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7 Ways to Find Supporters and Partners

Strategies and goals

Following up on my last article, “How Supporters and Partners Help Motivate Us,” here are some ways to find people to help your efforts toward reaching a goal.

  1. Friends and family. It’s not unusual to hide goals from friends and family members, especially goals to fix things in our lives that aren’t going well, for instance getting fit or decluttering. But specific friends or family members who are likely to be sympathetic to our aims–even aims we’d usually keep private–can provide a welcome source of encouragement, feedback, and in some cases inspiration. People you know who are working toward the same goal you are can be especially helpful.
  2. Local groups. The more common a goal, the more likely there are groups to help you succeed in it. Professional associations, Weight Watchers, Alcoholics Anonymous, writers’ groups, and other organizations can be invaluable. In most cases, it’s preferable for the group to include or be run by someone who is already successful in the area in question.
    Three good places to find local groups are the yellow pages, local daily and weekly newspapers, and, a free resource for finding and forming local groups.
  3. Cognitive therapists. Cognitive therapy can be particularly useful not only in helping work through emotional problems but also in clarifying goals and priorities, clearing away conflicts, and becoming more effective in life. Until relatively recently, far more emphasis in psychological research and practice has been put on people with serious difficulties than on what is now called “positive psychology”: building on strengths and realizing potential. In the last decade or two, this tide has begun to turn, creating much more awareness of therapy as a means to pursuing our better selves. Kari Wolfe contributed an article on this site that gives a good introduction to cognitive therapy, “What in the World is Cognitive Behavior Therapy?“.
  4. Professionals. Depending on your goals, there may be professionals who can help you succeed: organization specialists, fitness trainers, coaches, and others. Both with these kinds of professionals and with therapists, it’s worth putting a good bit of effort into research, as a truly bad fit can be worse than doing nothing at all, but a very good fit can yield benefits far beyond the expected.
  5. Classes. You may not necessarily need more education in the area of your goal, but if education is useful to you and available, getting involved in a class–whether it’s pursuing an MBA, taking a class offered through your local community, or even in some cases taking a course online–can provide connections to people who are care about your goal and can help you move forward.
  6. Online groups and forums. Online groups in many cases don’t offer nearly as much human contact as groups that meet in person, but they can be easy to access and are often large, active and knowledgeable. They can be a source of support and camaraderie online as well as a possible way to meet people who can become friends in person. One excellent example is the free online fitness and weight loss site, SparkPeople.
  7. Events. Events that focus on your goal area can be a great source of new contacts, ideas, friends, supporters, and colleagues.

Photo by foreverdigital

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How Supporters and Partners Help Motivate Us

Strategies and goals

Recently a reader commented with this useful question: “How do I find people who can support me in reaching my goals, whether by encouragement, having the same/similar goal or even a goal of their own? Are there any tips you can offer regarding how to tell people that I’d like to work on a goal?” In this article, I’ll talk about how other people can fit into your plans for achieving your goals. In the follow-up, I’ll talk about specific ways you can find supporters and partners.

First, it’s worth mentioning some of the benefits of support and buddying up:

  • More resources for information and help
  • More reminders of what you’re doing and why it’s important
  • People to cheer you on and help boost your mood
  • An “audience,” people to witness your progress, making you less likely to just silently let your goal slip (although if you get very anxious about other people’s opinions, this may not be a good option for you)
  • Sometimes, models to emulate
  • Sometimes, companions to do things with
  • Opportunities to maintain a feedback loop, to make it easy to reflect on how you’ve been doing and how you could tweak your approach for the better
  • Increased social time in general, which even if it has nothing to do with your goal tends to improve mood (see “Want to Reduce Stress? Increase Social Time“).

People can help you in a variety of roles:

  • mentors are skilled at doing whatever you’re trying to take on and can provide specific help and guidance. A mentor could be a friend or family member who has already done what you’re trying to do, a specialist like a personal trainer or professional organizer, a therapist, a coach, a teacher, etc.
  • partners want to achieve the same goal you do and can get together with you to work on it. My belief, although I don’t know of any research to back this up, is that partners who are at about the same place you’re in work best, since you two are likely to face similar challenges, and you’ll neither be discouraged by the other person being far ahead of you or impatient at the person being far behind.
  • groups get together on a regular basis to share ideas, witness each other’s progress (or sometimes lack of progress, because occasional failures and setbacks are a normal part of pursuing a goal), offer encouragement, and otherwise help keep each other on track. Online groups generally offer discussion and support without meetings, which adds flexibility but takes away the structure of a regularly scheduled check-in.
  • role models can be people you know or people you’ve only heard of, and have achieved what you want to achieve. Role models offer the opportunity to learn how to successfully reach a goal and a clear reminder that it can be done.
  • supporters include anyone who can make a constructive contribution to your progress by helping to provide information, encouragement, or discussion.
  • competitors are other people trying to reach the same kind of goal as you who inspire you to work harder. Some of us respond well to competition and some don’t. If you’re someone who does, then trying to be the most successful person in your weight loss group or to get an agent before any of your other writer friends can be a good way to stay motivated.

