Large Oak tree

Have you ever set a goal for yourself, and then not followed through with it? If so, you’re not alone. Every person I know has done this at least once in their lives, and most of us have done it many times over. But why do we do this to ourselves? I believe that, most of the time, we have the best of intentions when we start out, but we often forget one crucial step: finding the “why” behind why we’re doing it in the first place. And until you find your why, that thing that you’re trying to do really doesn’t seem as important as everything else that you want or need to do.

As a small example…I’ve tried multiple times to create an exercise routine for myself.

I find things that I enjoy doing, I plan to do my exercises at the time of day when I’m feeling my best, and yet…I never follow through.

Fast forward to a few months ago, when I planned a trip to Sedona, AZ to visit friends. During my stay, I knew we were going to be spending a lot of time hiking the red rocks, and I wasn’t ready for it physically. So, I started walking more and climbing more stairs to try to prepare. Not only did I do this consistently several times a week, for several months before I went on my trip, I actually enjoyed it.

Why? Because I had a reason to do the hard work. I knew that it would help me to enjoy myself in Sedona more, so it was easier for me to do it (mentally speaking) than it would have been if I was just doing it because I felt like I had to.

Think about one thing that you’ve been wanting to accomplish lately, but haven’t been able to.

Why do you have this goal for yourself?

Does it have to do with wanting to better yourself in some way? Are you doing it for yourself at all, or are you doing it because someone else wants you to? What do you feel like you would gain in your life if you accomplished this thing? Are you doing it for money, so that someone will say that they approve of you, or to feel like you matter in some way?

All of these questions are things that we should consider when we’re wanting to accomplish a goal in life. Because the why of why we’re doing something is very important.  There are things that a lot of people say they want to do, but they haven’t defined how doing so will make their lives better.

This is the #1 reason that people don’t follow through with their New Year’s resolutions, or goals in general.

We have the best of intentions when we’re setting these resolutions…and then life happens. We have to work a double shift, we get sick, or we find ourselves completely exhausted and overwhelmed, and those resolutions don’t look so shiny and exciting anymore.

So little by little we choose not to work on them. We miss a day here and there. That day turns into a week, that week a few months, and then suddenly we look back and it has been a year or five and we haven’t taken even one step towards our goal. And it’s not that we no longer want to accomplish this thing. It’s not that we were being lazy. It’s just that other things got in the way and became more important.

If we haven’t taken the time to find out why we want to accomplish the goals that we do, it becomes much easier to place other things above those goals as more important. Whereas, if we know why we’re doing…(insert resolution here)…then we can refer back to this to keep us motivated when the going gets tough.

A good example of this is a lot of people’s desire to pay off debt.

If you asked 100 people if they want to pay off debt, they would all likely say, “yes, of course I do”. But of those 100 people, I doubt many of them could articulate why they actually want to pay off the debt that they have.

Some may say that doing so would give them more money in the long run, which is a good start, but why do they want that extra money? If having extra money is their only reason for working extra hours, then they aren’t necessarily going to pay off debt. They’ll just work the extra hours, pocket the extra money, and not worry about their debt.

On the flip side, if they dig a little deeper and find that they want to use that extra money to build a house, and having a better debt to income ratio would help them in the long run, then they will be more likely to pay off the debt they have.

I’m not suggesting that knowing why you’re doing it will always make it easy.

You’re still going to have to put in the work to accomplish your goals. And knowing your why isn’t going to make all of those days feel like cake and rainbows. There will still be hard days. There will still be days when you don’t want to work, when all you want to do is eat cake and look at rainbows.

But…if you know why you’re buckling down, getting a new job, paying off debt, etc. then you will have something to hold onto. So when you’re having one of those days where you’re not feeling so motivated, you can refer back to your why and it will help you stick to the plan overall.

Along these lines though…give yourself grace when you do have an off day. You don’t have to be 100% goal oriented, 100% of the time. If you slip up and splurge a little, allow yourself to enjoy it, then get back on track with where you really want to go. Don’t waste time beating yourself up. Life’s is way too short for that.

Finding your why applies to things we do every day as well.

Think about why you do what you do on a daily basis. I don’t mean, “I go grocery shopping because I have to eat”, although that is a good reason to do so.

I mean, for example, why do you work? (Just in general right now. You can go further later and look at why you do the specific job that you do.)

Go beyond the superficial, “we work because we need money”. Get down a little deeper. Do you work because you want to provide nice things for your family? Do you work because you want your kids to go to a nicer school? Do you work because you really love vacations and you need to fund them?

Even if you absolutely love your job, there are those days when you would much rather stay in bed, or go to the beach, than go to work. There are days when everything goes wrong, and you want to pull your hair out.

It’s on those days that we can look at why we’re working at all to help us get through.

You can apply this same question to everything that you do.

Why do you cook rather than eating out? Why do you have lunch with your family, or dinner with your friends ever week? Why do you fold your laundry the way you do? And on and on. 

Be that little kid who is always asking why.

Once you start defining why you’re doing things in your life, you’ll inevitably find that there are some things that you don’t want to do anymore.

This is where you have to start making some (potentially hard) decisions.

Let’s say you have found that the job you have isn’t really the job you thought you’d love to be doing, but rather it’s a job that you got because your parents wanted you to. Given this information, you now have to decide if you are going to choose to stay on this track because YOU want to, or if you’re going to take steps to move in a different direction.

There is no right or wrong decision here. Because you are now seeing that you have a choice, and you can redefine your why from this point moving forward. Just because it wasn’t what you wanted to begin with doesn’t mean that it can’t be what you want now. And just because it’s what you’ve always done doesn’t mean it’s what you have to keep doing.

The important thing to recognize here is that you know why you’re doing what you’re doing, and you’re not just doing it mindlessly.

As you figure out your “whys” I recommend that you write them down and create visual reminders for yourself.

Taking the time to write down why you want to accomplish the goals that you do, and why you are doing the things you are in your life, will help solidify them more in your brain. There’s something about actually using a pen and writing things down on paper (rather than just putting a note in your phone). Not only are we transferring that information from our brains into physical reality, we are visually seeing the reasons why we want to live the way we do.

This is also why I like to have visual reminders of my whys. These could be in the form of affirmations written on post it notes, placed around your living and work space; pictures of the people you’re doing it for (including yourself); pictures of places that you want to travel to; pictures of a piece of property or a house style that you want to build, a car that you’d like to own, the college you want to send your kids to….you get the idea.

A picture of what or whomever inspires you to do what you’re doing.

You could even set reminders on your phone for certain times each week or each day. Maybe set a reminder for right before you walk into work, to remind you of the true reason you’re there. Or set one for when you wake up in the morning, to remind you of why you’re waking up earlier to exercise.

One you’ve done all of this, be sure to set up a time at least once a year to revisit your whys and make sure they still apply.

Like I said before, just because you’re doing something a certain way, doesn’t mean you have to continue doing it that way forever. Taking the time to step back and reevaluate your whys from time to time is just as important as figuring them out in the first place.

Because, just like we move and change physically, our reasons for wanting (or not wanting) to continue doing things changes as well. Even if we keep doing the same things, our reasons for doing them may have changed.

New Year’s is a perfect time to do this. The overall feeling of this time of the year is a fresh start, a clean slate, for a lot of people. So making it a tradition to sit down, look at the list of whys you wrote down, and adjusting them as necessary would be perfect.

I actually prefer to do this internal inventory towards the end of fall rather than at the end of the calendar year. For some reason, the end of fall moving into winter feels like more of a clean slate transition to me.

But ultimately, it doesn’t matter exactly when you do it, so long as you do.

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