How to reach a goal.
Photo: iStockPhoto
You know exactly what to do. Certainly why you should do it. But for all those who are stuck somewhere between "knowing" and "doing," we've called in our triple-A-list team of motivators. If anyone can jump-start you on the road to change, they can.
1. Danica Patrick: First woman ever to win an IndyCar race

2. Alice Domar, PhD: Director of the Domar Center for Mind/Body Health

3. Jim Loehr: CEO of the Human Performance Institute

4. Cesar Millan: Host of the TV show Dog Whisperer

5. Randy Pausch: Famous for giving "The Last Lecture"

6. Jill Bolte Taylor, PhD: Author of My Stroke of Insight, about going through a stroke and rebuilding her brain

7. Elizabeth Edwards: Author of Saving Graces

8. Stephen Covey: Author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

Danica Patrick: At 26, the first woman ever to win an IndyCar race

I recommend that anyone trying to achieve a big goal first find out what it takes to get there, then break it into smaller tasks. No challenge is completely overwhelming if it is broken down properly. You just need to identify the key pieces and tackle them individually. Get quality information and find reputable people to help you. For my own goal, I needed to work on my driving skills and my physical and mental conditioning. I also needed to align myself with quality sponsors and a quality team. It takes all of these pieces working together to make it in auto racing. Once I know I've done everything I can to prepare, I visualize myself succeeding and pray.
Alice Domar, PhD: Director of the Domar Center for Mind/Body Health and author of Be Happy Without Being Perfect

When you're trying to motivate yourself, appreciate the fact that you're even thinking about making a change. And as you move forward, allow yourself to be good enough. Perfectionism can undo what you're trying to achieve. Look at the angst people have when they cut a workout a little short. Do they really think a few minutes less, one day, is going to make that much of a difference? Worse still is the "what-the-hell effect"—you eat one bad thing, then just give up.

Sabotage can also come from those around you, even your loved ones. (That may sound irrational, but in my experience, many spouses go through this.) It's threatening to people when you start making positive changes. If you're about to go on a diet, you might want to assure your husband, "This isn't because I want to be hotter and am going to leave you. I'm worried that if I don't lose weight, there will be health consequences." Use honest, loving, clear communication. You'll need all the support you can get.
Jim Loehr: CEO of the Human Performance Institute and author of The Power of Story: Rewrite Your Destiny in Business and in Life

To change a habit, the motivation has to begin with a deep and abiding sense of purpose, and your goal must fit into that big picture. So start by asking yourself, When all is said and done, what do I feel must happen for me to have lived a life of significance? Say it's that you want to be an extraordinary parent. If your challenge is exercise, then you can keep reminding yourself that you're not working out to be buff, you're doing it to be a great mother. You don't want to be short on energy; you don't want to come home exhausted. Once you get that connection to your ultimate mission, you have the holy grail of change.

Next ask what private voice you've been listening to—the one that keeps defeating you every time you try to reach a goal. What's the excuse it tells you? "I'm too tired to exercise"? "I don't have time"? Okay, but is that really true? What are you doing at 5:30 in the morning? Well, you're sleeping. If you really wanted to do this, you could engineer time. Identify this voice, challenge its faulty assumptions, and "out" it by getting it on paper. Once you sit back and read it, you'll see the negatives you've been letting run your life.

So what's the new story—the voice that is deeply connected to purpose, that makes you want to fight? We had a smoker who suddenly realized she went nine months during her pregnancy not touching a cigarette. She wasn't even tempted because she couldn't imagine hurting her unborn child. That story gave her strength. Think of yours as the epic of the great adventure in your life. Write it down and keep rereading it to retrain your mind.

Next comes the behavioral change. Design one to three rituals to help you get to your goal. For instance, if the goal is exercise, you're going to get up at 5:45 every other morning. Or when you want a cigarette, you'll take a drink of water instead or look at a picture of your daughter. It's always more successful to take an action (drink water) than to avoid one (not smoke).

As you put very specific rituals in place, keep going back to how it's connected to your being a successful human in the ultimate sense. Every day, fill out a log that says whether you did what you said you were going to do. We've researched this, and within 30 to 60 days, you will make it a habit. There's only one way that this will fail, and that's if you give up.
Cesar Millan: Host of the TV show Dog Whisperer with Cesar Millan and author of A Member of the Family: Cesar Millan's Guide to a Lifetime of Fulfillment with Your Dog

People talk about the importance of consistency in forming good habits. But lazy people are consistent. So are drug dealers. What I help people with isn't so much consistency; it's about changing their patterns.