There’s also one group to avoid: detractors. This includes anyone who will get in the way of you achieving your goal, whether or not they mean well. Anyone who encourages or excuses your bad habits, distracts you with things that prevent you from making progress, or actively tries to disrupt you through badmouthing, scoffing, unkind comparisons, or other tactics is worth avoiding if possible, keeping out of the loop if it’s not possible to avoid them, or ignoring if it’s not possible to keep them out of the loop.

Photo by Wootang01

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How to Become More Focused and Enthusiastic, Part II: What Matters and Keeping Score

Strategies and goals

In the first article in this series, I talked about the difference between not being focused or driven on the one hand and being distracted on the other. The difference is important because the two problems have different kinds of solutions.

I also began to talk about the kinds of questions we can ask ourselves to begin work on fixing our focus or enthusiasm. These questions tap into elements that research strongly suggests are important for self-motivation. The first element, talked about in that first article, was belief that we can actually accomplish our goal. Without that belief, we undermine our own efforts.

What is it worth?
The second question to ask is whether the goal feels worthwhile to us. What value is it?

Take, for example, my focus on fitness. Years ago I was 60 pounds heavier and much less strong and flexible than I am today–not to mention less energetic and happy. It took some real work to change my eating habits and to make exercise central in my life. Once I got close to my goal fitness level, though, motivation became much harder. Why? Because I had already reached the level where I was at peak health, and losing more weight would only really contribute to how much definition I had–that is, it was no longer a matter of health, but now only a matter of wanting to look great. I was still motivated, but my motivation wasn’t nearly as strong.

If your goal doesn’t seem worthwhile to you, then the two possibilities are that it really is worthwhile and you just don’t feel in touch with that, or it really isn’t worthwhile and you should find another goal. If you believe in your goal but don’t feel in touch with its value, spend time writing or talking about your reasons for attempting it and about what you want to achieve.

Measurability: Are we moving yet?
The third question we will want to ask ourselves is whether or not we can measure our progress. While being able to see progress isn’t an absolute necessity, most of us will get discouraged or at least very uneasy if we’re putting in a lot of work and not getting an indication of whether or not it makes a difference. That’s one reason it’s so frustrating for writers, for example, to wait for editors and agents to respond to submissions. Once you’ve done everything you can to write a good piece and get it out the door, you want to know how successful you were, to judge where you are in your process and what you’re doing effectively or ineffectively.

Some kinds of goals are difficult to measure. Even getting fit is hard to track, since weight alone isn’t an ideal measure of getting fit. With these kinds of goals, though, it is at least possible to note what you’re doing each day–that is, to track progress, which while it doesn’t give you results, at least shows how well you’re doing in keeping to the new habits you’re trying to form.

Photo by Thomas Webster

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Useful Tool for Daily Tracking:

Strategies and goals

Screen shot for

I’ve talked in other posts about the powerful effects of tracking progress daily when working toward important goals. Tracking gives better information to use in making decisions and offers a big boost to mindfulness–being aware of what we’re doing as we’re doing it so that we have the opportunity to make different choices.

Exactly how we track doesn’t matter much as long as it’s accessible, convenient, and does the job. For anyone who, like me, is around computers much more often than not, is an appealing, free, Web-based tool for tracking progress. Here are some good things about the site:

  • entirely free
  • very easy to use
  • offers charts and graphs
  • encourages daily tracking
  • friendly and visual

As far as I know, there’s currently no mobile version of the site, which would certainly be a welcome addition.

One minor problem with the site is that in a way it encourages tracking many goals at once, as some of the examples on their site demonstrate. While I think they’re just intending to show off everything the system can do, I have to say that trying to track more than a very few, related things at once is an almost sure-fire way to fail. As human beings, we’re just not capable of tackling a lot of different major habit changes at once. As much as we’d love to perfect our lives all in one fell swoop, every time we try to do that we fall flat on our faces, because it requires spreading our time, attention, and effort too widely. Habit change requires focus.

