A friend who is a career military man is retiring soon. He’s still pretty young, so he asked for some advice on what to do next; he sees that I’m pretty successful, and he wants to be successful too, in the next phase of his life.
His question was: how does he figure out what’s really right for him, for what he wants to do next? My reply was fairly detailed.
Sharing My Response
After sending it to my friend, I also sent it to the smaller of my two Mastermind groups, asking for their feedback. Some of their responses: “Wow!”, “INNOVATIVE”, “Thought provoking indeed!”, “LOVED the article, literally devoured the whole thing! (Okay, not quite literally, but you know what I mean.)”, “What a great job Randy has done at capturing and articulating all of this”, and “This is HUGE gift.” I thought I’d share that gift with you, too.
The group gave some great feedback, asking me to expand on some things which might not have been explained adequately, and there were several questions. All of that went into fleshing out the essay, below.
It’s solid career (and life!) advice that will work for anyone.
By the way: the friend who asked about this is the same guy who asked for advice about becoming a writer. My answer to that is in my essay, There’s No Such Thing as Writer’s Block.
Planning for the Rest of Your Life
Advice on how to figure out where to go from here? You bet: divide your life into every broad category you can think of (career, family life, financial, health & fitness, where you live, and more), and then for each area that you outline, write down:
- The specific beliefs about each area that you have. Group them into negative and positive beliefs.
- View the negative beliefs with a critical eye. Example: “I don’t deserve to make a lot of money.” Why not? Can you eliminate each negative belief, and replace it with a positive one? (Such as, “If I work hard and bring value to others, you bet I deserve to make a lot of money!”) With luck, you’ll eliminate all of the negative beliefs, replacing them with positive ones. If not, get help in doing so — these negative beliefs are holding you back, and will continue to do so until you change them. You really have to believe in what you want to do.
- What is your vision for the ideal lifestyle in that area in 5 years? In 10?
- What are your reasons for wanting this vision to come true? Spend time to create good ones. “I want a million dollars so I can jet around the world” is pretty weak. “I want lots of money so I can fund a foundation to feed hungry children in my own community” is a powerful reason, but obviously it needs to resonate strongly for you — only you know what your reasons are, but make them hit you in the gut (or the heart) so they matter.
- Then, write down the steps you need to take to get each of these goals accomplished — an action plan, including:
- What you would need to do to reach each goal.
- Education/training? Be specific. Write it down.
- To get other things done first? Write them down.
- To have more time by getting rid of other useless, valueless activities? Write them down.
- What you would need to do to reach each goal.
This is a Days-Long Process
Repeat for every area of your life, every big goal in that area. It is imperative that you write it all down in one place, like in a binder or in a file on your computer (that you back up regularly so you never lose it).
Illustrate this document lavishly with photos you find online or cut out of magazines that you identify with, that inspire you. For the example above, you might find a photo of a malnourished kid from your area. If you looked at that photo every day, it would drive you to work toward helping kids like that. If it’s a fitness goal, a photo of someone with a body like you want might be a good illustration for that section. “I want to look like that. Will eating a third donut help me get there?”
The illustrations don’t literally have to be photos. Want to be a famous author, for instance? Create a headline, like Local Man’s Latest Novel Hits #1 on New York Times Best Seller List or something. Huge fame doesn’t appeal much to me, but if that drives you, then create visuals that support your vision, and put them into your notebook or file.
The Order Doesn’t Matter
If you’re more “visual” than word-orientated, then start with the photos. What do you want your job to “look like.” What do you want your house to look like? What do you want to look like. Such illustrations will help you get your vision clear, and then you can start writing things down around the illustrations.
But it all does have to be written down. Just trying to remember it all won’t make it.
Remembering six months from now “Oh yeah, I had fitness goals too” means you’ve lost six months of work on that aspect. Let alone getting clear on the steps you need to take to get there. There’s a lot of detail in building a great life that you’ll love and others will envy.
We sure as hell didn’t learn about this stuff in school!
OK, It’s All Written Down. Now What?
