A Coaching Power Tool Created by Douglas Hensch
(Executive Coach, UNITED STATES)
Each year, thousands of books are published with the promise of helping us lose weight, be better leaders, improve our marriages and be happier, overall. How can each new book promise to help us find happiness when so many are continually published? What is it that gets in the way of our achieving these seemingly important achievements of health, leadership, love and happiness?
Many times, our “wants” create detours and obstacles to the things that really matter in life. We want more money. We want to be promoted. We want others to like and respect us. What we may want to consider, however, is how to use the science and power of “goals” to help us create a life of satisfaction, achievement and purpose.
When used as noun, a “want” can be defined as “a lack or deficiency of something.” And, when we lack something, our evolutionarily imperfect brain does not always serve us. We constantly compare ourselves to other even when the research clearly finds that this leads to lower levels of happiness and well being. In addition, we are bombarded by choice. Television, ecommerce and social media have made us more choice than at any time in history. According to Barry Schwartz, Ph.D., having more choices can actually produce higher levels of regret and depression. And, David DiSalvo asks one of the greatest questions of our time, “Why does our brain seem to want more of what is ultimately not best for us?”
What’s more is that these desires for a certain outcome are incredibly powerful. We say, “If I only get this job, I’ll be happy.” Or, “I just want to be recognized for all my hard work.” Again, on the face of it, these may not seem harmful. The research, once again, paints a different picture. In fact, we are not very good at predicting our emotional states when we are presented with a new job, moving into a big house, having children and getting married. We consistently over-‐estimate the how good it will feel to achieve these things and how long these good feelings will last. And, while it is human to want, there is an alternate way to view our future circumstances…
It has long been known that goals, when applied with some distinct attributes, can be a very powerful force in creating meaning, purpose, achievement and a sense of well being. In the last twenty years, the research on this topic has produced some interesting results that can help us make better choices for ourselves and live a richer, fuller, more interesting existence. As clinical psychologist and happiness researcher Todd Kashdan, Ph.D. writes, “I cannot emphasize enough that you need to honor your own values…A fulfilling life stems from acting in ways that are aligned with our core identities. Values fill up space in the core (emphasis mine).” There are a myriad of ways to identify our most coveted values and the important thing is to be honest with yourself and check back with your list from time to time.
When we combine these values with our interests, we can more easily see our purpose. This purpose allows us to set meaningful goals. A well thought out purpose can guide our behavior and be an incredibly strong source of motivation as we pursue these goals.
The values, purpose and goals you adopt can be very unique or we can learn from others. While we learn a great deal from those we admire, we must pause to make sure that we are true to ourselves. We all bring a distinctive set of characteristics to this planet and honoring this distinctiveness is key.
Setting and pursuing these goals can be made more effective with some research-‐ based tips:
- When setting a big goal, remember to break it down into smaller goals, or milestones. This makes the next steps more apparent and leaves room for a sense of accomplishment before reaching the ultimate goal.
- Find ways to receive regular feedback. It can be in the form of charting progress or creating your own measures.
- When setting multiple goals, look for areas of overlap. The research is clear that leveraged goals contribute to higher achievement of all the goals in question.
- Identify the risks or potential barriers to reaching your goal. Several studies have shown that simply writing “If…then…” statements where participants anticipated an obstacle and wrote down what they would do when encountering the obstacle increase goal achievement.
- List the people in your network who can help you achieve your goal. Don’t try to do it all on your own. Positive, supportive relationships may be the cornerstone of our well being and our ability to accomplish great things.
- Cross check your goal with your most coveted values. Are they aligned? Have you identified a new value?
- Finally, write it down. Simply putting your goals in writing increase your chances for being successful.
The human brain is a complex piece of machinery. It is not always working in our best interests and our ability to pause, consider and choose the “right” next step is uniquely human. It is important to be compassionate with ourselves and accept the fact that our wants and desires can get in the way of true happiness. And, don’t forget the role that mindfulness can play a role in recognizing when we just want something and when it can serve our highest values. We are going to make a fair amount of mistakes along the way, but that is also part of the human condition and an excellent teacher.
Adams Miller, C. & Frisch, M. Creating your best life: The ultimate life list guide. Sterling Publishing, Toronto, 2009.
Ben-‐Shahar, T. The pursuit of perfect: How to stop chasing perfection and start living a richer, happier life. McGraw-‐Hill, New York, 2009.
Diener, E. & Biswas-‐Diener, R. Happiness: Unlocking the mysteries of psychological wealth. Blackwell Publishing, Malden, 2008. DiSalvo, D. What makes your brain happy and why you should do the opposite. Prometheus Books, New York, 2011.
Kashdan, T. Curious? Discover the missing ingredient to a fulfilling life. William Morrow, New York, 2009. Schwarta, B. The paradox of choice: Why more is less. Harper Perennial, New York, 2004.