The start of a new year always feels inspiring to me. I know January 1st is technically just another day, but you have to admit, New Years brings with it a sense of fresh starts and opportunities that feels different from other days in the year. Whatever things you’ve been dreaming of accomplishing, let this new year energy serve as a catalyst that pumps you up and inspires you to tackle your goals. For many of you reading, the monkey on your shoulder may be your unfinished dissertation. For others, maybe you’ve finished your doctoral journey and graduated, but now want to pursue other goals like writing a book or starting a business. Maybe you want to get in shape, spend more time laughing, travel, or even pursue a hobby you’ve never given yourself time to do.

Whatever the thing is, here’s my advice:

Get started.

If you don’t start acting on those dreams, you’ll find yourself in this same place one year from now. We all need forward momentum to feel satisfaction and fulfillment in life. When we feel stuck, or get started and then give up, life feels dull and frustrating.

The Importance of Momentum

Momentum is the key to success. The “getting started” part can be tough, but once you get the ball rolling, you must work consistently to keep it moving. Have you ever had to push a car somewhere after it’s broken down or stalled out? It takes a huge, initial burst of energy to get a stopped car moving. But after that initial push, the wheels start moving and you don’t have to push nearly as hard. If you keep pushing, the car picks up speed and quickly begins working with you. The effort required to keep the car rolling is a fraction of the initial effort required to make it move. From this point, the car has gained momentum and keeping it in motion is easy as long as you don’t stop.

Avoiding the Start-Stop Cycle

The start-stop cycle is a trap that zaps us of our motivation and drives us to exhaustion. If you had to move a stalled-out car from traffic, you wouldn’t give it that initial giant push, get the wheels moving, and then step back, cross your arms over your chest, and watch it come to a stop. Repeating that work (initial giant push -> car moves four feet -> car stops) until you got the car moved from the road would be completely exhausting and take exponentially longer than if you just kept applying moderate effort after you got the car in motion.

The start-stop cycle is one of the most insidious killers of dreams and goals. Not only does it deplete us of energy, but over time, it damages our self-perception. Instead of feeling like victorious winners who finish what they start, we begin to see ourselves as, well, quitters. We look at goals we set years ago and remember all the times we got ourselves all pumped up, declaring, this time will be different, only to fail to maintain the momentum and stall out once again.

Over time, the pattern of starting and stopping chips away at our self-esteem. It becomes that little voice in our head that whispers to us when things get tough:

“You might as well give up. You always quit, anyways. It’s who you are.”

“What made you think this time would be different? You’ve failed to finish this every time before.”

How to Break the Cycle?

So, what can you do to break the start-stop cycle? How do you keep momentum once you start moving toward a goal? Here are five strategies I’ve found helpful for breaking the pattern of starting and stopping.

Know exactly what you’re going for and then DECLARE IT.

It’s hard to hit a target if you don’t know what you’re aiming for. Get crystal clear on what you want to achieve. Think about all the details of your objective, your deadline for accomplishing it, and exactly what success will look and feel like. Then, write a declarative goal statement that includes gratitude and assumption. For example: “I’m so thankful in knowing that by December of this year, I’ll be completely finished with my dissertation journey!”

Have a strong why

Your “why statement” is a clear, short statement of why the goal is important to you. Make it emotional and positive. Why do you want this thing? Who will you be once you achieve the goal? How will the goal impact your life and those around you?

Feel the excitement you’ll experience when the objective is accomplished and word your why statement positively. Rather than seek a goal to avoid something, focus on the positive benefits you’ll experience when you achieve it. For example, if your goal is to lose weight, your why statement shouldn’t be “I want to lose weight so I can stop feeling fat and depressed when I look in the mirror.” Instead, try something like “I’m working toward a fitter, healthier, sexier version of myself so I can feel confident and proud in this upgraded body of mine.”

Keep daily reminders of your goal in sight

Daily reminders help keep your goal in the foreground of your mind. Without reminders, goals can get lost in the shuffle of other responsibilities. Here are some things I’ve done in the past that worked well:

  1. Write out your goal and why statements and put them on your refrigerator and bathroom mirror
  2. Write your goal statement on a small index card and put it in your wallet so you see it every time you pay for something
  3. Create a vision board of visual representations of your goal
  4. Set popup reminders on your phone with your goal and why statements
  5. Change the background of your computer or devices to something that’s representative of your goal.

Do something every day that moves you toward your goal

Action, action, action. This is the part where you’re actually doing something every day to keep that car rolling. Create a strategy for achieving your goal and then break it down into smaller steps until you come up with actionable items you can accomplish each day. Select your daily action items and make them non-negotiables that you do at the beginning of each day. Prioritize them into your morning routine so they don’t get lost in the shuffle.

Pay attention to your self-talk

If you catch that negative voice creeping in while you’re working toward your goals, shut it up! Remember that you’re in charge. That voice in your head is YOU! I know it doesn’t feel like it, but it is. That voice is your maladaptive ego trying to protect you from harm. When you start to hear it whispering defeating things, do something to disrupt it and immediately replace the negative with something positive.

Total transparency: That negative inner voice is something I’ve struggled with for most of my life. One of the most effective ways I’ve found for dealing with it is to immediately shout “NOPE!” when I hear it and then counter the negative thought with something positive. If you’re in public, maybe keep the “NOPE!” internal rather than shouting it out loud – although, I find shouting to be really helpful. The act disrupts the negative state that led to the defeating self-talk. Here’s an example of what it could look like:

Negative self talk: This is hard. You know last time you tried this you just gave up. Why don’t you just quit now and save yourself from…

Me: NOPE! I’m not doing this negative self-talk crap today. I’m actively working toward [goal statement] because [why statement]! My past does not predict my future. I’m working hard and doing awesome, and I no longer tolerate negative self-talk!

Speak of your goals in the present, not the future

Lastly, talk about your goals in the present tense. Don’t see them as some elusive thing way off in the distance. Recognize they are here, right in front of you, right now. Use “I am” instead of “I will.”

Now, get to work

You have this one life to live – and it’s up to you to live it well. Embrace the exciting energy of 2024. Don’t buy into the doom and gloom narrative that’s taken over our culture. Decide that this year will be your year. If you’re like most people and have fallen victim to the start-stop cycle in the past, decide that this time will be different. Get the car moving and work to keep it rolling. Don’t let off until you cross that finish line.

Of course, if any of your goals involve finishing your dissertation or moving on to post-dissertation projects (like writing a book or becoming a consultant), be sure to check out the coaching, editing, and post-dissertation services I offer through Dissertation Angels 😊


Get out there and make 2024 your best one yet!

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