Goal Setting Tag

How dry was your January? Are you a slave to habit?

Create resolutions that work for you NOT against you

New year, new you? A cliché perhaps, but each New Year brings excitement and promise to millions, even billions of people across the globe.

New Year’s resolutions date back to Roman times when promises were made at the beginning of the year to the god Janus (after whom the month January is named). The Romans replaced pagan rituals with Christian ones and the concept of New Year pledges has endured in various forms throughout the ages.

A panacea for self-improvement, New Year’s resolutions come in many guises, most commonly health and fitness, financial, charitable and work-related goals. But no matter how good our intentions or how worthy the cause we don’t always achieve what we set out to do.

New Year’s flop

According to a study of 3,000 people by Richard Wiseman (University of Bristol), 88% of those who set New Year resolutions fail, despite the fact that 52% of the study’s participants were confident of success at the beginning.

A great example is fitness goals! Gym memberships soar in the New Year as perhaps the most common resolution is to ‘get fit and lose weight’. Throughout January every class is fully booked and it’s almost impossible to get your turn on the running machine. Come February however it’s business as usual.

The only way to succeed is to “negotiate” a settlement between our logical and emotional brains.

Steve Peters

Get a grip on your emotions

The fundamental problem with New Year’s resolutions is that they are set using our logical brain – the newer, more rational part of our brain that has developed over the last 2 million years.

Our emotional brain on the other hand is 500 million years old. It is responsible for our survival instincts and regularly overrides our logical brain.

So while our logical brain is telling us to get fit, lose weight and go to the gym – our emotional brain will convince us that cake and television are far more rewarding.

Research shows that emotion is five times stronger than logic, so we will never “win” over our emotional brain. Steve Peters, the elite sports psychologist, suggests that the only way to succeed is to “negotiate” a settlement between our logical and emotional brains.

Breaking down barriers

As an example, last year I decided I’d like to include yoga as a regular part of my schedule. I realised that going to weekly one-hour classes would not work for me. There were too many barriers – my busy schedule, business travel and even the thought of a one-hour class was enough to put me off. Instead, I reached an agreement with myself that four minutes of yoga first thing in the morning was a commitment I could achieve wherever I was.

Just a few minutes of yoga every day may seem trivial, but over the course of a year I have reaped benefits. Most importantly, by minimising barriers I have stuck to my resolution.

Make it easy

In his book The Happiness Advantage Shawn Achor suggests ‘activation energy’ is a barrier we need to overcome to achieve goals. He specifically refers to the 20 Second Rule’ – that is, if something takes longer than 20 seconds to activate the chances are we won’t do it. If we are setting out to make a habit we must decrease the activation time. Leaping out of bed in the morning to do yoga takes no activation energy, whereas putting on gym kit and driving to a class takes a lot of activation energy, and is therefore less likely to succeed.

Just don’t forget – when setting those goals, your emotional brain must agree!

Are we happier at home or work? The answer might surprise you!

Where are YOU happiest? It can’t be at work… or can it?!

When I suggest that people are happier at work than at home, the usual response is utter denial. After all: don’t we look forward to our well-earned personal time?

Well yes, we do – but there’s a catch. While at work we’re more often engaged in activities, solving problems and enjoying achievements that result in increased overall fulfilment – and this isn’t necessarily true at home.

Leading psychologist and professor Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi conducted a seminal study on happiness. He monitored the mood of thousands of subjects, from a variety of roles and backgrounds, on an hourly basis over the course of a year. His findings were overwhelming: people were happier at work than not.

Csikszentmihalyi asks, ‘What makes a life worth living?’ He suggests that money is not the key to happiness, finding instead that pleasure and satisfaction are achieved from activities that increase our state of ‘flow’. In this state we are fully immersed in what we are doing and experiencing feelings of absorption, engagement, skill and fulfillment.

After a shift at work our brain tends to shut down to conserve energy

During the transition from work to home we often take a dive and lose our sense of achievement. Generally speaking, at home we tend to slip into routines that don’t offer a sense of achievement or that state of flow. Instead we’re sucked into mundane chores of fixing dinner, putting the kids to bed or watching TV.

