How Achieving Your Goals Kills Your Motivation

How Achieving Your Goals Kills Your Motivation

Heard you need constant improvement to become a master? Heard you need those 10,000 hours of practice?

It’s hogwash. A goal of ‘constant improvement’ won’t lead to success. I learned this when I signed up for Damn Fine Words, James Chartrand’s writing course.

Signing up excited me. I was excited because I was taking action towards my goal of ‘constant skill improvement’ so I could further build my business.

The first half of the course taught me a lot. This was the most valuable part – a complete writing system, an approach that could be used to take any project from start to finish.

I also liked learning with other students. Seeing how they approached lessons taught me different angles.

But then I stopped.

Halfway through the course, I stopped doing the lessons. Stopped posting to the forum. At first, it was innocent – just one lesson I’d ‘get around to on the weekend’.

But one turned into two, and two into three. Three turned into five.

Of course I felt guilty. It didn’t help that James had just asked, “Do you stick to your commitments?” (No.) But I still didn’t do the work.

Why not? Why did this happen?

I achieved more immediate goals.

I’m a practical person. So I had other goals to work on beyond ‘constant improvement’.

I’d wanted to publish a report I was working on so I could bring in more business. And I used the first lessons of Damn Fine Words to help me write my report. I got focus and structured it properly.

The report got a lot of compliments.

Then I landed a new project that paid $1,000 – a decent sum. Again I used the Damn Fine Words approach, and completing this project was easy.

But suddenly I had nothing concrete to work towards. I had gotten more than I hoped for from the course, and we were only halfway in.

Other goals seemed more important.

Constant improvement is a weak goal.

Can you picture what ‘constant improvement’ looks like? What are the benefits? What about mastery—where do you see yourself after those 10,000 hours of practice?

That’s what I thought. All I picture coming from 10,000 hours of writing is a sore hand.

But I could picture the benefits of other goals. So I achieved them and celebrated. And then stopped working to improve, because the goals I’d accomplished were damn good.

“No more instruction needed for now, thanks. I’ve got other priorities.”

Yet that’s a lie. I thought I was a decent writer a year ago. I wasn’t. And one year from now, I’ll look at this post and cringe.

So instead of ‘constant improvement’, I chose a better goal: A new project that challenged me and that kept me sticking to the course.

It let me work towards something tangible – something more than a meaningless image of 10,000 hours. And it kept me constantly improving, just as I’d originally wanted.

How about you? When you sign up for a course, do you have projects to work on? What do you do when you run out of motivation?

If you’d like to improve your writing skills – and in much less time than 10,000 hours of practice, then sign up now for the Damn Fine Words writing course You’ll see fast results – and reach tangible goals that keep you motivated too.

Post by Patrick Vuleta

Patrick Vuleta’s a dashing duelist who makes lawyers memorable. If you’d like to learn how to craft memorable writing so clients think of you - and not your competitors - download his ebook, Duellist Copywriting: The science of memorable legal marketing, for free and with no opt-in, from his website.

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  1. Such power with words. I love your site too, Patrick.

  2. Patrick…
    HA! So that’s what happened to you. And boy, did I ever miss your input after you went MIA. Well written article with an excellent slant. SO…am I going to see you on the forums this time around?Fran

    • Yeah Fran, I’ll be there. 😉

      I do find the course an excellent way to keep learning momentum going – I just need real, concrete projects to constantly work on.

      Will be great to work with you again!

  3. Maybe 10,000 hours of wicked brutal editing instead of 10.000 hours of filling up pages will kick things into high gear….

    Thanks for the reminder, and the call yesterday. It was very helpful; I’ve had the nagging feeling my time wasn’t being spent honestly, but writing it down would reveal the truth I didn’t want to see. Next, I think I’ll balance my checkbook.

    • You know, each time I’ve had to revamp something in my life – my time/schedule, my goals, my money-makers, I’ve always sighed and dreaded the task of fixing things up.

      So I’ve either procrastinated doing it, or simply buckled down and did it, HARD, for one straight month (to make sure the new good habits stuck.)

      Each time I’ve stuck with it, I’ve become nearly evangelistic about the benefits. (As I’m sure you heard on the call yesterday!) The changes that occur – ALL for the good! – from that hard work to “fixing” a life area are phenomenal.

      Seriously. Face the truth, say, “Wow, that sucks,” and GET A GAME PLAN going immediately. You’ll never have to face that truth again, and you’ll be going, “WOW, this is AWESOME!” afterwards.


    • I put off tasks too, sometimes. But always find that the task was far easier than I thought it would be.

