How to get unstuck and make progress on your goals today

One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned in my own personal development is that I can’t expect my future self will be willing to do anything I’m not willing to do today.

We all tend to assume that in the future, we’ll have more willpower, more courage, and more grit than our present selves.

We think that even though we don’t want to take action on our goals today—go to the gym, do our batch cooking, or get to bed on time—we think tomorrow will be different. Tomorrow we’ll get back on track. Unfortunately, this is almost never true.

There’s actually some science that explains this. Using MRI scans, researchers have learned that our brains show very different patterns of activity when we think about ourselves, versus when we think about people we’ve never met.

The crazy part?

When we think about our future selves, our brains light up in the same pattern as when we think about strangers—not like they do when we think about our present selves.

In other words, you subconsciously think your future self is a different person.

No wonder we procrastinate and think we’ll do better tomorrow than we did today, right?

Fortunately, I’ve collected some tips and tricks to help you break this pattern and start taking action on your goals today.

Focus on the next physical action to make progress

In David Allen’s productivity classic, Getting Things Done, he explains that there’s a downside to being a smart person with a vivid imagination. The problem is that you’re good at visualizing everything that could go wrong on the way to your goal, and it gets overwhelming really fast.

If you’re waffling on going to the gym, and your mind immediately goes to how much you loathe burpees, you’ll be a lot less likely to get yourself out of the house.

Instead of thinking about the outcome, focus on the very next physical action you have to take to make progress toward your goal. Your next action isn’t to do your workout—it’s to put on your workout shoes. Your next action after that is to get yourself out the front door. Then to get in your car (or put on your bike helmet, or walk to the bus stop). And so on…

Don’t leave yourself an escape route

What do you think will happen when making progress on your goal gets hard and you’ve left yourself an escape route? If you’re like me, there’s a good chance you’ll spring for it.

Did you know you’re far less likely to experience buyer’s remorse when you can’t return your purchase? Your brain is really good at rationalization, and you can use that to your advantage.

Make it hard or costly to quit when things get tough and you’ll be far more likely to achieve your goal.

Remember that action conquers fear

If self-doubt and fear are what stand between you and making progress on your goal, waiting until later is the worst thing you can do.

There’s no time in the future where you’ll magically have more willpower, or feel more courage or confidence. Confidence in particular is earned through practice, and there’s no substitute for taking action.

Russ Harris—author of The Confidence Gap—says it best…

“The actions of confidence come first; the feeling of confidence comes later.”

Try the old sticky-note trick and post this message all over your house until it really sinks in.

What works for you?

Delegating ugly work to our future selves is a real problem, and it’s something we all do. I hope these tips have been useful to you, and if you have a favorite trick to that I didn’t mention here, post it in the comments!

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