Well, it is the end of January, and I am betting that most people who have bothered to make New Years Resolutions have given up! Sadly, achieving a new goal, target or desire is deceptively simple (simple is very different to easy!). Drawing mainly from my experience of professional sports people, athletes and coaches, below are three of the most common reasons I have found for people to fail, and how they can be avoided.

1. Directionalise Your State

There is a reason NLP bang’s on about state so much. State dictates our behaviour, if we are in a good state we tend to make better decisions, are more motivated, more creative, etc. If we are in a bad state, we make rash decisions, loose motivation and so on.

Working with professional sports people I have noticed a common correlation with those that are successful; forget the stick! We tend to think the best way to motivate ourselves is the “carrot and stick” method; reward the the positives, and punish the negatives.

The problem with this is when you “punish” the negatives (get in a bad state, “beat yourself up”, etc) you just associate that bad state with activity itself and it erodes confidence and motivation.

What I noticed with professional athletes, when they are practicing, is they feel good every time they do something right (no matter how small) and feel NOTHING when they don’t. It is that simple.

It also elevates the boredom if you congratulate yourself (get in the good state) every time you make a gain, a step towards your goal. No matter how small.

Practice really feeling good (totally overdo it to begin with to get used to it) when you succeed in moving towards your goal and feeling nothing when you don’t. I appreciate “feeling nothing” is hard. You need to focus on the nuances of the bad feeling and change it in some way to reduce it. Make it smaller, quieter, change the voice, spin the feeling the other way, or just relax and take a break for a few minutes and do something else.

2. Start Small

Go for the easy gains. The simple things to complete. This gets you started in the right direction; of succeeding and completing set tasks. Break the big goal down into smaller chunks and work on one at a time. If you try and do too much all at once you will most probably overwhelm yourself, feel bad (see point one) and stop.

This actually creates a habit of “quitting” the process, which means you are actually more likely to quit in the future (think how many times you have had something you want to do but each time you start it you quickly give up. What do you think this is teaching your brain to do each time you start?). Success leads to more success, no matter how small the success is to start with.

3. Do Less

If you are struggling to reach your goal do less. It may seem counter intuitive, but if you are not getting anywhere, doing more may just overwhelm you and lead you to giving up (see step two). Break it down into smaller chunks, smaller pieces, smaller targets. It is better to do something small for a few minutes several times a day than trying to find a large chunk of time once a week. This will keep your interest up and, if you deliberately limit yourself (stop before you get bored or tired, preferably when you have achieved a good milestone), you will find you create a good “store” of anticipation, which is a great motivator.