Goals

The Point of Decision: The Key To Staying On Track With Your Goals

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The key to strengthening good habits and weakening the ones that don’t serve us comes down to one thing— decisions.

Now that we’re into February, the time that’s notorious for when most people have already thrown in the towel on their New Year’s resolutions and goals, I’ve been paying close attention to where I could potentially get tripped up so I can catch myself before getting off track.

And by paying close attention and weaving in the nuggets of wisdom I’ve been learning in my daily reading, it’s all starting to click.

What I’ve realized is that the critical microseconds when I’m making the small, everyday decisions like— to do something or not, to eat something or not, or to think something or not are what determine whether or not I stay disciplined.

So, in this post, I’ll share some practical tips and ideas that have been helping me stay on track since the New Year. These tips and ideas are a combination of insights I’ve been studying in my daily reading, discovering in online sources, and applying.

My goal for this post is to encourage you to hold on and keep pushing for your goals (after the New Year’s “buzz” has worn off). By applying a little ancient Stoic wisdom and modern-day neuroscience, you’ll see how the points of everyday decisions and choices hold the key to what you want.

Here we go!

1 | Acknowledge you are in control of your choices.

In the daily devotional I’m reading this year, The Daily Stoic, the theme for January has been “Clarity.”

The guiding principle of the ancient Stoic philosophy is that one must clearly identify the difference between what he can control/change and what he cannot, and not give energy to what he cannot control.

Instead, one should give energy to what he can control/change, and the Stoics believe that the main thing we do possess control over is our choices.

Staying on track with our goals has to do with making choices— most importantly, the many little choices or decisions we face throughout the day.

All of these little in-the-moment choices and decisions add up to our big picture.

Things like, “Should I buy these cookies or not?;” “Should I go to the gym or not?;” “Should I work on my side project or go to the movies?;” or even, “Is this thought healthy for me or not?” (Thoughts are an absolute choice as well because we have control over them.)

Seemingly little or insignificant everyday decisions compounded over time hold the key to shaping who we are and our future. The stronger we are in those microseconds, the abler we are to unlock our power in shaping ourselves and our future.

So rather than feel powerless and/or unconsciously make decisions and choices, when we create a space of awareness just before a decision, we acknowledge our power, override unsuccessful decision making patterns of the past, which better guides ourselves into the future.

2 | Activate your ability to reason.

Items 2-4 in this list are the “3 Areas of Training for every Stoic” and these areas ride on the heels of the overriding Stoic principle of knowing the difference between what you can and cannot control.

So, the first key in actually making a decision is to become aware or activate your ability to reason— wake up and pay close attention, if you will.

When you find yourself facing a decision about whether to or not do something that will impact where you want to go with your goals, activate your mind and create a sense of awareness, guiding yourself through the decision with your innate power of choice.

This heightened state of alertness helps you train your brain to make slower, conscious decisions vs. unconscious, stay-in-my-comfort-zone ones.

3 | Know your desires and aversions and associate them with pleasure and pain.

Desires are the things, actions, or even inactions that keep us on track with what we want. We strengthen our ability to seek them out by training our brain to associate them with pleasure at the point of decision.

Aversions are the things, actions, or inactions that stand between us and what we desire. We strengthen our ability to avoid them by training our brain to associate them with pain at the point of decision.

So depending on what your goal is, assign an aversion to the thing that stands in your way of staying on track. For me, sugar is no longer a source of pleasure; it’s an aversion. (My brain tells me it’s a source of pleasure, and this is what I need to retrain.)

Or, it could be a matter of action vs. inaction that you assign an aversion to. If you are trying to stay active, reframe that activity as pleasurable as opposed to painful. Within time, it absolutely will be a source of pleasure.

To dive into this point a little further, here’s a video of a talk given by fascinating neuroscientist, Moran Cerf, where he talks about a study to help people quit smoking where an aversion (the smell of rotten eggs) was used to retrain the brain to associate smoking with something bad.

