If you need a little motivation to stay true to a dream or goal, or to master something new, you might want to take a page from squirrels. Outside my office window, I have two bird feeders that attract all kinds of birds. One is designed for small birds like yellow finches, and the other is for larger birds like cardinals and blue jays. The feeders also unfortunately attract squirrels. In the past, before they invented squirrel-proof cages, I had an interesting time trying to keep them from cleaning us out of birdfeed. The first time I saw a squirrel climb the pole to the feeder and eat to its heart’s content, I knocked on the window to scare him away only to find him back two minutes later having a feast. Then, I came up with what I thought was an ingenious solution. I greased the bird feeder pole with cooking oil and the next time a squirrel tried to climb the pole, I smiled to myself as he gently slid to the ground. After three or four attempts, he scampered away, but of course, he came back with a vengeance and quickly figured out how to climb the pole!
Squirrels are very persistent little creatures. They do whatever it takes to achieve their goal. When squirrel-proof cages finally became available, I was sure this new device would do the trick. And it did for several weeks. Time and again, I’d watch the squirrel climb up to the feeder, try every which way to get at the food, and when he couldn’t succeed, run off to a new yard.
Then, one morning, as I sat in my office watching the birds, a squirrel ran to the pole, climbed to the top of the protected feeder, hung upside down above it, and gingerly shook the feeder until birdseed fell to the ground. Once he served himself enough food, he ran down the pole and sat below the feeder to enjoy his meal. That’s when I decided that if he was that persistent [and clever], he deserved the darn food!
Try, try and try till you succeed
There are times in life when we set our sights on something that’s deeply important to us; yet, when we hit roadblocks, setbacks, or failure, we make a premature decision to give up. The message is simple—if you know in your heart that your goal is right, be persistent. Hang in there and be willing to do whatever it takes to make it happen. If one approach doesn’t work, circle around the situation, and look for a new way of achieving your goal.
To help you gain a fresh perspective, try this:
- Imagine that you’ve already achieved the goal. Then, look back from this perspective and notice what you did. Don’t overthink your answers; just write down whatever comes to mind. You’re looking for strategies or ideas that may not have occurred to you yet.
- Imagine that you’re just one step away from achieving success. From this perspective, ask yourself, “What one word best describes the step I need to take next?” Trust your subconscious to give you an answer and again, write down what comes to mind. When I used this exercise with a friend who was ready to quit nursing school, the word that occurred to her was ‘tutor’. When we explored this word further, she admitted that there was one class, in particular, that made her feel anxious and inadequate. This exercise helped her see that she needed help to get through the class.
- If someone offered you a 1000 dollars to take three outrageous steps toward your goal, what three steps would you take? Again, don’t overthink or censor your answers. Just notice what comes to mind and write it down. Even though your answers may seem unrealistic, I’ve found that when clients answer this question, they often come up with ways to try a new approach. Of course there are times when quitting is the right thing to do, but before you give up, make sure you discuss your situation with someone who believes in you. Do they see something you don’t? Is there a step they suggest you take before you quit? Finally, make sure that you’re not giving up out of fear or frustration. It’s not uncommon to be faced with the greatest challenges at the point when we’re about to reach the finish line.
Use the steps above to find a new approach before letting go of a goal or dream. Find someone you can talk to about what’s going on so you have a perspective on what’s next. Then try taking a new action and watch for signs that you’re on the right track!
A secret skill to help you achieve your goals
What do we need most to accomplish our goals, to fulfill our intentions, or to realise our dreams? Some might say intelligence, others may say money, patience, or the right connections. While all of these ingredients are important, an often overlooked and critical skill is resourcefulness. Let me give you a simple example of what I mean.
Recently I spent some time with my good friend Nancy checking out a possible new location for future retreats. One morning, as Nancy and I were sitting in our room having coffee, I took out some paper from my suitcase to wrap a birthday gift for a friend I planned to see later in the day. As I began to fold the paper around the gift, I realised I had no tape or ribbon to secure the wrapping. So, rather than walk to the gift store, I decided to challenge myself to find a way to get the gift wrapped without having the right tools. I saw this as an opportunity to stretch my resourcefulness muscles—something I enjoy doing. I took a large, pink piece of tissue paper and carefully wrapped it around the gift. Then, I took a pink and white piece, folded it into a thin strip, and used it to keep the ends of the pink paper closed. But, I still needed something to secure the strip. So, I went out into the garden to look for a long piece of grass, or a thin branch from a nearby bush. No luck. I went back inside to keep searching. By now, Nancy was fully on board and we were both having fun trying to find a solution. Nancy is one of the most resourceful people I know, and I knew it was a matter of time before we came up with an idea. Just then, I walked into my bathroom and immediately found the answer: dental floss. I pulled a long piece from the container, tied it around the gift, and stepped back to admire my creation. The gift looked like it had been professionally wrapped [and it smelled minty-fresh, too!].
Our successful attempt to wrap the gift prompted a discussion about the importance of being resourceful. Nancy is the Events Director for more than 85 Hay House programmes every year, and she’s challenged to find solutions to problems every day. As a result she’s a lightening-quick thinker, a bulldog when it comes to follow through, and a master at finding solutions to what appear to be insurmountable problems.
If a goal or dream is meant to be realised, then these are the skills you’ll want to make it happen. So, think about it. How resourceful are you? To find out, choose a goal or intention that’s important to you, one that also presents a challenge. Then, take the following three steps.
Step 1 Decide in your mind that there is a solution to the problem or challenge – period, end of discussion. Don’t take no for an answer.
Step 2 Commit to doing whatever it takes to find that solution [this is why the goal better be important].
Step 3 Start searching for your next step and be open to unexpected ideas. Then take action.
Whether you need to find a new job in a hurry, money to pay this month’s rent, an idea to help take your business to the next level, or a way to turn a mistake into an opportunity, resourcefulness is your ticket to a successful outcome. Just stay open-minded and be sure to keep your feet moving.
When you develop your resourcefulness muscles, you’ll stop being afraid of failure. And you’ll start influencing the lives of others in a powerful way.
Excerpted from Life Makeover for the Year, an online newsletter written by Cheryl Richardson.
This was first published in the June 2014 issue of Complete Wellbeing.