Do you ever feel like you’re going in circles? Like no matter how hard you try, you just can’t manage to get closer to your goal, or at least you can’t stay any closer to your goal?
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Keeping the house clean. Losing weight. Keeping a positive mindset.
You do great for a while, then things start to get shaky and slip, then suddenly you’re plummeting right back to where you started.
But why does it happen? Why can’t you make lasting change? Why do habits get harder to maintain over time instead of getting easier?
Well, it turns out that “going in circles” isn’t just a metaphorical thing. People do it in real life.
A study was done to find out if people actually go in circles when they’re lost, or if that’s nothing more than a turn of phrase.
People were dropped off in the middle of a forest with no clear landmarks and given one simple instruction:
“Walk straight ahead.”
And do you know what they did?
They walked around and around in circles.
According to GPS data, even though these people were adamant that they had been walking in a straight line, they actually walked in circles as tight as 20 meters.
That’s like walking around the perimeter of my house.
For a lot of you it’s even smaller than your house.
That’s crazy! That’s a pretty significant curve!
So why does that happen? And more importantly, why does it happen to us in our goals?
Well, there are plenty of theories, but the most likely is that without clear landmarks, people don’t actually know where “straight ahead” actually is.
And the same thing happens with your goals.
If you don’t have a clear enough idea of where it is that you want to be, you’ll never be able to get there.
I know what you’re thinking, “but Kelli, I do know where I want to be. I want my house to be clean. I want to lose 20 pounds. That’s pretty clear.”
Well, not as clear as you think. Especially not once you get going.
Staying so focused on just one single thing keeps you stuck going in circles instead of moving forward.
Think about when you were learning to drive.
I didn’t start driving until I was in my mid-20s, so I still remember it vividly. I was so concerned about staying within the lines, and so confused about how to do so.
I would stare at the bottom of the windshield, trying to figure precisely where the line on the road should align with which part of the dashboard to ensure that I was in the right spot in the lane.
As you can imagine, I was not driving very smoothly (or particularly safely). I was trying so hard to stay PERFECTLY aligned that I was wobbling back and forth like crazy. I was driving like you see in cartoons, constantly turning the steering wheel back and forth.
It doesn’t work to try to get where you’re going by looking directly down at where you currently are.
My husband Brian taught me the same thing that many parents and driving teachers tell new drivers.
“Don’t look at where you are, look at where you’re going.”
So I lifted my eyes to look further along the road. I stopped worrying about exactly where I was and started focusing on where I was headed. And suddenly all of that crazy swerving went away.
If you’re thinking to yourself “wow, Kelli, that’s insane, you’re a terrible driver” then let’s think about it slightly differently.
Have you ever played Mario Kart? My kids have started playing every once in a while, and as you can imagine, they’re terrible at it.
Why? Because instead of looking ahead and gently curving with the road, they are just worried about staying ON the road.
If they turn a little too sharply and wind up off the path, all they think about is that they need to get back on the path, so they point their car directly back at the road, overcorrect, and within moments they’re off the road again on the other side.
When we’re only focused on where we are now, how far it is from our goal, and barreling ahead back to where we’re “supposed to” be, we end up with a path that looks something like this:
It’s kind of like a Chinese finger trap.
The harder you try, the harder it gets. Gritting your teeth and trying to force yourself to do something usually backfires.
Slow and steady wins the race, remember?
So if constantly trying to reach your goal doesn’t help you reach your goal, then what are you supposed to do? Because not trying to reach your goal certainly won’t help you reach your goal either.
Well, it’s the same as driving. Don’t look down at where you are, look at where you’re headed. Instead of trying to keep pointing back to where you think you’re supposed to be right now, and inevitably overcorrecting or falling flat…
Keep realigning yourself to where you’re headed.
Take stock each day, point yourself back towards that ultimate goal, and you will have a LOT less volatility along the way.
In 2019, my entire life fell apart. As I’ve picked up the pieces, I have spent a lot of time learning about mindfulness, positive mindset, all of that.
