Analysis Paralysis

28 12 2011

Summit of Mt Everest

A friend sent me a blog where the author was saying how he had completed a marathon (from starting as a non-runner), started eating healthier, and got rid of his crippling debt through four easy steps.

And the kicker was, that he had given up setting goals.

Now given the overwhelming focus on goal setting that this blog has had over the past few days, it is possible that she was trying to tell me something……but instead it got me thinking more about goal setting and analysis paralysis.

The author of the blog linked above proclaims that his success is that he gave up setting goals. Instead he focussed on starting small, doing one change at a time, enjoying the process of the small steps he was taking, and being grateful for each step.

Now kudos to him for finding what works for him. He seems to have changed his life in some very significant ways.

But while he may not be writing goals…..he is clearly still setting them. He is looking at his life and deciding what aspects he is unhappy with. And he is developing a plan of small steps to get there. And he is integrating the changes into his life, celebrating the wins and recognising the importance of the changes he is making.

So the question is, do you set big inspiring goals, or do you set little do-able goals? Clearly the answer for me is both, but the downside of the big inspiring goals is they can be scary, demotivating – paralysing. If your goals is so big that you can’t actually see the path there, you might find you don’t do anything. But if they are small and don’t add up to a bigger goal….then are they worth the effort?

PS – this might be an example of confirmation bias – finding things that support your opinion and ignoring those that do not support your opinion – but the following posting on the same blog focuses on the importance of focussing on one thing at a time, and in fact focussing on one aspect that will build to the bigger goal, then moving onto the next. I have to say, that is a plan if ever I heard one!

This post is part of a series on goal-setting. Others are below:
Goal Setting – Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes!
Goodbye to old (bad) habits
It’s about the JOURNEY (as well as the goal)
Harvard Business School study….or urban internet myths
Being Accountable

The Harvard Business School study….or urban internet myths

28 12 2011

I mentioned in a previous posting the Harvard Business School Study where a graduating class was asked whether they had written goals, then followed up ten years later. The source of this story seems to have been the book by Mark McCormack, What They Don’t Teach You At Harvard Business School: Notes From A Street-Smart Executive. The details of the study are reported to be as follows:

The 1979 Harvard Business School Graduating Class were asked the following question: “Have you set clear, written goals for your future and made plans to accomplish them?” 3% reported they had written goals and plans; 13% had goals, but not written down and 84 percent had no specific goals. The follow-up, ten years later showed that the 13% who had goals were earning an average twice as much as the 84% who did not have goals. And the 3% who had written goals and plans were earning ten times as much as the other 97% put together.

A pretty compelling case, wouldn’t you say? If only the story were true.

Like many urban myths, while there is truth in the sentiment – the moral of the story, if you will – the actual story is not true. This study was not conducted on the Harvard Business School Graduates. Nor was it conducted at Yale in 1953. Yale apparently gets a lot of questions about this and even have a response posted on their website.

Thankfully, Gail Matthews PhD from Dominican University has now done the study – and more . Her study looked at the benefits of having goals v writing the goals down v having an action plan v having an accountability mechanism (in this case, submitting a weekly report to a friend on progress). And the results all support what you would expect.

Study on goal setting by Gail Matthews, PhD, Dominican University

So the keys are:
1. be clear on your goals and write them down.
2. develop a plan on how you are going to achieve them.
3. Develop an accountability mechanism. This needs to be external to you – sadly we are not very good at keeping ourselves accountable, which is why the various weight-watching companies which require you to turn up weekly are all so successful.

This is part of a series on goal-setting. To read the other postings, click below.
Goal Setting – Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes!
Goodbye to old (bad) habits
It’s about the journey as well as the goal
Being Accountable

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


19 12 2011

photo credit Richard Giles

Now that I have handed in my final assignment for my MBA, I can get down to some serious blogging. Yes, it is fair to say that studying was somewhat a distraction from blogging (as opposed to the other way around).

As per a previous post, I am a compulsive goal-setter. It helps that I do strategic planning for my work, but I have also set goals for myself since I was a teenager. In my undergraduate degree, my Leadership lecturer told us about a study done on Harvard Business School graduates showing that those who had written goals were considerably more successful and happier in their lives. I was hooked.

