Every year we create New Year’s resolutions. And every time we silently observe how all our efforts are coming to an end. We slowly stop working on our goals or even worse, we never even start working on them. Year by year it’s repeating all over again. Why is this happening? Why don’t we keep our commitments to ourselves and work on things that make our lives better?
There are many scenarios why a particular challenge may fail. Nonetheless, there are some universal reasons why so many of us struggle to get to an end of a challenge.
Let me give you some context. Last February, I set a big goal and created a study challenge. I decided to learn 10 to 12 new things in few different categories what would improve my life in some way. For instance, I was planning to read 10 books, go through 12 Mindvalley courses, 12 programs on Udemy, learn how to cook 12 new dishes, create 12 videos for YouTube etc. A huge list with tens of items in it.
Full of enthusiasm I started highlighting the rows in the spreadsheet after completing each task. 🙂 After few months I even recorded a video about my struggles analyzing what was slowing me down and how I am planning to deal with it. And by the middle of the year, unexpectedly, I totally dropped the ball.
Looking at the list in December of 2016 I saw the progress – I completed1 marketing certification, 10 online courses, 12 Udemy programs, read or listened to 7 books, watched 7 movies, cooked 0 new dishes. Maybe that’s why I don’t feel like a failure, still, according to my aim, I failed the challenge (check out the full list here).
Why did it happen? What were the reasons of my ignorance?
This experience made me think about the reasons why so many challenges fail.
This is the huge one. Seriously, if you committed to doing something you better train your willpower and be sure you can make yourself do it. This is especially relevant for the long term challenges that take a lot of repetitive actions that you are not used to doing. Think of habits, there are two great ways to work with habits to train your willpower.
Breaking old habits
It’s very difficult to stop doing something that you have been doing for weeks, month, or even years. Let’s take smoking as an example, or eating chocolate to boost happiness. These habits are being programmed into your unconscious over time becoming a part of your autopilot system. The main focus here is to break thinking patterns to get out of the repetitive action cycle. Personally, for me, this type of willpower training is relatively easy to cope with. If I decide to stop eating sweets, watching Youtube or eliminate anything from my life I know I can do it. It’s proven. Unlike the second category of habits.
Creating new habits
This is truly a huge one with scientific researches conducted and books written on this topic. How to create a new habit?Studies show that for creating a new habit you need to consistently repeat it from 30 to 60 days. Getting up early in the morning, going to the gym on meditating on the regular basis… we’ve all tried to change our behaviors and we all have painful experiences of not being able to hold on for long enough. You need an iron self-discipline to change your usual lifestyle and incorporate something new into your routine. I personally am struggling with this a lot and I’m still in search for the best technique that can help to master the skill of creating new habits.
To complete the challenge you have to make sure it’s really important for you. More important than other things on your list. What would you choose – hanging out with friends or completing a business certification on a Saturday night? The answer depends on your priorities. What is more important for you at this moment, what will pay off better in the long run? Again, it depends on your personal situation and set of values. If a challenge is not your priority, you won’t bother and you will drop it as soon as something more interesting comes your way. This is what happened to me when I got into relationships and started working on my creative project.
Wrong reasons for the challenge
You need strong reasons to get rid of something or gains something new when you get to an and of the challenge.
Let’s be honest, If you create a challenge just because you are bored and by creating a challenge you want to feel more productive and efficient most probably you won’t work on it. Cause something more excited will come into your life and you will forget about the challenge. As for me, I felt I have too much free time and I wanted to fill it in with something useful. I thought why not learning all these new things in just one year. As we can see from the result, my reasons were not strong enough.
Not valuable enough reward
This point comes out of the previous one. To complete the challenge you need motivation. You need something to look forward to. This makes the process much easier. I didn’t have one. I was expecting that I will be getting satisfaction from the process itself and I will feel I am an achiever/became smarter when I’m done with everything on the list by the end of the year. It didn’t happen.
So make sure you have a good motivation along the way create a reward for yourself.
You can grant yourself some pleasant gift like a holiday trip, a new cell phone or a spa session after completing the challenge.
As an alternative, you come up with the negative motivator e.g. if you’re not done with the challenge by the set deadline you would have to donate a particular sum of money to the cause you don’t support and making it public. It’s like donating money for the gay parade if you are not a supporter. This can be a very strong reason for you to work hard on your challenge.
You have to be a good strategist to create and follow the flow when completing your challenge. Give yourself enough time and space, don’t overwhelm yourself, break down a big project into smaller tasks, create the framework, set the rules and follow them. On the other hand be flexible, experiment, see what works best for you and adjust the plan along the way.
Trust me creating a framework will make your life so much easier. I didn’t really have a strategy. First I thought I will be able to do one thing from each list during a month, so I put 12 items on every list. That didn’t work. Then I tried to concentrate on one category during one month and complete as many items as possible. This didn’t work as well cause I felt overworked and tired since I was also was working full-time, and working on the side projects.
Last year I’ve learned a lot of valuable things from the programs I’ve studied as a part of the challenge and also from failing my challenge altogether. I had a chance to experiment with different learning strategies and define what works best for me. And most importantly, I have applied many learnings in practice working on my creative projects like this blog, youtube channel and other few things. I will continue going through the challenge this year but more for tracking my progress in different areas of life not to force myself to reach certain numbers.
Have you had a similar experience when you went through the challenge and failed it? How did you feel? What have you learned from it? Let me know in the comments below!