Automatic ProgressAre you sure that you're making progress toward your goals?

Can you rely on the habits you have to day to move you forward automatically

Today I'm returning to this theme, which I've approached from several different angles in past columns, because I think it's that important. Ready? Here it is: 

You must set up rituals that lead to automatic progress. 

Moving ahead on your goals is hard enough when you don't have to reinvent the wheel every day. It might be impossible -- and will certainly be discouraging -- if you're constantly flitting from one method to the next. What you want are some rock-solid habits that bring good results (even small ones), rain or shine.

Look for Leverage

Think about the big areas of your life. What's really important to you? It's probably some mix of health, finances, relationships, career, and what we might call "fulfillment" -- all of those things that help us to love life more. Now, think: what's are simple but powerful ways that you can reinforce each area's importance and ensure steady progress in that area?

1. For your health, you're looking for rituals that encourage good nutrition and regular exercise -- like planning your nutrition and finding a workout buddy.

2. In finance, you want to reinforce sensible spending, debt retirement, and a habit of saving. Spend ten minutes on this blog and you'll find lots and lots of ideas for positive financial rituals -- but one of my favorites is to set up automatic payments and deductions that foster good behavior.

3. In relationships, the emphasis is on nurturing deep bonds with the people who matter to you, and doing it regularly. In our hectic lives, this often needs to be planned if you want to make sure it gets done.

4. If it's your career, it should be about building your work skills and experience -- and your connections with relevant customers and peers -- week in and week out. Again, this often doesn't happen on its own.

5. If it's fulfillment, I encourage you to step back and think about the whole fabric of your life. (Maybe by writing your own obituary?) Focus on the one or two things that you could change that would bring you the greatest sense of fulfillment.

My advice is to get a notebook and a pen, sequester yourself someplace quiet for an hour or two, and just start scribbling notes for each area. Don't worry about getting it "right" at the beginning -- just start airing out your ideas.

Make Fewer Decisions

Starting with your notes about the high-leverage areas, make some simple decisions that you won't have to rethink every day. If you know that drumming up new business is the most important thing you can do in your career, then commit to working at it for at least some fixed amount of time each day or week. For instance, you could make a habit of e-mailing three new prospective clients in your network first thing each morning.

The point is, once each decision is in place, you don't revisit it or change it unless it's obviously -- and I mean obviously -- hurting you.

More examples:

  • Trying to keep off all that weight you lost? Pick three junk foods you can live without -- say, doughnuts, potato chips, and hard candy -- and then always refuse them. You might still allow yourself other treats, if that works for you, but not those.
  • Want to rejuvenate your relationship with your spouse? Set aside a regular date night (a friend of mine uses alternate Thursdays), block it out on your calendar, and book a babysitter in perpetuity. Then defend that time against every possible interruption.
  • Always wanted to be a musician? Book those guitar lessons for yourself right now, or find a playing buddy who will expect to see you twice a week at scheduled jam sessions.

For more ideas, check out my column on the power of making fewer decisions and then sticking with them.

Rethink Your Schedule

In my own experience and from all of my observation and reading, successful people typically embed rituals into their schedule that automatically lead to the outcomes they're looking for. It could mean focused reading to become an expert in your field, or it could mean the daily practice regime of a Roger Federer or Yo-Yo Ma.

Recently I came across a great summary of some of these powerful daily habits from the well-known business coach Brian Tracy. He includes habits like rising early to read for an hour in your specialty, planning each day in advance, and constantly asking yourself what you can do better next time. Although the article frames these in terms of pursuing financial freedom, they really work for whatever big goals you're trying to achieve.

Now, over to you:

What are you doing to ensure automatic progress toward your goals?

What will you do differently -- today and this week -- to increase your success?

 PREVIOUS ARTICLES:

Automate Your Financial Decisions

Organize Your Nutrition in Advance

Set a Training Schedule and Follow It

Tim Walker, Life Balance Guest Blogger for Leading Provider of Debt Relief, CareOne Services, Inc. Tim Walker

Tim is a writer, marketer, and social media pro living in Austin, Texas. He joined CareOne's blogging team as a contributing writer in 2009. As a blogger who has personally overcome debt challenges, he draws from his own experience to provide tips on living a balanced life and keeping fit. You can read more of his thoughts (on fitness and everything else) at his personal blog, What I've Learned So Far. You can read Tim's CareOne blogs in A Straight Talk on Debt. Compensated Blogger for CareOne Debt Relief Services.

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