How to achieve your goals despite yourself

What keeps us from being the positive change we want to see? If you’re like me, here’s what happens. I start out full of resolve and commitment to actually accomplish things that I really want to do, but just can’t get up the gumption to do them: go to the health club, eat more vegetables, work on a proposal, or make that dreaded phone call.

Or, I might do things that I know aren’t good for me: eating high fat foods or too many sweets, procrastinating on things that would take me only a few minutes if I would just do them, or saying things that I know are inappropriate.

Either way, I find myself doing what I’ve decided not to do or I stop myself from doing what I really want to do. What causes these internal conflicts?

How to stop yourself from doing what you don’t want to do. The Dalai Lama distinguishes between the twin desires for momentary pleasure and long-term happiness. That Chocolate Decadent cake sits in the see-through bakery window taunting me with the promise of momentary pleasure even though my goal is to stay away from high fat foods for my long-term well-being and happiness.

How might I resist the momentary pleasure promised to me by that tempting cake? To begin with, craving researchers say that we should make a list of places and activities that cue our unwanted desires. If I have heeded their advice, then I would already know ahead of time that temptation would be waiting for me when I showed up at the restaurant. But what if I just arrived at the restaurant on automatic pilot and was suddenly confronted by that cake?

Here’s where clearing emotions (Reframing Change, Chapter 3) comes in handy. The emotion I want to clear is the raw impulse to devour that cake. The basic steps in emotional clearing are feel it, intensify it, and release it.

So I stand there in front of the window, eyeball to eyeball with that seductive cake, and I allow myself to fully embrace my desire for it. As the craving intensifies, the impulse to just go ahead and savor it to end my misery becomes almost unbearable. Then slowly but surely, the desire subsides. The cake stays in the cabinet and I walk away.

Many people don’t believe that desire can subside if you intensify it, but it can and does unless there is a physiological addiction. The body cannot hold an intense desire forever.

How to motivate yourself to do what you want to do even though it seems easier to not do it. Picture another scenario: I come home, fatigued after an engrossing day’s work, and the last thing I want to do is to turn around and go back out to the health club. A pep talk with myself about the value of exercise does zilch. Here again, clearing my negative emotions often works. The negative emotion I clear is resistance to change — leaving the comfort of my home to go to the health club.  I feel and then intensify the feelings of resistance, mustering up as much indignation and anger about the whole sorry situation as I can. I may make it into a real production — a grand pity party. After a while, the pity party begins to subside and I develop sufficient willpower to take action.

But sometimes, I just don’t feel like going through that. What then? Rhonda Britten, a motivational speaker, explains that motivation and inspiration can come after the doing. The doing comes first and then you get inspired and motivated. Don’t wait until you feel the motivation. Do it and then let the motivation kick in.

So I pull myself together, put on my workout clothes, and just go to the club, promising myself that if after 15 minutes, I don’t want to stay, I will leave. More often than not, ten minutes into my workout, the endorphins kick in, I start extolling the virtues of self-care to myself, and I find it relatively easy to finish.

So how do you achieve your goals despite yourself? Here’s my formula:

  • When I want to stop myself from doing what I know in my heart I don’t really want to do, I can prepare myself ahead of time by identifying what might cue my desire.
  • Then, in the moment of temptation, I can clear my negative emotions.
  • When I find myself resisting doing what would be in my best interests over the long haul, I can clear my resistance.
  • Or, I might just go ahead and get started doing it, letting the momentum of the action build the desire to keep going.


Jean Latting


© Jean Latting, 2010

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