And what’s been fascinating to me is that as I have rebuilt each area of my life—mental health, homemaking, parenting, faith, marriage—and now as I have reached for even more, bigger goals, taking my life to the next level, even better than it was before—building a business, taking charge of my physical health, investing money for a strong financial future—I keep running into the same themes over and over and over.
I have taken business courses, parenting courses, gone to therapy, learned from financial advisors—and it’s always the same.
Set a long-term goal. Point yourself towards it. Don’t freak out over the day-to-day.
Just trust the process and keep going.
Most recently, we have started investing in the stock market—which is completely new and terrifying.
We are subscribed to a newsletter with all kinds of advice and tips. And what I think is interesting is that it’s not just financial advice. In every email they send, they have a “mindset moment” talking about how to not get anxious over the volatility in the market, especially right now, and end up making bad decisions.
Because in the short term, it looks like everything is doomed. But investing is a long game.
There are always dramatic ups and downs when you look at a day, a week, a month, even a year.
But over time, over years and years, over decades, the stock market has always trended upwards, and it will continue to climb.
So don’t try to “cut your losses” and sell everything while it’s in a downturn. Just wait it out. Keep going.
Ride out the waves, and the tide will turn.
Keep that big picture, long-term focus.
Don’t get too focused on that either.
Let’s go back to the idea of driving.
We know we should look at where we’re headed, not where we are, right?
Well, I live in Utah and my mom lives in California. A couple of times a year we pack up the van and make that long trek across Nevada to go see her.
So, when I start my trip, should I point my van in the direction of her house and floor it until I get there?
Of course not!
I’d crash within seconds!
The highway across Nevada is infamously long and flat and straight. Miles and miles and miles of just driving along through nothing.
But on our most recent road trip, I noticed how much the road actually does curve and bend. There are places where it makes a 90-degree curve or more and suddenly you aren’t even heading in the same direction anymore.
If I didn’t have the whole map to look at, if I hadn’t ever made the drive before, it would be easy to second guess, start wondering if I was even going the right way.
And when it comes to our goals and dreams and hopes for our lives, we don’t have the whole map.
We don’t know how we can get from point A to point B, and it’s easy to think that means that we don’t know if we can.
But it doesn’t! There is always a way! You just have to keep going, keep working, keep figuring it out, keep looking just a couple of steps ahead.
Now believe me, all of this doesn’t come naturally or easily to me.
I am a planner. A list maker. A massive overthinker.
When I set a goal, I have a bad habit of breaking it down into precisely how much I need to do each day in order to get to X goal by Y date.
And then when I get a few days in and I’m not keeping that pace, I start to freak out. I think that I’m falling behind. I push myself harder.
Until it gets too hard. And I give up. Kind of like this:
So I get nowhere. And then after a little while, I recommit and I try again. And I make that line in my head again of how fast I need to go. And I can’t keep up again. And I give up again.
Over and over in that vicious cycle.
Going in circles.
For example, “I want to lose 50 pounds by July, so I need to lose about 10 pounds a month, so I need to lose at least 2 pounds a week, so I need to lose a pound every few days.”
The first few days go great! I lose a few ounces each day. After a week I’ve lost two pounds. This is awesome! I’ve got this!
But weight fluctuates. It can go up even when you’re eating perfectly and down even when you’re not—by up to 2 pounds in a single day.
So inevitably some other factor I have no clue about or control over will come into play and I’ll “gain” two pounds one day. When I was perfect the day before! I’ve been perfect all week!
And here I am, I “lost” ALL of the progress from an entire week of hard work in just one day! And I don’t even know why!
So what’s the point in working so hard anyway? Why bother even trying???
Might as well eat a huge bowl of ice cream. And nachos.
And before you know it I’ve actually lost all of the progress I made.
And there’s that cycle again.
But recently I tried something different. For most of my life, I’ve been an “I can do it myself” kind of person. But when my entire life fell apart and I had to rebuild everything over the last few years, I have learned that relying on other people is okay. Asking for help is okay. Using different resources to learn and grow is okay.
