Are you fighting an uphill battle with your goals? Pay attention to what you're fighting. (Part 2)
We’re wrapping up our conversation on goals by taking a closer look at the resistance we all encounter when we work on a goal. Earlier in our goal conversation we talked about uncovering our underlying “why” goals, being realistic with our calendars, and breaking down our goals into action items. Last week we talked about the importance of not just pushing through resistance, but taking the time to examine what sort of resistance we’re experiencing. Often the resistance is there because we need to make some sort of change in our goal or how we’re approaching it.
(Fair warning: this tip is full of categories and examples and is therefore pretty long. It’s broken up into two sections. This is part two. Part one can be found here.)
Tip 4: Pay attention to the obstacles that pop up. PART 2
Is it a “Should”?: Sometimes we set a goal for ourselves and get nowhere with it month after month no matter how often we calendar an action item or look at our priorities. I had one client who kept talking about wanting to be more directive with her employees at work. This came up time and time again and she just wasn’t doing it. Finally, I asked “Is this something you think is important? Or is this something someone else said you should do?” Light bulbs went off for this client. Her supervisor wanted her to manage the way he did. But that wasn’t her style or where her power lay. Her power as a boss lay in the relationships and culture she created among her team, not because she told them firmly what she expected. Once she realized this was a should, and not one of her actual goals, she shifted her action items. Her goal continued be to improve her management ability, but her action items shifted to incorporate more of her own skills and talents and less of her managers.
Another client need to create a strategic plan for his business. He was feeling stalled out and feeling guilty about not making the progress he wanted to on it. Through our discussion, we discovered that the way he was approaching the strategic plan was the way he’d always been taught to: linearly with static items. This strategy works for a lot of businesses and people, but it didn’t work for him because he isn’t a linear or static person. He needed his strategic plan to better match the way he worked best. We came up with a new strategy and he enthusiastically completed his plan within the next week.
If you think this might a source of resistance for you meeting on of your goals, it’s time to have an honest conversation with yourself. Is this truly your goal? Or is this a “should” that someone else put on you and you’ve accepted. Or perhaps this really is your goal, but the action items you’re using are “shoulds”? There’s nothing less motivating that someone else telling us we should be doing it their way. Don’t let someone else imposing their “should” on you become an obstacle to reaching your goals. Don’t get me wrong. Sometimes someone else’s “should” can be incredibly helpful, but only when you can adopt it as your own. Because it has worked for them, doesn’t mean it is going to work for you in the same way. Look for the wisdom within it that you can extract and adapt it to work for you. (*Important caveat here: Let me reiterate I’m not talking about work objectives and the way your boss has told you to complete a task. I’m talking about personal and professional goals of your own.)
Internal motivation: Sometimes our typical motivation that we’ve grown to rely on is nowhere to be found. Maybe you typically pride yourself on your internal motivation and work ethic but cannot seem to get it together on this project. This might be time to tap into your external motivation resources. Sharing a goal with others is one of the best ways to achieve what you set out to achieve. Some folks recommend telling someone else about your goal. I’m of the belief that just telling someone about your goal can actually work against you. Talking to people about your goal can trick your brain into feeling like you’ve just put effort in on it. Your urge to make progress will be satiated after your talk and you won’t make any actual progress. I recommend you take it further. Don’t just talk to people about your goal - find someone to partner with that has the same or similar goal. An accountability group or partner is a great way to leverage your external motivation. One of the best ways to meet a goal is to make it bigger than yourself. You can do this by having a deadline that others are counting on you to meet and by involving others in the outcome. You’ll be more likely to succeed.
Habits*: You start every day knowing this is the day you’re going to take the actions you know will help you toward your goal. And you finish every evening looking back at where you went wrong and promising tomorrow will be different. Why do we have the best of intentions and then not act on them? Because most of our daily actions are habit based. Our brains try to reduce the amount of thinking work necessary and rely on habits as much as possible. If you find yourself in this situation, you need to understand how habits work and then use them to your advantage.
Habits have three main parts: The cue, the action, the reward. Consider your goal – you want to lose weight. (This, no surprise, is the most popular goal in the United States.) Next, consider the actions that you keep vowing not to repeat. Is it snacking at 3pm? Multiple glasses of wine with dinner? Too many desserts? Identify it and identify when it happens. What’s going on right before you do it? Are you bored? Stressed? Just walked into the kitchen after a long day at work? These are your cues. When this cue happens, you stop making a conscious decision and start acting out of habit.
Let me give you an example. I work primarily from home. When my kids get home in the afternoon, I stop work and hang out with them, getting snacks, doing homework together and generally focusing on parenting. It’s become a habit that I snack along with the kids, even though I’m not really hungry. I leave my office, hang out in the kitchen and start mindlessly putting things in my mouth. Before I know it, I’ve consumed enough calories for the day in an hour or so.
My cue is hanging out with the kids in the kitchen in the afternoon. If I don’t want to follow this habit, I need to change my cue. I do this by taking them to the park, visiting friends or running errands after school instead. Doing that for about an hour is enough to break me out of my habit cycle of mindless snacking in the afternoon.
Maybe your habit is to drink a glass of wine while making dinner. It relaxes you and it’s fun while you’re cooking. No problem, except you’re really trying to lose some weight and time after time that glass turns into the bottle over the course of the night. You need to change your cue. You’ll need to experiment to find what works, but it may be as simple as moving where the wine is stored. If it’s in another room after you pour your one glass, the walk you’re forced to take to get it will temporarily pull you out of your habit behavior and cause you to think about if this is what you really want to be doing. This is your opportunity to decide.
Habits are highly individualized. There’s a lot to dive into and a lot of possibility with this one. A coach can help you figure out how to make habit change work for you.
Every time you create and work toward a goal, you’ll likely encounter resistance of some kind. Don’t ignore it or try to power through it. Resistance can be a teacher if you’ll listen. Remember: “Resistance is a sign that something important is going on. It is not a problem to be solved or overcome.” (Block, 2011) Pause and examine what it’s telling you, then redesign your action steps to become more effective to keep you moving toward your goal.
You’ve got this.
*Two great books on habits are The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg and Atomic Habits by James Clear. They were both life changing for me and I highly recommend them.
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