Every day, read at least one of your goals, to keep it in the front of your mind. Rotate through your goals so you don’t forget any particular aspect of the life you’ve planned. Use your steps — your action plan — to plan out your life.
Yeah, you have to go to work, take care of family, buy groceries, whatever (live your life!), but I’ll bet you have a lot of wasted time in your week; do you really need to spend six hours watching TV tonight? Start putting action plan steps into your calendar (with an alarm on your smartphone helps!), and do those things instead of the time-wasters.
Constantly Update Your Plan
Every month, set time aside to go through one section of the book/file and update it as needed. Push your goals: “I want to weigh less than 300 lbs” is not pushing it. What’s ideal for you in that area, and what can you realistically achieve in that time span if you push yourself?
Obviously the goal has to be obtainable; if you’re fully grown and 5’7″ then “I want to be six feet tall” is a dumb goal, because you won’t attain it. But “I want to be in such good shape that I can get back into rock climbing next spring” is a more achievable goal, and has a good “why” built in because you know how much fun you used to have doing that before you let your weight soar.
During the review, visit each aspect. Have you really eliminated the negative beliefs? Is your vision clear? Are your goals stretching you — yet still reasonable so that you can achieve them? Do you know clearly what your next step is in your action plan? What parts of this need to be updated? Update those parts!
Lots of time? Do all of this more — and more rapidly tick off your steps to reach your big goal in that area of your life.
Does It Work?
Heck yeah it works! This is exactly how I got the career I wanted — This is True itself.
Back in early 1994, I created a strong vision. Even though I didn’t need funding, I wrote a detailed business plan about my idea. The plan covered how long I’d have to stay at NASA before I figured the new biz would give me enough income to live on so I could quit my Day Job (2 years).
It talked about the publication’s format, how it would have ads, what parts of my background would help me, what I needed to learn to pull it off, the technology involved, how I would write the stories once and sell them again and again (to newspapers as a column; to online readers; published in books), what business models I would not pursue (a printed, mailed newsletter, for example), where revenue would come from, the demographics of the readers, the viral marketing aspect (though I didn’t call it that then, because that phrase wasn’t coined yet): that readers would be encouraged to forward the newsletters to friends to help spread it, and more — even that I would move away from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory so I’d not be tempted to go back as a “consultant” or part-timer; I forced myself to really concentrate on launching a new career after 15 years of preparing for and working in my old one — I created the best environment possible so that my plan went from where I was then, to where I am now.
That kind of detail was hugely important, because as I worked on making this my new career I had to think about those various aspects of the business and ensure they were working — or whether I had to modify the ideas so they would work.
Most recently, that was “Printed books out, Kindle/iBooks in.” And I am making great progress on making that happen, too.
Writing it down made it all concrete. I wrote it on my computer, so I was able to edit as needed, and it was indeed written down so I could remember aspects I probably would forget otherwise. That also made it easy to refer to it frequently to keep the details in mind as I progressed.
And it worked, right down to the timing of my leaving my Day Job, almost exactly two years later.
The Part I Screwed Up
I had a Big Goal in mind — a complete change in direction for my life’s work. I broke it all down into greatly detailed plan, I set myself up for success (getting rid of the biggest potential distraction: the really fun place to work that I had in my old job!), and implemented that plan step by step until I had what I wanted. Fantastic!
But despite that huge success, it never occurred to me to make such detailed plans for every aspect of my life. I had loose goals “in mind,” such as wanting to meet and marry a local girl from Colorado (the “romantic” aspect of my life), and even that I wanted to live on 40 acres on a dirt road in a rural area (the “home” aspect of my life). Check, and check!
But because I didn’t write those down into an actual plan, with the steps I needed to take along the way, both took much longer than they “should” have to be realized.
Other areas never even had a mental plan (e.g., my fitness); they’re important too, and should have been spelled out explicitly. Having strong “whys” makes me want to accomplish them, rather than blow them off. Now that this goal is clear, there’s a reason I’m losing weight at an age where most are gaining!
