We all have that friend—the one that gets up at four every morning to hit the gym before work. You probably tell yourself she’s just one of those really disciplined people. They’re born that way, right?
But what if self-discipline isn’t a magic sauce? Behavioral scientist are increasingly finding that achievement has more to do with tapping into our unique personalities than mastering any one trait.
In short, we all respond differently to expectations, and we’re all motivated by different things. Success is about figuring out how you’re wired and hacking a solution that works with—not against—your personality.
The rule follower
Lucky for you, most of the standard goal advice will work because your personality responds well to most reasonable expectations. You just need a clear plan and few safeguards to keep you on track:
- Write down your goal and break it into smaller steps and milestones. Decide on a treat for each milestone to keep it fun.
- Whatever you need to do, put the steps on your schedule. If it’s a task you don’t enjoy, put a treat on the schedule right after. Sales calls at 3pm, a ten-minute walk at 4pm.
- Keep track along the way, and review your progress regularly. Seeing your progress helps keep your motivation high.
- Give yourself permission to tweak a plan to fit your lifestyle better. Not being able to do yoga four times a week doesn’t mean you can’t have a goal. Base your goals on what you can fit into your life.
- Set yourself up for success by planning ahead. Get your gym gear ready the night before. Make those savings deductions automatic. Create healthy grab-and-go snacks for the week on Sunday afternoon.
- Hack your memory. Do you remember at bedtime that you forgot your morning meds? Put the bottle in your sink at night. Always lose your earbuds in your gym bag? Keep them in a pocket with some TicTacs. Give yourself a treat each time you put them away.
- Join a group with a similar goal to keep you motivated—like a Sunday running group, a facebook group, or a book club.
- Sign up for a challenge. Agreeing to run a race, speak at an event, or meet with a new coach can all motivate us to work on our goals.
But, we’re not all rule followers. If you have a hard time meeting certain kinds of goals, your personality may fall in one of these spheres:
You struggle to follow through on self-care or personal goals but always hit your work deadlines and make sure your family has what they need. Since you’re motivated to put others first, you need to anchor your personal goals around people.
- Trade your shoes with your gym partner. If you don’t show up on time, they can’t work out.
- Make the treat a week of success a family treat.
- Let everyone around you know about your goal and ask them to follow-up with you. Giving up will mean letting down other people.
- Want to learn a new skill but can’t find the time? Sign up for a structured class with a teacher and a curriculum attached to a timeline.
- Use a social-ready tracker like Strava that uploads your workouts. When you’re tempted to cut your run short, you’ll remember that everyone will see how you trained.
- Put your goal first on your calendar. Other people’s needs have a way of derailing your day, so whatever you want to accomplish should be done before you turn on your phone or open an email.
The rule resenter
You might have enjoyed strength training—until your doctor told you to start strength training. You chafe at expectations and resist imposing rules on yourself. And other people’s rules? Forget about it. To accomplish goals, they need to be your goals, for your reasons, and done on your schedule.
- If you want to be more active, make it more convenient to do so when inspiration strikes rather than following a printed plan. Keep your road bike in your office or gym bag in your car. Keep a few open spots in your schedule for an afternoon hike.
- Want to write that novel? Don’t give yourself a word-count goal or deadline. Instead, focus on making pockets of personal time. When that time slot arrives, choose whatever format and location suit your mood. Writing on your phone, scribbling in a notebook, and dictating audio recordings all count.
- Find a way to attach goals to your purpose. Don’t work toward a sales quota because someone said you had to. Do it because the bonus dovetails with your plan to retire early and sail around the world.
- Choose what works—forget perfect alignment. If Sunday runs with friends are the only running you enjoy, don’t force yourself to run alone three times a week because the training plan says so. Find other endurance activities you can enjoy alone, or find more friends for mid-week runs.
The loophole detective
You’re reliable at meeting goals you set for yourself. But quotas at work and directives like “eat five vegetables a day” seem so arbitrary and silly. You function great on six hours of sleep, so why try for eight? You need to know why before you agree to a goal. You want to see some research, then you’ll get on board.
- Recognize your urge to drop a plan when you see an out. It’s too cold to run. I can’t add to savings because I have to buy gifts this month. Instead of looking for outs, look for ways to customize your plan so you can keep moving forward. It’s raining, so I’ll run at the gym. I’m buying gifts, but I can still save half my goal if I skip eating out this month.Instead of accepting your coworker’s marathon training plan, do your own research. Choose a plan that seems the most tested and supported by science. Then monitor your progress with a data tracking app so you can see your body becoming more efficient. You’ll be more likely to stick to the plan when you know it’s solid and you can see it working.
- You need to save for retirement, but the 20% rule seems arbitrary. Spend the time to do the math yourself. Then develop a savings plan that makes sense to you. Finally, automate your savings so you can stop questioning it.
Did you recognize yourself in a few of these patterns? To make it more complicated, many of us are a blend of different traits. We might be Pleasers in our personal lives, Rule Followers at the office, but Rule Resenters when it comes to nutrition or exercise. By examining your reactions and behaviors, you can identify the strategy that may just help you push through to success.