Dozens of research studies show what happens to people who do simply what they said they would. They try and put off what is best for them, they make small choices instead of big, and they wait until things are worse before deciding to change. One study found that over-achievers who asked themselves, "how will I feel in the end?" versus "if I do this I will feel better in the end" were most successful.

In my case, I've learned from my failures to be much less motivated to succeed. That got me thinking about one other value of a seemingly futile exercise like tracking your goals: Where do you find the courage to make the change, the willpower to keep going, the willingness to stop procrastinating? This is a tough question to answer, but I've found success by listing each of the answers along with a little explanation of why they matter so much to me, and how I've used that knowledge to push myself to succeed.

Willingness To Change

If you want to change, you've got to do what you say you're going to do. But this is easier said than done when you're committed to something you're trying to improve, something that's important to you. My tendency is to get derailed. My response is to start over, trying different things until I finally find one I like, and then I stick with it. This means I constantly have to renew my motivation to complete a mission to achieve.

In a previous post I identified some of the cognitive factors that influence your motivation to change, and that list was very helpful in helping me to stay motivated to do things I said I wanted to do. I quickly discovered that the answer I needed wasn't some magic cure, but rather a pretty simple process. I simply had to pay attention to how I was behaving, what I was telling myself, and what I was truly trying to accomplish. Then I had to do everything I could to simply look at the work that I was doing, what I was expecting to accomplish, and to make decisions about what I was going to do.

That's a really simple formula, and it means that I look at the things I do and I analyze the results. I look at the outcomes I'm getting and I learn. It requires an open-minded approach to life. It doesn't guarantee success, but it does mean that I have to examine my attitude, what I believe I'm trying to accomplish, and how I've been performing to gain insight about where I need to improve.

Willingness To Prove Itself

In order to be successful, you need to have a confidence in your ability to find ways to move forward. This confidence is innate, but can also be learned. Do you have a habit of saying yes to change? Sure you do. But do you have a habit of figuring out how to take action on your thoughts? Perhaps not.

The more work I do on myself, the better equipped I am to demonstrate that I can accomplish what I set out to do. Without courage, you're unable to act. Without integrity, you are unable to put yourself out there and live your truth. Without discipline, you won't make it through to the other side of a daunting challenge. Without basic decision-making skills, you'll leave yourself no chance at all of success.

Determinedly take a few minutes this morning and try to change your daily habits. Go to your place of work and just get started. Work on something. Call a friend. Write a letter. Take a walk. Engage in something with which you're not familiar. People ask me what changed when I started to track my goals. The truth is that the only thing that changed is me.

Looking back on my failure, I realized that my changes were to some extent self-induced. I wasn't convinced that I could make a difference until I actually did. That encouraged me, and gave me the confidence to trust my eyes. That confidence allowed me to make the changes I wanted to make, and that made me determined to keep going.

Michael Grothaus is a social enterprise strategist who specializes in impacting nonprofits.