I’m Depressed About My Lack of Progress in My Goals. What Should I Do?

Quick note: Thank you for all your replies to my last update post, I’m very touched by your kind words and messages. While I’m not able to reply to every message, please know that I’ve read it with love. If there’s anything you’d like to see, let me know here. – Celes

Sad man, alone. Frustrated over a lack of progress.

(Image: Milkos)

“Hi Celes, I feel depressed about my lack of progress in my goals. Honestly I’m angry and bitter about it. This creates a lot of anxiety and I think it’s a big source of my procrastination. What can I do about this?” — M

Dear M, I’m so sorry to hear that you’re going through this. Let’s try to break this down.

Step 1: Understand what’s causing the lack of progress

First off, let’s understand what’s causing the lack of progress. Why have you been facing a lack of progress? Is it due to procrastination? Lack of planning? Obstacles beyond your control? Because depending on the reason, your course of action will differ.

Let’s say you want to write a book, and you’ve been making little to no progress. Digging into the why, you realize that you feel a lack of inspiration. Even though you’re writing this book to help others, you’re just writing alone in your room all the time, and it’s boring and draining.

Or say you want to start a business but you’ve been stuck in the planning phase for months. Digging into the why, you realize that you lack a support network. There’s too much about starting a business that you don’t know, from legalities to finance, and you find it hard to navigate it all.

It could also be that your lack of progress pertains to your life — you feel that you’re just not getting anywhere in your goals. In that case, an life audit may helpful, and that’s where my course Live a Better Life in 30 Days will help. It’s a 30-day course to review your life and take it to the next level. (The course is currently offline as I’m working on an upgrade, and I’ll share more via my email list when it’s ready.)

Take a piece of paper and identify the reasons why you’re stuck. What goal are you working on? Why are you facing a lack of progress? What’s blocking you?

To quote Einstein, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” It’s okay that you face a lack of progress — we all do from time to time. What’s most important is that you understand why and you work on these reasons. We’ll do that in Step 3.

Step 2: Recognize that life isn’t a straight line — it’s normal to face obstacles

When it comes to our goals, many of us often expect progress without a hitch. Set a goal and get from Point A to Point B without an issue, other than some minor hiccups. Celebrate and bask in success. Rinse and repeat.

But life isn’t a straight line. For many of us, there are often roadblocks along the way, such as lack of finances, lack of support, and family obligations. The bigger the goal, the greater the roadblocks. I remember when I wanted to quit my job to start PE, I faced resistance from everyone. When I wanted to be a vegetarian, I was criticised and mocked for it, even though it was a personal dietary choice (I’ve since become vegan). Losing weight was a goal that I faced a lot of problems with — I struggled with it for a good ten years before finally achieving it. Much of it was due to stress eating issues that I had to work through along the way.

There are also things that are out of our control, such as conflicting family needs, loved ones falling ill, and personal health problems.

It’s also important to note that a goal to achieve anything great often comes with great difficulty and struggle, leading to a period of lull, also known as development hell.

If you feel alone in your lack of progress, don’t. I have worked with many clients, including successful entrepreneurs and professionals, who seek coaching because they face a lack of progress in their goals. I have faced a lack of progress in my goals before, such as health and work, and faced a lull in my life in recent years due to extreme personal challenges.

If you think that everyone is having a great life, remember what you see on social media is often heavily filtered. People often present the best sides of their lives but not the negative sides, which gives the impression that their lives are perfect, as I shared in my FOMO podcast. The truth is that many people are going through obstacles as well, just like you and me.

So what happens when you face obstacles? Do you give up? No, of course not. Life has its difficulties and every goal has its challenges. That doesn’t mean that you give up. It’s about understanding what’s blocking you and taking action to address it, which is what we’ll do in Step 3.

Step 3: Have a plan

When it comes to planning, some people think that it involves writing out pages and pages of steps and instructions.

Not quite. Here, a plan is just a simple document to get you going. It can be as simple as some scribbling on a notepad, or a detailed document in Excel or Word. The point is to plan whatever is necessary to get moving. This includes identifying your current roadblocks (Step 1), how to address the blocks, and immediate steps to get going.

Continuing the examples above, say you are writing a book. Your plan can look like this:

  • Goal: Write book
  • Obstacle: Feel uninspired. Constantly spend hours staring at the screen but get nothing done.
    • Solution: Identify where I feel the most inspiration. Go to these places to get inspiration and write.
  • Action steps:
    1. Go to a cafe with a quiet spot for my writing. Do the editing and admin work at home.
    2. Talk to the people whom I’m writing my book for. Compile a list of the issues they have and how I can help them. Address them in my book.
  • My immediate target:
    • Create chapter outline (by this Sunday)
    • Write draft for Chapter 1 (by this Sunday)
    • Write draft for Chapter 2 (by next Sunday)

Or say your goal is to start a business. Your plan can look like this:

  • Goal: Start my consulting business in Y
  • Obstacles:
    • No support network. I feel alone with no one to help me.
    • Constant distractions and conflicting priorities at home. As a parent to two young children, there are so many things shouting for my attention all the time. Childcare, housework, cooking, cleaning. I don’t feel like I can manage it all.
  • Solution:
    • Get a support network. Join small business owner groups and learn how other entrepreneurs do this.
    • Talk to my spouse and ask for more help in splitting responsibilities.
    • Get help. Hire a nanny or sign up for after school care. I don’t have to do this alone.
  • Action steps:
    1. Act on the steps I’ve identified
    2. Contact small business owners to get advice
  • My immediate target:
    • Create my business plan and revenue plan (by next week)
    • Contact 10 potential leads and pitch my idea (by end of month)

Some tips as you create your plan:

  • Set clear steps. You should be able to act on them right away.
  • Have realistic goals. If you are juggling other things, then go slow. Set manageable goals to avoid setting yourself up for frustration.
  • Track your results as you go along. This can be weekly or fortnightly, depending on your progress.
  • Join support groups. When you’re working on a goal alone, it can feel lonely and isolating. Look for support groups online and meetup groups offline. Being in such groups can give you ideas and keep you motivated.

