Getting started on a new goal is so exciting.
It’s filled with possibility.
The imagination races with new ideas.
And every experience is an opportunity for growth.
As you near the finish line, that excitement manages to grow.
You see the light at the end of the tunnel.
You finally believe “it’s as good as done.”
And you pick up momentum as you dig deep into your certainty and determination.
But what about the messy middle?
How do you maintain that commitment when the novelty has worn off, but you don’t yet see the finish line?
How can you believe “it’s as good as done” when you don’t know the exact step-by-step to get there?
That’s exactly what we’re talking about in episode 91 of the I’m Busy Being Awesome podcast.
So if you’re stuck in the messy middle and wondering how to make it through, you’re in the right place.
Check out episode 91 below, or stream it on your favorite podcasting app here:
Prefer to read? No problem! Keep scrolling for the entire podcast transcript.
Listen To The Podcast Here!
In This Episode, You Will Discover…
- How you know when you’re in the messy middle of your goal
- Common situations when the messy middle pops up
- 5 step process to get through the messy middle and reach your goal
Links From The Podcast
- Sign up for your free consultation with me here
- Get the top 10 tips to work with your ADHD brain (free ebook!)
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Episode #91: 5 Easy Steps For The Messy Middle Of Your Goal Journey (Transcript)
Hey everybody! What’s happening? Thanks for joining me today on episode 91 of the podcast. Today I want to talk with you about your goals. And more specifically, I want to explore the messy middle of the goal process.
In other words, we’re going to take a deep dive into the middle part of the goal journey. It is that part of the process that we tend to think takes too long. It’s after the beginning part of the process when the goal still feels novel and new. But at the same time, we haven’t quite seen the light at the end of the tunnel yet. We haven’t started fully believing: “the end is in sight. I’m almost there. I know it’s going to happen. It’s as good as done.”
What Is The Messy Middle?
Instead, it is the middle ground where you don’t have the exact step-by-step process yet. You are in the midst of trying one thing and failing forward. And then you try again and fail forward again, over and over, as you take two steps forward, one step back, one off to the side, and another step forward. You’ve been there, right? Knowing that so many of you listeners are goal getters and high achievers, my guess is you are even there right now with one of the goals or habits that you’re working toward.
And let’s be honest, this is one of the most challenging places to be if we let our negative self-talk and self-doubt get the best of us. We know we want to reach the goal. We know we want to establish the new habit or step into our new self concept of greater confidence. But because we are stuck in the messy middle. And because we start letting our toddler brain run the show and offer thoughts like “this isn’t working. It should be going faster. I’ve tried everything and nothing works.” We start feeling discouraged. We start doubting what’s possible. And we question whether we should even keep going.
It is this messy middle where so many of us decide to listen to the toddler tantrum in our brain and ultimately throw in the towel. We decide that it is not worth it. We decide that we’ve tried everything and nothing works. And we choose to believe our toddler brain. So rather than sticking with it, we get sucked in by the allure of the next goal or the next big idea that offers the novelty of being new. And because we haven’t run into any obstacles yet with the new goal, we have an easier time believing that it offers promise and – let’s be real – it sounds way more fun than our current goal, which we’re telling ourselves isn’t working.
Goals, Habits, Lifestyle Shifts
And this can happen in so many different areas of our lives. It might be a habit that you want to establish. It might be a big achievement-based goal that you’re trying to reach, whether it is getting a new job, reaching a revenue goal, running a marathon, whatever. Or maybe it is a more broad shift in self concept. Perhaps you are working toward increasing your self-confidence. Or you want to drop the negative self-talk. Whatever change you are making in your life, I guarantee there will be a messy middle at some point.
And the first reason why I bring this up today, is to help remind you that nothing has gone wrong when it comes up. In fact, it is perfectly normal when your progress is not a straight line from point A to point B and things seemingly do go “wrong.” You are right on track when it seems like you’ve just taken two steps forward, four steps back, three diagonally to the side, and then you one step forward again. Because as long as you are intentionally learning from each of those experiences, what may seem like backtracking are – in reality – each powerful lessons that power you forward. And it may be hard to see that right now because you ARE – again – in the messy middle. But I promise you it’s true.
At the school where I was certified as a coach – the Life Coach School – they label this concept the river of misery. And, quite frankly, I think that this does a great job of describing the discomfort that so many of us feel when we are in the process of achieving our goals. We know where we started before beginning our goal. We know where we want to be – what we want to achieve – and the entire chasm in-between point A and point B is that River of Misery.
Now, I like to call it the messy middle because, for me, the process of figuring out the next step can look incredibly messy. It might look like thinking I found the next step, going all-in on it, and after several weeks of trying and failing, deciding it wasn’t the next step after all. It might look like ignoring advice or ignoring my own gut and doing what someone else says is the next best step, and learning the opposite is true.
