27 September 2023

Picking winners: How to sort the achievable from the impossible

Start the conversation

May Busch* has strategies for high achievers who set themselves too many goals and are faced with hard decisions on which ones to pursue and which to drop.

If you’re like most achievers, there are things you know you should do and even want to do, but just can’t seem to get to.

I’m not talking about work-related tasks — achievers are far too diligent to let any balls drop there.

This is about things that are important to you personally but aren’t urgent.

Things like learning a new language, researching a subject you’re interested in or getting and staying in shape physically and mentally.

When I mentioned this during a recent workshop, a young woman in the audience asked just this question.

Before beating yourself up about not doing the things you feel you should, recognise you may be asking too much of yourself at any given time.

If you’re juggling a full-time job plus family obligations, it may not be realistic to learn Spanish while training for a marathon and writing a novel.

So be prepared to let go of some things for now in favour of getting one of them done.

The word ‘should’ is laden with judgment and blame.

Whenever I hear myself saying ‘should’, flashing red lights and sirens go off in my head.

It’s a signal that I need to make a conscious choice about whether or not to do that thing.

The idea of ‘making’ yourself do things is not a sustainable strategy.

We only have a certain amount of willpower each day.

If that’s what you’re relying on you might run out at just the wrong moment.

If you find yourself having to use willpower to get something done, it’s a sign that maybe you’re not ready to do that thing yet.

If you persist, it can be a draining experience rather than the energising one you want it to be.

Instead, step back and assess whether this is the right time for you to take on this new endeavour.

If it is, here are four strategies you can experiment with to get and stay motivated.

Get clear on your purpose:

Having a clear purpose is a strong motivator.

This means visualising a future state that is so attractive (or unattractive) to you that you’ll want to take the actions now to create (or prevent) it.

When a new habit or project taps into your purpose you’ll be much more likely to stick to it.

When your motivation needs a boost, all you have to do is remind yourself of that future purpose.

Make a financial commitment:

I’ve always been money conscious and reluctant to spend on anything that isn’t an essential.

Even as my investment banking colleagues bought flashy cars, joined country clubs or became art collectors, I was still driving my sensible car and buying things on sale.

So one thing that’s been a sure-fire motivator for me is to make a significant financial investment.

When there’s serious cash outlay involved, it makes me focus.

Like the time I finally joined a high-end mastermind group.

Since then, my business has grown dramatically and I’m on track to help many more people.

Every time I’ve made a serious investment I’ve been motivated to follow through.

Let’s just say I like to make sure I’m getting a strong return.

Enlist others to help:

Enlisting the help and support of others can be a great strategy.

None of us succeeds on our own, and even the ‘self-made’ success stories include the help of many other people.

Sometimes you’ll need to find supporters yourself, like the time I teamed up with a friend who was also pregnant to swim laps every night after work.

That got us both in great shape for going into labour, delivering the baby and recovering afterwards.

Tie it to an existing habit:

Embarking on a personal project is in essence creating a new habit.

Another way to create a new habit is to link it to one that already exists.

For example, I’ve started journaling every morning by tying it to my morning tea ritual.

One of my daughters bought me a beautiful cobalt blue teapot and I brew Assam loose leaf tea every morning when I’m at home.

When I set the timer for the five minutes it takes the tea to brew, I start journaling.

It’s the perfect amount of time to write one page and set myself up for the day.

When you find yourself relying on willpower to move forward on those important but not urgent personal projects, step back and assess whether this is the right time for you to do it.

If it is the right time, set yourself up for success by using some or all of these four strategies.

You owe it to yourself to do the things you hold dear and not just fulfil the duties that come with work and life.

What are those precious things in your life that you’re ready to get to?

Which strategy could you employ to get and stay motivated?

* May Busch helps leaders and their organisations achieve their full potential. She can be contacted at [email protected].

This article first appeared on May’s blogsite.

Start the conversation

Be among the first to get all the Public Sector and Defence news and views that matter.

Subscribe now and receive the latest news, delivered free to your inbox.

By submitting your email address you are agreeing to Region Group's terms and conditions and privacy policy.