I know all too well what it’s like to start the day off with the best intentions only to flake faster than a day-old croissant.
Because let’s face it, knowing how to actually follow through on goals is hard. Especially the long-term ones.
And there always seems to be some external factor at play that prevents you from following through.
Like when I was going to sit down and write an article, but couldn’t because my inbox was exploding and I just had to spend the next hour answering emails.
Or when I was going to make a healthy lunch to bring to work but there just wasn’t enough time to make it in the morning before I left, so I’d hit up the McDonalds drive-thru.
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Or the time I was going to do an awesome workout with this app but my phone’s battery was low, so I sat on the couch and watched reruns of Gilmore Girls instead.
Life is chock-full of these obstacles preventing us from following through on the things we know we should be doing, am I right? Although it seems simple in theory, grasping how to actually follow through with long-term goals can be a challenge for many people, including yours truly.
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The real enemy of follow-through
It took me a long time to figure out that the only real obstacle was me.
Because it’s not that my to-do list isn’t written properly.
Or that I don’t have the tools to succeed.
It isn’t even a lack of motivation, really. (Because action comes before motivation.)
It’s a lack of self-discipline. Follow-through IS self-discipline. That is the key to following through with goals. If you have that one skill, things will get done according to plan.
I’ve come a long way over the years, but there are still times when I flake out on my own plans. Hey, no one is perfect, right?
But I have learned to remove my excuses in order to follow through on my intentions more often. And that ability to follow through can be completely life-changing. It affects how you approach everything. It’s how I finally lost that extra 20 lbs and started gaining traction with my side-hustle.
So if you’re not reaching your goals as quickly as you want – or if you’re failing to make progress of any kind – its time to stop blaming external sources and use these 7 tips for building up that self-discipline muscle.
1. Imagine in vivid detail how it will feel when you follow through on your plan
It’s not enough to wake up in the morning and think, “Gee, I should probably work out today and then maybe one day I’ll fit into my pants again.” (Using an example of my old thought process.)
Because guess what’s going to happen? You’re going to hit that snooze alarm, rollover, and wake up five minutes before you need to run out the door.
Instead, think about what it will feel like after you finish working out: like a #boss, totally energized, and primed to crush the rest of your day.
That feeling of accomplishment when you follow through with your plans is addictive. Use that as the narrative the next time your excuses threaten to deter you.
If you struggle with imagining it, try writing it out. It sounds silly but there’s something about writing things out that make them more real (See #2!)
I once did an exercise in 2017 where I wrote out in vivid detail what I wanted my life to be like in two years.
I actually forgot about it for a long time, and then just the other day I stumbled across it in my Google Drive and was astonished to realize that I have achieved most of the things I wrote about.
My “then future-self” owned a house, was working from home, generating x number of dollars per month, growing their business, and traveling often. I am blessed to say that I’ve checked off all those boxes except for one. (Definitely not traveling much – yet!)
Try it out!
2. Give your goals and commitments a tangible form
I find the worst thing to do with goals and intentions is to keep them in your head. You need to breathe life into them by giving them a physical form of some kind.
So whether that’s a post-it note on your mirror, a spoken daily affirmation, or a reminder that scribbled onto your calendar, make sure that it exists somewhere (preferably multiple places) outside your brain.
I’m a huge Trello nerd, so I list out all my goals, commitments, and intentions on a Trello board. Then I put due dates on my list items (called cards) and when that due date draws near, my phone pings with a Trello reminder.
3. Talk about your intentions
You’re more likely to follow through on things if you talk about them with friends and family. (But be careful with who you share your intentions with because you won’t always get encouraging feedback. Sadly. Make sure you’re only sharing your intentions and goals with people that you trust will provide their support.)
Another option is to find people who have similar goals as you. I find that Facebook groups are a great place to find a supportive community for whatever your area of focus is.
I have a FB group for fitness (The Bodyboss Method group), one for blogging (Blogging Like We Mean It), and one for VA/entrepreneurial pursuits (The VA Leads Community subscription through Horkey Handbooks 30 Days or Less to Virtual Assistant Success course.)
