Using milestones to motivate you

Kevin Chapman from the Physical Intelligence Institute who was on episode 108 of the Access to Inspiration podcast explains how to use physical intelligence techniques to live and work more effectively. 

Visualising our goals clarifies our dreams and draws us powerfully towards them. If we are to succeed we need short- term, achievable milestones created in a practical and realistic manner with a sequence of tangible actions attached to them. Milestones, as well as ultimate goals should be visualised. The trick is to switch from visualising the long-term goal to the short- term milestone whenever either becomes overwhelming or unrewarding.

So, if you’ve hit a wall and the long- term goal gives you a sinking feeling, then completely switch your focus to the next short- term milestone. For example, when in bootcamp or while on deployment, those in the military traditionally count down the days – 98 days left, 97 days left, 96 days left, etc. If you are working through milestones well, but the deadline means you are going to need to push yourself really hard through days, weeks and months without respite, then focus on the long-term goal instead.

military personnel marching in a band

Military squads sing and chant rhymes in order to endure long-distance training because it takes their minds off the hardship. Singing together boosts oxytocin, which also reduces fear and gives you courage. On assault courses or at the gym, when you are working towards milestones that stretch you to your limits, the quintessential grunting, aggressive vocalising, hard use of the breath and wide stance draw testosterone levels up in order to meet the challenge and face the risk. Distraction can be used to release dopamine, the great motivator.

When something is tough and repetitive and just has to be done, then, having found your rhythm, imagining the delicious cappuccino that awaits you or what you’ll do on your next holiday, or what you’ll cook for supper that evening, will distract and motivate you. You can also try the opposite: imagining how much worse life could be, creating perspective on how painful this is. Dopamine likes novelty, so be creative with what you do with your mindset as you tackle those milestones.

Severe loss of determination can come in the form of extreme low energy and tiredness when you feel overwhelmed. The thought, Maybe I won’t succeed, or worse, I am failing, scares us. The body slams on its brakes, makes us produce too much of the calming chemical, acetylcholine, and we feel resistance to carrying on. If that happens, treat the adrenals kindly and refocus on the next milestone. If that milestone feels overwhelming, then you may need to add an interim milestone that is more manageable. Once you have a clear, workable milestone in mind, then muscle-firming, jumping up and down, vocalising, breathing hard and fast, laughing (literally) in the face of fear all help to kick- your energy levels again.

Creating milestones physically

If you are working in a team with others on a project, or you are planning something as a family, then simply follow the steps together and discuss each one. In larger teams, you can divide into smaller groups, with each group working on a different part of the timeline, then see how they link and overlap when you come back together.

  • Think of something you want to achieve and picture it in vivid detail.
  • Let the visualisation develop so that the picture is highly defined, with vivid colours and textures. Where are you? What are you doing? Who are you talking to? What are others doing and saying? Hear the sounds, smells, tastes as if you were really there.
  • Having imagined this moment exactly, allow yourself to feel the positive emotions it generates, the sense of achievement, happiness, relief, contentment, euphoria etc.
  • Then visualise the other people benefitting. What impact will your achievement have on your family, your community, your team, your organisation, the wider business community, your country, the world?
  • Once you have established and visualized your goal, open your eyes.
  • Working backwards from your goal, ask yourself, ‘What is the penultimate milestone that I’ll need to hit?’ Create a visual picture for this milestone. Mark it on a timeline. Continue to work backwards until you have at least three to five milestones visualized and planned out with rough time intervals marked.
  • In the intervals, write down what approach, focus, behaviour, resources and training are required for you to be able to achieve the next milestone. Consider where you would benefit more from divergent versus convergent behaviour. Be specific – perhaps you need to raise some financing, get others involved etc.
  • This next step is unconventional, but it works. Alone or with a colleague or friend, rehearse this timeline. Stand up and clear enough space so that you can walk through the milestones in a line. Talk as you walk, verbalising what it is going to take. Stop at each milestone, visualise it again. How does that feel? Ask questions. Evaluate if the progression makes sense. Make and remake firm plans.
  • Rehearsing milestones in this way prior to executing them sets up the cortisol and testosterone levels needed to respond to the challenge and the dopamine levels needed to anticipate the reward.
  • Pin your timeline up on the wall or put it on your laptop or phone as your screen saver.
  • As you execute each part of the plan in real time, celebrate each milestone. Start by using a winner pose – arms in the air – feel the shot of dopamine and testosterone, then share your success with others.
  • Use muscle-firming to power through the challenging, painful points or when you feel tired or discouraged – and as you focus on the next milestone, feel the dopamine boost.
  • As you move through the plan in real life, at each milestone, reassess and revise your plan for the next milestone based on what you have learned.

Keep this timeline handy and remain focused on how we can use our bodies to help us achieve our goals.