4 | Deliberately direct your impulse to take action or inaction.

Finally, once you acknowledge how an aversion will lead you away from what you desire, it’s easier to resist an impulse and take the action (or inaction,) depending on what your goal is.

Resist the urge to stay safe and/or comfortable and guide your actions to reinforce your habit. Within time, your decisions will become second nature and require less thinking.

5 | When faced with the decision to quit or to keep going …

An additional interesting insight I learned from Moran Cerf’s talk is that our brain is in a certain state just before we are about to quit, for example, strenuous exercise.

One way to keep pushing is to say, “Yes, I want to give up, but I’m going to hang in here for a little longer,” and each time try to extend the time a little more before quitting.

I plan on trying this while running once the weather gets warmer. Rather than stop at the point I usually stop, I’ll keep going, even for just a little bit longer and add to that as much as I can.

According to Cerf, this practice trains one to make decisions that go against what the brain is telling us to do, which is to stay comfortable, recoil, and retreat.

Taking Things A Step Further

If you’re facing a goal that involves impulses that are particularly hard to resist, Moran Cerf suggests keeping a diary for a week where you log your decisions related to that goal or habit.

He encourages us to get to know our own brain and suggests taking note of the following items below as you make critical choices/decisions.

At the end of the week, see if you notice any patterns that made you stronger or weaker in your ability to make better decisions:

  • Hunger

  • Time of day

  • Social State (alone or in a group)

  • Urgency (close to a deadline)

  • Thought (deliberation)

  • Emotional State (angry, calm, anxious, afraid, etc.)

  • Sleep State (tired or rested)

Conclusion

Because we are wired to seek out what’s safe, comfortable, familiar, and pleasurable, our desires may be aversions and our aversions may actually be desires.

However, by stopping ourselves at the point of decision and reframing these things in our minds, we begin to retrain our brains to make strong decisions so we can grow.

Suffering is part of the equation for growth so, in order to grow, we have to initially endure some suffering. But over time the decisions require less thought, the suffering falls away, and we begin to see the results we desire.

To recap …

  • Know your goal.

  • Acknowledge you have control over your choices.

  • At the point of decision, activate your ability to reason.

  • Know your desires and aversions and associate them with pleasure and pain.

  • Deliberately direct your impulse to take action or inaction.

  • Keep a journal, if necessary.

As always, good luck!! Your efforts will be worth it!! ~Ellie

A Simple, All-Things-Considered Approach to Gaining Clarity & Getting After Your Goals in 2019

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When 2019 rolled in, I considered having the tree down and decorations put away a great win. Coming out of the whirlwind of the holidays, I really hadn’t given much thought to my 2019 goals yet.

What I did know on January 1, however, is that I needed to do things differently than last year and I wanted to give myself some extra time to plan.

As much as I am happy with the progress I made last year, there was room for improvement in all areas.

I needed to continue doing some things, stop doing others, and start doing some other things. The question was, what exactly were those things?

Rather than come up with a few typical goal and resolution ideas and start diving in, I knew I needed a better strategy this year. Otherwise, I’d probably just repeat the results I’ve been getting for the past few years.

So in this post, I’m going to do my best to clearly communicate the process I went through to think deeply about my 2019 goals.

This post starts with the steps I took to decide what I’d focus on this year, and continues with how I’m working toward my goals daily.

Of course, it remains to be seen how well this process will work for me, but it felt great to gain clarity, clear some clutter, do some planning, and have somewhat of a roadmap before diving in. One month in— so far so good!

So grab some clean sheets of paper and set aside a chunk of time (1-2 hours) when you can think deeply about these questions. Ten minutes here and there parsed together isn’t the same as a continuous block of time to think deeply. It’ll be worth it!

I hope what I share is worthwhile for you too!

