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How to Stop Breaking Your Own Rules

Psychology Oct 14, 2020
Nothing can stop the man with the right mental attitude from achieving his goal; nothing on earth can help the man with the wrong mental attitude. — Thomas Jefferson

We often set goals for ourselves and unless we get the results we are looking for, we stop seeing the point. We can follow a rule or a habit for a while, but long term, it's hard to keep something going when results are low.

I am guilty of this, but I've learned ways to keep myself going toward a goal with a bit of mental gymnastics. It's easy to learn and easy to implement. You just have to know what to think.

If we want something really badly, giving up a rule we set is always a possibility. If you really want to buy something, the rule is to wait a set amount of days having each day be another portion of how much that thing costs. Sometimes by the time you have the amount, you don't care to get it.

It's easy to give things up — wants and desires are no exception. But goals and rules we make for ourselves, however, are the hardest of all to keep.

Habits are hard to break, but even harder to start.

We end up in a cycle of trying to keep ourselves motivated, imagining end results, promising ourselves it will be worth it. So how do we notice when we start breaking our own rules and habits that we set for ourselves?


Notice when you've made a change

Sometimes we make a habit for ourselves to lead us down what we believe to be a successful path. We are proud of ourselves to have done so — but come a few months or years later, even if progress was made, we might have stopped doing what we thought was good for us.

It can be hard to notice when we've done that. We all have rules and habits we set and some just sort of fizzled away without us even noticing.

To avoid this, the best thing to do is reflect on when you were highly motivated as compared to now. Look for when you broke a rule, abandoned a goal, and look at the difference in time. Reflect on how you felt when you started.

By constantly analyzing ourselves and what we are doing, this helps us to see if we are on the same track we initially set out to do.

Did you set a rule that you would go to the gym at least 3 times a week? When did that stop? Do you remember why you stopped? Did you lose motivation? Or did you not even notice that one week you just decided to go 2 times and kept doing only 2 thereafter.

One of the main reasons for reflecting and noticing when you've made a change is you can then remember what you felt when you set a certain goal. If it was a big goal, maybe it wasn't a spur of the moment decision. Maybe you truly wanted to go as much as you could and something got in the way.

But see if you can recreate those initial thoughts. The rule might have been broken, but if you don't reflect on the rules you've broken, you might never remember a goal you once set long ago.

Think of past goals and goals you gave up on. You set that goal, no one else. You knew what you were getting into when you set it for yourself — what in your mindset changed that made you fine with giving it up?


List your goals

Whether it be in your head or on a list in a notebook tucked away somewhere, you have to make sure your goals as real as they have always been. Do this often to keep them fresh.

If a roadblock came and destroyed that goal, it might have not been a roadblock and instead was an excuse. Although you made an excuse at the time, that goal is still there and still intact.

It's like a shopping list. You can write down something you need and maybe the time comes for you to go to the store and you've forgotten that one thing. The list didn't change, you still need it. You still wrote down that you wanted to get it and if you didn't get it. You still have a chance the next time you go.

The list can also change. Things can be removed or replaced, but the reasoning has to be so great and so justified, that what you are replacing it with will benefit you even more than if you kept it as it is.

Visualize what you might be doing if you didn't break that rule and refresh your mind on those initial empowering thoughts. Can you remember what it was like when you first started going? Do you remember the motivation you had?

Take a look at where you might be had a goal you set not been broken. Don't feel bad about it but realize that keeping track of goals will prevent this from happening a second time. The list will always exist, whether you mark things off or not.

Make your goals a physical thing that you actually have to let go of to rid yourself of those goals. It'll be much harder to dispose of something you created as a reminder versus making a mental decision that at the time it isn't worth it.

Our goals were made for a reason, and a goal made is rarely justified for removing it from our to-do list.


Make a defense for a goal before you change it

One thing I've done to keep goals intact is shifted viewing what I am doing to different reasons for doing it, but with the same goal in mind.

We can set a goal and pursue that goal, and our reasoning for it can change. If we find reinforcement before the main reasoning is no longer important, we're still on track for that goal.

What we start with may have a certain intention, and the intentions can change.

An example for me is writing. I like to write and I like to see the progress I've made. My initial reasoning for starting could have been an idea of how many eyes I might end up with on what I wrote. Yet one person responding to something I wrote made me decide I want to keep writing, but for a different reason. Now I write for those that I have an impact on.

The goal is still intact — to write. The reasoning can shift and in a way is almost a refresher on motivation.

You might start a venture like a startup company because you want to be your own boss. What if you get bought out and work for someone else but as an executive? What if you enjoy working for your company, not as the owner? Would you give it up? Goals can be the same way. They can shift while still being the same.

Make another line of defense for your goal and strengthen why that goal is important.

A goal can be set for results — and if the method changes, we might still be working for the same results. The motivation may shift to something else, but what keeps us going toward that goal doesn't have to stay the same.

Another new reason almost any goal can use as a defense is curiosity. If you set yourself to do something and after a long period of time, that goal starts to fade, keep doing what you are doing but out of curiosity.

We have to look for those opportunities to say, "If I stop now, I'll never know if I achieve A or B." Make the end result not the reasoning for that goal you set, but make the goal actually seeing what could have happened.

We should look ahead at the excuses lingering in the back of our mind that may approach us suddenly telling us it's O.K. to stop now.

I actively try to target excuses before I use them on myself in the future — and I encourage you to do the same. We know ourselves well enough to know what we might come up with as a reason to give something up.

If we build our defenses and protect our goals, the more likely we will achieve them.

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