Look Before You Leap – They That Hesitate Are Lost! Be Bold but be Scientific with Your Goals

Each new year brings a new impetus to make life changes: the perennial ‘New Year, New You’ mindset. Unfortunately, the changes are rarely maintained long term. The motivation gained from the special date (1st January) weakens with each passing day, and is not enough to sustain us when we stumble. All too often a glitch in the plan is interpreted as absolute failure, whereas in real life there are few if any absolutes. More often we live our lives based on a serious of approximations.

Each year we embrace the ‘It’s now or never, they that hesitate are lost’ philosophy over the ‘look before you leap’ philosophy. To maximising our chances of getting positive lasting change we need to embrace both. No, that’s not a contradiction. Yes, by all means leap towards positive change but also have a game plan. Work out an action plan that maximises your chances or staying on track and, above all, be flexible.

New Year’s Resolutions and Goals are better approached like a scientist.

Scientists do a lot of preparation for experiments and come up with a best guess. In life we are all scientists too. Babies learn to walk, talk and get to grips with a bewildering complex world with a scientific trial and error approach. So when faced with making life changes, do your homework. There are numerous formulae out there such as SMARTER to sharpen up that best guess. It may be accurate the first time around in which case you have to do it all over again to demonstrate it wasn’t a fluke. You may also have to make some refinements to get it even more accurate. Of course, you could be way off the mark in which case you use that feedback and redesign your experiment by coming up with a better guess, Then you test that out. This approach builds motivation and confidence in your goal setting skills.

So if you find your resolve weakening one week or two weeks into your New Year’s Resolution or even one day in, then act quickly, use the feedback and make an adjustment  to your plan.

Be Bold, Be Scientific. Be Successful.

Here are a few past posts/links to help you stay on track:

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A Psychologist’s Year in Cafe World – Part Five: Managing Time & the Spice in Your Life

This is the fifth of my posts offering psychological insights into the computer game Cafe World.

Café World (CW) is a café-themed, goals-based computer game where players build and furnish their fantasy cafés and complete tasks, which involves “cooking” dishes, serving drinks and interacting with other cafe owners in their neighbourhood. As discussed in Part Four (Self-Service Motivation & Strategy), playing any game requires a strategy and that includes how to make the best use of time.
My strategy was to make the best use of my time. I allocated one hour per day. This was half hour in the morning and half an hour in the evening. I admit that I was not always disciplined in sticking to this. Goals In CW overlap like soap-opera story lines stringing the player along to the next goal and the next and the next. It’s easy to lose track of time and spend more than one intends to. Now, after a month or so, I had honed my strategy to cook dishes with the highest points on the maximum number of stoves. So, in the final weeks, I was advancing one level per day on one hour’s playing time per day, aside from occasional lapses in discipline. I found myself advancing rapidly through the levels. However, I noticed that some players were able to advance two or three levels per day. To achieve this, one must treat CW like a job and play several hours per day, seven days per week. Now this is a double edged sword, for I can see how playing CW can be considered an achievement. It does require strategy, cooperation and a time investment. However, the amount of time it requires to become a star player means there is no time left to pursue real world goals.

Intrigued, I looked at the Facebook pages for the people in my neighbourhood. Players making modest to high advancement in CW had a mixture of posts for other applications, groups and friends. For those making very rapid progress, their Facebook profiles were virtually filled with CW posts, throughout the day. Now, the concept of Work-Life balance has become a popular concept in personal and professional development. The concept of Café World-Life balance is lesser known. As the old saying goes ‘Variety is the spice of life’. This means that we have to spice our lives with more than the virtual reality of Café World.

We all want to be good at something, make a contribution and enjoy recognition for our achievements. Being great at playing CW is indeed an achievement but it should not be an end in itself. Part of the reason for writing this post is to make point that a sense of fulfilment in life can be attained by making the most of our transferable skills. Playing CW requires focus, motivation and determination and action. It also presents us with a moment for reflection.As I have revealed in this series of posts, I certainly learned something about myself and playing CW served to remind me of my life skills, at the time I was facing unfamiliar tasks in the real world. It certainly helped me reconnect with my playfulness, something as adults we often forget.