This Puts You Way Ahead
Only a tiny fraction of the population of the world has anything like this written down. The ones who do? They do tend to be highly successful.
Do you really think that’s a coincidence?
OK, But How Does It Work?
You can call it the “law of attraction” — putting your “energy” out to the “universe” so that it will respond with what you want (which is what I’m told the movie The Secret was about) — but I consider that a “woo woo” belief, and that doesn’t work for me.
Maybe that works for you; if it does, great: that’s all the explanation you need. But you don’t have to look at it that way. I don’t.
Here’s how I look at it, with my “rational mindset”: we humans need to get our desires — our goals, our dreams, our best-case scenarios — clear in our minds, and nothing is better at making them clear than writing them down.
Plus, you can edit your plans if you change your mind, or if you decide your goals are too easy to achieve (or too big to bite off within a reasonable time). Or when you do the “Why” parts, you might find that they’re so thin that you need better ones so that you’re truly motivated to achieve your goals. Or you might find your “beliefs” in that area are holding you back.
If you have a clear vision in mind, with good reasons why you should work toward that vision, and a step-by-step plan for getting there, and they’re aligned with your beliefs, and keep those details constantly in mind (is it becoming clear why you have to write it all down?!), your brain will help you get it done. You’ve “programmed” your brain to Make It So, and you’ve made it clear to yourself why it’s worth the work to get there.
Let’s say, for example, your big career goal is to write The Great Epic Novel. You’ve posted your goal and your strategy on your bathroom mirror so you see it every morning as you start your day.
When you sit down to watch another rerun of the same old TV sitcom, you should ask yourself: is this the way to get to my goal? What would a Great Epic Novelist be doing right now? If that doesn’t motivate you, either your vision or your “whys” aren’t strong enough.
Today’s actual step may not be “Write a Novel” even if that’s your Big Career Goal. Your current step may be “Join the local Writer’s Club” or “Read the book about creating memorable characters” or “Outline the timeline” or even “Write Chapter 5” — one of many steps you’ve written down that get you toward your big goal.
Reasons = Motivation
That’s why, once you get things clear — your vision — you need those really good Reasons I suggested you write down. They will give you motivation to do what you need to do: to execute your strategy for actually getting it done, whatever “it” is you’re concentrating on that week that moves you toward your goal.
Do you need education to reach your big career goal? Clear out time on your calendar by getting rid of mindless activity so you can exercise? Change jobs so you don’t have a two-hour commute? Step by step, check them off so you can see your progress.
But to get there, you have to get going on creating a detailed, written plan, including the whys that will motivate you, and follow it, and chart your progress! That is how things get done, yet most people just slog along, and every year, every decade, they look toward the past and say “Well, I still didn’t get it” — rich, famous, whatever your dream is. Or, those hungry kids still aren’t being fed.
Many Steps Make a Journey
Seems like a big project, doesn’t it? Well, yeah, it is. Life is hard, and achieving big dreams takes work. This is how you break that work down, get clear on what your life’s goal is, and start taking steps to reach that goal.
What if you’re already 60 years old? Well, you have 20-30 years, which is a lot of time: you can still reach some big goals. But if you’re only 20? Ah, then you should be able to accomplish huge goals if you simply get started!
Or maybe you’re like my friend, somewhere toward the middle of his life. He has already accomplished big, deeply satisfying goals, and he’s ready for a new challenge. Getting started on making those goals clear and planning how to accomplish them now — before his military retirement — means he can hit the ground running when he gets out of the military. (I’ll bet that appeals to him! I haven’t heard back from him yet: he’s deployed in Afghanistan, and is pretty busy right now. But I’ll bet when he gets some downtime, he’ll jump in with both feet. The military does help people learn the value of long-term goals!)
“I Don’t Think I Can Do This.”
Well, I do! If you’re smart enough to read this and understand it, you’re smart enough to do it, because it’s not all that hard, especially compared to hitting your head against the wall year after year, not getting what you want.