Or it might look like showing up imperfectly because B+ work that’s out there helping people is better than A+ perfectionist fantasy that never sees the light of day. I think about that with the start of this podcast. Those first episodes as I found my voice and my style and figured out how sound editing works, they’re by no means my best work. But they’re out there in all their imperfect glory, and they’re still helping people.
But figuring those things out – figuring out how to deal with an echoey room with hardwood floors, bad microphones, feeling awkward talking out loud to nobody, learning editing software. It was all part of that messy middle. Heck, I’m still in that messy middle some weeks. Not a problem. It’s all part of the process.
So as we dive further into this episode today, the first thing I recommend doing is identifying where in your life you might be stuck in this messy middle. Where are you feeling stuck? Where are you telling yourself, “this should go faster? This shouldn’t be so hard. I should be further along by now. Why isn’t this working?”
Goal To Get Organized: Habit Based Goals
Perhaps you are working toward a habit-based goal. Maybe you want to get more organized and start scheduling your day consistently. This is one that I work on with my clients a lot. They want to be able to create a schedule for themselves that is not only realistic – meaning it doesn’t have 647 items to check off the list before 10 a.m. but it is also something they stick with. It is something they follow through on. So when they say they are going to write 3 pages of a report at 11 a.m. on Tuesday, you better believe that at 11 a.m. they have the document pulled up on their computer and they’re writing the report. That is their end goal.
But when they start with me, they are not near that yet. Maybe they don’t use the schedule at all. Maybe they have an endless to-do list. And maybe they don’t have a to-do list and everything circles around is an open-loop and their mind. So that’s where we start. We start where they are. We determine what success is – what the end goal is specifically. And then we keep moving in the right direction as we work toward it.
And after the shiny novelty of the new planner or organizational system wears off, and we’ve stepped into the messy middle, we need to remember that the mess is part of the process. We need to remember that nothing’s gone wrong when you create a perfectly time blocked schedule, and then you don’t follow it at all. Because even though the end result is not what you intended, and and you’re feeling a little discouraged, there’s an opportunity for reflection and learning. There’s an opportunity so you can grow and take that next step forward. You can fail forward, implement what you learned the next day, and try again.
It’s like when you organize one section of a messy room, and then you open up a drawer and realize that you have to redo everything you just did because of what you discovered in this separate drawer. Nothing’s going wrong. You’re still moving forward. But things might have to get a little messier as you discover what you’re working with before the order takes place.
Building a Business: Achievement Based Goals
Now, this comes up quite really frequently with achievement-based goals as well. Let’s say you are building a business, and you have a specific revenue goal that you want to hit each month. You are on your way, but you haven’t reached that revenue consistently month after month.
So right now, you are figuring out what works. You are trying out new marketing strategies. You’re learning how to connect your product with your customer. You are playing around with different product ideas to see what resonates most with your customers. And while some of the new ideas are home run hits. Many of them aren’t.
Maybe you think you have a brilliant idea. You’re convinced everyone will love it. And then you put it out in the world and it’s crickets. Or maybe the manufacturer for your product put things on backorder and now you have the obstacle of getting your product to your customer. Or maybe you had a huge sales month that blew your mind, and now you cannot seem to figure out how to repeat it going forward. Once again. We are in the messy middle. You know where you want to go, but you don’t quite know the exact step-by-step yet.
Increasing Confidence: Lifestyle Shift
Or maybe it’s more of a lifestyle shift. Maybe you are working on increasing your confidence. Or perhaps you’re strengthening specific relationships in your life. In situations like this, you know how you want to feel. You know you want to show up feeling more confident at work and not second-guess yourself when it’s time to share your opinions. Or you know you want to drop your manuals for the people you love and stop trying to change them or expecting them to make you happy. (And side note, if you haven’t listened to my episode on manuals, definitely do so. It’s episode 80.)
But despite knowing where you want to be, you’re not quite there yet. There are times when you feel super confident can you show up and share what’s on your mind. And there are other times when you slip back into self-doubt. There are times when you successfully drop the manual for your partner or sister or brother-in-law, and there are times when it comes back in full force and nobody is following the unwritten rules you established… rude.
In whatever situation you are in, this messy middle is going to come up. I am sorry to be the bearer of bad news. But it is part of the process. Honestly, if it is a big enough goal, it’s not really optional. Because you need to go through the messy middle in order to develop the necessary skills to step into this next version of yourself. To reach that end goal.
There’s an analogy for this concept that I like a lot, which I believe I used on the podcast before, but I’m going to share it again because I think it’s so powerful. And this is the process of a child learning to walk.
So as a child learns to walk – their ultimate end goal – they fall down all the time. They stand up, they fall down. They stand up, they wobble one step, and they fall down. And then they stand up they fall down right away without a step. They seemingly move backwards. But then the next time maybe they make it two steps. And they repeat this process hundreds of times.
