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Change Work January 2010

Facing the future

I think it's a fairly safe generalisation to say that New Year's Resolutions mostly comprise things that you feel you "should" do rather than things that you wholeheartedly want.  After all, if you really wanted to do them then you probably would have by now.  So, giving up smoking, cutting down on drinking or getting more exercise are typical of resolutions that you've made many times before (and not just in January) but haven't been able to carry through.

In fact it isn't necessarily only a matter of motivation.  There may also be very real barriers such as a fear of bad consequences or simply not knowing what to do to get what you want.

I'll return to those in a later article because this month I'm going to focus on how to make your goals sufficiently compelling to get you moving.

The first thing is to express what you want to have or what you want to do in a positive sense.  For example, the stereotypical resolution is to give up something:  smoking, drinking, overeating, swearing etc.  This emphasises what you'll be losing and ignores what you'll be gaining.  So it's not surprising if you've failed to keep such resolutions because they're all about giving up something you like with no balancing pay-off.  Nothing in it for you.

The negative formulation also focuses on the undesirable behaviour rather than the desired behaviour.  And it's an unfortunate truth that we do what we think about - the words "do not" are edited out by your unconscious mind.  So, if I say to you "Don't think about a purple elephant", what immediately jumps into your consciousness?  And, if you say you want to eat less fatty food you immediately imagine eating fatty food - and recalling how good it is!  (If you drive up the A1 trunk road through Northumberland and into Scotland you'll see lots of signs saying "Don't Speed!"  I wonder if any research has been done into the effects of the words used in such well-intentioned instructions.)

So, "I want to be a non-smoker because I'll be healthier, feel better and have more money to spend on ...", is a strong, positive statement of a resolution.

"I want to be slim so that I can wear more fashionable clothes and enjoy going out", is much more likely to get you through the challenge than, "I'm giving up fried food".

And doesn't this work in the business context as well?  The goal of hitting a profit target is more likely to be committed to enthusiastically than one about cutting costs - even if that's what's ultimately involved.

A positive statement of your goal is the first component of a "well formed outcome" that I described in September's article.  That formulation includes 8 other components that I won't go into again.  Instead, I want to show you how you can make your goal really attractive, so that it pulls you towards it at the deep, unconscious level.

The method is too long to include in this article so, if you want to try it for yourself, you can download the full instructions here.

Briefly, the method involves imagining that you've achieved the goal and then giving yourself the opportunity of feeling what that's like.  This may sound trivial but is actually a very powerful way of making that "future" very compelling.  It stimulates you into taking action by giving you a foretaste of the positive emotions that success will bring.  You can enjoy your triumph every time you think about it - even while you're still working towards it.

So, put those personal and business resolutions into positive language and give yourself a head start.

Let's make it a great year!