Everyone can identify things they would like to achieve; career, study, fitness, finances or perhaps changes to behaviour or habits. Having coached numerous people in support of their personal and/or professional development I am aware of how rarely we take real control of making these things happen. Rather than dwelling on the (perhaps intriguing) topic of why people don’t – let’s look at how people do.
My experience and studies relating to coaching and behaviour change has led me to create a simple formula which increases the likelihood of success:
“1 to 3 for 5”
The ‘1’ refers to “One day”. Vast amounts of research point to the benefits of identifying your goals … the things you want to happen, ‘One Day’. A good example being the work by Locke & Latham (2002). Goals provide direction and guide decision making.
You need to Identify and review goals regularly and across the various domains of your life (health, finance, family, career, hobbies, etc.) Ensure that they take you toward something positive, rather than away from a negative – this is important, as it changes the way your brain functions, allowing you to tap into far greater resources. Here’s a simple example: “Further education would get me out of this dead-end job” (away) vs. “further education would create access to more rewarding work” (toward). For a deeper dive on this look for work by Gray (1970), Carver & White (1994) and Fredrickson (1998)
Next, we need to create a clear vision:
“What it will look like when you succeed?”
It is important to see yourself in that picture and focus on the positive emotions associated with it. Revisit this vision regularly, it is a deceptively powerful tool; it can give you purpose, a useful resource to call upon when lacking in motivation. Clear goals also put your brain on alert, via the reticular activating system, helping you to spot relevant information that you may otherwise have missed.
Having now identified clear goals, you need to brainstorm a list of actions that will take you toward them. This is important for a few reasons. In most instances, your ability to carry out any action will require that you have sufficient willpower to make the decision to do new or more, at some point in time. If those actions appear too hard, having some smaller ‘fall-back’ options will allow you to make some progress, which helps build your self-efficacy – a critical component of self-esteem. This is where the “to” part of my model comes in … “what will I do, today?” For those so inclined, take a look at the willpower work of Baumeister et al (2000), behaviour change, B.J. Fogg and self-efficacy, Bandura (1977)
OK, you now have some clear and positive goals which stir positive emotion, and a list of identified actions which probably range from almost incidental to quite challenging. In my experience, one of the biggest factors has not yet been considered. The question of how those around you can help (or hinder) your efforts. At this point I turn to the Jim Rohn quote:
“we are the average of the five people we spend the most time with”
The Fowler and Christakis book, Connected, shows us the surprising extent of such influences, both positive and negative. More recently, the concept of High Quality Connections (HQC) has also emerged within the field of Positive Psychology (Dutton).
The ‘3’ in my formula prompts you to identify at least three people who could help you to move toward each goal … a strategy rarely used. These people need to be carefully chosen. Some of the possible selection criteria might be: ‘they make me feel good about myself’, ‘they have achieved similar things in the past’, ‘they will hold me accountable’, ‘they help me clarify my thinking’, ‘they have a relevant skill’. Identifying three people with these skills builds a powerful team with resources you can draw upon.
With ‘1 to 3’ completed, what remains? One important step.
Each day, you need to reflect on your completed actions in a positive manner, ‘for 5’ minutes. You may even choose to capture your thoughts in a journal. Ensure your focus stays on the things you did and how those actions take you toward your goals. This acknowledgement reinforces self-esteem, improves mood and sets you up for continued success. This is also an ideal time to plan tomorrows actions.
1 to 3 for 5 may look simple, but it’s not easy. It requires constant effort and attention. With practice, it can create valuable habits.
Where could you try this formula … today?