Ask the experts: What can we do if we’re not making progress?

Have you ever set yourself a goal and then felt frustrated at your lack of progress? 

Feeling stuck in this way can be frustrating. We may beat ourselves up for not achieving what we hoped or feel like we’ve failed. This can all become a vicious cycle and prevent you from setting further goals for yourself. 

Here we speak to coach Kate Kilby to find out what we can do when we feel we’re not making progress, how we can be more compassionate with ourselves and reignite our motivation.

What can we do if we’re not making progress?

For those of us feeling as if we’re not making progress with our goals, what is the first thing we can do to address it?

First, be kind to yourself. It’s understandable to feel deflated when progress feels slow or stalled, but if we succumb to these feelings, we risk giving up entirely. Cultivate self-compassion by acknowledging the positive choices, actions, and steps forward you have made, however small. This will encourage a more objective and positive mindset, allowing you to get real with yourself on why you aren’t currently moving forward.

Is it your goal, approach, or something else? Is your goal the right goal? Do you genuinely want to achieve it? What is important to you about achieving it? Connecting with the deeper drive behind it will help when the going gets tough. Vague or unrealistic goals make it harder to measure progress, so make sure your goal is S.M.A.R.T. (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-bound). Review and question your approach. What’s working? What’s not working? Where can you improve your tactics, and how? Who could help?

How can we cope with a feeling of failure when things aren’t going to plan?

Start by reframing your relationship with failure. Viewing failure as a normal, necessary part of our growth and a valuable opportunity for data acquisition helps to transmute the negative into useful and positive. As Elizabeth Day explains in her fantastic podcast How To Fail, “Learning from our mistakes, and understanding why we fail, ultimately makes us stronger, because learning how to fail in life actually means learning how to succeed better.”

It’s important to acknowledge your feelings in order to heal and move on, so give yourself permission to feel a bit crap… for a short time. Then identify, and let go of, anything out of your control. Instead, focus on your sphere of control, apply your learnings, and set new, small, achievable tasks that will rebuild momentum.

Remember: nobody is immune to failure, and what constitutes failure is ultimately subjective anyway. It’s what you learn from it that matters. 

Do you have any tips for staying motivated when our willpower is failing us? 

Willpower is great when we have it, but we can’t rely on it alone. Motivation is the ‘why’ behind our goals and, therefore, a steadier resource. When willpower falters, start by (re)connecting with the deeper purpose that inspired your goals in the first place.

Willpower takes energy, making tasks that feel too big or overwhelming likely to get avoided. If this is the case, ‘chunk down’ the goal to the smallest, tangible, measurable tasks that you can. Then, aim to make those tasks as easy and convenient as possible! Plan them into your diary. Put physical reminders in relevant and noticeable places. Build habits that serve to consistently chip away at your goals. “Every action you take is a vote for the type of person you wish to become.” – James Clear.

Finally, don’t hesitate to seek support to bolster you. Who can encourage, support, and hold you accountable?

Three tips to help you stay motivated:

  1. Be gentle with yourself. Beating yourself up will only hold you back further. Feeling frustrated and disappointed by a lack of progress means you care and want better. Celebrate everything you’ve achieved so far, however small, and congratulate yourself on anything new, different or scary you’ve tried. 
  2. Change your perspective. Instead of fixating on what hasn’t happened (yet), focus on what you have learned so far. With honest reflection, even zero progress can teach you something about what is getting in your way. It’s all data acquisition.
  3. Refocus and refine. Revisit your ‘why’, and whether your goal is in alignment with your deeper motivation. In practical terms, audit what’s working, what isn’t, and what’s getting in the way. Identify which of these are within your control and adjust your approach, applying all you’ve learned. Start with small, manageable tasks that will rebuild your momentum, optimism, and ownership.

This article was originally published in Happiful Magazine (Issue 73 2023). You can order print copies online, or read the e-magazine for free on the Happiful app

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Written by Kat Nicholls
Kat is a Senior Writer for Life Coach Directory and Happiful magazine.
Written by Kat Nicholls
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