Spending hours playing CW is not necessarily a bad thing, but if it becomes the focus of our day, it robs us of the opportunity to apply these skills to real world goals. If ‘significance’ is an important value in your life, then consider what other ways this value may be supported. If you are aiming to reduce boredom, then consider other ways to make life more interesting, particularly those which support your goals. Bordeom relief is a form of emotion-focused coping. Playing CW can help to block out negative emotions, temporarily. However, emotion-focused coping should only really be a short-term solution. It’s a quick fix but it doesn’t cut to the heart of the problem, that is, boredom. Instead, it just deals with the symptoms. Negative emotions can effectively put us on a sort of remote control. We are controlled by the negative emotions and act in habitual, quick-fix ways to relieve the symptoms. (See my post Dicing with Boredom. . . and Coping Styles). So is playing CW, for hours each day, a way of coping for you?

Control-focused coping is about addressing the root cause of the problem, not just the symptoms. Café World, hopefully, will have help remind you of your transferable skills. In this series of posts we have considered values (Just Being Sociable), goal-setting (Goal-Setting On the Table), cognitive flexibility (Non-Stick, Non-Stuck, Cognitive Flexibility), motivational strategy (Self-Service Motivation & Strategy) and in this post, the use of time and emotion-focused coping. The question is, how do you apply these insights and your skills to get more of what you want out of the real world?

See also:

A Psychologist’s Year in Cafe World – Part Four: Self-Service Motivation & Strategy

This is the fourth of my posts offering psychological insights into the computer game Cafe World.

Café World (CW) is a café-themed, goals-based computer game where players build and furnish their fantasy cafés and complete tasks, which involves “cooking” dishes, serving drinks and interacting with other cafe owners in their neighbourhood.
CW has three points systems running concurrently, each representing a different aspect of the game and influencing strategies for play. There are coins which you earn by selling your food for a profit. There are also points that reflect your experience as a Chef. New levels unlock new recipes. There are also buzz points. These indicate the popularity of your café and how many visitors you are getting. The appearance of you café has only minimum effect on your rating. As long as you have easy access to chairs and food on the tables, then it’s easy to maintain the maximum buzz points.

So, apart from taken a total random approach, basically there are three main strategies in CW. Either you cook dishes for profit (coins) or you cook for reputation (Chef points), you cook based on your tastes in the real world.. All dishes in CW have separate points and profit ratings. Now in the early stages it is a good strategy to focus on money. This allows players to buy more tables and chairs and buy the more expensive dishes that also yield higher profits. In later stages once you have enough money, to ascend the levels it best to select dishes that yield more points, but are not necessarily the best money spinners. With the third strategy, people cook the type of food they like. So people who don’t like cheese won’t cook virtual pizza. This decision robs them of access to the dishes that would help them ascend through the levels in the game. So either, these people have not grasped that different rules apply. After all, they should be cooking for their customers and not for themselves. Maybe they are playing the game in their way and are not bothered about succeeding, just having fun.

Playing a computer game requires a degree of focus, motivation, determination, the ability to manage time and the ability to take action. It also causes us to pause and reflect about our values in life. I don’t see myself as a competitive person, but clearly I am. I did get a certain amount of pleasure from ascending the ranks and passing veteran players whose achievements seemed unattainable when I first started playing. However, playing CW also affirmed my value of cooperation. It also helped to remind my strategic skills at a time when I had unfamiliar real-world tasks to complete. It was also enormous fun, except when there were software conflicts and the program kept crashing. However, as frustrating as this was, it caused me to experiment with different browsers. I learned that the Flash application on which CW is based can conflict with other software, especially if the Flash code is not well-written. Yes, it is only a game but the principle applies to real world obstacles and problem solving. All too often people give up on their goals when life’s obstacles get in the way. Sometimes we need to find a way around the obstacle and sometimes we need to be patient. Either way, giving up is not going to get us closer to the desired result. Being resourceful or even asking for help may indeed get us over hurdles.

Focusing on values is the cornerstone of motivation for achieving goals in the real-world. What is important to you in life? What values do you stand for? Are your goals linked to your values? In the first part of this series of posts in Just Being SociableI considered the importance of co-operation as a source of motivation in my life, and the quality that motivated me to continue playing CW. Other values dear to me include fairness, curiosity and the love of learning. All of these have an impact on my motivation.

