3 Tools to take action on your goals

3 tools to take action on your goals

What percentage of people do you think achieve their New Year’s resolutions? 50%? 33%? 12%?

It’s actually 8%. I’m not surprised. We sincerely want to quit our bad habits, pursue our dreams and be our best selves, but when it’s time to work on our goals, why are we suddenly compelled to clean out the vegetable drawer – or is that just me? Our intentions are good but our follow through, well, sucks.

To make matters worse, when I set goals I think I have superhuman powers and put unrealistic demands on myself and my time – who needs sleep? I never questioned this approach and each time I felt like a failure because not only did I NOT reach my goal, I barely got started.

I thought I lacked discipline but the problem wasn’t me, the problem was my approach. I didn’t need iron-clad willpower, what I needed was a system that took me from planning to DOING. Action is the only way to build momentum and create new habits and I’ve discovered a few tools that helped me move through my fears and resistance to reach my goals.

But first, I’d like to talk about how our brain works. Our brains have 3 parts:

  • the primitive brain handles our survival instincts,
  • The limbic is our emotional brain and is used for building social bonds.
  • The neocortex is the thinking brain, used for logic and reasoning.

For goal-setting purposes, it’s important to know that when you experience fear or stress, the primitive brain is going to override the thinking brain. Every. Single. Time. It’s going to do everything in its power to alleviate that stress. My unrealistic plans triggered some fear and my primitive brain reacted, thus the overwhelming desire to clean the fridge. I needed a subtler approach so my brain worked for, not against me. The tools that work for me are: break it down, the 5 minute plan and low expectations.

1. Break it Down

In my previous process, to use a writing analogy, I tried to jump from never writing to a finished novel overnight. It’s like expecting a baby that just learned how to roll over to start running. I was depriving myself of the learning opportunities in all those little steps and the habits and confidence they built. I finally realized that achieving a goal means growing into it, one step at a time.

2. Commit to 5 Minutes

The 5 minute plan is a another great tool to overcome resistance. I actually thought I could work 3 hours a night, 5 nights a week and another 16 hours on the weekend to work on my goals, in addition to my full-time job and everything else life threw at me. And I wondered why I couldn’t get started! Then a coach suggested I turn it down a notch and start with 5 minutes. It seems counter-intuitive, What could I accomplish in 5 minutes? Never mind that I wasn’t accomplishing anything before

Here’s the thing, getting started is often the hardest part and 5 minutes is ridiculously easy and non-threatening (remember that primitive brain?), that it was easy to commit to. And if you know Newton’s First Law of Motion, an object in motion tends to stay in motion. Five minutes is usually all I need to overcome inertia and get the ball rolling.

3. Lower Expectations

The final tool is lower your expectations. Now, I’m not saying lower your standards, always do your best. Just accept in the beginning your best might not be all that good. But in order to improve you have to practice. I read about a pottery teacher that did an experiment. He told one class that they would be graded on the quantity of pots they made. He told another their grades would be based on one pot. The class that was graded on quantity actually produced the best pots. Why? Practice! They were focused on the process while the one pot class was focused on the product. In the beginning quantity is more important than but will eventually lead to quality. It’s the process, all that practice that matters, not the product, which is just the end result. So quit worrying about how good it is.

Pursuing our goals is gratifying but the path is seldom easy. It’s good to have some tools that we can use that work with our brain to get us started as well as get us back on track if we slip into old habits when the novelty and excitement of our goal wears off. When you are having trouble getting started I challenge you to apply breaking things down, the 5 minute plan and lowering your expectations.

Who Owns the Problem – Taking Back Control

Who owns the problem - taking back controlDiane is intelligent, driven and stuck in a dead end job. “Why do I always settle for boring jobs I’m overqualified for?”, she asked in a recent session. “I know I have so much more to contribute but whenever I see a position that really interests me, I always seem to find some excuse why I’m not cut out for it.”

Melissa, on the other hand, has been the rising star of her company. She was recently promoted to a managerial position. But her star is starting to look a little tarnished. Her boss sat her down recently because her department wasn’t hitting its goals. She thinks her former coworkers are jealous of her success and trying to sabotage her.

What do these two women have in common? In order to find the solution they need to figure out who owns the problem.

Whenever you are stuck, blaming someone else or making excuses chances are  you are either taking ownership of a problem that’s NOT yours or avoiding a problem that IS yours.

After some further questioning, Diane told me she paid for her college education although her parents footed the bill for her brother. Her father didn’t see any point in a woman getting an education. His expectations for Diane didn’t go beyond getting married and having children. The message she got was women aren’t as worthy. All through college, her father constantly called her “Miss High and Mighty” for daring to want more. And while she did graduate from college, her father’s message became the tape that played in her head. Diane was taking responsibility for a problem she didn’t own. It was eating away at her self-esteem and keeping her trapped in jobs well below her skill level. She had internalized her father’s opinion instead of viewing it as just that – HIS opinion. She didn’t own the problem – her father did.

