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Posted by Sarah Brown on 10 Jan '16

The science to help you achieve your goals in 2016

How the latest science research can help you achieve your new year’s resolutions so that you make 2016 your best year ever and how coaching can make it even better.

Why do we need science to help us achieve our resolutions? Well research suggests 25% of people abandon their resolutions in just a week. Less than 50% make it to the summer and less than 10% achieve success.

1) Change your mindset

The first interesting bit of research is that almost 40% of twenty somethings achieve their New Year’s resolutions each year, but not even 15 % of those over 50 do. The thinking is that we begin to believe that we can’t do it, so we don’t. What happened in the past determines what will happen in the future. “I’m just the sort of person that can never….lose weight, make money, get fit, find someone to love….” Have you ever wondered why so many lottery winners end up poor, well they didn’t change their mindset so they still saw themselves as hard up and thus made it true as the brain doesn’t like the internal and external reality to be different.

2) Day dreaming undermines our success

The task of setting goals is every bit as important as implementing goals, says Gabriele Oettingen, Ph.D., 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. And Oettingen, over the past two decades, has performed study after study to investigate why so many big wishes evaporate, with this conclusion: “Daydreams and fantasies may be pleasant in the moment, and they can spur us to perform easy tasks,” Oettingen says. “But they hinder us in handling the hard tasks.”

To do big stuff, you have to set really big goals that are exciting to you. You don’t achieve your maximum potential as a person or as a business by setting small incremental goals


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.

3) Draw your goals

Visual goal setter Patti Dobrowolski has found people achieve 80% more success when they draw their goals.

It doesn’t have to be a work of art but it makes you think more clearly and you identify details that otherwise might be missing.

See it, then believe it and then act on it. Drawing frees the imagination to act and be creative and helps the brain to find routes to achieve your goals

To do big stuff, you have to set really big goals that are exciting to you. You don’t achieve your maximum potential as a person or as a business by setting small incremental goals


You also remember things 65% better when they are attached to a picture. Watch this great video to see how.

4) Write your goals down

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. Other studies back her up.

4) Get specific and detailed with time and place where possible

Goals work better when you know what to do and particularly if there is a trigger to encourage action. I will always walk to the shop to get the paper, and when I want a paper, I walk, rather than the vague goal of walking more.

One UK study's participants were told about the dangers of heart disease and that exercise could prevent it. Some worked out, some didn’t, but the statistics are amazing.

Without specific goals, participants had less than 40 percent success rate. However, participants who narrowly defined their goals by adding where and when never forgot to exercise and almost always did. Their success rate was better than 90 percent over double.

5) Think about the problems and how to overcome them

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

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

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

Obstacle: What is it that might hold you back from achieving the goal? Don’t think only of external obstacles such as the economy. Dig deeply to uncover the internal barriers, whether it’s a behaviour (standing on the sidelines at networking events), an emotion (anxiety) or a self-defeating thought (I’m always the least interesting person in the room).

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, I’ll find one person who’s standing alone and introduce myself.

This method is now being used with school children to help them be more successful as well.

6) Have someone hold you to account regularly

Be accountable for your written down goals to a coach or your friend, for example, and you double your success.

Matthews, the professor in Dominican's Department of Psychology in the School of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, in her study recruited 267 participants from a wide variety of businesses, organizations, and networking groups throughout the United States and overseas including the UK for a study on how goal achievement in the workplace is influenced by writing goals, committing to goal-directed actions, and accountability for those actions. Participants ranged in ages from 23 to 72 and represented a wide spectrum of backgrounds.

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

Her findings were presented in May 2015 at the Ninth Annual International Conference of the Psychology Research Unit of Athens Institute for Education and Research (ATINER).

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

Group 1 was asked to simply think about business-related goals they hoped to accomplish within a four-week block and 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).

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

Group 3 was also asked to write action commitments for each goal. Group 4 had to both write goals and action commitments and also share these commitments with a friend.

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

Participants' goals were broadly categorized and included completing a project, increasing income, increasing productivity, improving organization, enhancing performance/achievement, enhancing life balance, reducing work anxiety, and 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.

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

My study provides empirical evidence for the effectiveness of three coaching tools: accountability, commitment, and writing down one’s goals


7) Start and your brain will help you carry on

Interesting research from Russian psychologist Bluma Zeigarnik (of whom theZeigarnik 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 the tasks they had completed. So 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.

8) Progress not perfection

Remember progress not perfection as we have a tendency to overreact when something goes wrong.

In research by Janet Polivy and her colleagues, people who were on diets were tested with pizza and cookies.

In the study, two groups of participants (those on diets and those not dieting) were told not to eat beforehand and then served exactly the same slice of pizza when they arrived to the lab.

Afterwards, they were then asked to taste and rate some cookies.

The thing was, the experimenters didn’t really care about the cookie’s rating, they just wanted to see how many people ate.

This is because they tricked some of the participants into thinking that they had received a larger slice than the others (using framing and false information). This was to make them believe that they had most certainly “ruined” their diet goals for the day.

The result?

When the cookies were weighed, it turned out that those who were on a diet and thought they’d blown their limit ate over 50% more of the cookies than those who weren’t on a diet.

Our brain is geared towards giving up, whenever we fall short of our goals so you need to think how far you have come and prepare for problems with what you will do.

9) Plan

In research by Gollwitzer and colleagues, the subject of “if-then” plans was discussed in relation to how we set and stay consistent with out goals, and the results are not surprising but reveal a lot of insight into how our brain reacts to planning (and even some great tips).

The thing is, researchers 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.

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Tags: goal setting coaching