How do we achieve goals? Why are some goals easier to achieve than others? I’ve set goals for as long as I can remember, but never really knew how I was achieving them. Some goals came easy while others barely actualized.
As these questions weighed on my mind, I assumed it was strictly a motivation issue which led (almost instantly) to negative self-talk. It’s easy to beat yourself up when you don’t do what you should do. I finally dug into it and discovered that like anything else in our universe, science plays a role.
The Role of Inertia
Turns out, inertia has a lot to do with it. Yes, it applies to more than just that 6th grade science experiment on centrifugal force (nervously swinging a bucket of water over your head until you realize the water actually does stay in the bucket) — you know the one.
Otherwise known as Newton’s First Law — an object at rest stays at rest and an object in motion stays in motion. Meaning you can leverage one action into another. And conversely, it requires more energy to perform any action from a resting state.
This is where habit stacking comes into play. In Japanese philosophy, it’s known as Kaizen. As Thomas Oppong describes, Kaizen is the concept of small, but continuous improvement. Simply focusing on being 1% better every day leads to meaningful change and personal growth.
By slicing large goals into small ones, you reduce the amount of activation energy required. Making it more likely to consistently take action and achieve your goals.
Reduce Required Activation Energy
Before we go any further, let’s explore the concept of activation energy. Different situations require different amounts of activation energy, but every situation requires some. In scientific terms, it’s the energy required to undergo a specific reaction (or achieve a goal).
Consider the amount of effort it takes to work out every morning. It requires a sizable amount of energy to move from a resting state to an active one, let alone leaving the warmth of your home to brave the cold of winter. But as James Clear presents, little things — like setting your workout clothes at the foot of your bed the night before — can reduce your activation energy just enough to take action.
Find Your Catalyst
That said, even after reducing the amount of activation energy required, you still need motivation to reach the threshold of taking action. Personally, remembering my purpose has proved most effective. It provides the alignment and energy I need to get going. In other (more scientific) words, it’s a catalyst.
The thing about a purpose, it’s often emotional, and that’s a good thing. As this Inc. article outlines , we make decisions emotionally and justify them logically. This happens largely at the subconscious level, but we can leverage the process by pulling it into awareness.
It’s All Relative
As habits start to stack, they seem to require less and less energy — your new normal is shifting.
During a recent back-country ski tour, as we were nearing our objective, physical and mental fatigue started to set in. It was another false summit (looks like it’s the top of the mountain, but it’s not) and the negative self-talk began. How many more false summits are there? Will conditions even be that good? Is it worth it?
As I felt my energy draining with every step, I remembered my purpose — my why. I love to be in remote places that few have the will or ability to visit — it makes me feel deeply connected to Mother Nature.
But perhaps most of all, I love the sense of accomplishment and euphoria that rushes over me at the summit. The thought of that provided all the motivation necessary to push through to the summit and enjoy a 3,000 ft. ski decent.
I’ve come to realize that climbing mountains is just as much a mental challenge as a physical one. More often than not, when I start to feel tired in the back-country, it’s due to mental fatigue. The Navy Seals actually train to this concept — they call it The 40% Rule. When you feel fatigue setting in, you’re only at 40% capacity. Remembering your purpose enables you to leverage the remaining 60%.
One lesson I’ve learned in all of this is that challenge on a regular basis is good. It keeps us growing and that keeps us healthy and happy. It keeps us in a state of constant motion which propels us forward in constant evolution.
Consistently applying this knowledge in my everyday life has led to meaningful change. I seem to be achieving my goals more quickly and with less effort than ever before — and the momentum keeps building. I hope some of these concepts help you to achieve your goals, whatever they may be.