Effective Action - Will “The Biggest Loser” Stay A Winner?
An Important Question
How do you make significant changes in your life so you can achieve your goals and dreams? Answer: Know what you want, plan how to get it, take stepwise action and keep going until it’s done.
This glib answer makes setting and achieving goals sound so easy, doesn’t it? And yet, let’s be honest, making changes to your behavior so you can achieve your dreams is tough, really tough. Fact is, if you have a track record in any area, it’s highly likely you’ll continue down the same road; think "credit scores"
The week I wrote this marked the end of another season of "The Biggest Loser". What is the likelihood that the winners will keep their weight off? Frankly, it’s not good. The first season’s winner—Ryan Benson—has gained most of the weight he lost and is back to 300 lbs.
After all, we set these goals for ourselves. Why is it so damn difficult to achieve them?
Over the next three articles, I’m going to teach you how to overcome the powerful psychological forces that cripple most people’s attempts at achieving their goals. In truth, your brain is chock full of mental quirks ready to drag you back into your old habits whenever you try and change.
The Three Steps
There are three core steps to achieving your goals:
- 1. Define your journey
- 2. Plan your approach
- 3. Pull the trigger
Step 1: Define Your Journey
I recently had the pleasure of giving a series of workshops for the pre-sales force at a major corporation on how to give a dynamic presentation. One of the core teaching points was the need for absolute clarity around their objective on the platform. How were their prospects currently thinking, feeling and acting (Perspective A)? And, how did they want their prospects to think, feel and act after their sales presentation (Perspective B)? Once these salespeople clearly defined the journey they wanted to take their prospects on—from Perspective A to Perspective B—delivering an engaging and persuasive sales presentation became much easier.
In exactly the same way, if you want to achieve a goal, you must define your journey. You must have crystal clear answers to two core questions...
Question #1: Where are you now? (Situation A)
Be honest! Compared to this time last year, how much happier, more successful and fulfilled are you? What bad habits have you changed in the last twelve months? Do you even think about reaching for the sky any more? Or have you simply given up on your goals and dreams? If thinking about your current circumstances makes you feel bad, don’t beat yourself up, simply take responsibility—full responsibility—for the choices that got you to where you are now; and get ready to move forward.
Question #2: Where do you want to be? (Situation B)
Before you begin a project, you must have 100% clarity around your desired outcome. Here are some things to ponder:
- What are you truly passionate about? When you burn with enthusiasm and excitement, what’s on your mind? It might be creating software, singing or NASCAR. Do you love working with children? What sets your "passion pulse" racing? (Thank you Marcia Wieder!)
- What might your unique contribution be? What are you really great at doing? What have you always gotten compliments for? In what ways did you excel at college?
- How does your goal serve those around you? We’re not talking "Mother Teresa" or "Gandhi" here. Rather, how could what you’re really great at benefit other people?
In summary: Your objective is to define the journey—from "Situation A" to "Situation B"—that would most enable you to passionately express your uniqueness in the service of other people. It’s this excitement for your chosen path and sense of purpose that will drive you to continue making the effort and changes you need en route to achievement.
Prime Your Brain
Here’s where most people make their first mistake, they never clearly define their journey. And, as a result, fail to prime their brain for success; a critical element to achieving your goals and dreams.
When you prime a pump, you set it up for immediate use. In a similar way, when you clearly define your journey—from "Situation A" to "Situation B"—you prime your brain to spot opportunities, insights and solutions that will help you achieve your goal.
Unfortunately, if you don’t define your journey, your brain doesn’t get primed and you’re likely to overlook the clues that would move you towards your objective.
In the context of goal-setting, here’s how you prime your brain...
- Step 1: Write down specific answers to the question: Where am I now? (Situation A)
- Step 2: Write down specific answers to the question: Where do I want to be? (Situation B)
- Step 3: Mull over your answers, define your journey and commit your plan to paper.
In England, as passengers board a subway train, they hear the announcement: "mind the gap". This is a warning not to step into the space between the edge of the platform and the subway car. The warning is equally relevant when you set yourself a goal.
When you think about the gap between where you are today (Situation A) and where you’d like to be (Situation B), you should start to feel uncomfortable. The bigger the gap between Situations A and B, the more dissatisfaction you’ll feel with your current circumstances. This discomfort, which results from holding two conflicting thoughts at the same time, is called cognitive dissonance.
Close The Gap
In order to resolve your discomfort, your brain will try to close the gap between Situations A and B. One way to close the gap is to give up; generally accompanied by a flurry of rationalizations and excuses. "I don’t have the right computer program," "I’ll do it tomorrow," etc. The other way to relieve dissonance and close the gap is by taking aim at your goal.
What determines which option you’ll choose? Answer: The size of the gap between your current situation and goal, relative to your confidence that you can attain your goal.
This is another common mistake that people make when goal setting. They assume—in a motivational, self-help kind of way—that the bigger their dream (i.e. the bigger the gap between Situations A and B), the more likely they are to achieve it.
Shooting for the stars will certainly increase your cognitive dissonance and hence your discomfort. Unfortunately, if you ramp up your discomfort too far beyond your level of confidence then the odds of succeeding tend towards zero.
Here’s a better approach: Aim for as big a gap between Situations A and B as you can while, at the same time, keeping it believable; for you. I call this approach "The Goldilocks Strategy"…
The Goldilocks Strategy
Remember in the fairy story ‘Goldilocks and The Three bears’ when she first discovers the bowls of porridge and the beds? In both cases, one option was too small, one too big and the third…just right.
With respect to the journey you’ve defined for yourself, if the gap between Situations A and B is…
- (a) Too small: You won’t experience any cognitive dissonance and therefore won’t have any motivation to change your behavior; you’re simply not reaching high enough.
- (b) Too big: You won’t be totally convinced you can attain your goal.
- (c) Just Right: Chart a campaign which you feel confident that, with focused persistence, you can win. A journey that will certainly be difficult and inspire you to greater performance but, nonetheless, absolutely believable for you.
For example, let’s say your goal is to write a novel…
- You might believe you can complete your novel, find a literary agent and convince a major New York publishing house to publish it. Great! Make that your goal, it’s just right!
- If, instead, you skipped the novel and committed to writing regularly in your journal, that would be setting your sights way too low.
- But don’t make your goal getting to #1 on the ‘New York Times’ Bestseller List unless you truly believe you can do it. If you are not truly convinced in your soul that you’re up to the task then, for you, the goal is too big.
To be clear, I’m not saying you couldn’t get on a bestseller list or that you should settle for less than your dream. I am saying that, at this point in time, your goal should be something that’s you find believable. Something you can wrap your head around and clearly visualize yourself achieving.
So, if you want to use the psychological power of cognitive dissonance to your advantage, ask yourself: Is my dream too small, too big or just right? In Summary:
There are three steps to achieving a goal. (1) Define Your Journey. (2) Plan Your Approach. (3) Pull The Trigger.
In this article we talked about how to define a believable journey that primes your brain. Once you have clarity around your journey you can plan your approach, the second step towards achieving your dreams, hopes and desires: Goal Setting - Part 2