The New Year...
Oh that exhilarating time when we can choose to throw out old habits and start anew! There's something so enticing about a fresh start, a chance to review the year past in a bid to have a better year moving forward. A better year can mean so many things, a better relationship, a better diet, a better exercise program...such noble and positive desires that anyone even contemplating them should be applauded. Being reflective and looking for ways to improve are fantastic qualities and important skills to develop if you want to engender real change in your life. But there is one fundamental error that people make at this time which, ultimately, becomes their unraveling. That is, the failure to plan SMART. We will look at this from the case of Bob and his new year plan to handle stress better and, as you'll see, Bob's success really depends on how he focusses on his vision of change, and how he plans the next steps.
Meet Bob. Bob is almost 40 years old. He has been married for 10 years and has 2 kids under the age of 8. He has been working in an office in the city for the last 15 years and is pretty close to paying off the whole mortgage on their small suburban home, however the family is struggling financially, living in an expensive city and struggling to keep up with bills, payments, and living costs. A few years ago Bob realised that the only way he and his family will be able to improve their financial situation is if he moves from his office job into a higher role or a different company. So, last year Bob started studying in the evenings and on weekends. To say the least, Bob had a Very Stressful Year, juggling work, studies, kids and family life, and, truth be told, he didn't always handle his stress well. When he reflected on this over a glass of wine with his wife on New Year's Eve, he boldly proclaimed: "Next year, I won't get so stressed with you and the kids. Things will be different. This is my resolution".
Boom! First mistake right there! Ok, that's dramatic, but I got your attention didn't I? Now consider the following: rather than exiting from a poor habit, create your plan to be something you are moving towards, something enticing!
"I won't get stressed with you and the kids..."
In this scenario, Bob, like most people, focusses on something from the past that he doesn't want in his life anymore. Bob announced that he doesn't want to get stressed anymore. This is ok, but really what he's deciding then, is to take something out of his life, call it 'the deficit', but he isn't considering what he wants to bring into his life, call it 'the positive'. Still, he has a bit of a goal, which is better than nothing, and he pushes on resolutely with his new, hopeful vision. He may even write some things down and follow through on it with some action.
Here's what happens next. Choose from Option 1 or Option 2. Which do you think is more likely to succeed?
Option 1: The typical approach - all or nothing
Bob has already identified that he got too stressed with work, study and family life last year. He may have seen it take a toll on his relationship, his family life, or maybe his wife or a friend even told him. Whatever the case, he has identified the issue and declared that he wants to move towards a life vision which doesn't include this way of handling stress. Bravo Bob! It's not the most enticing or alluring vision, but the fact that he has even considered change is a positive step forward. Many don't even get that far, so let's give him a pat on the back for being open to change.
Bob realises from talking with his wife, that his stress is coming from 3 main areas of his life: time management issues, quality family time issues, and lack of exercise and relaxation. So, in the first week of January, he joins a yoga studio and, not knowing which is best, he buys a bunch of books and CDs on meditation and mindfulness. It seems like a positive step, doesn't it?
Then, because he knows over-work is contributing to his stress, he makes a vow to leave work every day at 5pm on the dot, no excuses.
To improve his family life, he sets up a plan with his wife to spend an extra 3 afternoons a week with the kids and go on a day out as a family every Saturday.
This is something along the lines of what many people do when they decide to make a dramatic change in their life in the new year.
Option 2: The 'Bob is set to thrive' approach:
In this scenario, Bob is again aware of his problem with stress management and spends a good deal of time thinking of his dream living situation. He has realised that the way he deals with stress is having a negative impact on his life, his health, and his relationships, so the motivation to change it is strong. He begins by writing down a clear vision of what he wants. He is aware of what he doesn't want, that is to be stressed and have stress rule his life. So he asks himself what he wants to replace it with.
"I want to not get stressed with my wife and kids" becomes something like, "I want to manage my stress levels and find ease and flow in my day to day life".
Can you see how that moves the goal from wanting something gone, to striving for something new and positive?
