How To Achieve A Goal Without Punishing Yourself

You can do things the hard way or the easy way. You’re probably choosing the hard way.

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Pam: [00:06] You’re listening to Not Bad Advice, where our goal is to offer perspective that helps you improve one aspect of your life at a time.

[00:12] I’m Pamela Lund…

CK: [00:19] And I’m CK Chung.

Pam: [00:21] And we hope that after listening you’ll think, “hey, that’s not bad advice!” We tend to think that achieving a goal has to be hard. That you have to suffer to get anything worthwhile. And that hard work and sacrifice are the only ways to get things done.

[00:47] At the same time, we’re always looking for shortcuts and quick fixes because suffering and sacrifice suck. You might be able to punish yourself into achieving a goal, and you might be able to find a shortcut that will get you there faster. But if the thing you’re trying to achieve is something that you’ll need to sustain longterm, suffering and shortcuts will both sabotage your success. But there’s a smarter way to achieve sustainable results that will make you happier and healthier at the same time.

[01:15] I’m going to use weight and money as examples throughout this episode, because they’re fairly universal and simple, but you can apply what we’re talking about to anything you’re trying to achieve.

[01:26] So I want you to try and think of something that you’ve been wanting to do for a long time. Ideally, something that you’ve tried to do multiple times, but were never able to stick with your plan long enough to actually achieve the goal.

[01:38] Now, think about how you try to achieve the goal. If you’ve tried multiple times, you can think about all of the different things you’ve tried. And whatever you tried, it probably required you to do something or prohibited you from doing something. And likely both at the same time.

[01:56] For example, if you were trying to save money, you might have put yourself on a budget that didn’t allow you to go out to eat, and so you had to cook at home. Or, if you were trying to lose weight, you might’ve put yourself on a diet that didn’t allow you to eat sugar, and you had to work out.

[02:11] With any of these strategies you’re taking away something that you enjoy and adding in something that you probably don’t enjoy, and then expecting to succeed. Then, whenever you do the thing that you’re not supposed to do, or if you don’t do the thing that you are supposed to do, what happens? You beat yourself up. You punish yourself for not doing things that suck.

[02:35] So your choice is to do something that sucks and feel like it sucks for months on end to, maybe, achieve a goal at some point in the future, or to do what you want to do right now, get the immediate gratification, and then feel like shit about it for a little while. Neither one of these achieves your goal and neither feels good, but one requires hard work and change.

[02:58] So, of course, you’re going to keep choosing the immediate gratification, even when it sabotages your plan. Why wouldn’t you? Then you end up feeling like a failure because you couldn’t stick to whatever plan you had. You feel like you have no willpower… you’re lazy… you’re weak. And over time you develop a story about how you can’t do certain things.

[03:19] You can’t save money. You can’t get in shape. You can’t write a book. You can’t learn to cook. Whatever your thing is, you’ve tried unsuccessfully so many times that you have all of this evidence that you can’t do it. So you believe that you can’t do it, and you quit trying.

[03:34] This happens time and again, because punishing yourself into success just doesn’t work long-term. Humans are terrible about thinking about the future in tangible ways. It’s just how our brains work. We put much more value on what we need and want right now than what a future version of us will need or want.

[03:53] That’s why it’s so hard to do anything that requires work now and it pay off in the future.

[03:59] Once you know that and know that you aren’t just lazy or unmotivated, you can let go of those criticisms and stories that you’ve been beating yourself up with. Like, really just let that shit go. It’s not helping you. You are just like everyone else. So stop fighting it, and work with your brain instead of against it.

[04:18] So in order to succeed at something long term, you need to get an immediate reward for doing the daily work towards that goal. And I mean immediate. Even our reward later in the same week is often too far away to keep people motivated. We are wired for immediate gratification.

[04:36] So take dieting again, for an example: If you have a planned cheat day every weekend, you might be able to stick to a restrictive diet that you aren’t happy on for the first week. But after that, as you feel less and less satisfied by the diet, and because you are not seeing immediate results on the scale, the weekend cheat day is not going to be tangible enough for you to stay motivated for six straight days.

