In every area of our lives, if we look around, we can identify areas for self-improvement or things we would like to change or goals we would like to achieve, unfortunately most of the time, we fail. It is estimated in a recent article in Forbes that only 8% of people achieve their New Year’s resolutions. That’s an astonishingly low number and points to the fact that open ended commitments to change are usually not successful. What do we need as humans to really achieve our dreams? How do they become actionable items in reality? We are wired to need some kind of structure. We need something to motivate us and push us to the finish line. It got me thinking that maybe we need to shift our focus to the last 100 days of the year, instead of the beginning of the year when it comes to goal setting because it creates a clear end point that feels tangible.
In a recent TedX Talk New York, psychologist Emily Balcetis explains why some people have a harder time committing to exercise than others. She stresses that our perception of our distance from the goal and ability to zoom in and focus impacts whether or not people follow through with their plans for exercise and weight loss. Her research study revealed that everyone’s perception of their reality is in fact unique to their own experience and by shortening the perception of how far away the goal is perceived to be makes it, in fact, more likely that the person will actually follow through and achieve their goal. In other words, a person who is 30 pounds overweight can outperform someone who is 5 pounds away from their ideal goal, if the perception of the goal is closer for the former than the later. In other words, reality really is determined by our thoughts but more importantly, by changing our perception we make achievement easier. It’s about keeping “our eyes on the prize” says Balcetis.
Often we talk about New Year’s resolutions, creating long lists, breaking out action plans with the intention to make really big changes in our lives in the oncoming year. We set goals, we begin the year with a new set of intentions and then somewhere around mid-February everything starts to fall apart and we lose sight of our resolutions. Why? Because the distance feels so far away and intangible. The end of the year does not feel immediate and then the next thing we know summer is winding down and we haven’t achieved nearly as much as we intended. The second part of this equation is that we fail to create actionable items and break down our goals into tangible accountable actions.
We need to have a focused mind and measurable finish line to reach a goal. When there is a definitive end goal in sight, people can move toward an objective that motivates them to take consistent daily actions to achieve their goals. Big things are achieved through tiny actions. It turns out humans are just wired that way. We perform better when there is a tangible goal we can strive to attain as an end point. Once achieved, we can then set the next tangible goal, and over time we can implement substantial changes through this process. It suggests that the age old belief that humans can’t change habits is wrong. In fact we can, we’ve just be following the wrong process to achieve for the most part. We’ve been working against how our brain is wired instead of in alignment with it making it more difficult to make substantial changes and achieve goals.
Focus and concentration are easier in shorter concentrations of time. It’s why some people become more productive on tight deadlines. When the end goal is in sight, they are able to buckle down and get the work done by being intensely solely focused. With our “eyes on the prize,” we push forward to achieve something on a time constricted deadline. There is something about deadlines that helps us. It may be why so many people wait till the last minute to get something done because the deadline enables them to focus intensely producing their best work. Creative types are known for this behaviour pattern, and there may actually be a good reason behind the frustrating madness. We need laser beam focus to accomplish anything and improve our performance.
Change is hard for most people. It requires a lot of hard work and commitment to taking different actions and flipping our perception. At the beginning of the new year, It can feel as though we have all the time in the world. The prize feels distant from us, and it becomes easy to procrastinate and not follow through on actions because everything is so distant. What if instead, we focused, on the last 100 days and moved toward an end goal. Setting a hardcore deadline for ourselves that by 12/31 we will have accomplished X Y and Z. It changes the momentum, and creates a completion date that really helps us feel like we have a new start for the new year. Our perception changes because there is a deadline in sight that feels very close and generates the necessary momentum.
In essence, it’s about flipping our perspective. The answer is often right before our very eyes, and shifting our perspective changes our brain chemistry. We need to make goals tangible, breaking them down into daily actions that we can take and be accountable to. If you don’t have a coach, then seek out a buddy you can share accountability with around your goals. Having someone that you check in with on a daily basis and hold each other accountable is another great tool that provides support, helps with measurable actions, focus and creating a finish line that feels attainable.
Here’s a challenge for you, on September 21st there are only 100 days left for the year – what do you want to accomplish in these last 100 days?
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Caroline Stokes is founder of FORWARD Human Capital Solutions. FORWARD does things differently for people in digital organisations who demand inspiring talent solutions for transformative results.