Reduce Stress from Inaction on Your Goals

Written by Dan Johnston

Are there things you wish you could change about your life? Columnist Dan Johnston, Ph.D., says change is just a few simple steps away.

Most problems have a simple solution. Think about it. Frequently when you confront a problem, you know the best way to handle it.

The solution to a weight problem, for example, is simple. You only need to know two things: eat less and exercise more. Or say you want to quit smoking. The solution is simple: Don't light up again.

Yet, if you've ever tried to lose weight or quit smoking, you probably found it very difficult. Simple and easy are not the same thing. Simple is easily understood, not easily done.

Change is the key to solving these problems. And the real difficulty of change is not that we don't know what to do, but that we can't seem to do what we should. Often, "just doing it," is easier said than done.

Change requires action, and action requires discipline in the form of daily effort. Wake up one morning, focus on your goal, and begin the effort of change. Do it all day long, everyday, until the goal is reached. This effort must be done mindfully. You must observe yourself in the process, and when you wander away from the task (which you will), just bring yourself back and begin again. If you wander away and return enough times, you will eventually reach your goal.

This process works much like an airplane's autopilot that is programmed for a destination. As the airplane flies, it may wander off to the right or left, but then it self-corrects and comes back on course. Through this process of continually returning to its goal, the airplane eventually arrives at its destination. By charting your progress and self-correcting when necessary, you too can reach your goal even if you are frequently off course.

Solving life's problems requires effort plus self-correction. It's important to note that this is self-correction and not self-criticism. Self-correction uses information to help you refocus and begin again. Self-criticism uses information to rob you of energy and stop the process of change.

So the next time you stray from a goal and eat that doughnut or light up that cigarette, don't fall into negative self-criticism. It will only distract and discourage you. Simply refocus on the goal and begin again. Begin enough times and you will succeed.

Dan Johnston, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist and former director of psychological services at the Medical Center of Central Georgia. He also serves on the faculty of the Mercer University School of Medicine. Johnston is the creator of the Awakenings Web site, offering lessons for living.

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