 That’s it. Time and again, that has helped me. The times that I lay out the running clothes for the next morning, it triples the likelihood that I’ll actually do it. Take the smallest action.
  • Start with action, not with motivation.

  • 23:44 Ben: I like something Kyle said here, too. He said, “Be okay with the bad days. Know they will happen, and don’t let it affect the next day.” That goes to what you were saying about how you feel bad about that. That can also be a killer of action—how you feel about not having taken action.
  • 24:07 Sean: Downward spiral.

Have a Way to Evaluate Your Success

  • 24:10 Sean: David said, “Last year, I set a lot of grand goals that I failed to hit. They were based on what I would like to achieve rather than what I needed to achieve to progress my overall plan. This year, I won’t be making any goals. I have a consistent clarity and forward momentum on my progress and my only wish is to maintain and scale this. Do you see this as a legitimate goal in itself or a copout, so as to avoid planning ahead?”
  • 24:41 Ben: I think things can naturally grow on their own, if he’s staying consistent, but setting and working toward goals, at least for me, has been a huge driver of progress. When I don’t set goals, things don’t always stay the same. They don’t always grow. Sometimes they do. Things don’t always reduce. Sometimes they do.
  • When I set goals, I can almost always anticipate that I’m going to grow in some way.

  • 25:24 Ben: Maybe the difficulty is the terminology that you’re using. I would say what he shared, to maintain focus and clarity and to grow in scale, that is a goal, without necessarily calling it a goal. Maybe the more important piece is setting checkpoints to evaluate your progress. You can’t really do that without setting goals. If you look back and say, “Okay, over the past three months, I’ve gone from here to here, and I like that progress curve, so I’m going to continue taking the same kind of actions. The next time I check in, that should get me to this point.”
  • 26:16 Sean: That was going to be my only question to David. How do you know whether or not it’s been a win? What’s the metric? As long as you have that, you’re fine. If you don’t want to set a lofty goal, if you just want to say, “I want to be consistent and blog 52 times in the next year,” and you believe that’s going to help you get where you want to go, that’s fine.
  • You can set a “goal” of consistency, but when you look back on the action you’ve taken, make sure you can be certain that it was a win.

  • 26:56 Can you be certain that you followed through? That’s the main thing. It just needs to be specific enough to where you know that you’ve hit it.
  • 27:09 Ben: I’ll go back to what I said earlier. I think evaluation is one of the most important keys. If you don’t have any markers for success, for whatever you want to call it, whether that’s a “goal” or not, and you’re not able to evaluate what you’ve done vs. where you hoped you would be, it’s really difficult to know whether or not the actions you’re taking are effective. When you don’t know whether or not the actions you’re taking are effective, that makes it difficult to maintain the motivation to continue doing those actions.

Take Small Steps

  • 27:54 Sean: Renata says, “Do you still struggle to do the smaller things? It seems like you’ve got it all down.” I said, “Just go smaller. Don’t start with, ‘I’m going to write a chapter/page/1,000 words/10 minutes,’ start with, ‘I’m going to sit down in my chair and open the writing app.’ If that’s still too big, where are you right now? Are you not in your chair? Are you in your beanbag? Are you on the couch or in bed? Step one is to stand up.”
  • 28:29 Step one, pull the covers off. Whatever you have to do, start smaller. I said, “Go smaller and smaller until you have action of any kind. Go until it’s absurd, until it’s tying your shoe. Go until it’s, ‘brush your teeth and use the bathroom.’ Whatever you can take action on, start with that and then continue to the next thing.” It’s just a domino effect.
  • You just need that tiny little bit of momentum that you can parlay into the next thing.

  • 29:05 Ben: Can I ask you a question, Sean?
  • 29:37 Sean: Sarah said, “Think bigger, start smaller.” I like that.
  • 29:42 Ben: That’s good. I set a big goal for myself and I know some of the steps to take toward accomplishing that goal, but then there’s a whole big unknown. I don’t know these other steps. Even to the point where with some of the smaller steps I know I could take, I don’t know whether or not they’re the right steps. Do you keep drilling back until you know for sure that a step or an action you’re going to take will move you toward that goal, or do you just try something and then evaluate, once you’re done with that action, whether or not it was effective? And then move on to the next action?
  • 30:45 Sean: If I’m understanding correctly, I would work backwards from the result that you want until you get down to something so small that it would be absurd not to take action. Because I worked backwards, I know what the next step is, so it’s never like, “Well, I’m just taking an action and I’m seeing if that connects to where I want to go.”
  • 31:11 Ben: My question is, what if you’re working your way backward and there’s a bunch of steps where you have no idea what they would have to be in order for you to get from the point you know you can get to the point you’d like to get to?
  • 31:29 Sean: In that case, take action. You can’t steer a parked car.
  • The more action you take, the more progress you’ll make, which takes you closer to your goal.

