New Year’s Resolutions?

It’s that time again. Humans, by nature, are goal driven though I’m not a regular resolution setter. But I do use it as a time to reflect on how my year went and what I want to accomplish in the next year. 

Most people, however, don’t follow through on their resolutions. Only 8%, to be precise. 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.

In the past, when I set goals, I used to think I had 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.

The first tool is to break our goals into manageable tasks. Writing a novel is daunting, but if we break it down into chapters, pages or even better yet, paragraphs, it seems doable. In my previous process, to continue my 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.

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 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.

The final tool is lower your expectations. Now, I’m not saying lower your standards, always try to 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 seeking wears off. The new year is right around the corner. I challenge each of you to apply breaking things down, the 5 minute plan and lowering your expectations to your goals and this just might be the year you join the 8% club!

Self Confidence Tips

Tips for Self-Confidence

My clients often ask me “How can I become more confident?” Lack of confidence appears to be a major stumbling block for many women. The problem is we think confidence is the source of our success when it is the result of our success.

Self-confidence is a trust in our abilities. We have faith we are capable of doing what we need to do. Where does this trust and faith come from? Experience. Think about something you’re really good at, for example, cooking. Chances are you weren’t so good in the beginning. But it held your interest and you kept at it, practicing it until it became second nature. Over time you became confident enough to experiment and create your own recipes. You didn’t begin confident, but you grew confident with practice.

So what do you do in situations when you’re entering new territory, moving outside of your comfort zone and learning new skills? Situations where your confidence is low?

Confidence is nice to have but it isn’t required to proceed. When we were toddlers, learning how to walk and talk, we weren’t concerned about confidence but we were motivated. We just kept practicing until we became proficient.

As toddlers, our efforts were praised, no matter what the outcome was. Later on, especially in school, we learned mistakes were “bad” and to be avoided so many of us developed an aversion to going outside of our comfort zone lest we look stupid. Right around this time we start developing the Voice of Judgement.That’s the voice in our head that tells us we aren’t good enough, we’ll be laughing stocks, etc. Unfortunately you’re not going to get rid of that voice but you can choose to refocus your thoughts and drown it out. Here are some tips for cultivating confidence:

Self Confidence Tips

Acknowledge your Successes

Often we take for granted the things we are good at and what we accomplished. Recognize all you have already succeeded at – and by succeed, I mean know how to do proficiently – both personal and professional. Mastering language (reading, writing and speaking) is one of the most complex things we had to learn and we did it at a very young age. No matter how good you are at something, you started out as a beginner. Remember that the next time you take on a new challenge. You may not have confidence specifically in this new area but you do have the confidence of knowing you were able to learn and become proficient at other tasks.

Focus on your Desired Outcome

Fear of speaking in public is suppose to rank higher than death. What causes people to get up in front of an audience, sputter, go blank and generally mess up? They are focused on…drum roll please…sputtering and going blank! Focus on what you want to happen. Visualize yourself confidently giving your speech, remembering all your points with ease and the audience listening attentively and clapping enthusiastically when you’re done.

Prepare & Practice

Confidence comes with practice. If you have to give a speech, write out what you are going to say and practice it. Practice it in front of family members, practice while you’re stuck in traffic, practice it while you’re showering. Even if you’ve never given a speech in your entire life, preparing what you are going to say and practicing it will breed confidence.

Think Positively

You’ve heard the saying “garbage in garbage out” as it relates to computers. Well, the same thing can be said for your brain. What we say and think will be literally translated by our brains. If you constantly tell yourself “I can’t…” your brain will follow your instructions. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. Beware of the negative self-talk and the Voice of Judgement. If you catch yourself saying “I can’t…”, challenge yourself – “Who says I can’t?” Take the confidence you have in other areas of your life and use it to assure yourself that if you can master knitting (car repair, baking, etc) you can master this too.

Ask for Help

If nothing else works, ask for help. This can take on many different forms – finding a mentor, taking a class, reading a book, joining a group, asking someone who’s done it before. Ask in a respectful manner, being cognizant of their time. Some people will say no, thank them and move on until you find someone who can help you.

Template for Success

Formula for Success

Success isn’t complicated. I could sum up success in four words:

Success = Vision + Action + Feedback + Perseverance.

Actually, it’s not so much an equation as it is a loop.

You have a vision of what you want to accomplish (your goal).

In order for you to achieve it you have to DO something. Action is required. And you need to focus on the RIGHT action – actions that will move you toward your goal and give you the results you want.

This is where feedback comes into play. How do you know if you’re getting results? One way is to measure them. If you can’t measure them, then you need to find another means to evaluate your progress (or lack thereof). Are there patterns? Do you need more time and and consistent effort before you see results? Do you need to start from scratch or just tweak your plan?

The key with feedback is to not take it personally or be married to any one path – remain flexible and explore other options.

Finally, you need to shore yourself up for the long haul. Our enthusiasm is high at the beginning of any goal but we will encounter set backs and obstacles. We need to be mentally and physically prepared to see ourselves through these times, perhaps even plan for them. This is a good time to revisit out vision, why we are doing this in the first place. We need to cut ourselves slack and not expect perfection.

That’s it – it’s really that simple but it is by no means easy. I’ll be exploring the four components of success – vision, action, feedback and perseverance – in more detail in upcoming posts.