New Year resolutions – breaking old addictions and bad habits

Bruce Grimley chartered psychologist/executive coach

Bruce has worked with individual clients and companies from around the world since 1995 helping them optimally align their internal resources. Even though he does work with clinical patients, it is a very fine line we all tread. Often “normal” people find themselves within the workplace and in their personal lives beginning to demonstrate symptoms of depression and anxiety. An inability to set clear goals, and work methodically and confidently towards them is one such symptom, with underlying negative emotions being represented by lame excuses and a blaming mentality. Put simply when we and our companies are confident and organised so too is our world. Bruce specialises in helping people and their companies get to this place.

I believe in live and let live. None of us are perfect or ever will be, why can’t people just live for the moment and not go on with this modern obsession for “self-improvement”?

This is a really great question and one that can, in part, be answered by reference to personality. From the well-known “Big 5” personality dimensions, one of the five is conscientiousness. Conscientiousness reflects the extent to which we focus on detail and manage our impulses. Individuals scoring high on this trait come across as careful, cautious and detail-minded and are typically capable of working consistently and patiently towards long-term goals.

People who score low on this very stable dimension are typically impulsive and tend to skip over detail. They tend to make quick and seemingly intuitive decisions, even on big matters. Low scorers on Conscientiousness therefore tend to excel at adventurous occupations that require an ability to seize short-lived ‘spur of the moment’ opportunities.

They are also more able to adapt to change, having less of a need for structure and order around them. It is more than probable that this question is raised by someone who scores at the low end of the “conscientiousness” personality dimension. Often when used for selection and after looking at a personality profile, psychologists will ask questions around tasks which should prove “difficult” for a particular personality type.

Typical questions for someone scoring low on conscientiousness would be around their ability to set goals and work methodically towards them. It is easy for any of us to just keep on behaving in the same old way, and getting the same old results, and if these are not what we want then moan and blame everybody but ourselves.

For someone who scores low on conscientiousness, it may be they do not achieve the “perfect life”, because they are not making the best use of their personal resources and consistently choose to live for the moment, not thinking about the possibility of change and how they can make this happen if they adopt a more structured, detailed and planned orientation towards life using goal setting techniques.

Why is it that my goals always start off well, but then seem to fade so I don’t achieve what I set out? How do you know that your life is not your own?

When you die somebody else’s life flashes in a moment across your eyes. One of the most important aspects of successful goal setting is to set goals which accord to your interest and values, not those of someone else, like your parents or your employer. In an ideal world these interests and values mesh, however this is not always the case.

What provides anyone with the fuel to get from A to B in goal setting is motivation, and the best way to get motivated is to find that intrinsic motivation which comes from knowing truly who you are and what you stand for. In our NLP workshops, an icebreaker is used. We ask people to get into threes and in turn each one has to get to their feet and tell the other two “I stand for ……..” Very often participants truly struggle to know precisely what it is they do stand for.

This is especially so when in the exercise coaching questions are asked to probe the extent to which the person standing truly does stand for what they say they do. The word motivation comes from the Latin meaning to move, and if a person is truly motivated they have no option but to move and engage in behaviours which take them toward their goal.

It is also characteristic of this state that people find the tasks very enjoyable and “time flies”. The psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi termed this emotional state one of “flow”. There is little robust large scale research into the effects of coaching however there is one piece from Daniel Burke and Alex Linley (2007) who found that coaching increases the personal value and enjoyment of a goal, they call this self – concordance.

You can increase the likelihood of remaining motivated by making sure your goal in the first place truly accords with who you are at the level of identity and value. Another useful tip is to make sure you know precisely what the indicators are that you are on course for goal attainment. Knowing what these indicators are and experiencing them along your journey is motivating and provides you with the reinforcement to continue.

Is there a simple strategy for setting goals effectively?

I have used this strategy for myself and with clients very effectively over the last five years.
1. Set a context for your goal. Whenever we set a goal we do so within a context. So for example I might want to have confidence. However I already have confidence when I talk to my children, what I do not have is confidence when I talk to my boss. So in this case the context would be relationships with colleagues at work. There are eight main contexts; Relationship with yourself, Relationship with those close to you, Relationship with colleagues at work, interpersonal skills, acquiring and managing money, career, health, and finally relaxation.
2. Use the seven C’s to establish precisely what the goal is. Make sure your goal is CLEAR, make sure it is the right time to achieve your goal and the CLIMATE is right, make sure you have the CAPABILITY and develop CONFIDENCE. Ensure you COMMUNICATE to others effectively what you wish to do, and communicate to yourself in positive terms concerning your goal, also ensure that you are CONGRUENT when you talk about your goal. Finally check that you really… really want to achieve this and that you are COMMITTED. If any of these seven C’s are not in place there is an increasing likelihood you will not achieve your goal.
3. Make sure all the benefits you presently enjoy are included in your goal. For example if you want to go for a new job, you may be concerned about losing the security you have in your present job. If security is important to you then until you perceive your new job as offering security you will not make the move.
4. If you do not feel confident working with the above seven C’s find a coach who can help you move along more effectively.