Why does this happen? Most of us don’t have the same formal process at home as we do at work. We’re more like Alice in Wonderland, drifting aimlessly – as the Cheshire Cat aptly stated: ‘If you don’t know where you want to get to, then it doesn’t matter which way you go’. In other words we amble along – rather than trying to achieve specific satisfying outcomes. But there’s more to it….

Equal measures of stretch and support keeps our brain in peak condition for optimal performance – in essence, achieving this balance is what good leadership is all about!

Flex your brain muscle

The brain is extremely energy hungry. Despite accounting for just 2% of our body weight it consumes a massive 20% of our entire energy consumption

Homo sapiens evolved at a time when food was a scarce resource, so our brain is designed to conserve energy by switching to autopilot, or ‘standby’ mode whenever it can (for example at the weekend).

At work, a good manager will be skilled at keeping the brain awake by ensuring employees are in the ‘flow zone’ – sufficiently stretching them to stay challenged. However, there is a delicate balance – too much stretch causes stress or anxiety and can severely reduce the brain’s operating potential. Not enough stretch and we quickly become bored or disengaged.

Get in the flow zone

Equal measures of stretch and support keeps our brain in peak condition for optimal performance – in essence, achieving this balance is what good leadership is all about!

The minute we clock off work our brain tends to automatically shut down to conserve energy, and we don’t have an “achievement” mindset or focus.

We justify this by saying to ourselves “I just need some chill-out time”. This is all well and good, however there’s a fine line between chilling out and boredom. All too often, well-deserved chill-out time turns into passivity, for example slumping down in front of the TV for hours at a time. This can breed feelings of dissatisfaction, despondency and even self-condemnation.

As we’ve seen, without a specific challenge, our default setting is ‘minimise effort’. Some people overcome this by engaging a coach. Left to our own devices we don’t stretch ourselves, our brain switches to autopilot and ultimately, we don’t achieve fulfilment and happiness. A good coach will provide stretch and support in equal measure – striking the balance between work and life contentment.


Is fear of failure your barrier to success?

It may seem counter intuitive, but by giving your employees permission to fail, you could increase their success!

As business leaders we need to constantly be stepping outside of our comfort zone. In my profession public speaking is an absolute must, but I wasn’t always as confident about it as I am now.

A few years ago I volunteered to do a three-minute stand-up comedy routine in front of a considerable audience. I was stepping way outside my comfort zone into the toughest environment in which to hone my skills. If I could do this, then I would have nothing to fear from any professional audience.

For this challenge, I had to adopt a growth mindset: I might make a mess of it, I might be a complete flop, but trying, failing, and learning from mistakes is the way to ultimate success.  So I had to remind myself “What’s the worst that could happen?” No one would laugh. I’d look stupid. I’d be so embarrassed that I would want the ground to swallow me up? Was I prepared to suffer those consequences? Yes I was!

Alright on the night …

I stood up in front of the audience and lights burned brightly in my eyes. I could see the dark silhouettes of the audience stretching right to the back of the room. This was it, I was on. I started well, got the laughs I expected. I have to admit the later jokes got a few groans, but all the while I felt the audience was on my side.

If I had adopted a fixed mindset I would have put huge pressure on myself to be an instant success, labeling myself a failure if it had gone badly. I would be a “nobody” rather than a “somebody”. A fixed mindset would have me believe that I’ve either got what it takes to be funny or I don’t, rather than thinking of it as a skill I can develop.

Trying, failing, and learning from mistakes is the way to ultimate success

Let them fail … but provide a safety net

It’s critical for business leaders to encourage a growth mindset in their people if they want to inspire and generate a culture of innovation and growth. What can you do to allow your people to fail safely – and learn from the experience?

Google is no stranger to this. It allows employees to take time out of their working schedule to come up with new ideas. Many of these ideas may well fail, but it only takes a few successful ideas to make Google millions. Taking on new challenges and being prepared to fail is the only way to grow.

As Sir Winston Churchill said “Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm.