A goal or a penalty?

So here we are mid January and I am curious – are you sticking to your new years resolutions?  So much is made of the need to make a new start in the New Year, and as a metaphor it does work well. It gives us an incentive or the motivation to start something new, or do something we have been putting off!  If you have set a goal for this year, how did you decide what that goal would be? how are you going to stick to doing what it takes to achieve it? and most importantly what is your incentive?

I always find these 2 questions really helpful when helping friends or clients set goals :

What’s the best thing that will happen if you achieve your goal?

What’s the worst thing that will happen if you don’t?

The first one is the easiest one to answer as clearly your goal is going to be something you would like to achieve so by default it must have benefits. The most revealing information comes from your answer to question 2. Just think about it now, what is the worst thing that will happen if you don’t achieve your goal? If there’s not a definite answer to this then it becomes too easy to give up. Let me give you a couple of examples:

Example 1: Mary has been told by the surgeon that she needs a knee replacement. She is desperate to have the surgery done as the pain has stopped her doing all the things she used to enjoy. She can’t even walk to the local shop. Surgery is her only hope of resuming any kind of meaningful life. But, she’s overweight. The surgeon said she must lose 2 stone or he won’t operate. So the answer to the first question is “The best thing that will happen when I achieve my goal is that I can have the operation that will give me back my life” and the answer to the 2ndquestion is equally powerful, “if I don’t lose this weight I am going to be trapped in my home, unable to go out or do any of the things I love”.  Mary is highly likely to do whatever it takes to achieve her goal.

Example 2: Susan is overweight at dress size 20 and is fed up of having to go to outsize shops to buy clothes. She longs to shop in “normal shops” and her goal is to be size 14. The best thing that will happen as a result of her achieving that goal is that she can wear what she likes and look and feel more confident. Imagine Susan loses 1 dress size instead of the desired 3. This means she can now shop in normal high street shops (which sell up to size 18), so the most painful element of being overweight is gone. She is very likely to stop at this weight and not achieve her goal, as there’s no real pain associated with not getting all the way to size 14; it would be nice, but she has already got most of the benefits she wanted as a size 18.

A friend of mine once told me he wanted to lose weight but needed an incentive as he had given up so many times before, so he went to his normal breakfast group and said to his colleagues “I am going to write a cheque out now for £500 to the people I would least like to give money too in the world. I am making it payable to the National Front party, who represent everything I disagree with. I am going to pre-date it for 3 months. If I haven’t achieved my goal of 20lbs in 3 months then I want you to promise me you will send them my cheque, which they did. He knew if he didn’t make it painful to not achieve his goal, then he would most likely give up. He lost the 20lbs in 2 months and tore the cheque up promising the group if he ever gained more that 5lbs he would write another cheque.

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