How You (and Your Kids!) Can Learn to Achieve Goals
Add more productivity into your life!
You know the deal: you want to workout regularly so you join a gym, but you never go. Or you decide to go on a diet, and you only last a couple days before the cheesecake beckons and you give up. Or maybe you're ready to develop a new skill that will help you actualize the vision you've always dreamed for your career. This involves investing time after work and even some weekends. Trouble is, by 6pm you'd much prefer to relax with some Netflix and wine. Before you know it, the evening is gone and you haven't logged any time honing your new skill. "It's okay," you say to yourself as you trudge off to bed. "There's always tomorrow..."
These scenarios are all too familiar. Trust me when I say that we can all relate to these lapses in willpower - the experience of being stuck in the mud, fixed in one place, and blocked from achieving the success that we crave. But there is a way out. You can achieve your goals, and teach your kids how as well!
Todd Herman, the founder of Peak Athlete , which is a performance coaching company working with pro and Olympic athletes on the psychology of winning, is careful to acknowledge that we all have access to two parallel structures in our minds. In a conversation with Marie Forleo entitled "5 Steps To Change Your Life and Make It Stick," Todd describes the "Ow Brain," which is the part of our mind that clings to our comfort zone and feeds us stories about being stuck and bored. The "Wow Brain" takes a challenge and views it through the lenses of growth, confidence, and adventure.
Fortunately, adults and kids all come equipped with both of these mindsets, and activating the Wow Brain might be easier than you imagined! Todd identified the following five steps to shifting gears when you begin to sense that you or your child is stuck in the mud.
Set a vision that is clear and specific.
When making a change, it's difficult to outline an effective plan if the end goal is fuzzy or out of focus. How do we move towards a vague concept like physical fitness without first clarifying what it means to be physically fit? Todd encourages us to set our intention by developing a vision that is tangible. What will it look like to achieve your goal? Perhaps your idea of physical fitness is the ability to run a mile, or to play a game of basketball with your children without running out of breath. The more concrete and detailed you are during the goal definition phase, the easier it will be to initiate the switch from Ow Brain to Wow Brain - especially seeing as "uncertainty is the enemy of Ow Brainers."
Set trigger goals.
Todd defines trigger goals as micro changes you must make on the path to accomplishing your ultimate goal. He uses the example of committing to put on your exercise gear four times each week. On the face, this may sound like a silly or even insignificant goal, but it also effectively places you on the path to walking out the door and completing your workout. If you want to accomplish a goal, be it big or small, you still must take that first step in order to poise yourself for success, and trigger goals push you towards taking those steps. As an additional benefit, Todd notes that even tiny actions like getting dressed for the gym actually trigger the release of neurotransmitters, like dopamine, that play a role in motivation and lead to a cascading effect when it comes to goal attainment.
Set improvement goals
Improvement goals take aspects of the first two steps - specifically defining your goal and setting intermediate goals on the path to that larger goal - and combine them by asking you to set goals that include numbers with dates attached to them. As an example, you might say that by a week into your exercise program, you want to shave 30 seconds off the time it takes you to walk a mile. Improvement goals are intended to create a feedback loop so that you can more easily check in and monitor progress to determine if you are improving and growing. They also provide you the opportunity to make adjustments as needed, as well as boosting confidence in your burgeoning abilities, which is a hallmark of the Wow Brain that you are carefully cultivating.
Gather a tribe around yourself.
There is a vast body of research endorsing the physical, mental, and even economic benefits of social support. There is truly nothing that compares to having a supportive network of family, friends, coaches, mentors, or even online communities to facilitate your successful journey toward behavior change and goal attainment through the encouragement, wisdom, and new perspectives they provide. Todd recommends engaging in one of the ultimate human experiences, which is to connect through sharing with other people, by discussing trigger and improvement goals with your tribe. And don't be afraid to let others know the type of support that you find, well, supportive (we all have that one person who sincerely wishes to help but ends up making things worse through criticism or excessive, unsolicited advice!)
Script your setbacks.
The final step you must take is perhaps the most important, as it involves prepping yourself for inevitable setbacks - or, as Todd calls it, "the positive power of negative preparation." Scripting your setbacks involves anticipating the people, places, and situations that may challenge your willpower as you attempt to make a difficult behavioral change. Think back to the healthy eating example in the beginning of this article. If you know that you're about to head to a business lunch that includes an all expenses paid dessert bar at the end of the meal, you can plan ahead for how you will react to that situation. Instead of facing the dessert bar without a plan and caving in when someone tells you that you just HAVE to try the cheesecake, you can call upon your advance preparation and provide a firm "no, thank you" in response to the suggestion that you should go against your plan and take a bite (or two, or three) of cheesecake. Thinking through all the possible setbacks helps to prepare us, both mentally and physically, for the success we've been building towards all this time.
No one is denying that change is hard, but it doesn't have to be impossible, regardless of what your Ow Brain may be telling you. The stories we feed ourselves, that we're too tired to change, or too busy, or too stressed out, or too comfortable living the way we've always lived, are just that - stories we create to keep ourselves safe and comfortable. The Ow Brain may try to convince you to stay miserable and bored, stuck in a rut, avoiding the discomfort that comes with change. However, by keying in on the behavior change principles outlined by Todd and utilized by hundreds of successful athletes, Olympians, and business executives, you can unlock the part of your mind that is begging to turn your visions into realities, your stuckness into momentum and growth, your boredom into excitement, your comfort zone into transformation, and your Ow into Wow.
And now that you know these incredible powers are contained within you, what are you waiting for?! It's time to go out there, define your vision, set some goals, gather support, prepare for challenges, and change your life!