Values and motivations are not always as simplistic as in CW. However spending time to work out what is really important will help pull you along when your goals get tough. It can also serve as a challenge. If you know what is really important to you in life, then what actions are you taking that directly support these values? It’s no point valuing ‘adventerousness’ if you never embark on an adventure!

See also:

A Psychologist’s Year in Cafe World – Part Two: Goal-Setting on the Table

This is the second of my posts offering psychological insights into the computer game Cafe World. For Part One of A Psychologist’s Year in Cafe World, see: Just Being Sociable

Café World (CW) is a goals-based computer game, where players build and furnish their fantasy cafés and complete tasks, which involves “cooking” dishes, serving drinks and interacting with other cafe owners in their neighbourhood. This includes requesting items, returning favours and joining forces to complete team tasks. Goals are often divided into sub-goals. On completion, players are rewarded with new recipes or kitchen appliances, such as coffee machines, slow cookers, pizza ovens and sushi bars.

The way goals are organized in CW provides insight into how we should structure our real world goals. CW has larger goals divided into several sub-goals, with each step building on the previous one. In both CW and the real world it helps build motivation to tackle larger goals. They seem less daunting and are encouraged to build on our successes. That’s where CW gets it right. Where CW gets it wrong is by overwhelming players with so many goals all requiring action. That’s when tempers become frayed and insults in the “neighbourhood” start to fly.  Of course, the demands of real life often divide our attention and our resources. We talk of “spreading ourselves too thinly” (to use a catering metaphor). However, for goal-setting in personal development, it is better not to take on too many things on one time. Progress builds motivation whereas feeling overwhelmed negatively impacts on motivation. Goals should be achievable and realistic. Sometimes in CW there is just too much going on and so people either have to select just a few goals to pursue or else give up playing.

Many of the CW goals are also time-bound. Having a target date is important to focus our attention and resources. It gives a sense of urgency and can add to the motivation. However, if the deadline is totally unrealistic, it causes negative stress and adversely affects performance. A little stress (eustress) is a good thing and boosts performance. Too much stress (distress) inhibits performance. CW often miscalculates the time players need to complete the team tasks. Inevitably this leads to panic as player frantically try to complete the game and shout at the people who are ‘just not pulling their weight”. So, having a realistic target date from the outset is important. Goals should stretch us, but not to breaking point.

So playing Café World can act as a goals tutorial. The secret is to actually apply these insights to real-life and take action. When it works well it follows the SMART acronym for goal -setting. I’ve added a couple of extra letters to make goals SMARTER:

  • Specific – you know exactly what it is you are aiming for, such as a turbo-powered stove or the right to cook a new recipe
  • Measurable – thea fixed number of steps and a fixed number of things to collect or cook
  • Achievable – the goals are possible within the realm of Café World.
  • Realistic – this is sometimes here CW gets it wrong. Do you realistically have enough friends and enough hours in the day to achieve these goals?
  • Time-bound – Again this is where CW gets it wrong. Sometimes the special tasks don’t allow enough time.
  • Enthusiastic – all goals in CW have a positive emphasis. They are about moving forward and achieving something, not moving away and avoiding something.
  • Reviewable (or Regularly Reviewed) – sometimes players give feedback on unachievable target dates and the game-makers adjust the dates. This is what exactly what we need to do: review and adjust rather than give up.

So, the challenge is to leave the safety of Café World and apply the principles to the less predictable real world, where they rewards are greater. . . and not pixellated. Start small, be SMARTER.

