My friend Byron asked me for help getting motivated to work out.

Byron recently started a business. He's constantly developing his skills through training programs he pays for with his own money. So he's not unmotivated in general--he just thinks he's unmotivated to work out.

He is wrong. He's motivated to work out--otherwise, he wouldn't have asked me for help. And when you care about something, you're motivated.

No, Byron's challenge isn't motivation. It's follow-through.

That's important to realize. As long as he thinks he's solving for a motivation problem, he'll be looking for the wrong solution. He'll try to get himself excited. He'll remind himself that being in shape is really important. Maybe he'll visualize the years he'll add to his life if he gets in better shape.

Here's the problem: Motivation is in the mind; follow-through is in the practice. Motivation is conceptual; follow-through is practical. In fact, the solution to a motivation problem is the exact opposite of the solution to a follow through problem. The mind is essential to motivation. But with follow-through, it's the mind that gets in the way.

We've all experienced our minds sabotaging our aspirations. You decide to go to the gym after work but then, when it comes time to go, you think, "It's late, I'm tired, maybe I'll skip it today." You decide you need to be more supportive of your employees, but then, when someone makes a mistake, you think, "If I don't make a big deal about this, he's going to do it again." You decide you need to speak more in meetings but then, when you're in the meeting, you think, "I'm not sure what I'm going to say really adds value."

Here's the key: If you want to follow through on something, stop thinking.

How to Follow Through on Your Goals Every Time

Shut down the conversation that goes on in your head before it starts. Don't take the bait. Stop arguing with yourself.

Let's apply this to your work. Think about something you know you want to accomplish but have delayed following through on. Maybe something you want to write, like a proposal. Or revamping a product or service that needs updating. Or maybe a behavior change like speaking up more in meetings or supporting employees more positively.

Make a very specific decision about something you want to do and don't question it. I mean things like:

  • I'll start that proposal tomorrow at 8:30 a.m.
  • I'll only point out the things my employee does right.
  • I'll say at least one thing in the next meeting.

Then, when your mind starts to argue with you--and I guarantee it will--ignore it. You're smarter than your mind. You can see right through it.

Here are seven tricks that can help you shut down your mind and improve your follow-through:

  1. Create an environment that supports your goals. Before leaving work, set up your computer with that nagging unwritten proposal on the screen. Close your email and other distractions. Then, when you get to the office the next morning, wake up your screen and start on that proposal first thing before distracting yourself with emails and phone calls.

  2. Set a deadline and tell a colleague. It's harder to argue against your accountability to another person.

  3. Decide when and where you're going to follow through on that project. Literally write it in your calendar. The likelihood of follow-through will increase dramatically.

  4. Commit to a concrete plan that is simple to quantify. For example: Commit to 45 minutes of dedicated, focused work a day on that nagging project. Only do email for three 30 minute blocks of time. Call four potential clients every day before noon.

  5. Realize that the follow-through challenge will only last a few seconds. As soon as you open your laptop and start work on that proposal you're avoiding, your mind will give up arguing with you.

  6. Start every day with the work you're most likely to avoid. Discipline will be useful for the first week as you get back into the ritual of doing challenging work first. After that, momentum will take over. The pleasure of feeling more accomplished will quiet the internal chatter.

  7. Think of all the above as a multifaceted campaign. It's a daily checklist to make sure you're stacking the deck in your favor.

I once took a golf lesson with a pro who taught me a certain way to swing the club. After the lesson, he issued a warning: "When you play with others, some people will want to give you advice. Just listen to them politely, thank them for their advice, and then completely ignore it and do exactly what I've just told you to do."

That's precisely how you should respond to your mind.