Why ‘Being Motivated’ and ‘Making Plans’ Can’t Get the Job Done

This year will be the year! Finally! Your year! This time the plans are going to stick! This time the changes that you’ve been striving for are finally gonna happen. You are motivated! You’ve made your plans, goals, and vision boards. You are determined to make it happen this time and you have a ‘stick-with-it’ attitude that rivals the strongest most stubborn super glue known to man. So why are those nagging thoughts coming back around? You know, the ones waging a quiet but intense battle as they whisper phrases aiming to take down your strongest motivational affirmations, your surest goals, and your most well-thought-out plans! “Maybe I can’t change this after all.” “Is it REALLY going to work this time?” “I’ve been trying and trying…and trying! Why try again?” “I can’t even seem to get started.” You feel stuck – maybe even defeated.  The more you try to get it together – the more it all seems to fall apart.

Any of this hitting home? If it’s not that’s ok – but if it’s not – you can probably stop reading now. ‘Cause if you can set your daily and your weekly and your monthly and yep!, even your yearly goals and see each of them through to the end, then, yeah, you can stop reading. If you spring out of bed at 4AM then find yourself at the gym for your daily workout and then off to yoga and then to run a few quick errands and then end up back at home or at work before some of us have even made it outta tha door…and you can crush it like that every. single. time. – then you can definitely stop reading. Well, ok, you CAN keep reading, buuuut, I’m really really…really speaking to you if things have been a bit of a struggle.

Maybe the struggle comes and goes and comes again and goes…again…and you just wanna get off of the merry-go-round. Maybe the struggle has been growing and growing and growing and the idea of trying to keep on keepin’ on seems impossible. Maybe the struggle is real because you feel like you have all the puzzle pieces in the palm of your hands but just can’t seem to get the picture together. Honestly, whatever the reasons for your struggle, I want you to be sure throw some self-compassion into the mix as you work on tackling your giants, finding your path, or putting things back together again.

Self-compassion should be both a precursor and a vital ingredient in the building blocks of creating healthy habits, maintaining motivation, and creating lasting change.

Predictably, at this time of year, you can – and very likely will – come across advice on how to set those goals for the new year – you know ‘new year, new you‘ kinda thing. You’ll see tons of recommendations to help you get motivated to make changes. You’ll hear a lot about habits, and mindset, and plans, plans, plans! Now don’t get me wrong…I am all for that. In fact, I often speak with my clients about setting effective goals, the importance of planning, and working on building healthy habits. Actually, here’s a link to a good starters list of a few books about habits, self-discipline and self-control that I’ve really come to like. Some books I especially like are, Tiny Habit’s, by B.J. Fogg, Atomic Habits, by James Clear, and The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens, by Sean Covey. For my younger clients, I find that The 7 Habits of Happy Kids, by Sean Covey is a great start to helping them understand the benefits that healthy habits can bring. I believe that habits and habit tracking, planning, and goal setting are all important – crucial even – on your journey toward making healthy and enduring changes. Certainly, we can’t leave out other factors like mindset, determination, and perseverance. To be sure, there are other elements as well. But here’s the thing…there’s one that I especially want you to know about.

You CAN Change

Self-compassion taps into the changemaking voices of constructive criticism while embracing compassionate wisdom and encouragement.

One of these other factors, an element that is often overlooked, minimized, and even misunderstood, is self-compassion. Self-compassion should be both a precursor and a vital ingredient in the building blocks of creating healthy habits, maintaining motivation, and creating lasting change!

Self-compassion has been researched for years and two prominent individuals in the field whose work I truly enjoy are Kristin Neff and Brené Brown. There are other individuals contributing great work to the self-compassion body of knowledge and that’s a win-win. There are awesome podcasts, videos, and even self-tests about self-compassion. Yes! Win. Win. Win.

