One of the most important aspects of achieving your goals is educating yourself to make informed decisions and taking confident action steps. However, as a therapist, one of the primary challenges that brings people to see me is they have over-complicated the change process by continuing to look for answers that they already have.
For example, I was getting my hair cut one day and the stylist asked me which self-help book I would recommend for her to read to lose weight. I asked her how she would advise me to lose weight. She said to eat healthier foods, limit sugar, choose healthy portions, drink enough water, get enough sleep, and engage in some sort of physical activity. I proceeded to ask her why she needed a book to tell her what she already knew. Nobody has ever lost weight by sitting on a couch, reading a book on how to lose weight. This was an example of overcomplicating the change process. So many of us already know the answers, but for various reasons, we continue to consume information instead of applying the information we already have.
Although the internet and multi-billion-dollar self-help industry can provide a seemingly endless library of useful tools to educate yourself on just about any subject, it can also turn into the primary obstacle that stands between you and success…if you allow it to.
Educating yourself is important, but the overconsumption of information can trick your brain into thinking you are being productive when, in fact, you have not made any progress.
Too many choices and too much information can overwhelm you and lead to a state of analysis paralysis. That means that your brain is using all its mental fuel but you don’t accomplish much. It would be like placing a vehicle in neutral on a giant treadmill with the engine running. The wheels are turning and it’s burning fuel, but in reality, it’s not going anywhere.
Assign parameters to your research
It is important to understand what exactly you are looking for. What do you type into the search bar and what are you hoping to find?
Are you looking for the perfect strategy to achieve your goals that is devoid of obstacles? Do you have a low tolerance for discomfort, so therefore you are trying to find the easiest or most convenient approach? Do you not trust yourself to make the “right” decision, so you are trying to consume as much information as possible because you believe it will provide you with that answer? Perhaps you are searching for a way that validates the strategy you have already decided on.
Remember, there is a lot of information out there that includes different perspectives, experiences, backgrounds, and opinions. The one thing that all those sources of information have in common is that none of them knows what makes you tick or what you value in life. If we want to live a valuable and meaningful life, we cannot depend solely on other people’s words to tell us how to do that.
Would you use an entire blueprint for someone else’s dream home to build your dream house? Not usually. But you can look over their blueprint and find ideas that you would like to apply to your blueprint.
It is important to be curious and open to advice, but understand that it is just that: advice. You can take what works for others and apply it to yourself. Even if only 50 percent works for you, that is 50 percent further than you were. Diversification of your resources is essential for achieving any goal.
Progress over perfection
There are so many fads and self-help books out there that add unnecessary complexity to our not-so-complex situations. Consider the example of my conversation with the hairstylist earlier. She had all the answers she needed already. But she did not trust that the process could be that simple. Her action steps should have included:
- Drink more water than she did yesterday
- Pack her lunch and snacks for the day to satisfy your cravings for fast food
- Take a brisk walk at least 3 or more times this week
- Make sure she puts her phone down earlier at night and use relaxation techniques to calm her mind so her quality of sleep would improve.
- Start a healthy competition with some of her co-workers or spouse to achieve their health goals together.
- Put visual reminders in as many places as possible reminding her to cook smaller portions or to use a smaller plate. Heck, she could have practiced mindful eating by putting the fork down after each bite to allow herself to feel full before she went back for seconds. So many potentially simple strategies were right in front of her that she almost didn’t even recognize them.
But instead, she was about to go purchase and read an entire book that had words in the title like “easy” and “fast results”. She almost became like the car on the treadmill.
In her defense, the big picture solutions are simple, but assessing the obstacles and designing solutions for those obstacles is a little more complex. Regardless, the answers to achieving her goals will always include the steps she highlighted, so might as well start working on them now.
Measure your progress by what you “DO”; not what you “know”
I have been in this profession for several years now and I can’t recall anyone’s primary goal being to know more about something. Knowing more is certainly one of the objectives to reaching our goals. The primary goals are typically geared towards tangible change that is measured by action.
What value does knowledge provide you if you aren’t using it to be to accomplish your goals or add more value to your life? That would be like going to medical school to become a doctor but deciding to work at McDonald’s instead.
The goal is for your output to match your input. The sooner you apply what you learn by taking action, the more tangible progress you will make and the more motivated you will be to continue working.
Adopt a growth mindset
If you have a fixed mindset, you might be consumed with how you portray yourself and may try to hide your flaws, insecurities, and run away from challenges, You might fear that all your inadequacies will be exposed for the world to see.
Consequently, this avoidance can result in a lot of missed opportunities if you often quit at the first bump in the road.
Individuals with a growth mindset will be more oriented toward self-improvement and more likely to persist in the face of challenges and failures because they will treat them as opportunities to grow, rather than signs that their abilities are inadequate. Those who strive for a growth mindset do not need certainty of success because they understand that mistakes are learning opportunities and stepping stones to get them closer to achieving their goals.
People with a growth mindset view obstacles as speed bumps, not roadblocks. When you hit a roadblock, you turn around and go back where you came from. When you hit a speedbump, you slow down, get over the bump, and resume the journey towards your desired destination.
Adopt a solution-focused approach
Adopting a solution-focused approach does not mean that we ignore potential obstacles. It means that instead of dwelling on the problems, we redirect our minds to solutions. Part of finding solutions is assessing potential obstacles and having a plan in place for when they inevitably present themselves.
For example, let’s say your goal is to lose 20 pounds and you set expectations that you are going to eat a healthy breakfast in the morning, go to the gym every day before work, take your lunch to work instead of eating fast food, and are only going to drink water every day. Potential obstacles could be:
- What if I wake up late and don’t have time to eat the healthy breakfast that I had planned?
- What if I am sick and my energy is zapped?
- What if my kid is sick and I have to stay home from work?
- What if I get a hankering for ice cream at 2 pm today?
- What if work caters in unexpectedly and all of that greasy food is right under my nose?
- Hell, what if I wake up and just don’t want to do any of it that day?
Having solutions for potential obstacles is one of the most important keys to sustained success.
I remember a video where a young Mike Tyson was talking about the key to knocking out his opponents. He explained that it had nothing to do with the power of his punch. It had everything to do with timing and catching his opponent when they weren’t expecting it.
What I took away from that boxing lesson was that when we are able to anticipate potential obstacles, they have a much lower chance of knocking us out. But when you approach the change process expecting no resistance, that is when the smallest obstacle (or punch) can knock you out. When you take what you’ve learned and create an action plan that includes how you’ll handle obstacles, you can reach new levels of success.