February is upon us, and it’s safe to say that most of us who began the new year with a list of goals and new habits that we wanted to create are beginning to falter. Instead of feeling the burn from our new work-out routine, we are simply feeling burned out.
Consistency in the key to success, no matter what you are hoping to achieve. Athletes have to train consistently, students must study consistently, and new employees must show consistency in their work ethic before they can hope to advance. The problem is that too often we don’t know HOW to become consistent. We set goals that are too cumbersome to maintain and build expectations that are simply unrealistic.
As somebody who has struggled for years with consistency, I have found that there are three tips that I give to both clients and friends to help them avoid burn-out and create a consistent habit in their life.
The first step is to set realistic goals. Too often our goals are too large or too vague to be useful. They instead become unrealistic expectations or demands on our time and energy. Everybody knows the S.M.A.R.T method for goal setting (Specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, timed). But what about the KISS method (keep it simple, stupid) or the DUMB method (doable, understandable, manageable, beneficial)?
What do all of these theories have in common? They help you choose goals that are within reach and can be built upon daily.
Setting realistic goals for yourself helps to avoid burnout. Your goals should push you, helping you to stretch beyond your comfort zone, but not so much that they become overwhelming.
It’s easy to say what you want to do, but the question of why is equally important. Goals that you set to make your parents happy or goals with flimsy motivations will quickly evaporate. Anchor your goals to deeper and more concrete realities.
The second step is to prep for success. Meal prepping, choosing your work clothes the night before, pre-loading lecture notes or audio-books onto your phone, and setting the alarm are all examples of things we do to prepare for success. Our morning and evening routines often determine the direction of our day. If you don’t have a morning and evening routine, then it’s high time that you start one. Make sure that the things you do upon waking up set your mind and body in the right state for success. The morning is the right time to study, exercise, write, and meditate. Your evening routine should be conducive to sleep and reduce stress in the morning. The evening is the right time to journal, review your spending habits, lay out your clothes, pack your lunch and begin a task list for the following day.
The third step is to make your habits tiny. Our brains are wired to push back against major changes. Even if the things that we do daily are ultimately unhealthy or counterproductive, once they become habits, our brains do not want to change. Our bodies are much the same way. Gaining weight is much easier than losing it. Our bodies don’t like to work in reverse. So instead of throwing away all of your chips and cookies, resolve to eat one super healthy meal a day. Instead of drawing out a super strict budget and cancelling all of your credit cards, resolve to use a wish list to avoid impulse purchases.
Small, manageable steps that use the same triggers as old habits can help make these new habits stick. Instead of dozing on the sofa after dinner, take a short walk. Instead of spending an afternoon shopping you can spend it doing one of the many free activities you’ve discovered in your community. Replace 45 minutes of YouTube with 45 minutes of online study. Small changes add up over time and before you know it you’ve reached your goal.
Remember that consistency is not a matter of will-power. It’s about removing the barriers to success. Listen to all of the reasons you give yourself to avoid making changes and address them. Perhaps you need to get to bed earlier, install a budgeting app, or reevaluate your goals. Regardless of your method, remember that consistency means that when you hit a wall, you adjust your strategy and never give up.