First … Gain Clarity

First, we need to know exactly what it is we want to achieve in the future. This way we will know the necessary baby steps we have to take every day to work toward this year’s goals.

But rather than write our goals FIRST, let’s look at the many areas of life where we possibly want to improve, peel back the layers a bit, and see what’s going on and why we’re stalling progress. This exercise is something we can refer back to during the year.

1 | Take Inventory

Think of all the areas of your life where you want to succeed. One option is to write each area at the top of a blank sheet of paper. (For example, for me, my areas are Mind, Body, Spirit, Heart, & Career. I thought of adding “Home” too but decided not to. This year I am focusing more on “internal” goals than “external.”)

(Another way to organize this info is to use index cards, which is what I did. Then I hung them on a wire rack with clothespins so I can refer to it all year.)

Next, for each of these areas, consider the following:

  • WINNING: What it means to you to be WINNING in that area.

    For me, “Mind” would be Learning, Inner Peace, and Mindset.

  • HOW TO: Now list the ways you can achieve success in that area.

    For me, “Mind” would be Meditation, Gratitude, Self-Care, Self-Educate and Daily Inspirational Reading.

  1. What’s GOING WELL for you in that area

    • This will reveal what’s already working for you in that area— the things to continue doing.

  2. What’s CHALLENGING you in that area

    • This will reveal where you are being tripped up and what’s blocking you from further success in that area— the things to lessen, simplify or (better yet) stop doing.

  3. What’s MISSING/BEING NEGLECTED in that area

  • This will reveal the things that you are neglecting in that area— the things to start doing.

2 | Look At Findings & Distill Info

Now, look at your challenges. Do any repeat across several areas?

What I realized after going through this exercise is that many of my challenges were the same across multiple areas— things like everyday demands of life, distractions, lack of planning, clarity, and specific action.

  • What this told me is that first I needed to look at my environments and remove clutter and distractions.

  • I also realized that I needed to identify areas where I could simplify my actions and/or plan better to guide my actions toward my goals.

Next, look at what’s being neglected in each area and these are possibly some new habits or practices you may want to incorporate into your weekly schedule.

3 | Make Your Short List Of New Habits/Practices To Implement & 2019 Goals

I believe we can only tackle so many new habits and goals at once, so it makes sense to pick the top new practices to implement and goals for each area.

I then listed on an index card the key new practices and year-end goals to focus on to move me forward in each of the areas listed above (Mind, Body, Spirit, Heart & Career).

Keep this list close by because you’ll need it soon!

Then … Clear The Clutter, Remove Distractions & Simplify

As I mentioned above, because distractions and clutter were plaguing me across many areas, I tackled this first.

Clutter blocks clarity and tugs at our attention, and our environments play a part in our productivity so this is a great place to start!

These may differ for you, but some of the areas where I was getting tripped up by distractions are:

1 | Home

I started with the common areas of the home and tidied up. Now, I’m gradually going through closets, drawers, and cabinets to thin out my possessions.

I think some of this distraction is due to my kids getting older and continually evolving, which leaves items they no longer use hanging around.

My goal for the remainder of the winter is to have our storage area in our basement totally cleaned out. Right now I’m giving some items away and what’s left at the end of March will get donated.

Cleaning out stuff can be both exhausting and daunting so in order to avoid overwhelm, make a list of mini projects and tackle them one by one. Consider giving yourself a deadline to get them done.

In the end, we feel so much lighter and that’s what we’re going for!

I recently cleaned out the bookshelves in my workspace and it feels great. I donated lots of books that I had already read or that no longer resonated with me, and all of the ones I kept I either love or can’t wait to read.

Daily reading is one of the practices I’m implementing this year, and now that my books are thinned out, I’m already making progress with my reading.

2 | Digital World

Some of the ways to eliminate digital clutter and distractions are: removing social media apps (even for a short time), turning off some/all notifications, deleting old phone contacts, removing last year’s photos from our phone, and unsubscribing from email lists that no longer serve you.