Now, first of all, this shows remarkable resilience. It shows a determination and commitment to keep moving forward. The child never entertains the idea: “Well… Maybe I’ll just get carried by my mom for the rest of my life.” Plus – and the thing that I think is most powerful – the process of falling down and getting back up is the exact thing that makes a child strong enough to walk. It is the up and down movement that builds up the muscles in their legs and helps them learn to balance so they can move forward.
And the same is true for you. It is your willingness to try – fail – reflect – learn – repeat with your new habit that allows you to stick with your calendar a bit more closely than the last time. It is the willingness to believe so strongly in your business goal that you’re open to trying and failing all of your different ideas until you find the one that sticks. And the same is true as you develop confidence or strengthen relationships.
Each one of these scenarios has a messy middle. And nothing has gone wrong when you are in it. It’s part of the process. In fact, it means you’re right on track. And when you learn from each experience, you’re building up those muscles. You’re making yourself stronger so that you can learn and move forward with each experience.
So what can we do? How can we make it through the messy middle? I’m going to share my 5-step process to help you do just that.
5 Steps To Get Through The Messy Middle
Now Step 1 – what we’ve been talking about so far – is recognizing you’re in the messy middle and reminding yourself that nothing has gone wrong. You are right on track. This may seem minor, but I promise you it’s everything.
Because when your brain is freaking out telling you that maintaining this habit is never going to happen. Or reaching the goal is impossible because you’ve tried everything. Or you’re never going to have the confidence you want. It can feel very discouraging. It can feel so tempting to call it quits and stop working toward the goal. But when you can pause and remind yourself that this is part of the process, that is everything. Because it keeps you going. It keeps you putting one foot in front of the other.
And then, it’s time to get some perspective. This is step two. And we do this by first getting very clear on where you want to go. Do you know the specific goal that you are working toward? Do you know what “done” looks like? Once you reach this objective goal that you set, how will you know it? How can you “check the box”?
If you don’t have the goal clear in your mind, you will constantly search for a nebulous, unattainable thing. You will keep telling yourself: “I need to do more. I should be better here. I need to do more here.” And this is because your brain is wired to seek out problems. This is how we have evolved as humans. So again, nothing has gone wrong. In fact, it means things are working. It means you have a functioning human brain. If we aren’t clear on an end goal, it will almost always tell you some version of “this is not enough.” So make that clear for yourself. What is enough? What is done?
Then we get to step 3. And this is in the form of reflection. I invite you to look back to where you started. What was the point A when you began this goal in the first place? And this is done to help you see how far you’ve come. Remember, the messy middle is exactly that. You are in it. So take some time to assess the progress you’ve made. What have you learned since you started working toward this goal or building this habit?
Do not skip this step. This is incredibly important because it helps you remind your brain that things are working. You are moving forward. The world is not coming to an end. What’s more, it can also help spark ideas as you reflect on all of the different things that you’ve tried and learned along the way. I often get some of my most exciting new approaches or insights when I do this reflection process. Because I can combine different strategies that I’ve learned along the way into something new that moves me even further forward.
Then we get to step 4. Step 4 is getting clear on your belief regarding what you think is possible for you right now. Again, you know where you want to go. You know what “done” looks like. Now it’s time to check in with yourself. What are your thoughts about reaching that goal? Do your thoughts sound like, “I just need to stick at with it, because I know it’s going to happen.” Or do they sound like: “I literally have no idea whether I can do this or not.” Or have you started entertaining thoughts like: “this is impossible. I think I better adjust my goal and change plans.”
So again. Step four is recognizing where you are at right now in your level of belief. When you’re stuck in the messy middle, do you believe you will get to the other side eventually? Yes or no? How strong is your belief? And once you gather this information, then you’re ready to move into step five.
And step 5 is the process of learning how to build on your current belief to get you moving one step closer, through the messy middle, toward your end goal. So if your thought is currently: I have no idea whether I can do this or not. Perhaps the next belief that will get you one step closer is something like: “it’s possible that I can do this.” We’re not going to jump all the way to: “I absolutely know I can do this. No problem.” Because that thought probably doesn’t feel believable to you. It is not accessible. And if you don’t believe the thought whatsoever, your brain is going to ignore it. It’s going to focus on the belief that feels true, which is currently something like, “this is impossible, and I can’t do it.”
So we need to find a belief that feels true for you, but also feels slightly better than the current belief that has you where you’re at right now. Once you find that belief that feels accessible, it’s time to put it on repeat and start building evidence around it so it becomes your automatic go-to thought. And once that happens, then you find the next thought that will get you one more step closer than the previous. And step by step, and belief by belief, you get through that messy middle.
Life Admin Tasks
So let me walk you through an example to put this into perspective.
