“Most people overestimate what they can accomplish in a year and underestimate what they can accomplish in 10 years.” — Bill Gates
My mother and I both graduated in the same three-week span. Me from high school and her with her Master’s in Psychology. It took her eight years of part-time classes while working full-time and raising three daughters.
It wasn’t convenient for her and there were times when she needed to seek help from her professors to accommodate her internship needs and other requirements, but they worked it out and she got it done. Three years ago, she retired from her decades’ long career in the mental health field.
It’s a career she never would have had if she hadn’t worked hard and prioritized completing her degree.
When you look back at anything you’ve accomplished, you’ll see it’s the same. Set the goal, make it a priority, and work towards it steadily.
Yet, we’re impatient.
For instance, we decide we’re going to get in shape… so we buy new running shoes and join that fancy gym down the street. But then we stop going after a couple of weeks… and then feel badly about it.
We rarely stop and ask ourselves questions like, “How can I make exercise a habit?” and then devise a way to do it.
Part of it IS developing a new habit and prioritizing it.
I once heard that comedian Jerry Seinfeld advised a younger comic to get a big wall calendar and draw an X every day that the young comic wrote jokes. The goal was to keep the chain of X’s going. It had nothing to do with the quality of the jokes or even the amount of jokes, the goal was doing the work.
Imagine, if you wrote daily, don’t you think your writing would get better? Of course it would. Even if it’s a goal of writing 15 minutes a day, you’ll see improvement over time.
If your goal is to land a client, don’t you think you’ll have a better chance if you set a goal for daily outreach and do it?
The secret to achieving your goals is setting priorities and working towards them and it’s that consistency that sets successful people apart.
It’s human nature to want to jump from idea to completion, skipping the messy middle part full of self-doubts.
By training yourself to stick to your output, that’s something you can control. Even so, life will happen. There will be family and work emergencies, you’ll catch a cold, you may forget one day.
However, if you start right back up even if you miss a day or three, you’ll be able to regain your momentum.
The chain of X’s on the calendar is great for kick-starting a habit. But as your habit becomes a part of you, you’ll have more accomplishments than an “X” can represent. These add texture and become part of your story. They’re worth noticing too.
A Simple System for Identifying Your Progress
When you’re in school, regular tests/grades will keep you apprised of your class standing. School is kind of like a task bar, every semester and year completed takes you closer to finishing. There’s little doubt about where you stand.
But when you launch a new career or business, especially on your own, the path isn’t as clear cut. I’ve found a bit of reflection every 4-6 months is useful. That way, you can see that you’ve done more than you thought (or haven’t).
This simple exercise will help you acknowledge your accomplishments and motivate you.
Open a document, date it, and label it “Accomplishments.”
- Just landed your first client? Acknowledge it! Take yourself out to lunch or buy yourself a present.
- Did you reach out to your first 10 prospects? Congratulations!
- Submit your first Spec Assignment? Congratulate yourself and add it to your list.
- Created your first freelance writing website? Write it down!
Are you seeing a theme here?
If you get into a routine of adding to your “Accomplishments” list, you’ll see it grow and that will motivate you to accomplish more.
Harvard University Professor Teresa Amabile calls tracking your accomplishments “The Progress Principle.” In her book of the same name, she talks about the deep psychological need people have for seeing progress in meaningful work.
Teresa Amabile says, “Track your small wins to motivate big accomplishments.”
Small wins stack up.
Small wins lead to a career.
Another Harvard Professor, Rosabeth Moss Kanter says, “I’ve found that small wins, small projects, small differences often make huge differences.”
The key is focusing on what you can control.
You can control whether or not you write every day. Get enough X’s on your calendar and it becomes a habit. Whether it’s first thing in the morning or on your lunch break or wherever you fit it in, writing will become a habit.
You can add it to your “Accomplishments” file — “Wrote daily for 45 days!”
It’s a psychological technique backed by science. A 2016 study of people who exercised regularly found that it takes a “one-two punch” to develop the habit and stick to it. It’s a mix of internal and external rewards.
For example, you may recognize that a walk clears your head and reduces your stress. When you remember that, it helps you to find the motivation to go on the walk. Over time, going for a walk becomes habitual.
It’s the same with developing your freelance business. You build your writing skills and you write for clients.
It takes consistency to improve but keep at it… you’ll recognize that you are moving forward.
You may not be where you predicted at the end of the year but keep going and when you look back after a decade, you’ll realize not only did you make it happen, you got further than you ever expected! And that feeling is priceless.
Do you have a regular practice that helps you meet your goals?