3 | Workspace

How do you feel in your workspace? Maybe it’s time to reconfigure or reorganize the entire space or areas of it. Do what you can to set it up so your work flows best, you feel inspired and can remain focused.

4 | Car

I consider my car to be another room, and I enjoy being in it so much more when it’s clean and tidy.

5 | Last but not least, simplify.

Think of tasks and processses that you repeat daily or weekly and how you can simplify and/or batch your actions to be more efficient.

Finally … Get After Your Goals!

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1 | Look at the short list you created of new habits to implement & year-end goals. What goal(s) do you want to accomplish by the end of this year or in the next couple of years? What habits and practices practiced daily will help you chip away at those goals?

2 | Design & plan your life each day & week. Decide the best way to apply and schedule in the new daily practices and habits you want to make part of your routine. Maybe make a habit of scheduling things in on Sunday nights? See where you have an extra block of time or consider waking up a little earlier to start your day with a morning routine. In order to avoid overwhelm, consider implementing one at a time and add another once one takes hold. Keep this list handy and scan it daily to make sure you’re hitting on these areas regularly.

3 | Craft a “See, Feel and Believe Statement” where you list in detail what goals you want to achieve (include a $ amount, if applicable,) by what specific date, your plan of how you are specifically going to achieve it/them, and why it/they is/are important to you. Read this to yourself upon waking and before going to sleep every day/night. (This is another thing I wrote on an index card and keep it handy with my morning routine materials.)

4 | Start your days with wins. I recently reintroduced my morning routine, which takes about 15-20 minutes. I start with deep journaling about one thing I’m grateful for (I go into detail on that one thing;) I read one entry in the daily devotional I’m currently reading; I do a quick free-form “check-in with myself” entry in my dream journal; and finally, plan that day’s activities in my Productivity Planner. I end by reciting my “See, Feel, and Believe Statement,” while engaging my senses by seeing, feeling, hearing, and believing it to be already realized and in the present tense.

I leave my routine in a positive frame of mind, knowing exactly where I need to focus my energy that day. The best part is this positive feeling stays with me throughout the day, and I trust I’m on the right path.

5 | Aim for baby steps toward your goals every day. Baby steps translate into momentum and progress over time.

6 | Maintain a balance of grit and grace. Push yourself daily as well as be understanding with yourself on the days you fall short. All that matters is that you are growing and making progress over time.

Conclusion

Taking the time to get clear on the best areas I needed to focus on and uncovering what was holding me back was time well spent. I can already feel my actions being guided more purposefully. I hope what I shared in this post gives you a general framework to gain more clarity on what you’d like to achieve this year and beyond.

Be patient, keep pushing no matter what, and all the best to you in 2019!

15 Ideas To Help You Win Your Day

15 Ideas To Help You Win Your Day

We all have days when we wake up and feel as if we can handle whatever comes our way as well as days when (for no apparent reason) we feel the heaviness of the day-to-day. It's part of being human. The key to making most of your days in the positive category is learning how to "win" your day.

Winning your day is an intentional daily practice of locking in a feeling of optimism and purpose at the beginning of your day, which typically sets the tone for the rest of your day. Successfully repeating this process over the long-term will reap immeasurable results.

Discovering the best way to win your day is a personal endeavor because we all don't respond in the same way to the same things. But learning how to win your day is critical to your day-to-day happiness, your long-term success, and your ability to make the most positive and meaningful impact during your life.

Over the past seven months I've been more intentional and consistent about self-betterment than ever before, and here is what I've concluded about winning my days:

How A Morning Routine Can Help You Live With More Purpose And Die Without Regret

How A Morning Routine Can Help You Live With More Purpose And Die Without Regret

Back in 2009, Bronnie Ware, a nurse who cared for dying patients, shared the collective personal wisdom imparted by them to her in an online article called "Regrets of the Dying."

