It’s about the JOURNEY (as well as the goal)

28 12 2011

photo credit pdbreen

“To get through the hardest journey we need take only one step at a time, but we must keep on stepping” Chinese Proverb

So you know where you want to go? Once you’ve set your goals, the next step is to PLAN how to get there.

This is the step that is often missing in New Year’s Resolutions and goal-setting generally. It’s relatively easy to think about what we want, the destination, but often the goal seems remote, unattainable. Or, as mentioned in the previous post, it requires daily effort, daily decisions. Many goals founder on the rocks of daily life.

So the next trick is to make achieving the goals automatic. Take away that decision-making point – make the decisions now and plan out what you are going to do. This is about sensible motivated you-of-the-present safeguarding against tired, unmotivated you-of-the-future.

This is the real reason why you need to put you goals into positive statements, not negative statements. You can plan to DO something, but planning to not do something just leaves a hole and a question – if you aren’t doing that, then what are you doing? If you aren’t having the cigarette, then what are you doing? If you aren’t eating junk food, what are you eating? Too much decision-making at the “crunch-time” will increase stress….and potentially lead to failure as you become more focussed on what you are giving up.

So, if your plan is to give up cigarettes, plan to replace them with something else – chewing gum, knitting, blogging – something that can truly take the place of the time taken to smoke and distract you. Plan to avoid situations where you are most tempted – smokos at work, bars, that friend you always smoke with – but do it by planning something to fill those gaps. Perhaps you can arrange that you have a regular gym-date with the friend.

If you are planning to lose weight, plan how that is going to happen on a daily basis. Perhaps you could have a glass of water when you feel the urge to binge coming on. If you are planning to save money start a business, get organised, plan it out month by month, week by week, day by day, so that when the time comes, you don’t have to stop and work it out for yourself at the time, you can go to your plan, or your list, and just follow your own instructions.

Don’t make your plan unattainable – if you program every last second of your life you will undoubtedly rebel at some stage. If you plan to save every last cent over basic living requirements, then you aren’t going to make it. Set a realistic goal and if you exceed it – great! If you fall down one week – get back on the plan.

“It is good to have an end to journey towards; but it is the journey that matters in the end.” Ursula K LeGuin

Want more on how to stay strong on your New Year’s Resolutions? This post is part of a series on goal-setting. Others are below:
Goal Setting – Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes
Goodbye to old (bad) habits
The Harvard Business School Study…or urban internet myths
Being accountable

Goodbye to old (bad) habits

27 12 2011

photocredit jepoirrier

A lot of New Year’s Resolutions are about breaking the bad habits of the past year/s and replacing them with new good habits. It used to be said that you had to do something five times for it to become a habit. Anyone who has been on a diet or tried exercising will know that if there is a magic number, it is not five. It is probably a much higher number, like 200 perhaps. Five days exercise do not make a new habit.

So why is breaking an old habit so hard?

For starters, the reason you are doing what you are doing now, is that it is in some way rewarded, and usually quite quickly. Why do I eat cheese and chocolate? Because it is yummy and rewards my taste-buds and my entire physiology through BSL (blood sugar levels) and other hormones associated with stocking up on calories and fats against a hard winter. The fact that I never seem to get to the hard winter has failed to register with my genes or my metabolism – they are programmed based on centuries, thousands of years of survival mechanisms. Why do you smoke? Because somewhere in your head it is linked with an immediate reward. Why don’t I exercise? Because lying around reading, or sitting on the computer blogging is more immediately gratifying. It’s all in the conditioning. We are all glorified lab rats responding to our genes and our training.

The principle of conditioning is that behaviour that is rewarded will increase and behaviour that is negatively reinforced (punished or fails to be rewarded) will decrease. If you think about how you train a dog – or your children – it is through the positive reinforcement of behaviours you want (“say please”) and through various forms of punishment or withdrawal of treats and attention in response to negative behaviours.

You are probably familiar with the concept of conditioning through such famous experiments such as Pavlov’s dogs, where he trained the dogs to link the sound of a bell with the idea they were about to be fed. This is Classical Conditioning, where cues in the environment (the bell) trigger the response (salivating). Following on from that was Operant Conditioning, where using the same conditioning principles actual behaviours such as pressing a lever to get a pellett of food could be developed and reinforced in animals. And in you and me, this all works beautifully together. When you see a certain fast-food advertisement (substitute your temptation of choice here), the biochemical response (Classical Conditioning) is triggered and your perform learned behaviours (Operant Conditioning) to get what you desire – you drive to the local fast food shop and purchase your reward.

So getting back to your New Year’s Resolutions. A considerable amount of conditioning has gone into supporting your existing habits, and now you have decided to break those habits, overcome the conditioning. Good for you! Here are a few things you should keep in mind as you make your plans to start your new life.

1. Nothing worthwhile comes easy. Yes, that is a nice way of saying it is not going to be easy, particularly in the beginning. Get the help you need – use nicotine replacement products (but don’t get addicted to them either!), organise to walk with a friend, sign up for a weight-loss program, get a financial planner on-board. Don’t think you need to do it the hard way.

2. Set up some alternate reward systems. Battle conditioning by developing new conditioning. Use the magician’s trick of distraction and misdirection – if you are giving up smoking set up a reward system for yourself that will distract you from what you are missing out on. (Try not to make it food though!) Perhaps you can focus on how much money you are saving and buy yourself something you have wanted for a while. Find something yummy and low-cal to nibble on if you are trying to lose weight, so when you are hungry, bored, stressed or whatever else triggers your eating, you have a ready answer to your craving.

