How to Become a Rockstar in 10 Tiny, Rewarding Steps

How to Become a Rockstar in 10 Tiny, Rewarding Steps

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The Problem

“I hate exercise—it all boils down to that sensation that I get 11 minutes into a 50-minute group exercise class where I feel—not just physically tired, but spiritually…UGH!!! Like, why am I doing this? I want to start exercising more regularly, but I just can’t seem to bring myself to do it,” Michael, a friend of mine, shared with me over lunch the other day.
“I truly don’t understand how those people in the front of the class do this 3, 4,…7 times a week, and actually seem to enjoy it, while also balancing busy jobs and family responsibilities—I guess I feel like I’ll never be like them,” he continued, “I don’t have whatever special power it is that they have; my brain just doesn’t work like that.”

The Question

The ability to persist through challenging goals, like regular daily workouts, and maybe even enjoy it, may come naturally to some people.  But what about the rest of us?
Are we just lazy?

The Short Answer

Actually, no.
Think back to a time when you did something you loved: Like playing a video game until you won all the levels—or reading a good book—or playing team soccer once a week—or attending your favorite high school or college class—or working on a project that you couldn’t wait to dig into.
It’s not that the activity didn’t present some challenge (Remember how sore you felt after each soccer match or how wiped you felt at the end of the project?); the basic difference is that you actually enjoyed the task. Whatever difficulties you encountered were outweighed by the benefits or rewards you experienced.
The problem is that, when something doesn’t come naturally to us, we often assume that this is because of some sort of personal flaw—that we’re lazy, or not smart enough, or that we don’t have what it takes.
In truth, as I explained to Michael, we all have some combination of projects and tasks that come naturally to us, and some that we struggle with.
And in most cases, rockstars—those who seem to be superhumanly good at rocking out at everything (like work, family, and health)—are made, not born.
Luckily enough, there are ten tiny, rewarding steps that anyone can do in order to rock a big challenge—even one that doesn’t come naturally—whether it’s regularly hitting the gym, finishing a big project for work, cleaning your bathroom, or potty training your kid.
Ready to learn more? Okay, let’s go!

The 10-Step Plan for Being a Rockstar

Materials Needed:
  • Paper
  • Something to write with (pen or pencil)

Step 1: Identify Your Potential Self-Defeating Thoughts.

On your sheet of paper, take 10 minutes to write down any and all self-defeating thoughts that you have.
Keep each thought to just one sentence.
For example:
  • “If I can’t persist through 3 60-minute workouts a week, then I’m just being irresponsible.”
  • “I really need to make myself a better person and show more dedication and motivation.”
  • “I’ll never be successful if I can’t even do something as simple as working out regularly.”
These thoughts may make your goal seem harder to reach and make failure feel like a hit to your self-worth. This kind of thinking is neither constructive nor accurate.

Step 2: Attack Your Self-Defeating Thoughts.

For each self-defeating thought that you identified, write another sentence disputing the thought’s accuracy.
For example, here’s how we might dispute all 3 of the self-defeating thought examples listed in Step 1:
  • “If I can’t persist through 3 60-minute workouts a week, then I’m just being lazy.”
Write: Even one workout is hard, plus I’m trying to be a responsible employee, citizen, parent, etc., so finding time and energy for 3 weekly workouts is not easy even for the most hard-working and energetic person!
  • “I really need to make myself a better person and show more dedication and motivation.”
Write: There are many things that make me a good person, not just how good I am about exercising regularly.
  • “I’ll never be successful if I can’t even do something as simple as working out regularly.”
Write: Success is about more than just working our regularly–look at all the “successful” people who struggle with this same challenge.
Now you have a way to immediately defuse these inflated, grandiose, unhelpful thoughts.  Bonus points if you can write multiple statements supporting and disputing a single self-defeating thought.

Step 3: Identify Your “Boulder.”

Identify the “boulder” you want to lift up the mountain—in other words: what’s your main goal?
Write this down and make sure it’s S.M.A.R.T. (Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Relevant, and Time-specific)
Write down, for example, “I want to work out for 60 minutes 3 times a week.”

Step 4: Identify Your “Pebbles.”

Under your big goal, list all the tiny tasks (“pebbles”) that need to be completed in order to reach it.  You only need one task to get started.  You’re welcome to identify more small tasks, but don’t spend too much time breaking off pebbles at the expense of actually moving those pebbles up the hill—one at a time!
For example, your first pebble could be, “Write down a time in my calendar to look up the fastest route to the gym,” or, “Turn my laptop on and launch the browser and look up an exercise video online to purchase.”  That’s what I mean by small task—really small—small enough that you see it and think, “oh, I can do that right now, that’s easy!”