For more on goal-setting see:

To discuss your goal-setting and coaching needs contact Gary Wood on Facebook (Page)

Matching Your Values to Your Vote (UK General Election 2010)

One of the things I do as a personal development coach is to help people allign their values and goals. The same applies to casting a vote in an election. It’s an important decision and really needs to reflect your values and what you stand for. Sometimes when the issues are complex it’s difficult to come to a clean, unambigous conclusion. So here are three resouces designed to help you match your values and attitudes to your vote in the 2010 UK General Election:

  1. Quiz One: Who should I vote for?
  2. Quiz  Two: Who should I vote for?
  3. Quiz Three: Who should I vote for?

My field of expertise is attitudes and attitude measure so it was interesting to see that although all three quizzes take a slightly different approach, they all came to the same answer (for me a least).  So, take a few minutes and see if they work for you too.

p.s. Unfortunately quizzes 1 & 2  have a rather ‘mainsteam, three party bias’ although quizz 3 has on option to fous on each of the four UK countries.

I’m not anti-self-help. . I’m anti ‘yo-yo self-help’. Saying ‘Yes’ to Action Plans & Goals!

Judging from the flurry of activity on my blog posts about New Year’s resolutions, I’m guessing ‘nerves are becoming frayed’ and ‘will power’s on the wane’. However it’s no time to give up. . . it’s time to take stock, recoup and move forward. Stumbling on your new year’s resolutions is not about ‘failure’, it’s about feedback. And when I write ‘Say ‘No’ to New Year’s Resolutions’, I’m not anti-personal development’. Far from it. I’m just anti ‘yo-yo self help’. There’s a big difference. Making positive changes in our lives is not about random ‘getting caught up in the moment’ vague wishful thinking. Real life changes require real planning. Your will power is not the problem; your planning is, that’s all. You can fix that. Creating a compelling action plan gives you an opportunity to develop confidence in your strengths and skills.

So if you find your resolve weakening, don’t take this as an indication that you should give up on your goals. Instead, take this opportunity to use this feedback to adjust your action plan. If what you are doing is not working for you, make the necessary adjustments and try again. Don’t wait until next year or next month or any other symbolic date. Use the feedback while it’s ‘hot’ and take action, now!

The following links will help:

Links:

See my other personal development posts.

See my other posts on goal-setting.

Book: Don’t Wait For Your Ship To Come In. . . Swim Out To Meet It!

Other personal development books at: PsyStore.

Ten Good Reasons to Make a Life Change. . . Apart From “It’s the 1st of January”

Making life changes just because it’s the 1st January may be the impetus to take the first step, but will it be enough to carry you through when the going gets tough, or when things don’t go exactly to plan, or when you meet obstacles or when you stumble or falter along the way. The answer of course is no! The main problem is. . .it just can’t be January 1st everyday of the year. Everyday can’t be brimming with symbolism and significance. It’s clear you’ll need more to go on!

The problem with New Year’s resolutions is that the ritual gets in the way of the reality. We assume the first day euphoria will last, and we assume that all we need ‘will power’ to carry on. It won’t last and will power wears down. It’s like a rechargeable battery that needs topping up, regularly. The question is: ‘With what?’ The answer lies in getting in tune with what motivates you.

Start by listing TEN reasons for making a life change or setting a goal. Now consider whether these are internal (intrinsic) motivations or external (extrinsic). External motivations are things like money, praise, chocolate, adoration and so on. The motivations come from outside of yourself. The big question is: ‘What happens when the external motivations dry up or run out?’

Internal motivations are all about your values and come from within. Job satisfaction is an internal motivator. You’re doing a good job from a inner value of ‘doing a good job’ not because someone is paying you or coercing you into to do it. Wanting to feel healthier and have more energy are better motivators that gaining praise from others. You really must be doing it for yourself.

So what figures most highly on your list of motivations? Are there more internal than external or vice versa. The key to staying motivated is looking for more internal sources of motivation, as these are less likely to run out. So if you need to go back and rewrite your list, or add a few more internal motivators. You are far more likely to succeed in your goals if you are doing it for yourself. Keep adding to your list as you go along.

New Year’s resolutions often rely on one external motivation. . .it just happens to be the first day of the year in the Western world. Each day you continue with your life change is a day further away from January 1st. Of course if it’s going to help give you the kick-start of confidence you need, then use it. However, remember that it’s only the spark that ignites the flame. To fuel the flame you need to focus on your internal motivations!

Links:

Saying ‘No’ to New Year’s Resolutions & ‘Yes’ to Positive Lasting Change

New Year, new you? No chance, no change?

