I used to work at a mental health charity with a lovely lady called Diane. She often talked to people about climbing mountains. “When you spend all your time looking up”, she would say, “you miss out on seeing how far you have come”.
Setting big goals can be exciting. Sometimes it is necessary. But the higher the mountain, the more likely we are to feel that we have made no progress.
If we climb a hundred metres of Snowdon then we will be a tenth of the way through our journey to the summit. Complete the same distance on Everest and we would have only travelled a little over one per cent.
The point here is not really about how ambitious we are in our goal-setting: we should always set our sights on the destination that will bring us the most happiness, whether that be a gentle stroll or an adventure of epic proportions.
It is simply to say that the more we push our personal limits then the more likely it is that we will find ourselves feeling as though we are standing still even when there has been forward momentum.
Here are my top tips for finding a new perspective of progress when you feel as though you’re going nowhere fast.
1. Remember you’re doing something epic!
If you’re feeling stuck then chances are it is because you’ve taken on something challenging and, hopefully, important. That’s epic!
I know what you’re thinking: there’s a difference between taking something on and actually doing it. But don’t underestimate the step you have taken.
Change theory identifies six stages and three of these come before action. This means you could traverse your way through half of the stages of change before you even get off your sofa!
No wonder it is so hard to see any signs of progress at this stage!
Don’t despair though.
Here are some indicators that you might be moving forward:
- You’re allowing yourself to think about changing something that wasn’t even on your radar before.
- You’re beginning to wonder what might be needed to make changes.
- You have pinpointed what it is that is making you unhappy.
- You’ve started to talk to other people about the changes you want to make.
- You’re allowing yourself to feel the anxiety of change. It might not be comfortable but if the anxiety wasn’t there before then something is changing!
Remember, you won’t be the only person to have found making this kind of change tough so don’t be too hard on yourself if you sometimes feel out of your depth. Focus on your why to counteract any inertia. The fact you’re still hustling for the change, even if you’ve experienced setbacks, means it’s important to you so keep going!
2. There’s no such thing as going round in circles
A wise therapist once told me something important about going round in circles.
You might be back at the top of the circle but your perspective on the view will be different because you have been here before.
Perhaps it seems like a small thing but the knowledge you gain from going round in circles is important. You are discovering what doesn’t work.
If you’ve got a feeling of Groundhog Day then pause a moment.
What do you know now that you didn’t know before?
If the answer appears to be nothing then you’ve probably confirmed to yourself that you need a different plan of action. Make a change and then head off round the circle again. You never know what will happen!
2. Hard work comes before results
Bonita Norris climbed Everest. But before setting off she had months of trying to find funding for the expedition.
For all this time there was no visible sign of progress.
It looked like nothing was ever going to come of her hard work.
But then there was the money.
When I saw my bank balance come up, it read £50,012. That moment was probably one of the proudest moments of my life. To anyone else, it would have looked as if that money had been magicked out of nowhere. But it wasn’t magic. It was hard work, and not give up when I most wanted to … With any challenge in life, there are always going to be obstacles in the way. These obstacles can either become an excuse, a reason that you gave up, or they can become part of the challenge itself.
There are no guarantees in life but if you want things to change then you need to put in the work. You need to stick at it even when it appears to be taking you nowhere fast.
Remember, when we see people’s success then we’re witnessing only a small part of the journey. There is likely to have been a really long time where they were squirrelling away in the background feeling exactly as you do right now. So, if it matters to you, take heart and keep going.
3. When will I be there?
Even big journeys can be broken down into more manageable milestones. If you don’t feel confident that you can get to your destination then work out what the next achievable step could be.
Does it still feel unmanageable?
Break it down again.
Keep going until you reach a step that you know you can achieve. Then go for it.
You’re not failing by identifying the baby steps. You’re increasing your chances of success. All steps forward, however big or small, take you closer to your destination and, if you keep going, you will get there.
4. Take in the view
Look at how far you’ve come! If you were in a computer game and you were to look at everything you had acquired in your adventuring backpack then I suspect it would be quite a lot.
Keeping an eye on your destination is important but we all need to take stock once in a while.
Artist and blogger Christopher Hoggins explains how looking back on progress helps him.
I am lucky in a way that what I do is mainly visual, I can scroll back through image files and see artwork done, workshops run and projects completed. It is life affirming to see it all and flip through page after page that clearly denies the image I have of myself as a bit of a waste of space.
The following ideas can help you keep track of your progress.
- Keep a line-per-day diary recording the steps you have taken each day towards your goal.
- Get yourself an accountability partner to help you remember the changes you have made when you’re feeling demotivated.
- Make little vlogs or write a blog to record your journey.
- Create a tracker: when I was writing my PhD, I created a desktop for my computer with 120 flowers. For every 500 words I completed then I coloured one of the flowers in. Get creative when designing your tracker. Do a bullet journal page. Make a board-game-type tracker.
- Find an online community who are striving to achieve similar goals. A lot of apps have gamification strategies built in to inspire you and help you measure your progress. For example, Headspace, Audible and SleepTown all track stats and award badges as you accomplish certain tasks.
5. Right here. Right now.
I know you want to be there already but it’s time to lose the focus on the destination for just a second.
Let’s focus on how you’re feeling right here, right now.
Are you enjoying yourself? Are the things you’re spending your time on still important to you? Do you feel excited by where you’re heading or are you tired?
Progress doesn’t have to be punishing. In fact, the more we can make the process an enjoyable experience then the more likely it is that we won’t give up.
Ask yourself what you need right now to make your journey as good as it can be. These pauses are important. They give you a little distance to assess how things are going, to make sure you’re still on the right track and to regain your energy. Allow yourself sufficient time to rest when you need it. Stopping isn’t losing focus. Your ability to keep a clear view on the desired destination is much more likely to be compromised by the bleariness of tired eyes than taking a little time out.
I hope that these tips are useful to you. Do let me know what helps you when you’re feeling a bit stuck. It’s always good to read everyone else’s ideas so we can learn from each other.