Step 5: Focus on Incremental Progress.

Instead of struggling to roll the entire “boulder” up the mountain at once, imagine how you might grab one tiny “pebble” off the “boulder,” and take it up the hill.
If you need some extra motivation, consider doing something to energize yourself on the walk up the hill, and/or to reward yourself when you get to the top.
For example, you might tell yourself, “I’ll call up a friend to ask if they’ll work out with me” (energizing), or “I’ll purchase a neon sweat band after I purchase an exercise video online” (reward), or “I’ll imagine myself winning a tennis match / catching a line drive as a pitcher in a baseball game / rescuing someone as I do the next few sprints” (energizing).
  • Alpha Tip: Don’t forget to think about the conditions that will help you to achieve your goals. In Michael’s case, maybe part of the issue is that he needs a workout partner to stay motivated, or maybe a group exercise class isn’t the best way to keep him motivated. (Maybe he’s more of a runner or a yogi or an at-home exerciser) Whatever your situation, it’s worth spending a minute or two thinking about how you can structure your tasks in a way that actively support your goal achievement.

Step 6: Take Action!

Now, get moving up the hill with that “pebble”—do the tiny task—with energy and/or a reward if you so choose.
If you’re having trouble with this, either you need a different energizer or reward, or your “pebbles” are still too big!
  • If you need a different energizer or reward, go back to Step 6 and brainstorm some additional ideas.
  • If your “pebble” is too big, go back to Step 5 and make at least one pebble smaller!

Step 7: Rinse and Repeat.

Repeat steps 5-7 until you’ve carried all of your “pebbles” up the “hill”—in other words, until you’ve made reasonable progress toward your goal.

Step 8: Redefine.

Keep redefining “reasonable progress” in Step 8 to what you can realistically accomplish right now.
  • Alpha Tip: You’ll rarely be able to do exactly what you planned in exactly the way you planned it. Instead of beating yourself up, celebrate progress in the right direction (e.g., a victory dance to your favorite song for each “pebble” up the hill), and declare victory when you’ve moved all of your “pebbles” up the hill.

Note to Rockstars: You'll rarely be able to do exactly what you planned in exactly the way you planned it... Click To Tweet

Remember that marathon runners tend to run slower but farther than sprinters—and walking or taking a break to rest and refuel is a key strategy for many successful marathoners. Similarly, be sure to give yourself “rest breaks” when you need them—just make sure to keep moving forward over time.

(Optional) Step 9: Re-Confirm Your “Boulder.”

Go back to Step 4 if you’re feeling “not on top of things” because you had to change plans so many times when repeating Steps 5-7.

(Optional) Step 10: Re-Visit and Re-Attack Your Self-Defeating Thoughts.

Go back to Step 1 if you’re feeling really discouraged and wanting to give up on your goal at any time.
In reality, we all have abilities or circumstances that help us to achieve (or not achieve) our big goals, but for those who view success more as a series of tiny steps, rather than as the result of some natural talent or outside advantage, it’s possible to accomplish both the projects and tasks that we naturally enjoy doing AND those that may even initially seem daunting or out of reach it—and if you follow this 10-step plan, you’ll be one of those “rockstars”—with people asking for your advice—before you know it!

Readers—what’s your current “boulder” (big goal)? What is one “pebble” (tiny task) that you can break off and take “up the hill” right now?

Keywords: motivation, goals, achievement, personal development, goal setting, planning, success
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Chand John, PhD, is a software engineer and educator with a passion for making it easier to master the most difficult topics in subjects ranging from science and technology to career management to personal project management. He earned his Ph.D. in computer science from Stanford University, where he created Stanford’s first-ever workshops for engineers and graduate students to gain access to non-traditional career pathways such as product management. He has given several guest lectures at the Stanford Computer Forum and the Career Development Center at Stanford. Chand is the author of PhorbiDden PhooD, a book of concrete step-by-step advice for Ph.D. students, is a former lead editor of the Stanford Computer Science Department’s book of advice for graduate students, and is currently drawing a comic book to teach computer science to both kids and adults. His work on software to advance human mobility has been recognized by the National Insitutes of Health’s Biomedical Beat publication, the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s Program for Excellence in Science, and the National Center for Simulation in Rehabilitation Research’s OpenSim Fellowship.