Incorporating self-compassion into your efforts to stay motivated and tackle those goals can be your superpower! But if you’re anything like me and countless others, getting started in the process of learning about self-compassion and ways to incorporate more self-compassion into your life can feel overwhelming – like ONE MORE THING on that already waaaaay too long to do list. No worries! I’ll give you a few gems to spark your interest in learning more ways to practice self-compassion. To be sure though, self-compassion practice is not a way of configuring your to-do list or even a set of things you do to resolve yourself of fault-finding. It’s not yet another list of things to do. Rather, in its essence, it will remind you of our common humanity as you seek to accept what is while simultaneously aiming for change. Self-compassion can help you be more engaged and productive. Self-compassion can be tender as well as fierce! 

Here are some ideas to start you along your self-compassion journey:

  • Give you inner critic a new story to tell: A common belief is that it’s our own inner critic that keeps us going, helps us stay motivated, and demands that we get back up in the face of challenges. Research shares a different story. In actuality, in the face of mistakes and imperfections, it is often our inner critic that silences our inspiration and leads to a decrease in motivation. Brené Brown shares that owning your story, including the ups downs and messy middle, are requirements of living fully. She has spent over two decades studying courage, vulnerability, shame, and empathy and presented a powerful TEDx talk and written a very moving book, The Gifts of Imperfection, by Brene Brown, both of which remind us that we can quiet our inner critic with tools that include courage and vulnerability.
  • Make room for motivation: Inevitably motivation levels decline, but this does not have to mean defeat. Consider learning and practicing fierce self-compassion as you explore the yin and yang of self-compassion. This can help you to allow for the full spectrum of acceptance, tenderness, and openness as well as firmness, changemaking, and strength as you work to stick to your goals and remain motivated.
    • TIP: Listen to The Yin and Yang of Self-Compassion Podcast by Kristin Neff
    • TIP: Rather than fighting against your inner critic, get curious about it. Where does this voice come from? Sometimes our inner critic actually comes from a place of trying to protect us from something distressing. Thank your inner critic for its intention but let it know that it is no longer needed and that it is taking the wind out of your sails. Instead, speak back to your inner critic to silence it and make more room for motivation and for your voice of fierce self-compassion.
  • Validate your mistakes: Mistakes, shortcomings and setbacks can be softened by practicing a component of self-compassion – common humanity.
    • TIP: Remember that self-compassion taps into the changemaking voices of constructive criticism while embracing compassionate wisdom and encouragement.
    • TIP: Remind yourself of the humanity of what you are striving toward – we are all in this together. In one way or another, we can all feel unmotivated, deflated, feel regret, and can be our harshest critic. Avoid these self-destructive thoughts. Remember, that we all also want to feel better. To be better. Mistakes, shortcomings and setbacks do not automatically mean that you have a problem. It does mean that you are human.
    • TIP: Think of someone you admire. Now think of them facing a challenge similar to the one you are navigating. Imagine the thoughts and feelings they might experience. Think of the ways they would respond to their mistake and what would they say to themselves? What would they choose to do after the mistake? Finally, ask yourself how that person would respond to your mistake? Would they be judgmental or compassionate? What words would they share with you? Ask yourself, ‘Can I be similarly compassionate with myself’?

Practicing self-compassion is more of a ‘how do I do’ and ‘why do I do’ approach versus a ‘what do I do’ approach.

There are many options for starting or enhancing your self-compassion journey. Remember to align your goals with your values and celebrate the journey, not just the destination. Developing a strong practice of self-compassion takes time…and it takes practice. I appreciate that it can be difficult and doesn’t necessarily come naturally. The guidance of a professional can be invaluable. Reach out to an expert who will work with you until you become fully and unconditionally self-compassionate.

WOW! This turned out to be a little bit – ok a lotta bit – longer than I had originally planned, but I’m going to practice self-compassion. FIERCE self-compassion!


J. Oni Dakhari, PsyD is a psychologist, language and travel enthusiast, and gets really excited about learning.

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