      The putting off takes longer than the actual task. 😛

      I dunno about straight editing, though… I think people can edit too much in search of perfection. There comes a point where things are as good as you can make it, right there, with your current skills.

      • “The putting off takes longer than the actual task.”

        Most people don’t realize that and it takes a lot of their time away. Once you have set out to do something, just do it and get it over with.

    • Yes. Writing down the things you want to do always helps. Then you also need to prioritize. That’s very important.

  4. I did the exact same thing in a course I took last year, Patrick. I got through the first few courses and I used what I learned to keep moving forward, and just by doing that my mindset changed, my goals changed, and I no longer felt I needed to complete the course.

    But because I felt guilty anyway, I went in and completed all the assignments I ‘d missed in one night and turned them in just in timie to schedule the one-on-one talk we were all supposed to have with the teacher.

    • That pattern’s so common there’s a word for it — cramming!

      I think when signing up for a course we have a lot of different motivations – some short, some long. It’s important to give the long-term motivations the attention they need so we don’t just stop several weeks in. Otherwise the short-term accomplishment will get in the way.

  5. I’ve also had problems with courses. They sound fine when you read the blurbs about them, and when you start, there’s a lot of energy. When you try to get the instructors to fill in the dots to do real projects, however, it simply doesn’t happen. This is also a frustrating element of video tutorials on the Internet. They usually teach you to do something, but they are poor at connecting that activity with the ones you need to do just before and just after it, so you’re left in the air with information you can’t use. The best approach is to work and grow as you go. Thanks for the insights!

  6. I went to a seminar once where we filled out our top five values and priorities on an index card. Later in the weekend, when we’d kind of forgotten about that card, there was an exercise in which we filled out a sheet showing our typical daily schedule and how we spent our time. Later, they had us compare the two. The contrast was pretty shocking — almost nobody was spending much of their time doing the things they said were the most important things in the world to them.

    I try to remember that when I lose motivation. It doesn’t always help — but when I can remember that I’m working toward something for a REASON, it sometimes makes it easier to ditch Facebook or stop piddling around. It makes me feel like I’m working toward something I want, so I’m less likely to rebel.

    And how cool will it be someday when you look back and realize that — in working on the things that challenged and excited you — you’ve reached your 10,000 hours without having to think about it?

    Great post — thanks for sharing your experience!

  7. I see that in terms of proactivity vs reactivity. When we think about ‘what’s most important to us’ we’re approaching things very differently from the reactionary mindset we use to complete many daily tasks.

    And I do think that it’s much better to look back and realized you mastered something through overcoming challenges and achieving goals. The original 10,000 hours study was done on musicians, if I recall correctly, and I assure you that musicians don’t set out from age 3 with a timesheet to fill out towards violin mastery. 😛 It’s all a series of concerts, scales, and tuition that they do it because they love it and are looking forward to their next performance.

    The practical side about how this is done is just as important to know as the academic side of why mastery was achieved.

    • I will agree and disagree with you on this.

      Yes it is because they love it. But at the same time you can love doing something and not become a complete master at it. You need to practice and practice and improve yourself if you want to become extremely good at what you do.

      Yes they play in concerts and the likes but they do a lot of behind the scenes practice before they come on stage.

      I just wanted to clarify that.

  8. It gets to a point where constant improvement seems like stagnation.

    You are doing the same set of things over and over again and you get bored.

    So yes it’s a nice idea to get started on a new project that will challenge you. That way you improve and at the same time be well on your way to becoming a master at whatever it is you are working on.

    I hope that makes sense.

  9. Yes, we certainly can get bored and a little self-satisfied when it seems we have accomplished any particular goal. First, I would just say that the key word in the previous sentence would be “seems”! The act of creating something is, by definition, infinite. Therefore, we are never done! Second, I would agree very much with those who say here that starting something new to bring freshness back into one’s life is an excellent idea. I am working with two young Labradors to find and retrieve what I want them to retrieve ONLY!

  10. Bobby Ray Burns says:

    Kind of disagree here, Patrick. You say that ” A goal of ‘constant improvement’ won’t lead to success.” True. A goal doesn’t lead anywhere. But… executing constant improvement will lead you SOMEWHERE! Maybe not “success” but most certainly far beyond where your were when you set your goals.

    The question isn’t about constant improvement or 10,000 hours, but how to keep yourself diligent in doing something that moves you along the path to success.

    • Thanks for the comment, Bobby!

      It’s true, every action we take will lead somewhere… but in my case it led to not actually doing anything.

      I personally find it difficult to want to improve for the sheer sake of improving, and my main criticism of the whole 10,000 hours thing is just how academic the discussion is.

      So I agree with your last comment that the question is more about how to keep diligent in moving forward.

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