Make a Plan

This is the first Thursday of 2017 and many of you may have made some New Year’s Resolutions (on which many of you may have already given up!) Today, I thought I’d give you some tips for how to increase the likelihood that you’ll be able to accomplish your goals—whether they’re New Year’s Resolutions or simply stuff you want to do or have to do. The skill of the month is Make a Plan!

The first step is usually to determine what, with as much precision, it is that you actually want or need to do. Make sure it is a realistic goal. If your Resolution is to lose 100 pounds this year, that may not be realistic. Set small, attainable goals and then revise them as needed.

Next, look at all of the steps that will be required to accomplish whatever the task is: do you need to purchase items (like gym clothes or a notebook or something?) A good way to approach this is to ask yourself: “what is standing in the way of my actually getting started on this task right now?” Time? Money? Materials? Support? A fun way to look at it is to write out all the reasons why you “can’t” do the thing! Then, when you’ve compiled your list, its time to move to the next step.

The next step is to go through the list you just created to figure out how to overcome these obstacles. One example of how to overcome an obstacle is this: I have to walk my dogs every morning. I don’t really have a choice in the matter. So, to overcome the obstacle of “its cold and my bed is super warm and comfy” I sleep in sweats or something similar so that I can literally roll out of bed, throw my shoes on and I’m out the door. I don’t have to change out of my comfy PJs! For many people, the biggest and most obvious obstacle is “I just don’t have .” I want you to think about that statement. There are 168 hours in one week. If we subtract 8 hours of sleep per night that leaves us with 112 hours left. If you work a 10 hour day, SEVEN DAYS A WEEK (which is for most people a generous estimate) you STILL have 42 hours! FOURTY TWO! That’s a lot of time! The credit for thinking about time in this way goes to Laura Vanderkam in her fabulous Ted Talk that I encourage you to watch if you think you just don’t have time! 

If you truly feel you don’t have time, I encourage you to go to google and print out a daily schedule (with 24 hour blocks) and actually fill it out for a whole day. (I have attached a sample that I like a lot since it further breaks the hours into smaller segments!) If you honestly have a day that all 24 are filled, you are doing way too much my friend—unless there was some sort of emergency situation—you need to scale back! Most of us, though, are spending the time in ways that don’t really benefit us (watching netflix, checking Facebook , etc.) If you have those blocks of time, consider dropping just one or two to allow time for this thing that you really feel is important.

After you’ve completed the process of managing your excuses (which really can take some creative thinking so don’t be afraid to enlist the help of a friend!) the next step is to make an appointment with yourself. This is the phrase I like to use to help convey that the time you set aside to do this thing is just as important as any doctor’s appointment or any other appointment you may make with a professional. You don’t want to miss these appointments and if your friend calls and asks you to meet him for lunch you say “oh, I have an appointment until 12:30 so I can meet you at 1!” You don’t move or change that appointment unless it is absolutely necessary. As you set aside time for this appointment with yourself, make sure, once again, that you have everything ready to go for it. If you’re going to an appointment at the vet, you plan to take your dog and you make sure you have his crate or leash or whatever else that is required for this. You gather these materials BEFORE the appointment so that you’ll be on time. I want you to think of this appointment with yourself in just the same way. If you have decided that your time is from 11 to 12 on a specific day, before 11, you need to make sure you have anything you might need for the appointment. Is it that you’ve planned to take a walk? Do you have your shoes on? Do you need a hat? Do you have your keys? If you’ve planned to write that novel you’ve had running around in your head forever, do you have a notebook, a working pen or pencil? Do you have your computer to do research or to start typing your draft? Do you have any notes that you may have scribbled here and there?

The last bit of advice is to plan these appointments with yourself IN ADVANCE. I like to schedule my appointments at the very least the night before. Pull out your phone or wherever you keep your appointments and look into the next week and see where you can schedule your appointment(s) with yourself and actually put them down. Don’t pencil them in—put them in pen—because unless there’s an emergency, you’re going to make that appointment! Then set reminders on your phone or, if you’re old school, write yourself a sticky note and put that where you’ll see it! It is really imperative that you WRITE IT DOWN! Don’t assume that you’ll “just remember” because this is the place where most people lose the motivation—they assume they’ll remember but they invariably forget or decide this thing can wait and “I’ll do it later.” Later never comes.

One thing that I have learned from Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and other places is that if we wait for motivation to come to us, we’re unlikely to ever get anything done. If you want to feel motivated to do something, the first step is actually to do the thing. The motivation comes after you’ve already started! So, the next step of our goal-setting plan is to actually do the thing! Whether or not you actually want to do it when the time comes or not, if you’ve bothered to do all of this up to now, you really feel there is value in this thing you want to do.  Remind yourself of that and that the motivation to do it will come after you’ve already started so, its time to get to it!

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I personally like to make very small appointments to do things that I don’t particularly care for. I say to myself: “I’m only going to spend 10 minutes on cleaning the bathroom.” And then I agree that for 10 minutes, I can do the unpleasant task. Usually what ends up happening is that 10 minutes is up and I say “Oh, I’m almost done with this thing here, I’ll just finish that up first.” So I frequently spend more than 10 minutes, but after 10 minutes, I have an out. I’m done with my appointment. You may be thinking 10 minutes isn’t long enough to accomplish anything! I agree you may not get something ALL DONE but it will almost certainly be better than it was before you started and if you do 10 minutes every day, after 6 days you’ll have spent a whole hour on it! So, I’m encouraging you to break down a big or really unpleasant task into small bits. The idea is to get to the place where you can say “Okay, I can do that. I really don’t have any excuse for not spending that amount of time on it.” Even 10 minutes might be too much—figure out how long you’re willing to spend on the task and only commit to that much. You can always schedule several tiny appointments with yourself interspersed with some pleasurable activity or other tasks that aren’t so unpleasant!

So hopefully using this skill, you will be able to make some progress towards your goal(s). I want to leave you with one last bit of advice and that is: be kind and gentle to yourself. If your appointments are too long or the task is too hard, consider revising your goal. Also recognize that we’re only human and we’re going to have bad days where things just don’t work the way we’ve planned and that’s okay. There’s another shot at it tomorrow. If you struggle with “all or nothing” thinking, I’d like to encourage you to shoot for “better than before” thinking! Go out there and set some attainable goals for yourself not just for the new year!