Probably like me, you never even thought about doing this, even if you are in business and wrote a detailed business plan. As one of the reviewers of the first draft (my small Mastermind group) said when another member found this a bit daunting, “A lot of things are simpler than you imagine they would be.”
It does take time to think deeply about this stuff, and to get it clear enough to write down. If you can’t get it written down clearly, then you’re almost certainly not clear enough in your own mind as to what you want, let alone how to get it.
“If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there.”
—attributed to Lewis Carroll
You’ve Already Taken the First Step
Remember, This is True is about thinking! And this is some of the most important thinking you can do. You have one lifetime to leave your mark on this planet — on humanity. Time’s ticking by. Don’t wait a decade and then look back and say “Well, I didn’t get what I wanted …again.”
No one’s going to hand it to you. You have to get clear on what you want, why, and how to get there — and then get started executing your plan. But you can’t do that until you have a plan, and this page shows you how to get started on it. Will you? The rest of your life starts right now. Print this out, sleep on it, and read this whole page again this coming weekend.
But I Have ADD/ADHD! But I Don’t Know My Purpose In Life!
I have ADD myself, but “attention deficit” has a flip side, doesn’t it? The ability to intensely focus on something you truly want to do. What’s more important — giving you that “want” — than getting clear on what you want out of life so that you can actually achieve it? Yeah, you want to look at that butterfly now. I get that. OK, it’s gone. Back to figuring out your life? Yes!
I have a strong purpose in my life: I want to bring thinking back to public discourse — and to education — and therefore to life. That’s what has driven me to do This is True every week for 18 years now, and makes my work so meaningful to me.
Moving Forward No Matter What
What if you don’t know your purpose in life? How, then, can you plan for it?
It’s a great question! Here’s the answer: You can still get started. Maybe the section of your plan on “Life’s Purpose” will be sparse at first, but start writing down things. What are your main interests? What are your passions? Is it feeding the hungry? Entertaining people? Making them think? Educating children? Promoting literacy so people can learn? What?
Write … them … down! Getting something done is better than getting nothing done. Then come back later and see if you can expand those ideas. Still stuck? Work on other sections — your career beliefs/vision/plans, your health and fitness beliefs/vision/plans, your relationship (spouse, family, friends) beliefs/vision/plans — whatever — and get started. Do something, or you’ll end up staying on your same path, not knowing where you’re going.
But You Really Do Have to Do It
If a overriding Big Goal is daunting, write down all the small steps from where you are now to where you want to be, and get to work on accomplishing those small tasks. And when all those small tasks are done, poof! You’ve completed your big goal!
The key is to not be paralyzed by the large goal, but rather to chip away daily at the small tasks that lead toward that big goal.
The clock is ticking. You don’t get another life, you get one. Stop wasting time.
Again, the best way to get started is to get started! If this looks like too big of a job, choose one area that’s most important to you (e.g., your health, your career), and work on the steps I outlined above just in that area. When you find that’s helpful, expand it to another area, then another.
What I’ve outlined above really is enough to do a first draft — and it’s far more than what 99 percent of the world population does to get the most out of the one life they’ve been given.
I got a long way just writing down the plans and goals for This is True. You can do this too. Get started. And do me a favor? If you find this was helpful to you, let me know! Either in the comments, or by email. Thanks.
Now: print this out so you can read it again tomorrow. There is a lot to absorb here. And you don’t want to remember this a year from now and say to yourself, “Well, I still didn’t get it….”
– – –
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15 Comments on “Planning for the Rest of Your Life”
Okay, here we go 🙂
Good for you! -rc
Thanks Randy. That was a really great article. And like Maarten, I’ll go for it too. 🙂
Let me know how it goes, Camille. -rc
I know there is a lot of self-help stuff out there, but as Randy said, this makes you THINK! It’s not just plug in this rote statement junk.
Just doing the parts suggested here, I already know that I have the ADD thing covered and it manifests itself by my inability to say NO to the non-profit groups I am involved in. The more I pile on the more I have to get focused but I seem to “thrive” on the thrill of having too many things to do for everyone else. Thus, I am “justified” in putting off the things I need to do for my goals. Letting someone or soemthing else co-opt my goals! But, by laying my goals out in this manner, I am finally able to see what I am doing to myself. Sabotage! Argh!
