I was a young girl when I first learned that goal success involved body, mind, passion, intention and confidence. At the age of eight on a hot summer afternoon, my father decided to inspire me with the story of my grandfather’s brothers, Platt and Ben Adams, who competed in the 1908 and 1912 Olympics.
Platt was in second place going into the final round of the standing high jump in Stockholm, Sweden in 1912. His brother, Ben, was third. Both brothers had finished just out of the medals in the 1908 Olympics, so this represented either brother’s best chance of striking gold.
Silently assessing the Greek competitor currently in first place, Platt steadied himself by focusing on his breath. He repeated to himself that he was at least as talented, well-trained and focused as the Greek jumper. He then compared their thighs; “Mine can jump to a world record,” he decided. “I can win this.”
He approached the bar wearing the number 76 on his New York Athletic Club uniform, swung his arms back and forth once, and leapt to a world record and gold medal. Ben got the silver medal. My father emphasized that accomplishing hard goals – like winning my own swim race that afternoon – would have to involve my head, heart and passion, and not just my training hours in the pool. It worked. I did some silent calculations and focusing, then went out and won, setting a league record in the process.
I was hooked. I’ve been focused on learning as much as possible about goal-setting and practicing different tactics since that day, which has helped me overcome challenges, achieve life-changing outcomes, and learn how to live without regrets. My fifth book, “Creating Your Best Life” (Sterling 2009) was the compilation of the best research and cutting-edge findings available on goals at that time, and was lauded as the first evidence-based book to connect the science of success with the science of happiness. In fact, eleven years later, it was recently listed as the top pick for help in accomplishing one’s goals on Thrive Global.
For three weeks in December, I isolated myself on the Delaware shores to assemble my best and most current thoughts on goal-setting for a forthcoming manual that anyone can use as a guide. Building on my earlier ideas from “Creating Your Best Life” – some of which have become mainstream, like using the science of priming to change computer passwords to reflect one’s goals – I’ve gone past the “same old same old” bromides to give fresh perspective to an old problem.
Here are a few tips in my next book that I don’t think you’ll see in other articles that have appeared recently, and that might help you positively disrupt your life in 2020.
Create a Think Week. The new Netflix documentary, “Decoding Bill’s Brain” is about how Bill Gates approaches discovering new solutions to the world’s most difficult challenges, like bringing toilets to Third World countries. The cameras follow him as he carries fourteen carefully-selected books spanning multiple genres – engineering, psychology, history, etc. – with him on a seaplane to a remote location for one week a month, otherwise called “Think Week.” If we don’t carve out discrete periods in our busy lives to stop reacting to other people and life distractions, we can’t rid ourselves of the “cognitive load” that prevents clear thinking. Start with a half-day at a coffee shop or park, if necessary, and find ways to be alone without technology so that your brain can prepare itself to work in optimal ways on your behalf this year. Try to build up to a full week where you can quietly read, listen and observe content that pertains to where you want to go in life.
Forget goals – think dreams. The word “goal” can tilt thinking into an analytical mindset, which narrows one’s focus on finding potential solutions. To prompt creative, innovative thinking undergirded by hope, ask yourself, “What is my dream?” Then flesh it out with details, dates, people, and any other information that will bring it to life. Dr. Richard Boyatzis and his colleagues at Case Western University have done significant research on the importance of saying “dream” instead of “goal,” and the impact it can have on brainstorming, hope, creativity and persistence, so start the year with a journal, a pen, and the prompt “What is the dream I want to bring into reality in the next year (or two, or five, or ten – fill in the range that works best for you right now)?”
Avoid the “Habsburg Jaw Effect.” The art world, dentists and historians recently concluded that the reason why the Habsburg royal line of Austria and Spain died with King Charles II, who couldn’t produce an heir, was because of relentless inbreeding to preserve the royal bloodline and retain power between the 15th and 17th centuries. This inbreeding produced extremely unattractive royal figures with misshapen jaws, who had the misfortune to live when realistic painting techniques were in vogue. Just like a family that couldn’t create progeny, people who only brainstorm about the ways to bring their dreams to fruition with people who look and sound just like them, won’t create the “hybrid vigor” of fresh thinking, strength and beauty. This is similar to companies like Boeing, which failed to boldly innovate its designs to keep up with consumer needs, and was bypassed this year by Airbus, which had less inbred thinking and bolder approaches to aviation. So after you answer “What is the dream?” avoid the “Habsburg Jaw Effect” by designing possible solutions and avenues to success with people who have “hybrid vigor” thinking in their DNA.
King Charles II of Spain suffered from the “Habsburg Jaw,” which resulted from centuries of inbreeding to preserve royal power and left him unable to produce an heir.
Don’t chase targets of opportunity. After you brainstorm your dream with disruptive thinkers who jolt your world with unusual questions and insights, stay focused on your key mission. Special Forces training always includes the identification of the most important outcome being sought, along with the warning that attractive “targets of opportunity” will probably arise along the way. These are to be ignored at all costs because while they might produce small wins, they will inevitably undermine the main mission. One of my clients likens this warning to not chasing random tennis balls all over the court in matches, instead focusing on controlling the action by only hitting the balls that she believes will lead to victory.
Practice “ampliship.” Too many goal-setting articles focus on individual efforts and things we can do better or differently to succeed in our endeavors. But what if we don’t just think about what we want to achieve this year, but we also make a point of helping others with their goals, too? “Ampliship” is the practice of celebrating another person’s ideas and successes publicly, which differs from sponsorship and mentorship. When we amplify another person’s good news, everyone benefits, including us. We are happier (which helps with creativity), we build bridges to others (which strengthens relationships that might help us in the future), and we contribute to the contagion of positive accomplishment.
Don’t let the convenient “temporal landmark” of the New Year to slip away if you are considering a change in your life. Anything that marks the start of an important period like a “0” birthday, a new job, a geographic relocation or relationship change can serve the same purpose, but as long as the energy of potential transformation is swirling right now, harness it and rely on evidence-based tools to assist you. The world is waiting for your ideal self to unfold, so be sure to create a positive mindset like my Uncle Platt, swing your arms and jump for the skies.
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