The next step is to really focus on the WHY. Why does Bob want this? What are the drivers behind it? Clearly Bob, with a little soul searching, has identified his strong connection to his wife and family and has already realised how important it is to have a positive relationship with them. So, in this case, he may say something like: "I want this so I can have easy, relaxed and fun times with my family and appreciate their presence in my life". So you can see there he has tapped into his personal values, for something outside of himself. He has dug a little deeper to find a really compelling reason to tie his vision to and, in that way, he is setting himself up to have a stronger motivation to succeed. He might even pin a photo of his family above his books in his study to remind him of his goal.
Next, the goals. Remember Scenario 1? Can you guess what might be the danger in the way he set up his strategy in the first week of January?
You got it, it's the goals themselves. They need to be SMART goals and they need to be part of a plan. A SMART goal is as follows:
S - Specific
M - Measurable
A - Achievable/Attractive
R - Realistic
T - Time-specific
So, what can Bob do? Well, to start with, he can be reasonable with himself. With all his good intentions, perhaps Bob really should just take a step back and be honest with himself. He might ask, "What could I be doing in 3 months time to reach my vision of managing my stress load?", and, based on that, "What could I reasonably expect to do this week to move me towards those goals?".
If you want long term change...Be Realistic! If you don't, the main person your harming is you! If you have a dream to run a marathon and you've never run one, would your first training session be a 3km run, or a 30 km run? It's logical! Start small and build up.
Doing it this way, this is something like what Bob's first week of January might be:
- On meditation and yoga, "Am I ready to join a yoga studio and go on a meditation retreat?" - No, I'm not up for it yet.
Ok, what can I do this week?
1. Take the flyers of 3 local yoga studios and talks with the manager of each one about the classes and how they might help him with stress management.
- On leaving work every day at 5pm, "Is this possible right now?" - No, I'm not ready.
Ok, what can I do now?
2. Schedule a meeting with his boss on Wednesday to talk about the distribution of work tasks to see whether some tasks can be taken up by the new Junior Office Worker.
- On scheduling more family time, "How much time can I honestly spare right now, outside of my work and studies?" - Probably no more than one afternoon right now, while I sort out my work load.
3. Plan a picnic for next Saturday afternoon from 1pm with his wife and children.
See how much more manageable this is?
Which option is more likely to succeed in creating long term change? Something broken down into easy steps, or something that start off the size of Mt Everest?
The idea is to start small.
Don't try and do everything at once.
And slowly build on each successful step forward in order to create momentum.
Despite his gallant efforts in Option 1 to become a gym junkie, yogi, family man, there's a good chance that Bob will not be maintaining the strict schedule he has set up and, worse still, if he doesn't arrange things properly around his work and study tasks, there is a good chance that he'll focus on his family and new found yoga, only to have the pile of work building in his absence! If he really wants to manage his work and study time so that he has time and energy for his family and is able to manage his stress, he needs a clear and well laid out strategy, with SMART goals.
So, here's a little game plan for Bob, and for anyone else who has made a bold resolution for the coming year:
Step 1: Get a piece of paper and write down a very compelling, positive vision.
Step 2: Spend some time thinking and writing about your why, your motivation for change - use visuals to really get your heart moving on it!
Step 3: Think about and write down what you would like to be doing in 3 months time to get yourself closer to your vision - and make it SMART!
Step 4: Think about and write down what you can do in the next week to take you your first step towards your vision - and again, make it SMART!
Step 5: Take the first step! Then take another small step, and another, and another and after a while look up and you'll see that you're well on your way to reaching your long term goal!!
***** I hope you get something out of this little story about Bob. Just a little disclaimer here. I've simplified Bob's story and Bob's game plan right down to make it more palatable for a little blog post. In actual fact, it often takes quite a while to really nut out the Whats and the Whys of making a big change in life. In our first 90 minute coaching session we explore this and more, such as blocks, strategies, and value systems in order to really help you define and shape your vision of success and make a clear and compelling strategy to get you there. We've managed to condense the simplified version into Bob's Story, but I'm sure you'll appreciate the basic concept and use some pointers in your own goal-making. *****
Best of luck!!