In his book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, Hungarian psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi made the case that people are happiest when fully absorbed in tasks they find challenging and that give them opportunities for personal growth.
He calls the state people experience at those moments “flow.” If that term is unfamiliar perhaps the terms athletes use might be more familiar: “in the zone” or “unconscious” or “in the groove.” Flow is a lot like love in that you definitely know when you’re in it because whatever you’re doing seems effortless and time flies by.
Something that Mihaly believes can help people achieve flow are goals. How you view goals can make all the difference in your motivation. For example, if you can’t run a mile without feeling tired then focusing running on a marathon would be demoralizing. However, if you accomplish running a mile, then focus on perhaps going two or three miles, then five, and so on, it’s very likely you’ll stay motivated.
You see, most humans feel a sense of accomplishment when they stretch themselves and do things they’ve never done before. Using marathons as an example, it’s irrelevant for most people that they cannot run the 26.2 miles in under two and a half hours like elite marathoners. What the typical person cares about is the fact that they did something they never thought they could!
A great way to accomplish big goals is to have many little goals, mile markers if you will, along the way, in order to stay focused. A good example of this comes from martial arts. Most martial arts use a belt system that starts at white and culminates in black with as many as 10 belts that must be earned along the way. These incremental belts help people stay focused and motivated. It’s much easier to focus on achieving the next belt than thinking about the three to five years it may take to earn a black belt.
When you set goals there are two ways to feel good about your progress. The first is early on to focus on how far you’ve come, not how far you still have to go. I used to run marathons and when we’d reach points early in the race people usually encourage runners saying, “Way to go, 10 miles down already!” Imagine how a runner would feel if they said, “Way to go, only 16.2 more miles left!” What?!?
Next, as you make progress and move past the halfway point don’t focus on how far you’ve come but rather focus on what’s left. Returning to marathoning, as we got closer to the finish you never hear someone say, “Great job, 23 miles down!” No, they would say, “Great job, only three miles to go!”
You might notice that in each case the key is to focus on the smaller number to feel a sense of accomplishment, remain focused and stay motivated. This thought process applies to getting through college, weight loss, projects at work and just about anything else that can be measured.
I have another tip for goal accomplishment but it takes some guts because it’s puts you on the line. When you set a goal, tell somebody or share your goal with multiple people.
When you share a goal you engage the principle of consistency on yourself. Consistency is the principle of influence that tells us people feel internal psychological pressure and external social pressure to be consistent in what they say and do.
This principle is a powerful motivator because your self-perception is on the line when you make public statements on things like goals. We don’t want other people to see us negatively nor do we want to feel negative about ourselves. That can spur you on to keep hammering away at your goals. For more details on this see a post I called Pave the Way to Success in the New Year.
So there you have it; a few simple ways to get into the flow and accomplish goals that mean something to you.