Because of the profound impact that her patients' insights had on her life, Ware felt called to share their wisdom publicly. The article went on to be read by more than 3 million people around the globe in the first year.

According to Ware's article, the 5 Most Common Regrets of the Dying are:

1 I wish I'd had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.

2 I wish I hadn't worked so hard.

3 I wish I'd had the courage to express my feelings.

4 I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.

5 I wish that I had let myself be happier.

Why Do So Many Die With The Same Top Regret?

Most people carry around regrets throughout life.

We live with regret over the things we still have the power to control or change because we tell ourselves we could have what we desire if only we had more of some resource-- time, focus, dedication, conviction, energy, money, health or maybe even courage.

How To Stay Motivated To Work Out

How To Stay Motivated To Work Out

Getting regular exercise is one of the most healthy and rewarding habits we can practice for ourselves yet it's one of the most difficult to establish and therefore, often neglected. Why is that?

We start. We can't stay motivated. We stop. We start again. Life gets in the way. We stop again. The endless cycles of attempts to master this habit get old and frustrating, making it so hard to achieve results.

During the past two years, I've been the queen of starting and stopping. I've started, stopped, started, stopped and (for a fleeting moment) even considered giving up before deciding that I needed to figure all of this out. I knew I could do better. I also knew that mastering this habit would help me achieve other goals in life.

Now, into my 5th consecutive month of maintaining a strong level of commitment to my workouts, I feel that I have a good handle on how to stay motivated to work out by using the set of tools and practices I've acquired along the way, keeping me on track.

I started paying close attention to my mindset and actions so I could keep myself on track and catch myself before derailing again.

Here are the tools and practices that I've been using. I hope they help you too.

16 Reasons Why Working Out In A CrossFit Gym Sets You Up For Success

 16 Reasons Why Working Out In A CrossFit Gym Sets You Up For Success

If getting stronger physically is at the top of your list of areas in your life where you'd like to make progress, I hear ya.

In September when I began to pursue a long-time goal of writing a book, I just knew that the most important thing that I needed to do initially would be to get stronger physically.

Increased physical strength would carry over into all areas of my life, further supporting me as I pursue my goal.

Since I knew that getting back to the CrossFit gym was the most direct route to getting stronger, I reactivated my membership at JSACF in Manasquan. JSACF was founded by Skip and Paige Chapman in 2006, and it's the 180th affiliate CrossFit gym of the more than 13,000 gyms around the world today.

Around the same time, while waiting for my son at the orthodontist, I was drawn to a magazine headline that read something like "Julianne Hough's 6-Day Workout Routine."

I flipped to the story and read how she works out in a gym 4 or 5 times a week, mixes in either an enjoyable bike ride or hike for the other 1-2 days, and takes one day off. She also explained that her ability to stay consistent is attributed to keeping her workouts scheduled, varied and enjoyable.

Focus On These 7 Areas To Move Closer To Your Goal

Focus On These 7 Areas To Move Closer To Your Goal

Do you ever feel like your life is running you and not the other way around? That's  exactly what happened to me back in April.

After finishing the redesign of my blog, I got sidetracked by what was going on in my life and abandoned my new creation for five months.

Between having work done on our home for a couple of months, followed by the school year ending, my three kids being on summer vacation, and being the team mom for my son’s football team, I got totally off track.

I also stopped working out regularly. I neglected to be mindful about what I was eating. And the only writing I managed to get done was sending emails for my son’s football team.

Since I was so far off track in so many ways, I decided it was best to wait until my kids were back in school to pick up where I left off. I needed some open time and space to regroup.

I also realized that going forward, I needed to be careful about the timing of what I take on in life outside of my goals because things can quickly teeter out of balance. 

What’s happening right in front of me always seems to take precedence over what I desire to cultivate from within. I need a strategy that enables my inner and external worlds to productively co-exist rather than allow the demands of the external world to take my inner world hostage.