5 Keys to Building the Self-Discipline Required to Meet Your Goals

Self on 12.28.12
Contributor bio | twitter

Photo: Evil Erin / Creative Commons

‘Tis the season to make resolutions. Who among us has achieved the majority of resolutions we've set for ourselves? I would estimate that very few possess that level of self-control. That doesn’t mean resolutions are pointless, it just means you need the right tools. Here are five ways to build self-discipline in order to keep your resolutions this year.

1. Enlist your right brain when goal setting.

Photo: Gaurav Mishra / Creative Commons

So often, we make resolutions with our logical, rational, left brains driving the bus. We think things like, “I will be healthier if I lose weight. Let’s eat some broccoli.” But we then wage a war within ourselves: our right-brain, more animalist side, thinks, “To heck with weight loss! Check out those cookies!”

The key is to allow your right brain – your intuitive, emotional, creative, impulsive side – to make the resolution and decide what you want to accomplish, and why. “I will live longer AND look super-hot if I lose weight! Hooray for broccoli!” When your right-brain leads the charge, you are less susceptible to self-sabotage. Your right brain is more visual and can rely on tools like inspiring images and mental visualization to stay motivated towards your goals, which can make you less likely to stray.

But how do you access your right brain? One technique is to get into a wordless state in order to shut off your verbal, left brain so that you can “see” your right brain’s thoughts. To do so might require a little bit of practice, but the more you try, the easier it gets. Sit in a quiet space and close your eyes. I like to envision a bright, white light shooting out of my heart and head and permeating the world. Concentrating on any peculiar mental visual will help to shut off the flow of worded-thoughts. Once you’re focused on an image and words are no longer floating through your consciousness, use your right-brained imagination to seek out what you want for yourself. Hold that new, inspiring vision in your mind, and return to it often.

2. Use your left brain for strategic planning.

Photo: Ken Teegardin / Creative Commons

In order to achieve the goals you set for yourself, you must enlist your whole brain, which includes the aforementioned logical side. While the left brain isn’t 100% helpful when it comes to creating goals soaked in inspiration and motivation, where it really shines is in both the planning and progress tracking stages.

The left brain is most motivating when you enlist planning tools like calendaring, task lists, routines, and schedules, which are the traditional tools we think of when goal setting. Of course, these tools aren’t to be underestimated in their effectiveness.

Tracking your progress via charts and graphs integrates both left and right brain motivation in that it’s both analytical and visual. Use a whole-brained approach to stay wholly dedicated to achieving resolutions.

3. Shake hands with reality.

Photo: hobvias sudoneighm / Creative Commons

Humans are experts at fooling themselves. We all have unhelpful habits that we unintentionally go to great lengths to protect, simply because the status quo is easier and thus comforting. Go on a truth-hunting mission to see where you are making excuses for yourself. How do you sabotage yourself? What excuses do you make? Write down your unhelpful thoughts and impulses and counter them with more helpful truths.

For example, if every year – despite your desire to eat healthier – you attack the leftover Christmas cookies like you will somehow be disappointing somebody somewhere if you don’t eat them, examine those thoughts. Will you feel more guilty if you do eat them, or if you don’t eat them –thus letting them go to “waste.” As I heard from Geneen Roth, extra food can either go to “waste” or to “waist” – but either way the food is wasted. The choice is whether extra food will go into the trashcan or onto your body.

Get a full and truthful picture of where your motivations lie and what excuses you use to sabotage yourself. Do you set unachievable goals and then beat yourself up when you can’t stick to a too-rigorous program? Or do you undershoot, and then find yourself underwhelmed by lackluster results? The point is to be realistic. If you aren’t able to stick to your resolutions, go on a fact-finding mission to find out what’s not working and what attitudes and systems are holding you back.  

4. Aim for consistency.

Photo: Robert Nelson / Creative Commons

Consistency is everything. What you do on most days is more important that what you can do once in a while. Make sure you commit to a resolution that you can reliably achieve on a regular basis. It might be attractive to resolve that you will do something at a particular level of perfection – for example, to get up at 5AM seven days per week – but if you cannot consistently achieve that goal for an extended period of time, you need to reevaluate and choose a goal that you can achieve on a consistent basis.

For a while there, I had a goal of waking up at 5AM daily. It worked beautifully for me for a time, but my schedule became too delicate. If I had a late night, the wheels fell off the bus and it was too much of a struggle to maintain my goal on a consistent basis, because it became too hard to get back into the groove of a 5AM wakeup without feeling miserably tired. Now I’m experimenting with getting up in the 6 o’clock hour, because that way I can still get work done or relax at night without worrying excessively about lost sleep.

Make sure your goal falls into a sweet spot. It needs to be big enough to make a difference, but small enough to stick to consistently. Consider the option of a series of stepped goals that you can achieve in increments over time.  

5. Create an accountability system.

Photo: Elizabeth Lloyd / Creative Commons

I could seriously go by the pseudonym “The Lone Ranger.” I tend to operate under the (totally false) assumption that I can go through life in a bubble. The older I get, the more I realize in a very real sense that I absolutely need people; in fact, I love to need people. When we resolve to accomplish something, an extremely helpful tactic is to rely on others to help us reach our goals.

I’ve used this blogging platform as my accountability system at times, by announcing that I’m going to achieve certain goals. Knowing that some people are following what I say here motivates me to hold myself more accountable to my words than if I were operating within my bubble.

Aside from just announcing to others what you intend to accomplish, you could also enlist an accountability buddy (me perhaps?) -- someone who may have the same goals you do, so you can compare notes and encourage each other, or someone you know who “gets” you and will support any effort you make to improve. You could also pick a program, whether it’s online or offline, that will give you social interaction and a means to be held responsible for your results.

My sincere hope is that this year, some or all of these five tips will help you in being successful at sticking to your resolutions. And remember, each failure is an opportunity to learn and grow and to see what can be done differently next time to get you closer to success.

Top Articles on Resolutions:
10 New Year’s Resolutions to Make as a Family
5 Tips for Setting Kinder New Year’s Resolutions
10 Healthy Eating Resolutions Your Family Should Make Right Now