Every New Year our attention is drawn to personal change, which we translate, into intention in the form of resolutions. So why do they fizzle out? What’s the problem? Yes, we  start with good intention and take action, but the problem is that, more often than not, we simply don’t have a well-thought out action plan. We need a well-defined target, not a fuzzy vague ‘over there somewhere’. New Year’s resolutions simply don’t work for a number of very good reasons. So, let’s begin by looking at six common problems with them, and how to put them right:

Negativity
‘Losing’, ‘giving up’, ‘cutting out’ and ‘cutting down’ all have negative connotations. However, we tend to respond better to positively stated goals, such as ‘aiming for a target weight’ or ‘increasing healthy foods‘ or ‘increasing variety in foods‘ and ‘boosting energy levels‘.

Vagueness
Classic New Year’s Resolutions are always rather vague and wishy washy. So, it’s difficult to reach a target that’s not clearly defined.  So once, you’ve got your positively worded direction, it’s best to get specific. What exactly are you going to do to hit your target. What are the behaviours? Target specific actions, such as drinking seven glasses of water and going to the gym three times a week for 45 minutes each time.

Immeasurable
In order to measure your progress you need to make your goals measurable. Ask yourself lots of ‘how’ questions, such as ‘how much’, ‘how many’, and how often’. Just doing something ‘more often’ is vague and immeasurable. Also build up to your target so you don’t feel overwhelmed. Build steady progress into your routine, and where possible break larger goals down into smaller milestones.

Unachievable
Each year we psych ourselves up for the new year. It feels so now or never.   Of course we need goals that are going to stretch us or else we’d soon get bored. However, it’s pointless setting impossible goals. Our goals need to be achievable. Are your goals within your capabilities?

Unrealistic
It’s common to tackle too many things at once or over-plan every minute of your day. Be realistic and pick one thing at a time to work on. That way you build your confidence.

Open-ended (never-ending)
If you goal is your ‘preferred end state’ then you need a ‘preferred end date’. Putting a time scale on it helps with motivation. It provided a sense of ‘urgency’ about the goal.

The SMARTER approach to New Year’s Resolutions is to set SMARTER goals:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Realistic
  • Time-bound
  • Enthusiastically (positively) worded
  • Regularly-reviewed

Goal-setting is not a one shot deal. It’s a process. If you find your progress is slower than expected or you find yourself not hitting those milestones when expected, then GO BACK AND REVIEW! It’s only failure if you fail to use the feedback. Have a look to see if your goals really are realistic and achievable for your person circumstances. If you need to, make changes are try again. Don’t wait until next New Year’s day. . . get right back to it straight away.

Saying ‘No’ to New Year’s resolutions and using SMARTER as well as other goal-setting tools and techniques (such as PAR and GO-FLOW) means that instead of vague statements of wishful thinking, you will have concrete, action plans to channel your resources. So make your final resolution to ditch resolutions and start setting goals. . . not just once a year when you’re caught up in the New Year fever. . .but any time you want to take charge and make changes. . . positive lasting change!

[Adapted from Don’t Wait For Your Ship To Come In. . . Swim Out To Meet It!‘]

Links:


Is New Year’s Day the Best Time to Make Life Changing Resolutions?

The first day of a brand new day brims with symbolism and significance as we ring out the old and ring in the new. What better day to make life changes? The whole ‘brand new year, brand new you’ philosophy certainly gets us started but is it enough to carry us through? And, if it’s the only thing driving you then could it be more of a millstone around your neck rather than a motivational milestone?

All too often we hit an obstacle on our ambitions resolutions and think ‘Ah f**k it, I’ll try again next year!’. The concept of a ‘resolution’ has become so tied up with ‘New Year’ that it’s difficult to think of making them at any other time but the new year. So let’s look at what the various meanings of ‘resolution’:

A resolution is a decree or a declaration. It’s a promise, an oath, a pledge, and a vow. Resolution means determination, steadfastness, tenacity and firmness. A resolution is the upshot, the solution, the answer. It’s the positive outcome. It’s the preferred end state.