So I signed up for Noom. So did Brian. And we are loving it! Brian started in January and has lost almost 20 pounds. I just started four weeks ago (because at first I still thought I could do it myself) and I’ve lost 8 pounds!
Noom is a lot more focused on mindset, which I love, of course.
But there’s one little thing that I would never have thought of that has made a huge impact.
Because instead of having just that initial line like I usually make for myself. You know—the one that is constantly showing me how behind I am. How much I’m failing.
They just have a line that shows a good healthy slope—that always starts from today.
So as I go along from day to day, and my weight goes up and down, and sometimes there’s a steep slope and sometimes it looks like it’s plateauing, I can look at the bigger picture, the zoomed-out view, the overall slope.
And I can see that there is a downward trend. And that goal line doesn’t look too steep or unreasonable anymore.
It makes me feel like it’s worthwhile to keep going. So I do keep going. So I keep making progress.
Because here’s the real key to actually achieving your goals instead of getting trapped going in circles.
Are you ready for it? It might change everything for you.
Here it is:
Time. Doesn’t. Matter.
It doesn’t. Really truly. I promise.
It feels like it does, I know.
It feels like you need to Do. All. The. Things. Right. NOW.
But you don’t.
Because guess what?
When you hold yourself to a strict timeline, you’re much more likely to push too hard, get discouraged, and give up.
But when you just focus on your slope instead of comparing where you are to where you want to be—when you focus on a few steps ahead instead of staring at your feet or looking too far ahead in the future—when you just keep going and aligning yourself to your end goal instead of always trying to get back to that arbitrary straight-line path you made for yourself—you can actually KEEP GOING.
And keeping going is what will get you to your goals, not keeping some specific pace.
One of the most glaring examples from my own life is this very blog that you’re reading right now. I have wanted to start a blog for fourteen years. Seriously. Close to half of my life.
I have started a blog. Many times.
But I also keep stopping.
It has taken me a long time to have these mindset shifts that are finally helping me persevere and make my dreams come true.
And along the way, I’ve taken a lot of masterclasses.
About blogging. About Instagram. About Google Analytics. About keywords. About hashtags. About email.
So many different ideas. So many different methods.
And in every single one, they pull out a graph. Of their views or engagement or income or whatever it is.
And it always looks the same.
Basically a flatline for a long long time, then suddenly “I started doing this magical thing and BAM!” Sharp upward curve, sudden change, sudden exponential growth.
And of course they tell you it’s because they started doing this magical thing and now they’ll teach you to do the same magical thing for the small price of blah blah blah.
But it’s not actually the what that matters.
It wasn’t some magical solution that changed the curve.
It’s the when.
And the when that makes the difference, is “after you’ve kept going and kept working and kept trying and kept believing until it finally happens.”
Because that graph up there? That’s just a learning curve. That’s what happens when you start doing something new.
It feels hard for a long long time. It seems like you aren’t making any progress. And then suddenly it clicks.
The other day Brian and Arthur were working on some kind of game, and it wasn’t working how they wanted. So Brian asked “how long should we keep trying until we give up?” and Arthur responded, “until it works!”
That was one of our proudest parenting moments so far.
It means everything to me that our kids are learning to have a growth mindset from the start.
(We’ve accepted that there’s no way to raise kids without traumatizing them one way or another, so our goal is just to help them learn how to live a wonderful life even with all the tough stuff)
But even if you didn’t learn that mindset when you were 5, or 25, or 45, it’s not too late.
You can start shifting right here, right now.
You never know what YOUR tipping point will be, but if you keep working towards your ultimate goals day after day, you WILL!!!
So keep going, keep batting, it will click, it will come, it’s right around the corner!
You’ve got this!!!
I’ve been talking a lot about mindset for the last two months, but now it’s time to start getting into the specifics of how to change your life and become a #HappierYOUin52! Make sure you’re following me on Instagram and signed up for my email newsletters so you don’t miss anything!