[05:01] You’ll find yourself making concessions more and more frequently, until you’re no longer on the diet at all, simply because the timing of the reward didn’t match the timing of the effort. But the good news is that the reward doesn’t have to be big. It just has to be meaningful to you and done frequently enough that your brain starts to associate a success with that reward.

[05:24] The reward can be related to what you’re trying to achieve or totally unrelated. It could be a food reward every day that you eat on plan, or it could be adding $5 to your clothes shopping budget every day that you skipped spending $15 on takeout lunch, or it could be watching an episode of a guilty pleasure show every day that you work out.

[05:43] It actually doesn’t matter what the reward is, as long as you like getting it and you directly associate getting it for doing the thing you did that day.

[05:54] The reward concept is actually so loose that just checking off that you did, the thing can be enough. You don’t even have to come up with any sort of reward if you use a habit tracker – and this is basically just a list of things you want to do daily or on most days, and every time you do one of the things you mark it off.

[06:12] I know it sounds crazy, but marking it off is the reward. And if you think of it that way, your brain will want that reward. It will actually compel you to check off everything on the list. And you can use an app, there’s plenty out there, but I find that this is one thing that is really best done on paper, physically checking off the item each time you do it is oddly rewarding. And you get a visual representation of how much you’ve done. Like, how far you’ve come towards your goal.

[06:41] I recently started using a printed monthly tracker – I’m in my third month using them right now. And I mark off things in green when I do them, and red when I don’t. And seeing all the green squares adding up is bizarrely motivating for me.

[06:55] So if you’re motivated by closing the rings on Apple’s activity tracker or getting a certain number of steps in per day on Fitbit, a habit tracker will definitely work for you.

CK: [07:06] There’s the notion of not breaking the chain, too. They use that phrasing when referring to habit trackers So when you see it visually and you see that you’re marking off something every day, you don’t want to break that pattern. So it’s visually pleasing to mark it off every day. So it’s, therefore, rewarding.

Pam: [07:27] Yup. Absolutely. And to piggyback on that, if you do end up breaking the chain, they say to not break it two days in a row. So like, just because you missed one day in your chain, doesn’t mean that you give up for the rest of the month. Just make sure that you get back on track tomorrow.

CK: [07:46] Yep.

Pam: [07:47] So, that’s a good point.

CK: [07:49] So when it comes to habit trackers, it also allows you to kind of externalize your motivation because people have different tendencies and different motivations, and two sides of the spectrum of that could be intrinsic motivation and extrinsic motivation.

[08:09] So some people are internally motivated and can self-assert their motivations, and others need motivation from external sources. And so using something like a habit tracker can kind of combine internal to the external.

Pam: [08:28] I think that that’s great point because I mentioned that I use to habit tracker and I am very externally motivated. That’s why I have a trainer. That’s why I have a performance coach. I need someone else to be accountable to. And so I didn’t think that a habit tracker was going to work for me because it’s really just me being accountable to myself via a piece of paper, but having that piece of paper does make it external somehow it does. So, it really works for me.

CK: [08:58] Yeah, ’cause I mean, it is outside yourself and you see it outside yourself. And on that point, you don’t have to be thinking about it all the time. You can let your brain do other things and not have that take up your bandwidth and then you get that external cue from outside, and that can motivate you.

Pam: [09:18] Yeah, it’s definitely motivating. That’s why I keep it hanging in our dining room, so that I see it constantly throughout the day. because I’ll forget. Even though these are five things that I do every single day, I still forget to do them. And so I will see it there and go, “Oh yeah, I need to go do this thing.

[09:35] Or, it’s the end of the day and I have two left and there’s one that I really don’t want to do and one that I do. So I’ll do the one that I do want to do. And then I’m like, “well, now there’s only one left.”

[09:44] I have to do the thing that I don’t want to do. It’s very motivating.

[09:49] So, you’re very internally motivated, I think.

[09:52] Do you find that habit trackers are beneficial for you or is it not necessary for you to develop a habit?