So, in honour of the upcoming New Year, when everyone else (aka normal people) does goal setting as well (albeit sometimes with the aid of some liquid intoxicants), I am planning to write about goal setting. And given that I am already converted, I thought I’d ask others – what do you want to know about personal goal setting? And then, I’ll do the research and find out what it is you want to know.

So this is a bit of an experiment. If I get no responses – then I guess I’ll sob into my pillow for a little while. Then I’ll write something anyway. And as I am asking for input via the comments section of the blog….I guess it will be a little public if no-one wants to play with me! Still, nothing ventured, nothing gained.

But I’m hoping that you might contribute – and I’m hoping this can all be of use to you.

And I will look up that Harvard Business School study and find out the details.

Please post ideas, suggestion and requests in the comments section……

the benefits of study

12 11 2011

photo credit: CCAC North Library

It is that time of year when the universities are madly hawking their wares (in Australia anyway), trying to sign up students for various courses. Education has become a huge business, at all levels.

Usually the benefits of study that the schools, colleges, institutes and universities will tell you are:
– get a better job (and therefore have a better life)
– ummmmm…………
– education is good in and of itself (this argument only works for teachers – they are marketing to themselves).

OK, so they all pretty much say the same thing in their advertising. Despite this, I am a serial consumer of higher education. I finish a degree, exhausted, swearing never to study again. On one occasion I even put a message on Facebook that said “if I ever say I am going to study again, someone please slap me.”

And then a year goes by, sometimes just a few months…..and I am bored. I need something to be working towards. So I sign up for something else, get stuck into it and close to the end, too close to consider giving up, I think “How did I get here again?”

Of course I know the answer – I am not that self-unaware. So in case you are thinking of undertaking some study and want some real reasons to do it, some reasons the universities can’t really tell you, here are a few from me.

1. It’s good to have some “big thing” to be working towards. So much of life is stuff you just do again and again. Housework. Commuting. Housework. You get the picture. The little things you do when you study actually count for something bigger in the long-term. Delayed gratification is an important skill for success in any field of life and study helps you practice it (as this posting on marshmallows explains more thoroughly).

2. Intelligent thought. So maybe it’s just me, but generally I find when I don’t have something guiding my thoughts, I resort to trivia. Like pondering on the pretty lit-up map of proximity to McDonald’s locations in the US that someone sent me recently. Study makes you use logic and engage in new thoughts, new thought patterns, stay on topic. You can’t just wander off and look at the pretty lights.

3. Unlike life, study gives you immediate feedback in a clear unambiguous scale. Yes, marks. I get good marks (Rik from the Young Ones would call me a girly-swat) so this is a nice little ego-boost for me. However in much of life you don’t get clear unambiguous and immediate feedback. You might self-assess “I think I did a pretty good job of that email / job application / craftwork” but it isn’t the same. (Note for mature age students returning to university. A “C” grade is not average, it means credit. Likewise, “D” does not mean you have failed, it means Distinction.)

4. Helps practice other life skills such as planning and scheduling, focussing and concentrating, reading, writing and typing. Of, and thinking, let’s not forget thinking. (A Note on typing: when I went to a girls’ school in pre desk-top computer days, the only students who did typing were those who were destined for secretarial jobs. Those destined for professions were not taught typing. Fast-forward not very long to the introduction of computers and suddenly typing has become an important skill – as ubiquitous as computers, in fact. I just say this because it is interesting and shows how much things have changed in the two decades (oh OK, two and a bit!) since I left high school. I still don’t use the correct fingers on the keyboard though.)

5. This is something that is completely under your control. OK, maybe not completely, but hear me out here. At work, you do what the boss says. At home there are parents, partners, spouses, children to negotiate with and hopefully come to some sort of satisfactory compromise. That’s life! Most uni assignments are you, yourself. You get a topic or a question, then you get to decide how you want to approach it, how much effort you will put in, etc etc. (The exception to this is group-assignments. As I do my study online, this usually involves a lot of negotiation via email, entirely unlike any realistic work situation. None-the-less, the universities persist with it – I suspect because it means less marking.)

So that’s it. I have almost finished my third Masters Degree and every time I get a mark back I feel a little self-affirming buzz. When things are tough and you feel unappreciated in the world, it’s good to get that largely objective mark back that says “you’re good at this”.