New Year – New Vision: Why to give up on goals.
I want to lose weight. I want to be more physically fit. I want to find the perfect job. I want to spend more time with my family. I want to quit smoking/chocolate/alcohol….the list goes on.
Yes, it is that time of year. Time for our New Year’s Resolutions. Time to set an ambitious goal and then weeks later, wonder why we even bothered. It is the time of year that gym memberships are on the rise, online courses are inundated, and possibly the only time that we hope to cure our hangovers by an inspiring march towards a new and improved version of ourselves.
BUT why does so much optimism and drive end up getting tossed to the curb?
We have all done it. We have all made a New Years Resolution and then felt like crap after realising that we are never going to realise it. We reflect: “were they unrealistic? not well thought out? or are we simply useless?”
Possibly, but as Cameron Norsworthy explains in this radio interview with FIVEaa below, it is not so much our enthusiasm that is misplaced but HOW we go about making and achieving these goals.
Don’t get fixated on the outcome – in fact don’t have an outcome
Often when we make goals we focus on a specific outcome. The prologue of goal-setting techniques such as S.M.A.R.T. fill our heads and we think we need to specify our outcome in order to make it happen. Well, research is now showing that focusing on an outcome is more likely to fail than succeed. Not only that but we are more likely to cheat, take shortcuts, beat ourselves up, and be in a state of anxiety as we are constantly being reminded of how far away we are from where we want to be. Not only is the experience, more often than not, ‘hard work’, it can make us miserable. It turns out that focusing on an outcome makes us more likely to give up than succeed.
A outcome focus goal encourages productivity over presence. Instead of being open to adapting to the status quo we are blinded by the parameters of our goal. As a result, we miss opportunities, develop a hamster wheel mentality, and all in all, we don’t have fun. Why sustain something that isn’t fun, right?!
Or worse, perhaps we find a way to grind it out and hit our target. Outcome achieved. Hurray! We celebrate for all of 10 seconds, and then go, “what next?” In this hamster wheel mentality, we don’t enjoy the process, the achievement yields only a fleeting spike in happiness, and then we are left with the same dissatisfaction that we started with looking for the next preoccupation to hook ourselves on to.
Furthermore, at the time of setting, we think the goal is going to change us, fulfil us, or give us what we want – it is why we make it. However, as time rolls on, we become different. We become a different person with different motives and adapt different levels of happiness. For example, perhaps a previous goal of saving $20,000 for a house deposit no longer becomes necessary. A month after making the goal, we suddenly realise that we are actually happy with only saving $15,000, as we realise that spending $5000 on our health is a bigger priority; something that will make us happier in the long run. Alternatively, we can fall short of reaching our full potential. If our goal is to reach a weight of 82Kg in 6 months and by month 5 we are already at 83kg, we may take our foot off the pedal and start indulging in bad habits that become hard to shake. In short, outcome goals can quickly become outdated, irrelevant, or limit what we are capable of.
So what do we do instead? How do we capitalise on our positive ambitions?
Well, for starters we can spend 80% of our time on understanding why we are setting these goals or resolutions in the first place. Is it because we need direction, a structure to aid discipline, or because we want to impress others? By taking a real good look in the mirror, we can quickly understand our genuine underlying motives and disregard any goals or changes that we do not have a a deep inherent desire to do. If we are trying to smoke or drink less because we think we ‘should’ do, then any attempt to do so will not last and just leave us deflated and depressed when we fall back on the wagon. Any targets that are based on what other people want, or for extrinsic reasons, can also be dismissed as these will only yield short term compliance and add stress to our life.
Instead, we can find something that we are really passionate towards, and then focus on building a vision around it.
Creating a loose vision is so much more powerful than a business plan on how to achieve our resolution. Why? Visions use imagery, which neurobiologically uses our innate implicit system. Meaning that imagery uses the same primal part of our brain that we were born with, as opposed to the cerebral conscious part of our brain that we develop as we grow older. In fact, our primitive cognitive system is 100,000+ times more powerful and efficient than our recently (evolutionary speaking) developed prefrontal cortex, which devised and wrote the S.M.A.R.T goal. Let me explain. When creating a vision we automatically build an experience around the benefits of it. It becomes a multi-sensory experience as we spend time visualising our success and knowingly or not, examine how it looks, feels, and even what it might sound or taste like. Once imagined the mind and body creates a psychophysiological blueprint of what and how to achieve it. When a vision is locked into our implicit system, our brain automatically starts to manifest it in our reality. It starts making daily decisions towards this aim without us having to do anything. All the subtle choices we face everyday that we are not aware of… i.e. whether to open our emails, BBC app, or research something about our vision when taking the phone out of our pocket… start to help us towards building this vision in our life. If we give our primitive brain a vision to follow, it will do this far more effectively than we can ever plan for!
Then as we stroll through life, we can simply pick the option that is most aligned with our vision. Having a true north such as this enables us to mould an intention towards our experiences. It gives a backbone to our decision-making, taking away the stress of analysing what might or might not be the best thing to do. Then if we find ourselves losing focus, we can play the game of mental contrasting. Meaning that we can contrast a negative vision of what life looks like without our vision coming true, against the positive experience of our vision blossoming. When we do this the mind and body is quickly reminded of what we want, what really matters, and thus what to think, feel, and do next.
Once our psychophysiology is primed with this vision, we are free to operate with freedom and a level of flexibility to meet this vision. As there is no fixed outcome, just a positive vision, there may be many ways to achieve it, most of them we don’t even know of yet.
Best of all, these positive visions make us feel good and they lure our engagement. We no longer have to be intimidated by a looming fixed benchmark. Instead we can become excited about the unknown journey ahead.
So to recap:
- Meet your new year’s resolutions with PURPOSE and then focus on the PROCESS.
- Decided on something that inspires you – something that you genuinely want to do.
- Build a positive vision of what your intended goal will give you.
- Build a multi-sensory experience of the benefits. What does it look, feel, sound, and taste like?
- Realise that every subsequent thought and action we engage with is a choice; either taking us towards this vision or away from it.
Over to you!
Author: Cameron Norsworthy