Those of us who want to be the best versions of ourselves far too often fall victim to starting off strong and finishing weak.
I’m sure there’s something, at some point, in your life, where you can relate to this.
We begin with a gung-ho attitude, ready to scale mountains, but somewhere along the line we lose the will to continue, other things take over our priority list, and the goals we set ourselves just slowly dwindle out and die.
In other words, we fail.
I’ve written before about Why We Fail, but one of the points I didn’t touch on in that previous article was the principle of sustainability.
Let’s explore that now.
What is Sustainability?
Sustainability, put simply, is the ability of something to sustain itself.
Take humans for example. We’re the exact opposite of sustainable. In the time we’ve been on earth, which is a minuscule amount of time, we have wreaked havoc on our surroundings to such an extent that we now face imminent extinction if we don’t do something about it. This is a great example of what sustainable is not – taking more than can be replenished, therefore hindering the ability of future generations to survive.
Yet our goals and the systems, routines and habits we try to implement in our lives to achieve them are similar.
If they aren’t sustainable, they won’t last long. For a goal, habit or lifestyle to be sustainable if must meet the following criteria:
1) It must require only the amount of energy we can reasonably give. If you’re setting out to do something that requires 6 hours of work per day when you already have a job, a family and a gym routine, you are setting yourself up for failure. You need to perhaps break this goal down over a longer time frame and perhaps into mini sub-goals.
2) It must not make us miserable. Humans live for happiness, and there’s only so much pain we can take before we quit. If we don’t see rewards, or get a shot of happiness, from something on the regular, we won’t last long at it. Make sure the thing you are choosing to do makes you happy or at least provides regular shots of happiness after a sometimes necessary miserable slog.
3) It must not conflict with other goals. This is one of the major causes of failure in any endeavor. If you have other goals and this one conflicts with them, taking time, energy and resources from them, one of them is going to fail. If you aim to gain 15 lbs of lean muscle and study for a masters degree at the same time, chances are you’ll succeed at one and fail at the other, unless you have absolutely nothing else going on in life. Which one you succeed at will be the one you prioritize.
4) It must not conflict with our inner values. Deep down inside we all know who we are and what we stand for. If we’re working towards something that goes against our values, we’ll find a way to sabotage it. I’m sure you can think of times when you had to do something but your heart wasn’t in it, or even worse your heart was actively telling you this was wrong for you. Did you succeed? Didn’t think so. Our inner values won’t let us go too far wrong for too long.
5) It must create a positive feedback loop. If our goals, lifestyles, and habits are to survive long-term, they need to create a positive feedback loop, with the successes we achieve along the way providing new resources, energy, drive and motivation to keep going. A prime example of this would be taking an exam which gets you a promotion and pay raise. The extra self-esteem you feel and the financial reward you gain from the promotion provide both the ‘feel good’ and the financial resources you need to take further exams and get further promotions, and so on.
Without a positive feedback loop, goals and plans can only last for a short while. You have to keep shoveling new resources, energy and time into the furnace to keep the fire burning without much of a return, and, eventually, this will come to an end. It’s just unsustainable and can’t go on forever.
Sustainability is a concept we’ve all probably heard of in relation to the environment, but it’s something we can really harness and use in our own lives and in the area of self-development or self-improvement.
Reflect on your current goals and the systems, habits and actions you are taking to get there. Are they sustainable? How about your lifestyle as a whole?
Sustainability is crucial for maintaining health, building wealth, being happy and reaching our best selves. Make sure you implement it into your life and ask yourself before setting another goal: ‘Are the actions I need to take to get there sustainable?’
Desire. Decide. Persist.