4. Take the effort out of follow-through with habits
Forming habits can be your secret weapon for improving your self-discipline and follow-through skills. The best part about habits is that they don’t have to be difficult to form. You start with really small habits and build upon them until they become second nature.
I rely on habit to maintain a consistent early-morning exercise routine. But I didn’t start one day one by getting up at 5:30 and working out for 40 minutes. I started small by getting up 20 minutes earlier and working about for 15 minutes.
If you’re struggling to follow through on a new routine, then try breaking it down more.
For example, if you can’t bring yourself to walk 2 kilometers every day, start with 1. Or half of one. Or 200 meters. Whatever is going to be easy enough for you to actually throw on your sneakers and get out the door.
If you need more help building up habits, there are two excellent books that come to mind:
Atomic Habits by James Clear which is all about easily forming healthy habits and reshaping your mindset to approach your goals in a new, effective way. Legitimately life-changing stuff!
The Motivation Myth also is another book for shifting your mindset and understanding that motivation is a result of action, not the other way around. When I listened to the audiobook last year, I found myself taking pages of notes! I still refer back to this book often.
5. Revamp your mental dialogue
When it comes time to follow through on commitments, the thing that deters you almost always happens in your head.
You rationalize and come up with all these reasons (aka excuses) why it’s a better idea to let it slide or flake out.
But this goal-sabotaging inner monologue is running through your head all the time, not just when you’re about to blow off a workout or skip out on a work commitment. At least, I know it did for me. I already knew as I was going to bed if I was going to sleep through my alarm and miss my workout. Because I knew that when the moment of truth came, I would decide that it wasn’t worth it to follow through.
So how do you change this inner monologue when it’s often happening without you even realizing it?
You start feeding it a new one.
The idea of positive thinking is a bit of a turnoff for some people, but I’m telling you this stuff works. It’s similar to how CBT works for depression. I’m not really into affirmations, (although if you are, that’s great!) but I like to fill my brain with as many motivating, positive thoughts as possible by listening and reading the right things.
So find some inspirational podcasts or books that fire you up! Personally, I’m a big Rachel Hollis fan and find her books, (particularly this one), and her podcast, Rise, offer a healthy “diet” of concepts that rev me up to actually take action.
6. Know your Kryptonite
No matter how strong your follow-through skills are, you’re still human. And there will always be those certain factors that threaten to deter you if you let them. Identify your Kryptonite and then go out of your way to avoid it!
If having a glass of wine or two the night before causes you to blow off your morning workout, skip it.
If logging onto Sephora for “five minutes” always results in you wasting an hour scrolling through beauty products instead of working on an article, restrict online “window shopping” to evenings and weekends.
(These are real examples of my Kryptonite.)
It sounds so simple but a lot of the time we’re not even aware of our Kryptonites until we really sit down and think about them. But once you’ve identified them, actively self-manage by writing out rules for yourself. (Yes, write them out! Remember, if it doesn’t have a tangible form you’re less likely to stick to it!)
7. Don’t beat yourself up when you stumble
Notice I say when and not if. Because you’re not perfect, and neither is anyone else. You’re going to drop the ball at some point and that doesn’t mean you get to run back to your excuses and give up on self-betterment.
The ability to follow-through doesn’t mean you have to have the mental discipline of a monk. It’s more about raising the bar on the status quo and learning how to improve follow-through skills.
So when you fail to follow-through on something next time, think about why it happened and how you will do better next time. Revisit these steps and see if there are any you haven’t implemented or that you could do a better job at implementing.
Then affirm to yourself that you will follow-through on your intentions the next time around, and move on.
Flex your follow-through!
How to follow-through at work, towards your goals, or with commitments to other people boils down to how strong that self-discipline muscle is.
Take the time to strengthen this muscle and it will help everything including your career, health, and personal growth.
The great thing about these strategies is that once you start learning how to actually follow through with your goals, you will start achieving more and that creates even more motivation for you to keep going. It keeps snowballing to the point where it becomes a lot easier to make positive changes in your life.
What did you think about these tips on how to actually follow through with goals? Was there anything I missed? Let me know what obstacles you run into or how you’ve strengthened your self-discipline in the comments!