Setting, starting and sticking to a goal is hard. And, accomplishing it can be even harder.

As someone with ADHD, I know how hard it can be to focus on long-term goals—especially those that don't appeal to you.

But decades of research tells us that perseverance is a skill we can train. And if anything, it's what separates the truly successful people from the rest.

Here are 5 tips for starting and finishing your important goals.

Why "Just do it" doesn’t work?

I guess sometimes you are struggling with boring goals or starting a big project. Let's say you want to revamp your LinkedIn profile, ask your boss about the product idea or learn machine learning on Coursera.

Or maybe just email me for your one burning career question...

You know why goals are important but still don't do them. Pop Psychology "just do it" or "think about the great things you will achieve" or "believe more in yourself" wont work.

The problem is that success gurus treat you like a machine, where you can simply switch on your willpower whenever you want. Yet, our mind works very differently.

When we set a big goal, dopamine gives us a rush of excitement for the body, but quickly fades away and then we stop. 

This great feeling can also trick us into thinking that we made enough progress towards our goal so we decide to put off the important stuff for another day.  And nothing happens - the feeling only gets worse as you keep putting off your goals. In the end, you think you're just not cut out for the goals you set.

Our mind and especially our willpower is however like a muscle we can train. 

So, as in the gym we must train it gradually and have a plan in place. In the end achieving your goals it's all about having a system ready as our willpower is just too weak.

But don't worry - I have 5 science-backed things that helped me reach my goals during these past years and can help you start and achieve your tough goals!

 1. Imagine the worst possible outcome

Too often we only think about how awesome everything will be when things go well. But sometimes we need the opposite – a reality kick - we can dream as much as we want but as long as we don’t do the things it remains a phantasy.

Try this exercise when you feel lazy or catch yourself dreaming: 

  • Take 10 minutes to write down what will happen if you don't achieve your goal in 6 months, a year, and 5 years.
  • Imagine the rewards you'll miss out on or how disappointed you'll feel if you fail your goal (whatever speaks more to you).
  • Be as specific as possible and also write down how this will make you feel. 
  • If you don’t feel anything then maybe it isn’t important and get rid of the goal.

This exercise will energize you to take-action. It is based on the motivation research by Colombia Business School Professor Torri Higgins, who showed that visualizing the consequences of not achieving one's goals in the future can motivate you to work today. 

 2.  Tell yourself it will suck anyways

It can be hard to start a project on when it seems so important. So we wait to start until we have enough motivation, enough time, it feels right. The truth is, "perfect" sucks.

It's too much weight to carry around and it'll just keep you from getting started at all. So instead of waiting for a better time, tell yourself: "This will suck anyways.”

Try this exercise when you keep putting an important task off forever: 

  • Tell yourself that your first draft will be awful anyways, and that this is just the first draft.
  • Start writing and then finish it fast without stressing too much about the details.
  • Save it, put it aside and do something else.
  • Congratulations! You've made it to the first draft, which is the hardest part. It may have lots of mistakes but it's infinitely better than having nothing.
  • Now schedule some time to go back and re-work your draft (I recommend at least a day later).
  • You'll be amazed by how it easy it is polish it up and by how much better it will looks than you imagined. Trust me - I know what I'm talking about.

This exercise can work wonders when you need to create something new or start from scratch (for example create a new LinkedIn profile, a webpage, write a very important email). It is based on Brene Brown’s research on how best-selling authors actually write books. She calls it the “first shitty draft

3. Create Thought Download (aka "Brain Dump")

Science tells us that we only have a limited amount of working memory and executive function available. And when we have too many things in the back of our mind, we can't think straight.

When we have too many things in the back of our mind, we can't think straight. Think about a computer that has many windows or programs open at the same time. The only way through is to close them to free up space. Doing a brain-dump will help you clear your thoughts when you are completely overwhelmed.

Try this exercise when you feel overwhelmed with all your to-dos: 

  • Take a sheet of paper and draw a line in the middle.
  • On the top write down all the small little things you have to do.
  • On the bottom write down all the big or hard things you have to do.
  • Select one item from the top and one from bottom you want to work on
  • That’s it - put it away and do the next step.

PRO TIP: You dont like TO-DO lists? Try this Instead:

Some people, like me, hate to-do lists and structured plans. If you find them overwhelming or boring, it doesn't mean you're flawed. You may just think differently!

Most people think in a linear fashion, but you may be thinking in networks. Instead of the classic to-do list, try a mind map.
Grab a sheet of paper and put in the middle one aspect of your life "e.g. work to-dos" then write around all big things that come to your mind. Don't think too much about the order, just put it out. It's a brain dump! For example, if I'm trying to make a list for work-related tasks, I might write "Finish project A", "yearly review", and "presentation to committee". Below “Finish project A” I might write “analyze market", "create slide deck", "agree with project manager on results."
But don’t try more than 3 levels; it will overwhelm you. Once you did it, I'm sure you'll feel FAR more in control of your to dos.

Here's an example using "Textize Mindmap."

4.  Do one tiny little thing

Starting is often the hardest, especially when fake guru tell us we should jump out of bed and do the most important work first.

No wonder you get stressed when you think about your entire project. So we don’t do anything.
Instead try to just ONE tiny little thing (e.g. check AI classes on coursera, write the first sentence of the email to the executive, update your education on the LK page).

Try this exercise when you want to start working on your goals: 

  • Do one small item from the list you created (step 3).
  • DO this tiny little thing FIRST.
  • And if you want to stop then stop… most likely though you will continue.
  • But most likely once you finished this small thing you will be in the groove to tackle the more daunting task. 

5.  Have a rant and complain!

If you really hate the task, then have a rant. Sometimes you need to get out all the negativity before you can think straight.

Try this exercise when you hate what you have to do (but still need to do it): 

  • Write down all the reasons you don't want to do something, how you think it's unfair, how other people annoy you because they don't get it.
  • Don't censor yourself. Really.
  • Once you wrote down all the miseries you will feel much lighter and it will feel much easier to get started.
  • Trash the sheet and do #2!

6. Block “ME enjoy time”

When we get stuck, we often fall into a self-punishment loop and think "I don't deserve to have fun because I still haven't had a single interview and it's the end of 2021!"

This all does not help. Instead, acknowledge that yes, it is hard and of course you don’t want to do it. You are not broken but just are doing something that takes a lots of energy.

So we need to schedule time for us as a reward. Do the task as best as you can and even if you don't finish, still TAKE your me-time.

  • So think about what this could be for you. In the end what is the entire point of having career goals if you don' t enjoy the life in between!

I do this to get through and finish hard & boring things. For me its giving myself a nice hotel weekend in the sun as a present (below in December 2021 after I finished a terrible report). 

I hope these tips help you. Again, please remember what science over and over tells us: If we struggle to grow professionally or to achieve important goals it is not that we are broken. It is simply because we use the wrong system.

Let me know in the comments, which goals or To-Dos you need help with? I promise I answer!

Loved this? Spread the word

About the Author

Work Psychologist & Advisor, with the sole purpose to find and offer you the most competent advise so you grow professionally and live a fulfilling work-life on your terms. 

Find out more: How I went from being an anxious, always pleasing and stuck in the rat-race professional to creating a well-paying career and fulfilling life on my terms.


{"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}

Create a Work & Life You are Proud of with my Free Guides