CK: [10:00] Yeah, I kind of go back and forth with them and I think it just depends on what I’m using it for. And a lot of times I like incorporating habit trackers when I’m starting out a habit or I’m in the beginning of experimentation for some new protocol. And so that will help me get into the groove of maintaining the habit.

[10:25] And then sometimes I may find that I won’t really need it to sustain the habit, or there might be some other strategy that works out better to help me sustain the habit.

Pam: [10:36] And we’ll do a whole episode on habit tracker soon because they’re really such a great way to stay consistent with anything that you want to do.

CK: [10:42] For sure.

Pam: [10:43] So there’s gist here is to break down the thing that you want to do into smaller steps and reward yourself every time you take a step, which is essentially creating a habit. And we tend to think of habits as trivial, but everything you do without thinking is habitual.

[11:01] If you eat lunch that aligns with your health goals without thinking about it, because you’ve eaten a lunch that aligns with your health goals everyday for the last six months, you have a habit of eating a lunch that aligns with your health goals. It’s just a habit, and anything can be a habit. And habits are what result in success long-term.

[11:20] So you come up with a habit that you want to build that will result in you achieving the thing you ultimately want. And then you reward yourself into developing the habit until eventually doing the thing is rewarding enough that you do it without thinking about it. And that’s really the goal because ultimately you need to learn how to enjoy doing the thing you need to do every day to achieve the bigger goal.

[11:44] If you don’t enjoy taking the steps that you have to take every day, you won’t do them over the long-term. You will start and stop over and over until you give up altogether because you’re tired of failing.

[11:56] And I know because I’ve been there. We all have. It feels terrible. And that’s why I want you to stop trying to punish yourself for being human and start rewarding yourself into better habits that you enjoy maintaining.

[12:10] Developing this new approach to behavioral change will not only help you achieve more of your goals, but it will also help you heal old trauma around failure and help you change the stories that you tell yourself about what you’re capable of.

[12:25] All right. So let’s transition to the part of the show where I shuffle a deck of Oracle cards and pull a card to see how that card can relate to what we talked about today. I like doing this because it gives me a visual to associate with the topic. And when I have a visual, it makes it easier to remember the perspective and integrate it into my day.

[13:08] So let’s see what the Nocturna Oracle deck has to offer as a visual for being kinder to ourselves as we develop new habits.

[13:37] So I pulled the scallop card, which is a card that I pull very, very frequently. I do these p every day and I get the scallop a lot. So it’s a card that has a lot of significance for me, but there’s a lot of different meanings in the card.

[13:56] And if you think about a scallop shell, I mean, it looks like an oyster shell, so it’s got the ridges that all go down to the hinge of the shell. And a lot of, meaning in this card is that those ridges all, symbolize a journey. So, the scallop is also associated with pilgrimage and travel in a lot of religions.

[14:24] So with this card today, I want you to think about how anytime you’re trying to change, you are going on a journey. This is not thing that you’re going to do for one day. If it’s something that you really want to achieve, if it’s something long-term that you are trying to get to, you need to make it part of your long-term. You need to go on this journey with yourself and you need to work on ways that you can enjoy the journey and enjoy the process and understand that this is going to be with you for awhile.

[15:01] These changes are something that you are going to be carrying on your journey. So choose to do it in a way that is kind to yourself rather than a way that requires you to beat yourself up and feel like a failure.

CK: [15:16] Make it rewarding for yourself.

[15:19] Make it rewarding. Enjoy the journey.

CK: [15:22] There you go.

Pam: [15:23] If you found yourself thinking, “hey, that’s not bad advice,” while listening today, we’d love it if you shared the episode with your friends and rated it in iTunes. It really does help.

[15:34] You can get in touch with us on Twitter, where I’m @Pamela_Lund and CK is @cKdisco. To find us on other platforms, visit There, you can also contact us if there’s anything you need advice about. We’d love to hear from you.

Practical life advice delivered with a sense of humor and a side of intuition. Is it good? It’s definitely not bad!

Pamela Lund

Pamela Lund

The Linchpin


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