New Years Resolutions: PASS or FAIL? – 3 Tips to Get it Right

As we begin another year, there is often a sense of hope for an improved version of what has gone on before. Creating New Years resolutions to make your life better has become a tradition in many parts of the world.

Some New Years Resolution stats:

Top 5 New Years resolutions for 2014

1 Lose Weight
2 Getting Organized
3 Spend Less, Save More
4 Enjoy Life to the Fullest
5 Staying Fit and Healthy

Percentage of Americans who usually make New Year’s Resolutions 45%
Percentage of people who are successful in achieving their resolution 8%

How is that working for you? Are you one of the 8%? Or not?

The thing is, the mechanics of our brain create predictable roadblocks to achieving those New Years resolutions. So, what can you do about it? Implement the 3 following tips based on the psychology of excellence:

Add WHY to your WHAT

  • A key survival strategy in our instinctual brain is the conservation of energy… that’s right, being lazy is an instinct when not under survival pressure. To overcome survival laziness in going after WHAT you want, it helps to find multiple big reasons WHY you want to achieve your goal. Want to lose weight? Yes, do it because you want to feel healthier… but reach further: Because it will inspire your kids or your loved ones. Because it enables you to go skiing with your grandkids 10 years from now. Because it means you will have more energy every day to achieve your career and financial goals. Because it will help you complete your bucket list… and so on.

TO DO: Write down the WHAT (result) and the all the big WHYs (reasons) you can think of. Read them every morning to get you jumping out of bed and into action.

 

Measure your progress by ACTION not results

  • Results don’t create results. Actions do. Get your actions right and the results will take care of themselves. Problem is, most people only measure progress by the results. If you have a good action plan (helps to get some input from an expert), the behavioural science of change tells you to expect more failure than success at the early stages of your journey. The challenge is that failure also triggers the laziness instinct. The key is to measure your progress by how well you have stuck to your plan. In the weight loss example, not getting results early on can be discouraging, especially when you are not celebrating your actions. Sometimes, we also get short term results from the wrong actions, which can do more damage in the long term.

TO DO: Acknowledge yourself daily and reward yourself weekly for completing your action plan. Enjoy the results when they come, but remind yourself that the actions are what got you there.

 

Take BREAKS at the right time

  • The best athletes in the world have learned that disciplined recovery, scheduled time out from their busy training regimens, is as important to achieving their Olympic sized goals as the training itself. Many of us, however, have been programmed to think that more is always better; and although big goals do demand big effort, creating personal downtime that re-charges you daily and weekly is essential to maintaining the energy required to stay in action.

TO DO: Schedule 30min in every working day to do something enjoyable and relaxing just for you. Plan for at least a half to a whole day of the weekend to be without work or other stressors.

Mental Toughness: Turning Disadvantage to Advantage

This is a picture of Steve Redgrave and Matthew Pinsent winning gold at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics – Redgrave’s 4th Gold in successive Olympics – inspiring! I grew up in the shadow of an Olympian – my father. He was pretty good at accomplishing big goals, and even better at pushing himself when things got hard. He coached me when I was in high school rowing, and inspired me to push to the top of the sport as well. One thing that has always stuck in my head was my dad telling me to turn the weakest part of my race into my strongest.

In rowing, often the hardest part of the 2000m race, and one that is predictably many a rower’s weakness, is the 3rd 500m. In fact, the third quarter of any physically or mentally challenging endeavour is often deemed psychologically the most difficult. Why? Well… you have only just passed the halfway point, you are already exhausted and you just can’t imagine repeating the same distance, at the same intensity, without collapsing first. At least in the final quarter, you can sniff the finish line and you will find that little bit extra to keep going.

I work with Fremantle FC in the AFL (Australian Rules Football). In the AFL, the third quarter is referred to as the “Premiereship Quarter” – for obvious, similar reasons to rowing – whoever can get through the third quarter’s physical and mental challenge better than their opponent is most likely to win.

The idea of turning weakness to strength, is a psychological trick that demands deliberate choice and extraordinary effort in the face of massive physical and mental resistance.

MIND GAMES

Many times in my life, I have applied this idea of playing tricks with your mind, to consciously choose to do what is unnatural in the face of a pain, challenge, stress, and demands… and I have found that you can achieve so much more in those moments if you do choose to think differently about the challenge. Moreover, if you have made it a habit to keep choosing the harder path, to push harder against the grain, at that point where you feel weakest and when most people give up, you will find yourself consistently stepping up to new and unexpected challenges in all areas of life, not just in that one activity.

(There is a caveat to all of this: pushing exceedingly hard at key moments under pressure can only be accomplished by balancing the all-out effort with appropriate down time and recovery after those pressure moments have passed. See my previous blog on the Science of Chillaxing)

What can you do in your life?

Find a place where you have declared something is too hard, or where it might be deemed normal to back off the effort a bit… and choose to think about it differently, decide to feed off the pressure and the challenge, play tricks with your mind and tell it to use fear, fatigue, and feelings of quitting as reminders to go a bit harder. Turn weakness to strength and you will have a distinct advantage over those who give in to the pain and stress of those tough points in life.