3. Be prepared for the old habit to fight back. In Operant Conditioning what you are trying to do is called Extinction – eliminate a behaviour through removing the reinforcing rewards. But then, the kicker. At first, you might find it is really tough. Your brain wants the reward and it wants to perform the behaviour to get the reward – it wants to return to its comfort zone, stasis, it doesn’t want to go through withdrawal or discomfort. It’s called an Extinction Burst – just as the old behaviour is about to go extinct it has a little explosion in your brain to try to keep the old rewards flowing. Hang in there, hang tough and know it will go away. And if you fall off the wagon, hop back on again as quickly as possible.

This is Part Two in my New Year’s Resolution’s Series. Others are below:
Goal Setting – Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes
It’s about the JOURNEY (as well as the goal)
The Harvard Business School Study…or urban internet myths
Being accountable

Goal Setting – Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes!

26 12 2011

So it’s that time of year again, when we re-evaluate our lives, decide what isn’t working, or needs to work better and solemnly vow (or sometimes drunkenly vow) to do better in the coming year.

Having just completed an MBA subject called Managing Change (which was fabulous by the way, really interesting and practical), I decided to apply the change models to my New Year’s Resolutions. I am thinking of resolutions in the sense of the types of changes we make to our daily lives rather than a bucket list type of resolution. These are the types of changes that take daily effort – daily decisions to do something differently. And for that reason they are harder to achieve. So my aim is to make the change as easy – and as automatic – as possible.

Now generally, change models more or less cover the same sort of key points. For ease, I will use Kotter’s Change model, because it is relatively succinct and is quite well known amongst change models.

So how can change theory help with setting – and more importantly, achieving, your New Year’s Resolution goals?

Step One. Create Urgency
In organisational change management this is often referred to as the “burning platform”. In your resolutions, you will need to have some compelling reason why this change is needed, and need NOW! If you can’t do that, then you need to either rethink your goal, or develop a burning platform. Often it takes a health scare to motivate people to lose weight / eat healthily / get fit / give up smoking. The only person you need to convince of the urgency is yourself – so keep going until you have your compelling reason.

Step Two: Form a Powerful Coalition
As the Beatles song says “I get by with a little help from my friends”. Your coalition is there to help you achieve your goals, keep you on track and keep motivated. They may be friends – or they may be your personal trainer, a careers coach, a financial planner. It may be your bank, setting up automatic pay deductions into a savings account. Get your team together and set it up so it automatically drives you towards your goals. Make it as easy for yourself as you can.

Step Three: Create a Vision for Change
You need to have a clear vision about what you are heading towards. What is the change you want and where will you be when you have achieved it? This needs to be a vivid, clear compelling picture – in NLP terms, a bright, brightly coloured picture with action and sound and excitement. You need to be able to summon it in your mind and see it as a real picture.

Step Four: Communicate the Vision
In organisational change management, communicating the vision is vitally important – you need to share it effectively to get people on board. For your resolutions, the only person you need to convince is yourself. (If your goal is to change others you might need to rethink how realistic it is.) There are many tricks for keeping your goal in the front of your mind – creative visualisation techniques, meditation, posting key words or photographs of your goals in places where you will see them. Whatever works for you. Make sure it is always there to remind you when you make those daily decisions – what shall I eat today, will I get up early to exercise, shall I spend my savings on this dress…..

Step Five: Remove Obstacles
You know yourself, you know what has prevented you achieving the goal in the past. Your current self needs to safe-guard against your future self’s poor decision making / tiredness / lack of motivation. If you want to lose weight, make sure you are stocked up on food you do want to eat when you are hungry, and the junk food is not around. If you are going to exercise, make sure there is an easily available option that is not going to fall victim to too tired / too cold / too hot / too far / too rainy / etc. If you have a friend or relative who habitually undermines you, work out how you are going to deal with them or avoid them. If your obstacle is time, then make space for your goals – get up 15 minutes earlier, do it in lunchtime or stay up an extra 15 minutes. Plan for the obstacles and make sure they don’t get in the way. Make it as easy on yourself as possible.

Step Six: Create Short-term Wins
Nothing motivates more than success. Too often our goals are BIG goals. Losing 30kgs. Giving up smoking. Saving $20,000. These are great and worthwhile goals, and it is important to have inspiring worthwhile goals. But give yourself a plan – a ladder – to get there. These are the small goals which add up to the big goals. So maybe your first goals is to lose 2kgs in the first week. Or to cut out alcohol entirely. Or to save $200, or $20. Plot out how the small goals add up to the big goals – a chart or a diary can help to keep you on track. And celebrate the little wins, but don’t crucify yourself if you don’t quite make it or you backslide one week. Just refocus on your plan and keep going.

Step Seven: Build on the Change
Celebrate the little wins – but keep it in context. The little win is a win because it is one step in the bigger plan. Don’t let the little win be more important than the big goal, and don’t stop when you achieve the little goal. (And don’t do a George W Bush and declare victory too early.)

Step Eight: Anchor the Changes in Corporate Culture
So you’ve made the changes and are well on the way to achieving the goal? Great. The next step to making it easy is to make it part of your normal life. Don’t think of it as a diet – it is now the normal way you eat (that’s why crash diets don’t work long-term). It’s not a fitness fad – you now exercise every day. You now meditate when you get up every morning. Integrate the changes into your normal routine and they will become less effort.

What tricks do you have to stay motivated and achieve your goals?

Want more on how to stay the course with your New Year’s Resolutions? This post is part of a series on goal-setting. Others are below:
Goodbye to old (bad) habits
It’s about the JOURNEY (as well as the goal)
The Harvard Business School Study…or urban internet myths
Being accountable