Pittsburgh shed its image as the dirtiest city in the world long ago. A community built on the back of the steel industry, the city has morphed itself into a leader in medical research, has become a player in the tech sector, and is becoming more and more prominent on the foodie scene.
But walk around the city and its suburbs this time of year, and you’ll notice that a distinctive smell still lingers in the air. Except in this case molten steel and iron ore have given way to fish and fries.
Yes, it’s Lent. And as Catholics and other Christian denominations around the city wrap up a 40 day religious observance, churches and corner delis throughout the area abound with Lenten specials punctuated by Friday night fish fries.
But besides the good eats, Lent is marked by abstaining from certain indulgences as a form of penitence. Some people might give up alcohol or chocolate, for example. Others might refrain from swearing. Whatever the luxury, the point is to remove yourself from it for 40 straight days. Which begs the question, “How can somebody with seemingly no willpower the rest of the year suddenly adopt ironclad determination?”
I have identified 5 characteristics of Lent that make it such a powerful motivator, and therefore a great template for your other goal oriented endeavors.
1. You are acting with a higher purpose in mind.
Lent has deep religious significance. Fasting and abstinence are little in and of themselves, but they have immeasurable meaning and symbolism as a representation of your commitment to your faith and your God.
When you set out to achieve anything in life, the first thing to get clear about is WHY you want it. Without a compelling enough reason, one bigger than yourself, you will inevitably lose your motivation. You can rely on sheer willpower initially, but it will never sustain you through the long haul.
So why do you want to lose weight?
Because everyone wants to? So you can fit into your bathing suit? To look good at your class reunion? Or is there a deeper meaning? Are you lacking self esteem? Do you need to prove to yourself that you can overcome the one obstacle that you haven’t been able to tackle? Do you want to be a better example for your kids?
Get crystal clear on not only what you want, but why you want it. When your reason is important enough your Why will always be bigger than your excuses.
2. There is a concrete start and end date.
When does Lent start? Ash Wednesday. How long does it last? 40 days. There is no ambiguity.
It’s been said that a goal without a deadline is just a dream. For any goal to have power and spur you to action it must have a finish line that you can set your sights on.
I happen to work better under pressure. When I had a school assignment due in 12 days, you know when I would get it done? Yep, day 11. Maybe I’m just a procrastinator, but I’ve found that my creativity tends to spike as a deadline looms over my head. So knowing this about myself, I’ve learned to set better deadlines to accelerate my productivity.
Whether your goal is to write a book, shave 20 minutes off your marathon time, or clean out your garage, putting a completion date on it will dramatically increase the likelihood of getting it done.
3. You are playing all out for a short period of time.
Lent is 40 days long. If pressed to, anyone can do just about anything for only 40 days.
Sometimes what we want seems so distant and out of reach that we tend to give in to defeat before we even get started. When setting goals, it is great to have a long-term vision of your life, but you also need to break that vision down into smaller chunks of time. Where do you envision yourself 5 years from now? How about in the next year? Now, what do you have to do with consistency each of the next 12 months to make it happen? How can you use each of the 4 weeks within a given month to your greatest advantage?
Anyone can be great in short spurts. A year of productivity is nothing more than 365 individual days strung together. You can be phenomenal for a day, can’t you?
4. You are not going it alone.
Millions of people observe Lent. And every one of them wants to know what everyone else is giving up. There is strength in numbers. Sometimes just knowing that others are in the game with you makes the burden easier to bear.
More importantly, there is the accountability factor. When you and a partner, or even a group of friends, are all working toward a common goal you can push each other to achieve more. Sometimes what you’re not willing to do for yourself, you will do for others for fear of letting them down.
5. You know it’s coming.
Lent is not sprung on you by surprise. It comes the same time year after year like clockwork.
When you haphazardly set goals you get haphazard results. When you plan ahead and set goals routinely, not only do you hone your goal setting skills, but you begin to recognize patterns in your actions, and results become more predictable.
Make goal setting a routine practice. Have a list of goals ready to go so that as soon as one is accomplished you are right on to the next one. Take the time at least once a month to review your goals for the upcoming month and make sure that they still fit into your long term plans.
Goal setting is so much more than making a to do list. Set goals routinely, enlist the help of others, apply yourself fully, set a deadline, and most importantly, get clear on the Why behind your goals. Does it take discipline? Sure it does. But you’re worth it.
And the irony is that when you make the time to implement a goal setting strategy, you will actually free up more time through your increased productivity. You might even find the time to treat yourself to a fish dinner.
*Image credits to Gualberto107, Stuart Miles, hin255 @ FreeDigitalPhotos.net