Melissa charged into her managerial position like a bull in a china shop. She implemented changes and then started micromanaging her team. Her team rebelled and dug their heels in and productivity dropped. Melissa didn’t see how her managerial style was affecting morale and tried to pass off her problem on to her coworkers, blaming them for not hitting the goals. After overhearing one of her employees call her “The Dictator”, she questioned how her behavior might be affecting everyone else. She took ownership of the problem and began changing how she interacted with her team.

We all want control over our lives and the answer to “who owns the problem” is all about who has control. When you are owning someone else’s problem, like Diane, you are letting someone else control you. When you are blaming someone else for your problem, you are trying to control them. The only person we have control over is ourselves so it’s important to take care of our own problems.

 

One model for creating change

One model to make permanent changeIn my last post, I talked about how our subconscious mind, where our thoughts and beliefs reside, can sabotage our efforts to change without us even realizing it. It’s often the reason most new year’s goals are abandoned within the first month. Our beliefs and habits (including habits of thought) are so ingrained in our minds that no matter how much conscious exertion we put on trying to change (i.e. willpower), we often fail because we aren’t addressing underlying beliefs. The biggest problem is we usually aren’t aware that it’s our beliefs stopping us. We are trying to create change by using the wrong tools.

I’d like to share with you one model for making change.

Before I get into the specifics, I’d like to point out that change is not going to happen overnight, in most cases. It’s going to take practice so don’t be hard on yourself if you slip. Please don’t give up because it didn’t work the first time. You’re working against some pretty powerful forces.

Cognitive behavior therapy offers one model for change. It’s called the ABC model and this is how it works:

A = Activating event

B = Belief or perception

C = Consequence

So let’s say you decided to lose weight and just inhaled a whole quart of ice cream. You’re feeling a little disappointed in yourself (to say the least…) Here’s what you do. Get a piece of paper and write down the activating event – “Ate a quart of ice cream”. Stick with the facts.

Now write your belief or perception. You might write something like “What’s the use of even trying, I have no willpower.” “I’m a big, fat pig! I don’t deserve to be happy!” Get it all out. Often we’ll use absolutes (always, never) or words like “should”, “must”, “have to”, “ought to” which are indicative of irrational thinking.

What’s the consequence of those beliefs? Write them down. These are self-defeating emotions – guilt, anger, depression, a sense of worthlessness, self-pity, etc. These emotions don’t serve us, they leave us stuck and put us into a cycle of shame and blame.

In order to change you need to challenge/dispute your original belief. It could go something like this “I was stressed and hungry from skipping lunch. There are plenty of times when I’ve made healthy choices. I’ll ask my coach for some stress relieving tactics  and make sure that I make time for a healthy lunch so I’m better prepared.”

Now note the effect that this has on you emotionally. Do you feel differently than when you described the consequence? This part of the exercise elicits more positive emotions (disappointment, concern, sadness, hope). You recognize that you had a set back and have come up with some proactive solutions to keep it from happening again. This gives us a feeling of control and we often recommit to seeing our goals through.

Give this a try next time you’re having trouble making changes in your life

 

Are reasons just another excuse?

My friend had an interesting conversation. She wasn’t able to attend a class and when a friend texted her with the homework, she replied with the reason she wasn’t able to attend. Her classmate said she didn’t have to give an excuse. In which she replied that it wasn’t an excuse, she was just explaining why she wasn’t there or, then she asked, “Is that the same thing?” To which the classmate replied “Yes”.

(A disclaimer here, when we make a personal choice/decision, we don’t owe anyone an explanation.)

As a coach, I listen for the words that my clients use. Language is powerful and it tells a lot about a person and their mind-set. Changing our language can also help change our mind-set.

So is a “reason” just another “excuse”?

One of the definitions of excuse is: attempt to lessen the blame attaching to (a fault or offense); seek to defend or justify

Reason is defined as: a cause, explanation, or justification for an action or event. Another definition is: the power of the mind to think, understand, and form judgments by a process of logic. I think this latter definition is integral to the first definition.

Some people might use the two words interchangeably but I think there are several distinctions that should be pointed out:

  • An excuse is used to deflect blame and avoid responsibility for our actions. It is outer-driven, we are victims of unforeseen circumstances. Reasons don’t avoid responsibility. A reason shows, and here’s where the second part of the definition is important, our thought process and how we came to our decision/conclusion.
  • An excuse is not aligned with our integrity. When we give an excuse, we usually know, deep down, that we are at least partially to blame. Reasons are in alignment with our integrity.

A good way to tell if you are giving an excuse or a reason is to notice how your body is reacting. When I give an excuse, I can feel it in the pit of my stomach which travels up through my body, like an electric current, to my ears. I feel a sense of…shame is the word that comes to mind. I am uneasy.

When I am explaining myself, giving a reason, my body is at ease. I feel a sense of lightness. I am speaking from my “truth” (based on my beliefs and values) and it resonates with me.

The bottom line is this – what is your intent behind these words? Is it to deflect blame and responsibility or are you owning up to your choices?