Some days I’m bursting with enthusiasm and motivation, ticking actions off my list as I power my way through each item. Other days I’m listless, bored and lacking the get up and go to get anywhere. These are the days on which I become increasingly frustrated and berate myself for my lack of focus, lack of determination, and lack of ability to get even the tiniest thing done. Sound familiar?
Psychologists call the ability to work your way towards achieving goals self-regulation. You have to regulate your own behaviour, often in the face of obstacles and challenges, in order to push forward, keep going and avoid distractions. You have to do more goal-related tasks, think more goal-related thoughts and resist the temptation to be led astray by other temptations.
According to Roy Baumeister, co-author of Losing Control: How and Why People Fail at Self Regulation, there are three factors that play a part in your ability to effectively regulate your behaviour and achieve your goals.
1. Dealing with competing goals
You are always going to be faced with competing goals, particularly as a soloist. If you’re hard at work completing client projects, there’s little time left for marketing. If you’re busy marketing, your cash flow suffers. The challenge when it comes to self-regulation and achieving your goals is being aware of what your competing priorities are and making a conscious decision about how you’re going to handle them. Knowing your motivation for your different behaviour is vital.
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2. Keeping track of your progress
Otherwise known as monitoring, keeping a conscious track of what you’re doing and why makes a big difference when it comes to increasing your motivation and reducing the risk of going off track. Your ‘to do’ list is the king of monitoring devices. How good does it feel to see every item scratched off your list at the end of a successful day?
Monitoring your behaviour is also an important tool for maintaining your self-control when it comes to completing tasks and resisting the temptation to procrastinate. Research suggests that that we spend less and make fewer “impulse buys” when we record every purchase. Similarly, you’re more likely to keep focused on your work if you keep a note of each activity you undertake in a day.
3. Giving yourself a break
Psychologists have also learnt that self-regulation is a limited resource. You can only consciously manage your behaviour towards a goal, avoiding distractions, for so long before you wear yourself out. This probably explains why a few days of goal gang busting is followed by a slump. The good news is that self-regulation is rechargeable. A good night’s sleep will often do it and many people report feeling better able to cope with any challenge (and to resist temptation) in the morning, when they’ve got more energy to give.
It’s important to give yourself a break – both literally and metaphorically. If you’re feeling tired and a little worn out, make sure you sleep and eat well. And if you have one of those days when you can’t find the motivation or focus to keep propelling yourself towards your goals, stop beating yourself up about it and give yourself a break. Take the rest of the day off and do something enjoyable or do one small goal related activity and then celebrate the progress you’ve made so far with an enjoyable activity. You’ll recharge your batteries and be in better shape to get stuck back into those goals tomorrow.