New Year Resolutions – an opportunity for better goal setting

Success with any goal is strongly influenced by the way we think about it, phrase it, and what strategy we use to achieve it. Have a think about adopt some of these models when you really want to achieve your goals.

Focussing on a positive outcome – giving something up or choosing something better?
Given the success rate of new year resolutions, it is a wonder that only half of projects fail. ‘I am trying to give up smoking’, or ‘I am trying to lose weight’, convinces no-one, let alone ourselves.  Try something like, ‘I have decided to be healthy and cease being addicted to things that pollute my body’, or ‘I have decided to be a healthy weight and to see the person I want to be in the mirror’. What is a positive outcome for you?

The language of success
Some of you may be old enough to remember the Monty Python sketch about ‘woody’ and ‘tinny’ words. Similarly we can think of words with positive associations and negative associations. I categorise ‘Giving up’ and ‘losing’ as negative words – words of loss or failure, and choose, now there is a good word, to use something positive, like health or self image. What words motivate you?

I am making good progress in adopting language that pre-supposes success, not only in what I write, but I am increasingly catching my little verbal slips. ‘I can’t give up smoking’ or ‘I can’t lose weight’, presuppose failure. How does, ‘I have not yet found the right way for me to be smoke free, but I will do’, or ‘I am looking for the motivation to finally free me from this bad eating habit’. Both infer that you will, and cast the thing that you want to stop as bad things. Every tool and technique helps us to break that old habit you no longer want. How should you frame your goal?

Have to or want to?
I had a friend of a friend say to me at a party, ‘I hear that you can make me give up smoking’. To which I replied, ‘I can’t make you do anything until you want to change’. To which he replied, ‘But you made X & Y give up’. ‘No, she decided that she wanted to be healthy, and I just helped her on her journey. When you decide that you want to be healthy too, come and see me and you will be free from your shackles by the time you leave my house’. Do you hear what is going on here at different levels?

When people visit me to make a change I get them to fill two sides of paper with reasons why they want to make the change before I agree to help you. What does this do? As homework I tell them to fill two sides of paper with a different one of these reasons each morning over breakfast and each night before they go to sleep. What do you think this does? What are your reasons to change?

Visualising success
I used to compete competitively in sport and read about the need to visualise success. I used to imagine myself holding a cup / getting a medal with a big smile on my face. And without doubt, there was not one person on the podium at the Olympics that has not done the same thing many, many times. What does success look like to you for your new year resolution? Can you hear it? Can you taste it? Can you smell it? Can you feel it? Is it real enough yet?

But the best measure of success, and a key stage in the coaching process, is to visualise yourself  ‘doing the work’ to get to the goal. For a swimmer that might be getting out of bed on the alarm at stupid o’clock in the morning to go to the pool to do a hundred lengths before work. Unless we see a physiological change when we ‘future pace’ you to the challenge situation then our work is not yet complete. What is your challenge situation? Refusing a cigarette with your drink in the pub, or not picking up that cake in the supermarket?

Drop the negative focus
Incidentally, NLPers often say that the brain does not hear negatives. I have not yet seen evidence for this but am prepared to accept it as a pre-supposition. Don’t think of a pink elephant does sound like an instruction to visualise a pink elephant. ‘Be careful with the plate’ sounds like a better instruction to a child than ‘don’t drop the hot plate’, or ‘Don’t lose your key / phone / wallet’. And how many times has that become a self fulfilling prophesy? ‘Don’t smoke’ – what are the alternatives?  How should your re-phrase your new year resolution?

Your subconscious mind is driving the bus
Some of you will be aware that what we say is not as important as what we tell our subconscious mind, which is actually ‘driving the bus’. I will not expand this blog to cover Beliefs, Limited Beliefs and Belief Change, though you can read more about that topic in my book ‘NLP for Project Managers: Make things happen with neuro-linguistic programming’. However, some of you will have noticed the embedded presupposition statements in this writing which the subconscious mind takes as instructions. (I must re-do it as a Podcast so that I can add command tonality into those phrases as hypnotic suggestion).

Keeping track and celebrating success
Finally, as coaches, a lot of what we do in taking you from where you are to where you decide to be, is keeping you on course. Personally, with my own coach I use a tool called Coaching Cloud. For those of you that might have read / seen ‘The Secret’, you can think of this as announcing your shopping list to the universe. To those followers of Anthony Robbins, like myself, I see it as a way of breaking down my goals into small achievable steps so that I can track my progress and see how successful you really can be. And celebrate every one of those milestones with a little gift and party for yourself. It does not have to cost money. How can you reward yourself on your journey to achieving your goals?

I wish you luck. But remember, like the championship snooker player said, the more you practice, the luckier you get.

Dr Peter Parkes FAPM is a PM expert, coach, trainer, NLP Master Practitioner and hypnotherapist