I will retreat to what master Yoda said to the whiney Luke Skywalker when he said it can’t be done and he can’t believe it. “That is why you fail” Next step, the free part!
Thank you master Randy!
Helping non-profits is a great thing. Here’s the question: would they be better served by your spending a lot of time doing busywork for them, or by your being hugely successful so you can help fund what they need to get done? -rc
I keep looking at the degrees offered at local colleges and can’t seem to find one that interests me. Well, maybe one, but at this point I can’t move to go there, and physically commuting by bus every day would be too taxing (I’m disabled). My former jobs have all been working with animals, and generally you need 2 hands available and the ability to walk well. Something that doesn’t happen now that I’m walking with a cane. I’m not stupid, I just happened to have enjoyed working in jobs that didn’t require a college degree. I’m hoping this helps.
I look forward to your feedback later. -rc
My biggest negatives just don’t seem to go away. I really want to become an MD, a general practitioner and diabetologist, and work with underserved populations in my area, especially American Indians. The members of my family who are Indians (not all of us are; I’m not, for instance) have inspired this, but they aren’t the only reasons. In order to do this well, I need to be able to understand the languages and cultures of the peoples whom I want to serve. I think I can do all this, but I’m 52, disabled, have a few memory issues, and I’m not a college graduate. Are there some dreams that are limited by time and age and shouldn’t even be attempted? Because by the time I get through, I’d be on Medicare (and probably on dialysis again, too). How old is too old to start over?
In general, the answer to your question depends on the big goal as well as the limiting factors. For your situation, your age is high enough that you’d have a hard time finding a medical school to accept you even before considering your limiting factors. That doesn’t mean your goal is completely outrageous, but it might be better to reframe your actual goal. Is your goal really to go through medical training so that when you’re done, you’re on Medicare? Or is your goal really to help bring better healthcare to diabetic American Indians (or a specific tribe in your area)? Would it better serve the targets of your idea by spending $160,000* or more on medical school, or by using that $160,000 or more to subsidize bringing in someone who’s already a doctor to serve that population? Sit down and really think about what you want to happen, and the best way to make it happen, rather than thinking you have to do it all yourself. -rc
*That figure is the average school debt for a med school graduate, presumably before residency, per an undated about.com report.
I can’t help responding to those who focus on the “cost” of learning, as though it were a late-night infomercial. “Satisfaction guaranteed, or your money back.” The cost of anything is almost always “too much” for someone, but the question is whether it’s too much for ME. At one seminar I attended, the presenter on-stage boldly offered a $5 bill for the whopping sum of $1. That was it. Nothing more said. Silence. I was waiting for the kicker, and nothing. In the meantime, I’m figuring there MUST be a gimmick. But for a lousy buck, who cares? I can waste that on a lottery ticket. So I went up and bought myself a $5 bill for $1. It was real. Just a point being made. Later it occurred to me that what they charged for the seminar was more than enough to cover the “cost” of selling a $5 bill for $1.
Point being, if you think you’re being ripped off, you are. No doubt about it. But if you think you’ve gotten some value from it, then you have. Also no doubt. You get what YOU take from the lesson.
I was amused this week to see a poll on a web site, “What’s the most you would pay for an app [for your phone or tablet]?” Happily, “There is no limit as long as it provided sufficient value” was the top answer, yet it still only got about 33%. The second most-popular reply was “I only use free apps.” So, presumably the majority would refuse to pay $10 for an app that makes them, or saves them, $5 a day. So much for understanding value — obliviots doing what they do, just like the rest of the people at the seminar you went to! -rc
Whoa, Randy, have you ever read “Secrets of the Millionaire Mind”? I have yet to read or see “The Secret,” but now it’s on my to-do list. I have all along believed that the secret to success is self-motivation and self-control. Now that I think about it, I’ve thought I lacked some of both. Now why do I think that? I’ve found my error! And yet I think people who lack self-motivation are hideous. I know I’m not suppose to degrade myself but I know myself and it’s true so it’s not degrading and then I try to correct the wrongdoing and fail and then demean myself again. (Sorry that was a rant there, but oh dear it helped and there’s another one to follow).
