How To Actually Do The Stuff You Say You Want To Do
So this time it's for real, right? The new diet. Quitting that soul-sucking job. Getting a small business loan. Going to back to school. Breaking up with that hot but useless guy (I'm looking at you, 25-year-old self).
But then something happens, and a valid excuse presents itself so we don't do the exciting, scary, life-changing thing we were going to do. Maybe we eat salads at our desks for a few weeks, or update our LinkedIn profile, but that's as far as it gets. How do we make the terrifying leap from thinking about doing to actually doing?
Now, I can't claim to be a total expert on this. There are many things that I'd like to do or am in the process of doing that may never quite fall under the Done heading. However! I do have a decent track record of actually completing a good number of the seemingly ridiculous, improbable things that I set out to do — like 10 months of international travel, getting a literary agent, and becoming self-employed.
Here's what has worked for me:
1. Write it down, then start mapping your path.
We all know that putting pen to paper is one of the best ways to make things happen. But taking it a bit further helps even more; start compiling the information that will bridge the gap between what's inside your head and what's out. Map out your end game (the M.B.A., the successful Etsy shop, the house on the lake) and work backward from there, breaking your big, huge goal down into teeny, tiny steps attached to a timeline. If you want to own a home by June of 2015, what do you need to have done at the nine-month point? The six-month point? The three-month point?
Make a list of tiny steps, then do one — just one! — today.
2. Tell everyone you know about it.
So now you're doing it: the research, the footwork, the wee, exploratory tendrils of progress. And it's awesome! And you can't wait to tell everybody about it! And you should. Anybody worth knowing will be excited for you and feed your enthusiasm. You'll also be a lot less likely to back out, because everyone will be asking you about it. Shame can be a great motivator, so you might as well harness it to work in your favor!
If you're feeling really ambitious, ask a close friend if they'd be willing to keep tabs on your progress and ask about your big project. Knowing that someone else is keeping track will help you stay on top of your game.
3. Spend money on it.
I don't know about you, but I am exponentially more likely to complete my goal once I've spent money on it. Because then it's real. Every time you look at that big, expensive textbook, the lush paint brushes, or the high-tech running shoes, you'll be that much more likely to take action. You'll see them every day and think about the fantastic new life you're going to have, which should make you take even more steps toward getting there.
4. Remove distractions.
Is there a way you can make this easier for yourself? Could you have money auto-deducted from each paycheck so you don't even have to think about saving it? If you're trying to eat healthier, get rid of all your junk food, stock your fridge with healthy snacks and bring lunch to work every day. If you'd like to be more active, stash your car at a friend's place for a month and get around using only your feet and your bike. If you want a less connected life, cancel your data plan.
5. Surround yourself with other doers.
We're the average of the five people we spend the most time with, so why wouldn't you want to spend time with other interesting, driven people who are pursuing their dreams? You can encourage each other, share resources, and give each other pep talks when you encounter obstacles. All that good energy is socially contagious.
6. Make it irreversible.
Go big or go home, right? When you're really serious about something and you know, in your heart of hearts, that it's the right choice, don't allow yourself the luxury of a backup plan. Buy a one-way, nonrefundable ticket, slide your letter of resignation under your boss's locked door, drop that love letter into one of those impenetrable blue mailboxes. You've put yourself at the mercy of fate, and you're going to have so much fun.
7. Know that doing begets more doing.
I've really found that one act of doing begets another. Once you've published your novella, you know that you are totally capable to moving to Hong Kong on your own. And after you've negotiated a lease in Cantonese, you can't be deterred from starting an import business. Hiking though Nepal, learning to speak Hindi, touring Paris in four-inch heels — all these things are totally doable, you go-getter, you!
What do you do to help bridge the gap between the exciting plans inside your head and your day-to-day life?