Looking at these various definitions, there’s nothing about investing everything in one particular day. We can resolve to show resolve at any time. January 1st is an arbitrary day. In England before 1752 the ‘civil or legal year’ began on 25th March. So is that why the tenth month ‘October’ sounds as if it should be the eighth? Added to this we have the start of the tax year, Chinese New Year, Jewish New Year, Muslim New year, the new year that starts with your birthday. . .and so on. There are plenty of new year’s day’s to chose from. But why wait? Isn’t the first of the month a good enough place to start? What about any Monday? Any day with ‘day’ in its name? Come to think of it, any day that you chose to make a resolution becomes imbued with significance.

However, if you are one of those people who likes to go with ‘tradition’ and plan to make your New Year’s resolutions, why not get a bit of practice in beforehand? The success of resolutions hinge on the degree to which you are prepared. So before you get carried away by taking on too much, why not give your resolutions a test run to see how realistic they are? Also ask yourself this question: ‘What contingency plan do you have in place, should you meet an obstacle or stumble?’ Do you give up and wait until next year, or do you make adjustments and get right back to it, irrespective of the date? Do you resolve or resign?

Better still, say ‘No’ to new year’s resolutions, embrace the various definitions of  ‘resolution’ and resolve to set goals instead!

[Adapted from’ Don’t Wait For Your Ship To Come In. . . Swim Out to Meet It!]

Links:

Become Your Own Time ‘Lord’

Become a time 'lord'

Becoming your own time 'lord'

Where did the year go?

If you’ve found yourself uttering this, you’ve recognised that time speeds up as you get older. The main reason is that as we age, each new year becomes  an ever diminishing proportion of our total time on the planet. Between the age of one and two that year represents living half of your life again. Whereas by the age of ten, another year means living a tenth of your life. And on it goes, the incredibly shrinking year. When you were a child and you were told ‘we’re going out in a hour’, you’d think ‘No! Do I have to wait a whole hour?’ Now if someone says you’ll be going out in an hour you’d complain ‘An hour? I’ll never be ready in time’.

So the question is, can we do anything about it? Can we slow time?

Slowing It Down, Spicy Style
In Making Time,  Steve Taylor sets out the psychological laws of time and how we can change our perception of time. One law follows the theme of ‘variety is the spice of life’ or ‘a change is as good as a rest’.  So to slow down time you need to seek out new experiences and new environments. Do you have any secret goes or ambitions that you forego for a few hours in front of the television? Just breaking up your routine can help. Have you ever noticed that the first time you go somewhere no, the journey seems longer than the next time? That’s because the second time you go your brain has mapped out the journey and it’s already started to become familiar and for some of the decision you react automatically. So mix things up a little. Take different routes on familiar journeys, try a new food every week, go shopping at different places, read a type of book or newspaper different to your normal choices, try out some classes and so on. Try some personal experiments doing different things to see if you can slow time. Also, write down some short-term, medium term and long term goals and act on them.

Speeding It Up (but being happier)
Another psychological law of time is something of a paradox. When we are absorbed in something we love doing then time seems to go more quickly. However to balance this, time spent in these states of total absorption is one definition of happiness. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (Chick-sent-me-high) calls this state of absorption being in ‘flow’. At the heart of his philosophy is also goal-setting. I remember a conversation with my granddad when I was about 14 years old. I asked him if he had any regrets. He had two: getting a tattoo and not planning for his retirement. I never understood the significance of ‘planning for retirement’ until I read Flow. We can set goals for just about anything, they are promises to ourselves – something to get out of bed, or off the couch  for.

The Alternative
Now there is an alternative ways to slow down time. Just sit there and do nothing just staring blankly into space. Paradoxically, each day will drag interminably but years will seem to fly by.

It’s Your Life So Take It Personally
As a teacher and a coach I subscribe to the philosophy  ‘It’s your life so take it personally‘. So don’t ‘kill time’ and don’t complain about having too much time on your hands or not enough time to do the things you like. Many of us waste time by choosing to do nothing else instead. You don’t have to look back over another year and ask ‘where the hell did the year go and what have I done with it?’ Okay, so you may not become a time ‘lord’ in the sense that you can travel across the universe but by using the psychological laws of time you can take charge of your destiny. So take a deep breath and get started. Time flies – seize the day.

Links:

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