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Posted by Sarah Brown on 29 Dec '22

Recession: threat or opportunity .. plan for success

As promised, I am following up on my blog Recession: Threat or Opportunity. My focus this time is uncertainty and planning to be successful.

There is a temptation to think, "what's the point of a plan when everything might change?" but that is why you need a plan.

We can't control what happens in Russia or Ukraine or what the UK government decides to do. Still, we can work out what we want to achieve, and we can control how we go about doing it.

Setting goals

The task of setting goals is every bit as important as implementing goals, says Gabriele Oettingen, PhD, a psychologist at New York University. "If we want to achieve goals, we need to set them in a way that maximizes their attainment," Oettingen says.

Part of that is setting huge goals that excite you. You don't achieve your maximum potential as a person or business by setting small incremental goals. But setting a massive goal with no plan won't work.

Oettingen, over the past two decades, has performed study after study to investigate why so many big wishes evaporate. She concludes: "Daydreams and fantasies may be pleasant in the moment, and they can spur us to perform easy tasks, but they hinder us in handling the hard tasks."

For instance, the more frequently college students fantasized about a successful career transition, the fewer applications they sent out and the fewer job offers they received. Overweight women who pictured their svelte post-diet selves breezing past the dessert table lost 24 pounds less than those who anticipated wrestling with temptation.

The problem with positive fantasies is that they allow us to anticipate success in the here and now. However, they don't alert us to the problems we are likely to face along the way and can leave us with less motivation—after all, it feels like we've already reached our goal. It's one way in which our minds own brilliance lets us down. Because it's so amazing at simulating our achievement of future events, it can actually undermine our attempts to achieve those goals in reality.

Jeremy Dean, Psychological researcher at UCL London and the owner of PsyBlog

The four-step method to success

Oettingen has developed a four-step method that can fully commit you to feasible goals and help you let go of those that aren't. She calls the technique "WOOP," outlined below.

Wish: Find a time and place to focus for 15 or 20 minutes uninterrupted. Identify a wish in your personal or professional life that is challenging but possible.

Outcome: Keep holding the wish in your mind and imagine the best things about making it a reality. What does the result look and feel like? Let yourself experience this in your mind as vividly as you can.

Obstacle: What might hold you back from achieving the goal? Think of more than just the external barriers, such as the economy. Dig deeply to uncover the internal obstacles as well, whether it's a behaviour (standing on the sidelines at networking events), an emotion (anxiety) or a self-defeating thought (No one will have any money).

Plan: Name one action you can take to overcome the obstacle. An if-then approach can be helpful. If I'm always too pressed by deadlines to attend networking events, then I'll pick two functions at the beginning of the month and schedule them as though they're client meetings and can't be cancelled. If I feel anxious when I go to the event, then I'll find one person who's standing alone and introduce myself.

Researchers have found that not only do well-laid plans seem to get accomplished more often, but planning for failures along the way ("In case of emergency…") helps people stay on task under duress.

The crucial final steps - writing, accountability and getting started

A study by Psychology professor Dr Gail Matthews of Dominican University found you're 42 per cent more likely to achieve your goals just by writing them down. Be accountable for your written goals to a coach or a friend, for example, and double your success.

In the study, Matthews recruited 267 participants from a wide variety of businesses, organizations, and networking groups throughout the United States and overseas for a study on goal achievement in the workplace. She focused on writing goals, committing to goal-directed actions, and accountability for those actions. Participants ranged in age from 23 to 72 and represented a broad spectrum of backgrounds.

Matthews found that more than 70 per cent of the participants who sent weekly updates to a friend reported successful goal achievement (completely accomplished their goal or were more than halfway there), compared to 35 per cent of those who kept their goals to themselves, without writing them down.

Participants in Matthews' study were randomly assigned to one of five groups.

Group 1 - rating and thinking about goals

Group 1 was asked to simply think about business-related goals they hoped to accomplish within a four-week block. They had to rate each goal according to

  • difficulty,
  • importance,
  • the extent to which they had the skills and resources to accomplish the goal,
  • their commitment and motivation, and
  • whether they had pursued the goal before (and, if so, their prior success).

Group 2 - rating and writing goals

Groups 2-5 were asked to write their goals and then rate them on the same dimensions as given to Group 1.

Group 3 - rating, writing and actions for each goal

Group 3 was also asked to write action commitments for each goal.

Group 4 - rating, writing, actions and share with a friend

Group 4 had to both write goals and action commitments and also share these commitments with a friend.

Group 5 - rating, writing, actions, sharing and sending progress reports

Group 5 went the furthest by doing all of the above plus sending a weekly progress report to a friend.

Broadly categorized, participants' goals included:

  • Completing a project.
  • Increasing income.
  • Increasing productivity.
  • Improving organization.
  • Enhancing performance/achievement.
  • Enhancing life balance.
  • Reducing work anxiety.
  • Learning a new skill.

Specific goals ranged from writing a chapter of a book to listing and selling a house.

Of the original 267 participants, 149 completed the study. These participants were asked to rate their progress and the degree to which they had accomplished their goals.

What they achieved

At the end of the study, only 43 per cent of Group 1 either accomplished their goals or were at least half way there. Sixty-two per cent of Group 4 achieved their goals or were at least halfway there. However, 76 per cent of those in Group 5 either accomplished their goals or were at least halfway there.

"My study provides empirical evidence for the effectiveness of three coaching tools: accountability, commitment, and writing down one's goals," Matthews said.

The other critical step is based on our awareness of what we have started.

Research from Russian psychologist Bluma Zeigarnik (of whom the Zeigarnik Effect is named after) reveals to us an interesting tidbit about the human mind: we are better at remembering things that are partially done.

Ms. Zeigarnik came to this conclusion by testing the memory of folks doing simple "brain" tasks like puzzles or crafts.

She then interrupted them and asked them to recall (with specific detail) the tasks that they were doing or had completed.

She found that people were twice as likely to recall more detail about the tasks they had been interrupted in than in their completed jobs. Start on the road to your goal doing anything, and your brain will remember and come back to it. However, if you don't start, you will be overwhelmed by the size of the elephant you have to eat and never get going.

If you found this interesting you may want to read

SMART goal setting

Are you going to ride the wave as confidence returns to the economy?

If you want 2018 to be a successful year read this

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Tags: business planning goal setting