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How To Stick With A Goal When Progress Feels Invisible

Caroline ZookCaroline Zook Caroline ZookCaroline Zook

Written by

Caroline Zook

How To Stick With A Goal When Progress Feels Invisible

Sometimes it comes out of nowhere…that feeling you get when you finally work up the courage to take on a new challenge or make a change or set an audacious goal.

You could be cruising along on autopilot, comfortable and in control, but one day you feel this tiny spark of What if.

What if I taught myself how to code a website?
What if I committed to 100 days of painting?
What if I stuck to a work out schedule for the next twelve weeks?
What if I saved up my money to start my own business six months from now?

What if.

The seed of possibility is planted and it’s enough to snap you right out of that autopilot. You crave new territory to explore, new parts of yourself to awaken.

That beginning feeling is intoxicating, isn’t it? It’s a crackling simmer of excitement and energy and heat.

That energy is enough to finally get you started toward your new goal.

So you begin.

You buy the supplies. Or write out your schedule. Or announce your intention.

In the early days, the thrill of possibility keeps you showing up.

It’s fun learning something new! you think.

The feeling of accomplishment, the boost of confidence you experience from making a commitment and working toward a new goal.

But then it happens.

You hit The Wall.

The Wall is that stage when the novelty of a new goal wears off, the fire and excitement settle into a subtle background hum, and the reality of the work sets in.

The excitement continues to fade when you realize it’s impossible to see the progress that’s unfolding.

The improvement in your art from one day to the next is nearly imperceptible.
The photos of your weight-loss journey from one day to the next look identical.
You feel no more competent in that new skill you’re learning from one day to the next.

Those are the moments when The Wall steals your momentum and you consider quitting. Why? Because…

When you’re in the midst of a transformative journey, the incremental progress is usually invisible. 

Over the years, I’ve committed to several of these kinds of transformative goals, both big and small. Thirty days of hand-lettering. A year of making art every day. Learning Italian. A month of meditation. Most recently, twelve weeks of running.

I love these kinds of challenges. That spark of desire to push myself to new territory and snap out of my comfort zone hits me unexpectedly, and I just go for it.

But with every single transformation I’ve committed to, whether I completed it or fell short, The Wall was always there.

Which then leads me to this question, the one that you may be asking yourself at this moment:

When you can’t see or feel progress in the moment, where do you find the motivation to keep going? 

How do you push past The Wall and follow through on your commitments long enough to see a real transformation?

My answer comes down to two pieces of advice:

1. Hold on to the belief that transformation IS happening. 

This is easier said than done, but what helps me when I’m in that gap before real change is visible is to remind myself over and over that I DO believe the thing I’m doing is getting me closer to my goal (or else I wouldn’t be doing it.)

So, for example, let’s take my recent commitment to start a running practice (despite my intense loathing of this activity for most of my life.) Four days in and already The Wall has arrived. The newness is gone and the reality has set in that it’s going to take several more weeks before I can feel or see real change in my fitness.

UT, every single time I lace up my shoes, I remind myself that there’s just no way that running 4 times a week for 12 weeks doesn’t improve my fitness. Just no way.

So even in these early days when I can’t experience the progress I want to see at the end of my challenge, I keep my attention on the fact that I do know it’s happening. That simple belief is sometimes just enough to get you to show up for that commitment or challenge the next day.

2. Shift the measure of success from progress to presence. 

Speaking of showing up, I think that’s the other key to pushing past The Wall. So often when we set goals in our minds, we think of them in terms of these visual progress bars. How far have we come? How far do we have left to go?

The downside of that progress mentality, though, is that in the beginning when that progress bar feels so small, or when you look at how far you have to go without any visible signs of transformation, it can quickly become disheartening. You’re putting in work without seeing much return yet, and it becomes easy to convince yourself more work just isn’t worth it.

That’s when you have to change your measure of success from progress to presence. 

Rather than looking ahead or looking behind, consider being right here, right now, in this moment in your transformation.

Take this one single day or activity in isolation, and make completing THAT the win. Heck, make just showing up the win.

If “success” becomes about just showing up to meet the challenge of the day — sitting at the desk, lacing up the shoes, getting out our your supplies —  that feels a lot less daunting than worrying about completing some mental progress bar that feels unreachable.

If you take enough of those present moments, those days that you showed up, and you stack them end to end, eventually you do arrive at that final transformation down the road. And you’re probably more likely to finally arrive at that destination because you were able to fight past The Wall, even when you couldn’t draw motivation from any results or progress you could see.

“When progress feels invisible, shift the attention from progress to presence. The win is showing up.”

If you are in the midst of trying to make a big change right now or if you’ve challenged yourself in the past but given up because you couldn’t see real progress, I hope today’s letter gives you some insights on new ways you can approach transformation in the future.

Big change happens in tiny moments, but if we want to keep those tiny moments going, we have to find ways to reframe our obsession with progress and seeing or feeling results right away.

Forge ahead with the belief that change IS happening, even if you can’t see it today!

How To Stick With A Goal When Progress Feels Invisible

(Big Fat Takeaway)


This article written by

Caroline Zook

Artist, designer + writer passionate about helping soulful creatives grow into their brightest selves. Lover of bright colors + even brighter people! One half of the crazy duo running these parts!

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