I’ve found writing helps so much and yet I don’t do it. Hmm. I make schedules for myself and don’t follow it. I know I shouldn’t procrastinate but the stress of having a time constraint construed an invisible barrier for starting. Yet when I do start I often get things done. Some things are funny like so. The exact same thing is being said to you by different people, but it takes the right time for it to click. I know what I have to do everyday, mentally crosses them out, and then get bored. Finding too much time wasted and not enough time to do what I should. What a conflict. I believe I’ve mixed up what parts in my life I should view microscopically and microscopically.
I’ve had a floor plan for a place I want since I was 16. (Ok, not to throw anyone off, I’m only years older). That drawing is still on my shelf. I knew what I want but I don’t know how to get it. I should probably stop looking for shortcuts. Hopefully, I will find myself a few routines after this that holds well. Good luck to myself and all.
No, haven’t read that book (never heard of it, actually), nor have I read “The Secret” (which book is based on the movie). I also drew a floorplan for a “great!” house when I was your age. I now think it sucks. 🙂 Taste changes over time, so that’s OK. -rc
A thought-provoking read. Thanks for sharing this with us. I think I might make the time to sit down and think long and hard about this. With a young daughter & a second child on the way, my thoughts have recently taken on a bit more of a long-term cast.
This is in reply to River in Washington. Often times, there is a version that will meet many of the needs without the large commitment of time and money.
For example, in your case, have you considered becoming a registered dietitian that specializes in diabetes? It would still take school, but not nearly as much. And you would work more closely with your clients than a doctor does.
Another option might be a Physician’s Assistant. That takes much less schooling than a doctor, but again, you can specialize.
Don’t give up on your dream — just rearrange how you might get there!
Definitely a good idea to widen your view and take in more options. Thanks, Melodie! -rc
Didn’t take the time to read all the comments. And can’t stop here now to write any more. Got to go and DO something!
It may not take a rocket scientist to do all of this, but you have proved that a rocket scientist CAN get through it!
This (as they say) is True. -rc
**stops, wipes away tears**
Oh, Randy… **deep breath**
Posts like this are why you’re one of my heroes. No, REALLY. I WISH someone had told me all this when I was leaving the military at 31, and trying to figure out the rest of my life. I fought my own self-sabotage for years.
Good news is, I stumbled across a lot of it on my own, and with the help of good counselors and friends (and in the last few years, even some Facebook pages).
But your timing is perfect. I am 10 days away from the first anniversary of my acute ischemic cerebellar stroke, and part of my promise to myself is to spend time thinking about the rest of my life (which I’ve been doing all year, honestly). This post puts nitrous oxide in my fuel tank (I think that’s the right analogy).
Another of my promises to myself is to spend several days posting encouraging thoughts on Facebook, reminding people that we only have one life and that it can change in the blink of an eye, so they need to make the most of this one. Your post fits exactly with the kind of stuff I want to be sharing with people next week, so I’ll be doing that.
Thanks for sharing your e-zines with us for the last 20+ years, and now for sharing this.
(a very sappy) Mary in GA
p.s. I’m one of the lucky ones — I have almost no residual effects from my stroke. I just have to remember to take more breaks and get more sleep. I’ve had medical people tell me they can’t believe my stroke was so recent, even though it was cerebellar and not cerebral (I keep thinking cerebellar ones aren’t as difficult). Honestly, if it weren’t for the MRI pictures, I’d have a hard time believing it really happened.
Glad it resonated with you, and I’m glad I sent out the URL to this one again. While I don’t address self-sabotage, and that’s a definite issue for many, the technique is here waiting whenever the person is ready to embrace it. If they’re not, self-sabotage will work wonders to help them procrastinate. -rc
Thank you Randy, for sending this out again. I may have seen it before, but if so it certainly did not have the impact on me that it has just now. Your comment summed it up nicely:
Without making a conscious choice to do so, I had adopted a relatively passive approach to life. It worked for many years, but stopped working two years ago due to changes in circumstances, and I essentially failed until now to realize the cause was me.