Step 4: Review your goals. Discard goals that aren’t working.

Sometimes the problem is that you’re simply pursuing the wrong goals. Maybe you don’t want the goal anymore. Maybe the goal isn’t compatible with your current life circumstance. This means the goals aren’t a fit anymore, and it’s time to discard them.

And that’s normal. The goals you set in the past may not be goals that you want today. Things change. We change. You may be excited about starting a baking channel last year but decide that it’s not for you after three months — the process of running a YouTube channel is too technical and laborious for you. You may want to start a software consulting firm, but after researching and talking to people, you realize that it’s not a good fit with current market trends.

Even personal goals too — you may have wanted to lose weight before but realize that you are okay with the way you look, and it’s about eating healthy than losing weight. Maybe you wanted to be a mixed martial arts fighter in the past but it’s not something that you want anymore.

Review the goals you’re facing a lack of progress in. Do you still want them? Are they a match with who you are and where you are in life now?

If these goals don’t excite you anymore, maybe it’s time to set new goals. What makes you happy? What makes you smile? What brings you joy? Think about what you really want, then go from there. Know that it’s okay to discard goals that aren’t working for you and set new goals that resonate with you now.

Of course, you want to differentiate between losing motivation because you’re overwhelmed by obstacles, and losing interest because you’re not passionate about the goal anymore. This is something you have to dig within and ask yourself to get the real answer.

Other things to note:

  • Don’t compare. Just because others are pursuing a goal doesn’t mean you have to do the same thing. Think about what you want for yourself.
  • Don’t try to live up to others’ expectations. While others may have a life script they want you to follow, live your life for you, not to meet others’ expectations. This is your life, not theirs.
  • Define your own path to happiness. Who are you? What is your purpose? Your values? What do you want to achieve in life? Think about what you really want and pursue that.

Read: When Goals Stop Working

Step 5: Do a small thing each day

I know it feels depressing when you have a big goal and you don’t see progress day after day. Conventional goal setting tells us to set big goals and take big actions to achieve big results. I have written about this before in my articles and courses and I personally do that as well.

But there are times when taking big action isn’t possible, due to life circumstances. Perhaps you’re a parent to young kids, you’re dealing with some health issues, or your day job takes up a lot of your time and energy. In these situations, it’s better to focus on doing a small thing a day.

Meaning, if you want to lose weight, make one good food choice a day. If you want to start a food blog, work on one thing in your plan, whether it’s editing your website or making new recipes. If you want to make more friends, reach out to someone new when you get a moment.

Do the small things and do them well. If you think it’s a waste of time, it’s not — the little changes you make add up to create huge changes in the long run. It all starts with what you do today. Some days you may be overwhelmed and not want to do anything, and that’s okay. The more important thing is what you do on most days than not.

Step 6: Celebrate every progress

Lastly, celebrate every step forward.

If you’ve only been making a little progress in your goal, that’s more progress than if you did nothing. Even if you’ve been busy tackling obstacles, that’s a form of progress as well. Ask yourself, have you truly achieved nothing? Or have you taken steps forward, just that you feel that they are not enough?

With book writing, you may not have finished writing the book, but you’ve created an outline and written a draft for a chapter. With starting a business, you may not have launched your business, but you’ve created a business plan, researched the market, and come up with a business name and logo. With fitness, you may not have achieved your fitness target, but you are stronger and doing more reps than when you first started.

Celebrate every progress. This means

  • Drop the all-or-nothing mindset. All-or-nothing means only wanting all or nothing, with nothing in between. This means either doing everything or doing nothing, and regarding something as a total failure just because it’s not a total success. Such a mindset is detrimental to success — drop it.
  • Celebrate what you have done. Look at where you are vs. your starting point. What have you done or achieved so far? All these should be celebrated. Don’t get hung up over the things you’ve yet to do. Focus on what you have done and celebrate it. You deserve a pat on the back for what you’ve done so far.
  • Every journey is made up of a thousand steps. Some journeys are longer while some are shorter, but whatever it is, each step brings you closer to your end goal. Celebrate the progress you make each step of the way, because it all contributes to your end goal.
  • Be patient. Maybe you want big results quickly, but remember that every pursuit takes time. There is an incubation period for every goal. If your goal is big or complex, it needs more time to be accomplished. Focus on taking the right steps forward.

To quote William Edward Hickson, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” Don’t feel discouraged by your lack of progress, rather, focus on understanding why you’re not making progress and work on addressing that.

Sometimes, life circumstances mean that there is just so much we can do in a particular instance — and that’s okay. Do your best. Go slow, take little steps. Drop the goal if it’s not working for you. Celebrate every little progress.

With enough persistance, soon you’ll see progress in what you’re doing. This progress will add up to create big progress. In time to come, you’ll achieve your goal.

No matter what happens, remember to love yourself. You’re the constant in your life. If you’re tired, take a break. Rest, relax, and come back and try again. Good luck and let me know how it goes for you. ❤️

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