    The closer you get, the clearer picture you have.

  • 31:44 You’ll have more insight.
  • 31:48 Ben: Using that same metaphor, if you start driving, even in the wrong direction, that’s where these check points are really important. At a check point, at some sign in the road, you’ll see a sign for a city that’s another 50 miles up the road. All of a sudden, you’ll realize, “That city is in the opposite direction of the way I really should go.” Even taking an action that isn’t effective and maybe even sets you back still adds clarity and helps you redirect, as long as you take the time to evaluate what you’re doing and whether or not it’s effective.

Just Jump

  • 32:33 Sean: “Action leads to clarity,” Candace just said in the chat room. I like that. That’s the fear that paralyzes people, though—the part where you said, “Even if you go in the wrong direction and it sets you back…” I challenge even that, because of the dangers of thinking that way, of thinking that a step in the “wrong direction” is setting you back.
  • What’s setting you back isn’t taking a step in the wrong direction, it’s not taking action.

  • 33:06 Everyone thinks there’s 360 degrees of options, like, “I’m in a chair and I can spin all the way around, I can go in any direction. I have all these passions. I could do so many things.” We feel like we might pick the wrong one, so we sit in the chair and we spin and spin, and we say, “Eventually, I’ll be motivated. Eventually, I’ll have clarity. Eventually, I’ll know the right way to go.” You never will.
  • 33:37 That’s being stuck. That’s being a step behind. What you need to do is take one step. It’s not like sitting in a chair. It’s like being at the starting line of a race, and you can line up anywhere on the line, a dozen runners at any point on the line, it doesn’t matter where you start—any step is forward progress. I want to make sure the person who feels like, “I’m not feeling motivated. I don’t have clarity. I don’t know which way I want to go,” takes action. Action will lead to clarity.
  • 34:36 Cory: Picture three people, three friends, and they’re going to a cliff to jump off into a swimming hole, a little lake. It’s deep enough, don’t worry. These three friends go up there. The first one takes off his shoes, he’s in his swimming trunks, and he just jumps. He goes for it. He jumps in, he makes it, and he says, “You guys have to try it. It’s awesome.” Second friend gets up and said, “Okay, I’m ready.” He goes up to the edge, he looks over, and he’s like, “Oh man, that’s far. Okay. I got this.”
  • 35:08 He hypes himself up, runs to the edge, and then stops himself. He’s like, “I just needed to try it out. I have to motivate myself. I have to get myself going.” He tries to hype himself up. He goes to the edge again, and he keeps psyching himself out. He’s like, “I don’t want to keep the third guy waiting, so here, you go in front of me.” The third guy goes and jumps right off. He’s in the water. Now they’re all calling on the second friend, “You have to come, it’s so much fun!”
  • 35:35 He goes to the edge again, but he keeps psyching himself out. The problem is, this person is all in their head. They’re staying in the fight that their mind is in. They have to get out of their mind and let go. We’re talking to the person about staying motivated in the goals you’ve already set. You have the goal, you’re set to do it, but when it comes to taking the action, you have this mind game. You keep psyching yourself out.
  • Stop thinking about it so much, get out of your head, and just let go and do it.

  • 36:17 Sean: Stop thinking and trust the process.
  • 36:20 Cory: Just go.
  • 36:25 Ben: I’ve never jumped off a cliff into a swimming hole before, but I have jumped into a very cold pool. It’s the same thing. There’s this moment where there’s no going back, and it’s terrifying up until the moment my toes are no longer touching the edge of the pool. Then, whatever is going to happen is going to happen. There’s nothing I can do now. It’s very freeing, and it’s crazy. I have all of this worry and concern until that moment, and then there’s a peacefulness about it. It’s like something takes over that’s outside of you in some way.