Let’s say you set a goal to start following through on your life administrative tasks. You’re following through on your projects at work, but when it comes to scheduling dentist appointments, cleaning the house, grocery shopping, and the daily life admin, things fall through the cracks. You’ve been working on it for a few weeks, and while you’re doing some of the things like planning meals more often and usually managing to put your laundry away, there are just as many things that you’re procrastinating on.
So again, step one is to acknowledge that you are in the messy middle. You are in that growing period where you’re developing the tools to stick with the plan that you set for yourself. You are developing the skill set to follow through on tasks that don’t sound particularly exciting.
Nothing has gone wrong that sometimes you stick with it and sometimes you don’t. There’s not a problem here. This is all part of the process.
So then we move to step 2. Where is it that you want to be specifically? What is your end goal? What does success look like for you? Maybe it means planning 5 meals per week, or sticking to the cleaning schedule you’ve established, or when you plan to schedule a doctor’s appointment or sit down and figure out your taxes, you actually do it. Or maybe it’s all of the above. Whatever it is, make that really clear for yourself.
Then we get into step 3, which is looking back and seeing how far you’ve come. Think about where you started before you began this goal of following through on your life admin. What wasn’t happening? What habits have you adopted along the way? And what have you learned? What has worked for you? What have you learned it doesn’t work well for you? Can you apply any of this information as you continue moving toward your end goal?
And then it’s step 4. What is your current belief in reaching your end goal? Does it seem possible? Is it attainable to you? Or does your brain offer, “this is impossible – why even try?” This is an opportunity to get curious and figure out where you are at. Where are you on the belief scale? And there is no right or wrong here. Instead this is further increasing your awareness. It’s helping you recognize the next steps as you build your belief in becoming a person who follows through on all their life admin tasks.
And then finally, we get to step 5. You’ve uncovered where you are on your belief scale. You know what your thoughts are in regard to following through on scheduling appointments, preparing for meals, sticking to a cleaning schedule, or whatever it is for you. Now it’s time to figure out a new belief that feels accessible to you, which will help you move one step further through the messy middle and closer to your end goal.
If your current belief is: I’ve got the meal prep down, but there’s no way I can stick to a cleaning schedule. Maybe the next belief is: if I learned to meal prep, it’s possible I can learn to stick with the cleaning schedule too. Or I’m becoming a person who sticks to their life admin schedule. Or I’m learning to show up for my personal life as powerfully as I do my work life.
Finding New Beliefs
Now, these thoughts are individualized. I can’t hand you over the thought you should think, because you need to find the one that resonates most with you. You want to find the thought that feels accessible and true for you, and then it’s time to put that thought on repeat and practice it over and over.
Because as we know, our thoughts create our feelings and our feelings generate our actions. And when we take those actions that is what creates the results in our lives. So if we believe “there’s no way I can do this,” and we feel discouraged, we don’t take action. And with that thought, feeling, action combination, there’s no way we’re going to make that goal happen.
But if we start poking holes in that old belief and we entertain the idea that it’s possible I can make this happen. Maybe we feel curious. Then from a space of curiosity, we start exploring different approaches. As we start exploring different approaches, we find evidence for ourselves that we can move forward and that we can do it. And then we start strengthening that belief. And it’s rinse and repeat as you continue uncovering and choosing one new powerful thought after another as you make your way through the messy middle to the other side.
So if you find yourself in the messy middle, Remember. Nothing’s gone wrong. You are right on track. And when you follow this five-step process, you start moving out of the messy middle and toward that end goal as you make it your reality.
I am telling you, this is so powerful. Strengthening your belief and learning how to choose the thoughts that serve YOU in YOUR unique situation is one of the most important things you can do as you step out of your comfort zone and keep working toward your big goals. In fact, belief work is one of the most crucial components I explore with my clients when we first start working together. Truly, it is the basis to everything. What you believe about yourself and your abilities is what creates your reality.
So if you find that you are stuck in the messy middle. Or if you notice you keep jumping from one goal to the next because you get frustrated when it’s not smooth sailing from point A to point B. And if you’re ready to learn how to find and strengthen the beliefs that serve you as you work toward your goals, make sure you sign up for a free consultation with me.
Because this is what we do. Whether you want to reclaim your time, follow through on your commitments, establish better habits. Whether you want to get a promotion, write a screenplay, build a business, it all begins with your beliefs. And when a person has spent years telling themselves that they don’t follow through, that they can’t stick with anything, or that it’s not possible for them to get their act together – which are such common thoughts for ADHDers and people with ADHD tendencies, my fellow perfectionists out there – this work is even more crucial. So head to imbusybeingawesome.com/coaching, sign up for your free consultation, and we can create a plan to get you believing in yourself, feeling confident, and taking action on your biggest goals.