Let me see what I am able to accomplish by taking an active role in my own life.
Thank you also for shepherding “True” these many years. I routinely get the thought provoking entertainment that is your main target, but occasionally find real treasure in the “slightly off topic” essays like this one.
Wow – gonna read this when I have real time.
My small contribution is for those wanting to go to college, but unsure about a major. Get a community college catalog, and go through it, marking courses that sound interesting. Go through it again, more than once (if needed), and get the list down to 5..10. Enroll in the top 2..3 and see how you like the subject. Rinse, repeat until you find what you want.
I like it. 4-year colleges are full of people who changed their majors. An expensive proposition these days. -rc
If it helps anyone, here is my favorite way of getting myself to actually Do the Thing. I tried setting goals of doing a set amount each day/week/other appropriate time frame, but I’ve found that for me personally that doesn’t work as well. So instead of saying, for example, “Today I am going to Write Chapter Five,” I will say, “Today I will spend 1 hour on furthering my goal,” and then stick to it. Two examples: a few years ago I was going to spend a month in another country, so for months ahead of time I spent 20-45 min/day studying the language of said country. I didn’t have to get a certain amount done each day, and some days if my brain was tired I’d go back and review instead of learning new stuff, but I was always working toward that goal of being able to talk when I got to the new country.
With cleaning, since I want to have a living space that’s cleaner than what it is, I decided to say that I’d spend 1-1/2 hours each week cleaning (something outside of chores I was already staying on top of, like washing dishes, and more along the lines of dealing with Piles of Stuff in the Closet). That’s enough time to make a clear difference, but it is doable; I can do 15 min/day, or have Monday evening devoted to a big cleaning splurge. I found that if you can get in the rhythm of doing something the same time each day/week it helps; for example, I studied the language on the bus during my daily commute and usually clean on Mondays since that’s my most constantly free weeknight.
I love learning new languages, so once I got into the discipline of daily study the learning was its own reward. I dislike cleaning for the most part, so I set that up with more motivations. If I had a week when I had NOT finished my allotment of cleaning by the time I went to bed on Saturday, I had to donate $5 to a charity I disliked. If I got one of my Pits of Despair (such as my closet) cleaned all the way, I got to spend $10 on books. If it was a smaller area, less a Pit of Despair and more, say, a Shallow Depression of Irritability, I got to spend $5 on books. I also set up specific rules for when I got to NOT pursue said goals. My personal parameters were that if I was on vacation for 4+ days in a week I didn’t have to Do the Thing (this usually means either I’m out of town or I have house guests and either way it doesn’t work so well), and if I was having a significant personal crisis (beloved one gets cancer or dies, etc.) I didn’t have to Do the Thing that week or the next. I found this helpful because then I would know that I was still following my goals, just going along with my reasonable (for my life) exceptions for not Doing the Thing.
(I haven’t tried this in a deliberate way, but the internet has a website I won’t link to here because of the salty language [for those who want to find it, it’s “Unf*%@ your habitat”] that talks about the 20/10 rule [or 45/15, or 30/12, or whatever works for you personally], that says that you work for a set period of time, say 20 minutes, and then you get 10 minutes of Preferred Activity Time, then work for 20 min more, then 10 min of PAT, etc. This website is focused on cleaning your living space, but with a bit of adjustment it can work well for other sorts of goal striving as well.)
Anyway, just thought that might help as far as putting together the nuts and bolts of making things happen. This is nice because a) you have a reasonable amount of time set aside each day/week/month for Doing the Thing that will get you where you want to go, so it’s more likely to happen, and b) you have a structure for how to do it, and c) once you’ve Done the Thing you can relax and enjoy reading a book, watching TV, etc., without feeling a constant undertone of guilt but without sacrificing your goals to temporary enjoyment either.