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Why Maintaining Progress is the REAL Challenge

Dr. Celin Gelgec of the Melbourne Wellbeing Group, dives deep into why maintaining progress is the hardest part in going for your goals - not setting them. She goes into how our brains respond to patterns, consistency and what we should be doing keep progress up.

Ever get the feeling that life feels like a “rat race”?

That it feels like it’s becoming more and more difficult to maintain progress? I hear you. This is something that many of the people that I help struggle with. This is something that I too struggle with. Maintaining progress is effortful. Let’s be honest, we can sometimes be guilty of wanting change to happen almost instantly and with as little effort as possible.

We try to be realistic about things, but the world around us makes it very hard to maintain progress. Why? Because we’re primed to want things instantly. There’s not much we need to wait for anymore (think technology). Maintaining progress therefore is hard, but not impossible.

"...if we’re not consistent in applying ourselves to maintaining progress and achieve those goals, progress does not happen and neither does change." - Dr. Celin Gelgec

There are several things we can do to help ourselves maintain progress. To get shit done and maintain progress we first and foremost need patience, and lots of it. We need patience because we need to give our brain the time it needs to begin learning the changes that we are trying to implement. This process is a difficult one for most people because it means that we have to be consistent in our actions in order for change to occur. When we first set goals for ourselves, we aspire and write things down and experience a surge of motivation and hope; but if we’re not consistent in applying ourselves to maintaining progress and achieve those goals, progress does not happen and neither does change.

You see, our brains love habit. Neuroscience tells us that for our brain to register change, the actions that we implement need to be implemented consistently in order for our brain to start learning. If it’s not consistent, our brain does not even bother expending energy in registering the changes. However, if the actions we implement are consistent, then our brain starts to notice and register those changes. After some time and with consistency, the brain then creates pathways for those changes to take effect. This works both in creating “good habits” and “bad habits”. Think about some of the “bad habits” you might engage in. Why are they there? They’re most likely there because you’ve implemented them consistently. The same goes for wanting to create “good habits”. Once created, they become somewhat automatic behaviours and only then can we start to put in a little less effort because it’s now a habit.

Maintaining progress is clearly hard work. So many things can get in the way of being consistent. This is why it’s important to keep in mind that sometimes, life is going to happen. This doesn’t mean that we stop, because life doesn’t stop.
What this means, is that we need to “have our moment”, but keep going with what our intentions are.

One thing that can help you to keep going after life gets in the way is reminding yourself of your values and why you started in the first instance. Re-connecting with your values can then motivate you to start reviewing your goals and getting back on track.

We also need to be kind to ourselves and look after ourselves during the process of maintaining progress. Exercising self-compassion and self-care is important to help us weather the storms that can occur when trying to maintain progress. It’s also easy to get down on yourself and beat yourself up when progress is not
being maintained. However, unhelpful self-talk steers us away from our goals and hinders progress. When this occurs, engaging in self-care and self-compassion can go a long way in managing unhelpful self-talk.

Another strategy that can help maintain progress is by keeping yourself accountable. Scheduling a “review meeting” with yourself once a week where you sit down and review your goals can be helpful in keeping yourself accountable. Honesty with yourself is the best policy when doing this. Have a think about the goals you’ve set for the week, month, or even year, and whether or not they’re S.M.A.R.T (specific, meaningful, attainable, realistic, and tangible) enough to be achieved. At the same time, explore any obstacles that might get in the way of maintaining progress. Obstacles can be both internal (i.e. within yourself – think comfort zone, excuses, unhelpful self-talk etc.), and external (i.e. time, logistics). Once you’ve identified these, problem solve them. Talk to your support system if need be to help you work through these obstacles. Then you can adjust your goals accordingly for that point in time and keep going with your intentions.

Maintaining progress is effortful, but not impossible. Once you’ve been consistently implementing action for some time, you’ll start to notice that getting shit done becomes a little less effortful.

About the Author:

Dr Celin Gelgec is a Clinical Psychologist from Melbourne Wellbeing Group. Celin and the team of psychologists she works with love working with people to help provide support in making positive changes in their lives and maintaining their mental health and wellbeing. Celin often shares her insights through the Melbourne Wellbeing Group Blog as well through her workshops.

Please note that the information within this blog is based on knowledge obtained from various therapeutic approaches such as Cognitive Behaviour Therapy and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. The content is therefore purely informational. It is not intended as a replacement for psychological diagnosis, assessment, and treatment. For ongoing support, it is recommended that you seek guidance from a qualified clinician or physician.

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