With that said, for someone who wants to track one or a very few goals on the computer, 42goals (or a similar system; there are others available, although 42goals seems particularly well-implemented) will be a great help.

By the way, if you use a system like this, be sure to provide for situations when you can’t use your usual tools. For instance, when you’re going to be away from a computer for a stretch of time, it’s important to have a small notebook or something with you that you can use to record things to copy into your main system later. This has to be planned in advance, since waiting until something actually needs to be recorded usually makes it too effortful to get the tracking done, interrupting the tracking habit and often derailing it completely, even when you’re back in your usual routine.

If you’re tracking exercise and calories for weight loss, by the way, I’d suggest using a much more specialized (but still free) tool like SparkPeople.

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Self-Motivation Techniques for Starting (or Restarting) a Big Project You’ve Been Avoiding

Strategies and goals


Not everyone has an elephant lurking in the downstairs closet, a brachiosaurus in the garage … but a lot of us do. And by this I of course don’t actually mean elephants or dinosaurs, but projects. Big projects. Big, ugly, scary projects that are disturbing to even think about because they’re so big and we haven’t even started on them (or have left them sitting around for much too long). It might be a major house repair that needs to be done so that the roof won’t start leaking, or a long overdue class assignment, or a book project that got tricky and has been sitting there on the hard drive, mocking you, for months now. Regardless of exactly what your beast is, there’s a simple, immediate way to take the first step toward vanquishing it. Unimpressively enough, it’s called “Do any little part of it … right now.”

Don’t take “right now” too literally: “right now” could be this weekend, or later today, or for two hours on Thursday. But don’t mess around with “right now” too much, either. As big as some projects are, there are very few that couldn’t benefit from a little attention very soon, even if it’s late at night and you’re tired and the project is unmentionably huge.

“Do any little part of it right now” may sound simple, and it is very easy to act on, but it has impact far beyond the effort required for it. Consider this joke:

Q: How do you eat an elephant?
A: One bite at a time.

It’s true. Humans are designed to eat things in bites, so the size of the what you’re eating doesn’t matter. To put it another way, you never, ever have to do a huge task: you only have to do small steps that over time add up to a huge task. That may sound like just playing with words, but it’s much more substantial than that: all large projects are accomplished through small steps, so the only way to do a large project is to do one small step. Then do another. Then another.

And honestly, the first small step breaks the whole thing wide open. Instead of having to say “I haven’t worked on my book in four months,” you can say “I worked on my book last night, even though it was only for 20 minutes.” Instead of saying “Someday I have to clean out that junk room,” you can say “I spent 45 minutes this morning gathering up all the spare linens I had in the junk room, and now the ones we need are in the linen closet and the rest are in the car, ready to go to the Salvation Army.” Zero small steps is a dead stop. One small step is being right in the midst of getting the job done.

Sometimes it may be hard to see what the small steps are, either because there’s so much to do that it’s all a huge tangle or because the big project consists of just doing one thing for a long, long time. In either case, there are ways to proceed. If you have no idea where to start, then the first step is figuring out what your next few steps are going to be. It’s organization, cataloging the problem. For instance, if your project is making a garden, make a list of things you need to do to be able to break ground: plan the size of the garden, choose what you’ll plant, look up the planting schedules, buy the seeds, etc. Making that list is itself the first step, and by the time you’re done, you’ll know what the second and third steps are already. If at any point you don’t know what to do next, that means that what you need to do next is figure out where you are in the project and what action needs to come next in the sequence.


And if the project is just a whole lot of one thing, then your steps are just pieces of that thing, of any size. Writers face this issue all the time, when the goal is to write a novel of, say, 100,000 words. While there might be (depending on the writer) a lot of preparatory work to do (or none at all), at a certain point the job is to sit down and churn out a lot of words. While you do that, you can count chapters, pages, words, hours at the keyboard, plot points completed, or anything else that gets you through the night, but if the project is daunting, figure out how much of some measure you need to do, then start doing that thing–and counting it.

Of course, after that first step there is always a second, and so on, and this discussion doesn’t delve much into the question of how to keep on track. On the other hand, keeping on track is much easier than getting on track in the first place, so if you have a big project you know you need to tackle, try starting in on any constructive piece of it, and if you don’t find yourself plowing ahead naturally, come back here for more ideas on how to keep the engine moving. After all, I’ve got a lot more I’ll need to post on this site over the course of years, and the only way for me to do it is one post at a time.

Elephant picture by Omar Junior.
Blank screen picture by Simon Scott.

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