Love to hear your thoughts!

Dr Sean R

Big Why – One Goal

BIG WHY

I have been spending a lot of time talking with my business partner, Joe Roberts, about the ‘big why’ – the purpose for being here on the planet. What is the big reason I exist? What is my driving purpose? What is yours?… AND if we can figure that out… what can you do to achieve that one big goal? What might stop you? What might keep you going?

Goal Simplicity

In my life, I had a big goal growing up – to win an Olympic Gold Medal. My dad is a former Olympian, so I knew it was possible. When I was working relentlessly toward that goal of Olympic success, I noticed that the work was hard but the task was simple. The reason for the simplicity was that I had a singular goal to which every ounce of my energy was dedicated. Every morning I woke up and I knew exactly what I was doing and why I was doing it: training hard to win Olympic Gold.

Sure, physically, there was a lot of effort and pain tolerance required to train 3 times per day, 6 days per week for 11 months of the year; there were days where I didn’t feel like getting out of my warm, comfortable bed in the dead of the west coast winter, with rain pelting down in 2C temperatures at 6 in the morning; there were also periods of injury that kept me from performing at my best, and that required bouts of rehab; and there was the missing out on everything else that I might have wanted to do with my life. However, I was happy.

I think I mostly felt happy because life made sense, I was clear on my purpose, and I understood what I needed to do to fulfill on my purpose.

My story didn’t end how I originally planned it to – twice, I had the opportunity to make the Olympic team, a shot to represent our country to be the best in the world, twice I made the commitment to do whatever it takes – but twice I didn’t make it because of injury. Nonetheless, I can say that the experience created a deeper WHY for me.  Missing out, failing to achieve the goal, was one of those life experience that you would not volunteer for, but one from which I could create my greatest asset, my greatest contribution back to the world. The experience has helped me be more empathic as a psychologist, created humility in my approach to life, and really prepared me for bigger and deeper work that may not have come my way if I had a gold medal around my neck. I pursued a big goal with 100% commitment, and failed to achieve that goal, but that commitment to the pursuit of a simple, yet enormously challenging goal, has given me a gift of insight, and I believe has prepared me to help others do bigger and better things in their lives.

Goal Complexity

Nonetheless, since giving up the pursuit of elite sport, I have felt that, in many ways, life has been a lot tougher, particularly around this whole concept of life purpose and the pursuit of big goals.

 

Competitive sport generally has a clear objective – win the game, run the fastest time, score the most points – and with modern coaching and sport science, it is generally pretty clear about how you go about achieving the objective, albeit not easy.

Almost every other pursuit I have known, outside of competitive sport, is a lot more complex, often with multiple objectives, more intervening variables that are not in my control, and often lacking less clarity about how I might go about accomplishing it. For example, when I think about achieving success in my business – the measure of success is subjective (is it a certain $$ amount? is it a certain position achieved in my area of expertise? is it the difference I have made to clients or customers? all of the above? or something else?) compared to the mostly objective measure of success in competitive sport.

Primary Motivators

What I have noticed about going after any goal in life is that there are 2 primary motivators – pain and purpose.

Pain is an effective, immediate motivator – when you are under pressure to pay your rent, to support a family, to keep your job, to fight an illness, get better from injury, etc. you will work hard because the effort is necessary to avoid more significant pain. The problem is that pain is not a good long term driver for behaviour for 2 reasons: (1) if pain is high and continues for any length of time past 3-4 months, the likelihood for burnout and exhaustion increases dramatically, which creates even more pain with an increased likelihood for failure (2) if pain decreases because you have hit a comfort zone, it is easy to lose motivation and just go on cruise control.

Purpose becomes the most relevant motivator once the pain has been taken care of. Pursuing big goals takes a relentlessly repetitive connection to purpose. By their very nature, big goals are not necessary, and although some of the most difficult things to achieve, requiring the most effort, big goals are typically not driven by pain. Pain most often finds relief in the achievement of smaller goals.

Question is – How hard are you willing to work to achieve your biggest goal?

Even more specifically – How hard are you willing to work on YOU, so that you have gotten out of your own way to achieve your one BIG goal?

AIR is Essential

What I have learned is that there are 3 constant areas to stay on top of when reaching for a state of high performance, when trying to achieve your big goals.

1. Inspired purpose

2. Action accountability

3. Removal of roadblocks

You gotta find a way to tap into purpose, into your ‘big why’. Simon Sinek has driven this home for organizations (check out his TED talk if you haven’t already). However, you can’t just stop at purpose, you have to get in action to fulfill on that purpose. Purpose without actions just becomes daydreaming. AND… somewhere along the way you have to acknowledge your ‘human beingness’ – work hard to resolve the inevitable personal and situational roadblocks that will pop up along the way. Living in denial of roadblocks is a formula for breakdown.

I have come up with a simple little formula that puts this all together, whether you are pursuing them yourself, working as a team, or leading others to achieve them. I have re-arranged the letters to get to a nicer acronym… it’s about the AIR we breathe… hope it helps!

