My experience as a coach tells me that there are two main reasons why clients sometimes struggle to achieve their goals.
- They just can’t get started; or
- Having made a good start, something gets in the way of their plan and they find it difficult to get back on track.
It seems that having the intention of achieving a goal is not enough. Why don’t we get started? Sometimes we just forget – your goal is to save money by making your lunch at home rather than buying it at work but you forget to buy the necessary supplies at the supermarket.
Sometimes we don’t make the most of opportunities – you pop into the supermarket to pick up a birthday cake for a colleague but you don’t take the chance to buy the bits and pieces you need for your lunches.
Sometimes we give in to impulse – you’re in the supermarket buying the birthday cake, you could buy some salad items and make your own lunch in the office kitchen but ooh, look, there’s a lovely pulled pork sandwich and if you buy that and a doughnut, you’ll get a free smoothie.
How about those people who have made a good start but then hit a bump in the road? What’s happening there? Here are just two reasons:
Old habits die hard: having spent a week on your goal of going for a walk after dinner, you notice a late email arrive from your boss and get sucked in to spending the evening working (working late into the night was one of the reasons you decided to set your ‘nightly walk’ goal).
Prioritising feeling better now over feeling better in the long run: having spent a week on your goal of going for a walk after dinner, you’ve had a tough day so you decide to flop down on the sofa for half an hour instead and walk later. Then you wake up in time to go to bed where you lie awake for hours as you’re not really tired any more.
So what do we do to help us either get started with our goals or stay on track with them? Psychologist Peter Gollwitzer introduced the idea of Implementation Intentions – simply put, we can improve our chance of achieving goals by deciding in advance the specific details of how we will do so.
How do we do that? With the two words I promised you: ‘if’ and ‘then’.
‘If’ relates to the situation, ‘then’ relates to the behaviour.
‘If it is a weekday and I have just finished dinner, then I will go for a walk for thirty minutes.’
‘If it’s noon on a Friday, then I will review my achievements for the week and set out my priorities for the following week.’
‘If I am feeling hungry and am tempted to go and buy some cake for a snack, then I will go to the fruit stall by the office and buy an apple.’
‘If it’s 4pm and I am invited to a last minute meeting, then I will accept on the understanding that the organizer knows I must leave no later than 5.15pm in order to be home for the children’s bedtime.’
Gollwitzer found that specifying the conditions in which we will implement our intentions reinforces our self-discipline, thus leading to greater achievement of goals. Realistically, even with the Implementation Intentions in place, life still gets in the way sometimes: you can use ‘if/then’ in those situations too.
‘If my boss doesn’t get back in time from her meeting for us to go through my award entry face-to-face as arranged, then I will email it over to her and set up a time to talk tomorrow.’
Today’s pebble for you to think about:
What ‘if/then’ statements could help you to achieve your goals this week?
Turning over pebbles is the blog of Thinking Space Coaching.
If you’d like to make progress in your work and life, then why not email me to see how we can work together?