When I make a goal, the first thing I do is declare it around my pack—my family, my dogs. We're more powerful as humans when we're in a pack. To do that involves projecting the right energy: calm and assertive. To be a good listener is to have calm energy—you're keeping yourself open-minded. It's a very conscious, instinctual, emotional, and spiritual way of being. This is important because sometimes the pack can teach you something, and you can't listen if you're in a totally assertive state. But the assertive state is also important because it gets things done. In the world of calm assertiveness, there are endless possibilities. In the world of fear, insecurity, uncertainty, and panic, your choices are very limited.

To get into a calm and assertive state, watch dogs. The first thing they do in the morning is stretch. Then they walk, and you see them breathing deeply, picking up on a scent. A good walk makes dogs happy. Rolling in the grass makes them happy. Rolling over in the grass after the walk and drinking water—oh my God, it's the ultimate satisfaction. We're animals too. So ease slowly into your mission, do it every day, and use the simplest things to keep you grounded. If you don't accomplish your goal—and even if you do—just keep going. Dogs, whether they win or lose, still celebrate.

Randy Pausch: Professor of computer science, human-computer interaction, and design at Carnegie Mellon University; famous for giving "The Last Lecture" and for co-writing a book of the same title after a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer at age 45.

The reason to turn brick walls into motivating forces is that if we don't, they become excuses as to why we can't accomplish things. We can all do much more than we think, once we decide to do it.

It's very hard to find meaning in one's life. It's much easier to find "meaning in one's actions"—so look for someone who could use your help, and help them in any way you can. If your actions all have meaning, I suspect your life will begin to as well.

The one thing I wish we'd all think about right now—and forgive me for being mundane—is this: If you have kids, review your life insurance, because most people don't carry enough. More broadly, we should think about the fact that time is a zero-sum game. Things we spend time on inherently take time away from other things. So constantly ask, Is this the best and highest use of my time?

Randy Pausch passed away in August 2008.
Jill Bolte Taylor, PhD: Harvard Brain Bank spokesperson and author of My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientist's Personal Journey, about going through a stroke and rebuilding her brain

You have two halves of your brain: The left is saying, "I need to get my work done"; the right, "I want to be in the present moment and play." Motivation is about finding the balance. My right brain, for example, helps me pay attention. When I want ice cream—my weakness—I'll pause and ask why. Then I get a visual of wanting to go to sleep, which happens when I eat sugar. Is that what I want? It's not—which allows me to move past the craving. To get into your right brain, slump in your chair, breathe, and allow your mind to go foggy. Just let yourself melt into the beauty of this moment.

Elizabeth Edwards: Author of Saving Graces: Finding Solace and Strength from Friends and Strangers

I am by nature a fighter. If I have a setback, I will do everything I can to overcome it. Of course, it's important to understand that some things you can't affect. But a setback is a call to action. And even if my head tells me I can't undo it—as I couldn't undo the cancer, I couldn't undo the death of our son—I'll start looking for ways to find the lemonade in it.

I still struggle, though, with making my own health a priority. I'm Italian. I love food. I'm also a stress eater, which means campaigns are very hard on me. The easiest diet I ever went on was when I was pregnant and had gestational diabetes. I was so rigorous about my eating I actually lost weight. It wasn't a diet for me to look some particular way (because there's a part of me that rebels against that); this had to do with my baby's health. So it may be easier if you describe your health goals in terms of somebody else. But sometimes it really is about you. I will live longer by losing weight. Fat produces estrogen, and my cancer lives on estrogen; I want to starve it. That's the way I get my head around doing what's difficult. For me, now, cancer is my enemy. It's the dragon I'm pitted against.

Stephen Covey: Author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and The 8th Habit: From Effectiveness to Greatness

Half of us spend time on urgent things—and not important things. It's like an urgency addiction: We need what we're doing to be pressing, or we feel guilty about it. But to succeed at change, you must become the creating force of your own life. That means instead of focusing on the urgent thing—it acts on you—you must focus on the important thing and making it happen—you act on it.

One habit that gets in the way of success is the victim mentality. I worked with Viktor Frankl, a Nazi prison camp survivor, for many years. His initial response at the hands of his captors was, Why do I have to suffer so? But later he began to change the question to, What is life asking of me? Each time he started to feel himself the victim, he would find someone suffering more and give half his meager rations to the person. His mantra became, "He who has a 'why' can live with any 'what' or live with any 'how.'"

I phoned Viktor before he passed away and told him how grateful I was for his life's work. He said, "Stephen, you talk to me as if I'm checking out." He was in the intensive care unit. He was blind. His wife was reading to him five hours a day. And yet he said he had two more projects he was trying to finish up.

Even if you feel like a victim of your circumstances and have no formal authority, try to create your own moral authority. Show that you have personal courage.


Next Story