A + I – R = P

A = accountability, action

I = inspiration, purpose

R = roadblocks, personal and situational

P = performance, realized potential, success

Maximize A & I at all times, minimize R and you will achieve your biggest goals

A Big Goal

Right now Joe and I are working on an exciting project; the objective of which is to raise awareness and money and to engage people to take action to help a worthy cause – positively changing the lives of the homeless youth of Canada. It is a big goal and we have some big ideas on how we are going to go about achieving that goal. Stay tuned – and let us know about your big goals!

You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take. – Wayne Gretzky

All the best,

Dr Sean R

www.seanorichardson.com.au

P.S. To check out Simon Sinek’s TED talk on the big WHY – Click Here

Fail Going 100% – Actions before Results

Results Matter

Whether you are trying to achieve your quarterly budget or win the Stanley Cup, there is no doubt we are out there to produce results. Why work so hard if it is not to get rewarded with the thing you have been striving so hard to achieve?

I have been a competitive athlete most of my life, and I have also been running my own business now for 10 years, and I can tell you I love the thrill of the big win! I am also encouraged by the little victories along the way, whether that is achieving a new PB in climbing my local hill on the road bike, or winning a small piece of work in my consulting practice. So yes… to me… results matter.

HOWEVER… what I have learned in the pursuit of excellence is that it works better if results do not take up too much of your focus and energy either before they occur or after they have passed. Working as a performance psychology adviser in business and professional sport, I have seen that time and time again people actually get distracted by focusing too much on results, which can take them further away, rather than closer to the their biggest goals.

Roll with Results and Stay in Action

When you are trying to achieve big things in life, it is likely that, like me, you will be encouraged by the small positive results along the way, but the risk to get thrown off course increases when you get discouraged by the negative results or get complacent because of positive results along the way to achieving the long term objectives.

The problem with results is that although they may motivate us, they do not instruct us on how to achieve the objective. In sport psychology, focusing on the ‘process rather than the results’ is a mantra most teams and coaches have adopted without question for many years now. But how often do you hear that mantra, or try to practice it yourself, only to see your team crumble under the pressure of a result going against them?

Trying to Avoid Failure Doesn’t Work

Human beings naturally tense up when they think about failure, and in trying to avoid it at all costs, can lose focus on the ever-important process that is most likely to deliver the desired result. The trick is not to avoid failure, but to embrace it… go to it with open arms… as long as you are doing everything you can to succeed!

I presented a keynote presentation to the Association of Consulting Engineers of Canada last Thursday, and at the end, one of the delegates engaged me in a conversation about how it is hard to take the focus off results, and put it on the process, (and even harder to accept some short term failure along the way) when the nature of business is to produce results, and there is the ever-present pressure of the shareholders demanding results, quarterly, monthly and even weekly!

Fail Going 100%

I had shared a concept with the ACEC group – one that I call “fail going 100%” – which is this thing that is all about being prepared to accept failure, as long as you have done EVERYTHING you could to succeed. The conversation was around this concept of accepting failure – a question that arose was ‘How do you accept failure when everyone around you is demanding success at all costs?’ (I believe this is where true mental toughness comes in because there is often little that is more challenging than maintaining  a position in the face of intense scrutiny to change, to back down and to bend to the will of powerful others). I believe the answer to the question is to be a thought leader around the concept of accepting failure – take a stand for what you know and believe in – have conviction in your process and deliver it with 100% integrity. The key word here is ‘conviction.’ If you know your process is world class and is highly likely to return a result over time, stick to it, be prepared to let your ego take a battering… work hard to educate those around you about what is really needed to create sustained success… and enjoy the last word when those who bailed early on your initiative see you outpace your rivals as time goes on. Is this easy to do? No. It is not. That is why we are talking about mental toughness and the practice of excellence. You have to be prepared to put success ahead of ego and pressure from others. Too many don’t, and then wonder why they only had short term success. Integrity – the action you take to deliver on your commitments – is everything.

Thus, ‘Fail going 100%’ is more about mindset than behavior. If you have truly gone 100%, with all of your knowledge, intellect, competency, and resources available to achieve a goal – and there is not more you could have done… then…simply… there IS not more that you could have done… and the result will be what it will be. You have done your bit to control what you could. In almost every situation in life, you only get to control what you do, and you almost never have total control of a result – frequently, the percentage of variance in any result is significantly beyond your control. The reality of results and your small percentage of control over the variability in them means that the only thing you can control once they have occurred is your perspective on, and response to them. AND if you are aware of these facts, in advance, you can also see that the only thing you can control in anticipation of a result before it occurs is the actions you take to increase the likelihood of the desired outcome.

Basically, failure to produce the desired result 100% of the time is inevitable in life because you don’t control all the variables that create the result; however, failure to have integrity around your actions is not inevitable – it is something you can choose. Your challenge is not to get distracted and out of integrity in the short term because you are too caught up in results, either because you are trying to avoid failure or are expecting success based on past performance.

The thing that matters most is ACTION. Find a way to stay in action and results will take care of themselves in the long run.

You may never know what results come of your action, but if you do nothing there will be no result ~ Mahatma Ghandi

All the best,

Dr Sean R

www.seanorichardson.com.au