Archives for January 4, 2018

3 Strategies That Beat Willpower for Keeping Your Resolutions

It’s not news to most people that the vast majority of New Year’s Resolutions fail. Many of us respond to this reality by vowing to try harder. ‘I’ll really buckle down this year’ we tell ourselves, or we swear that, ‘this time they’re really going to give it my all.’

And then what happens? Usually, despite your determination to throw all of our willpower into your goals, you still fall short. Is it just that you lack the backbone to accomplish your goals? Nope, suggests a fascinating post by Jeff Wise on The Cut blog. The problem is your approach.

Science shows that the harder you try at a New York Resolution, the more likely you’ll be to fail. The counterintuitive truth is that the easier you make things, the more likely you’ll be to succeed.

Willpower is a terrible way to reach your goals.

How can this be so? The short answer is that willpower is a terrible way to accomplish change. While the science on the subject is still a bit muddled, it’s clear from both research and personal experience that relying on self-control to force yourself to meet your goals is pretty much doomed to long-term failure.

Here, for instance, is the money sentence from a recent paper that looked at whether college students were able to stick with their stated goals over a semester: “contrary to conventional wisdom, self-control was unimportant in accomplishing one’s goals.” And this isn’t the only research that came to this conclusion. “Better self-control is, paradoxically, associated with less inhibition of immediately available temptation,” another pair of psychologists concluded.

3 better alternatives

So what should you do instead of white knuckling through temptation and berating yourself to do better? Rather than assume that keeping a resolution has to be hard work, science shows that the people who actually meet their goals do so by making things as easy for themselves as possible. Wise breaks down how to do this into three simple suggestions:

  1. Avoid temptation. Want to quit smoking or eat fewer donuts? Don’t rely on willpower to overcome temptation. Instead, avoid temptation. You’ll do a lot better if you change your route so you don’t go past the Krispy Kreme than if you expect to be able to see that deliciousness every day and never go through the door.

  2. Swap behaviors. Of course, as Wise points out, it’s not always possible to avoid running into the things you’re trying to stay away from. In addition to steering clear of naughtiness, you need another strategy: plan ahead what you’ll do when faced with temptation and work to make these reactions as automatic as possible. “Maybe you’ve set a rule for yourself that every time you find yourself wanting to eat something sweet, you have a piece of fruit instead, or if you’re tempted to have a cigarette, you chew a piece of gum,” writes Wise.

  3. Start small and build momentum. Straining to keep your promises to yourself isn’t a sign you’re doing well, it’s a sign you don’t understand how to achieve difficult goals. Instead of sweating and struggling, “carve out small, manageable areas of good behavior and gradually build trust in our ability to hold fast,” he recommends. “First, find a rule that will bring you a little bit closer to your self-control goal, but will be so easy that you have no doubt you’ll be able to stick to it. Then, each day keep track of whether you’ve done it or not. That’s all.” Don’t worry about the big goal. Instead, focus on the incremental process.

Check out Wise’s complete post for more specifics on how he’s personally put this program to use to learn languages, eat healthier, and achieve a variety of other goals. It can work for whatever change you want to make in life, he insists. All you have to do is try way less hard and make things easier for yourself. It sounds like some seriously doable advice.

This Is the Single Greatest Gift You Can Give Yourself As A Leader

Everyone and their mother has their secret to leadership and there’s no shortage of articles on leadership lessons extracted from virtually everything.

I’m waiting for Omarosa’s Book on Leadership–which I will promptly not buy. 

Anyhow, it’s difficult to find leadership approaches that are universally applicable. Or so I thought before I interviewed executive coaches and faculty members Ray Luther and Eric Johnson of Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business.

Luther and Johnson have been advancing the concept of Self-Observant Leadership, which centers around a universal truth:

You can’t effectively lead others until you know how to lead yourself.

That happens through Self-Observant Leadership: when you deeply understand your identity, compare it to your reputation (how others experience you) and then make meaning of the observations and choose to adapt.

As Harvard’s Ronald Heifetz describes it, it’s the ability to simultaneously stand on the balcony and observe yourself on the dance floor.

It’s what separates great leaders from the mediocre, and it’s the rare universal truth in leadership development because it starts with who you are/want to be.

While we’re speaking truth, few leaders are skilled at Self-Observant Leadership because it’s oh-so-painful to practice.

I remember receiving 360-degree feedback; ignoring all the good and beating myself up over corrective feedback. Learning that how you’re perceived doesn’t always match up with the identity you want is truly painful.

But as Luther and Johnson put it:

“The greatest gift you can give yourself is honesty”. 

Which makes self-observable moments the biggest present under the tree.

Interestingly, this isn’t authentic leadership we’re talking about here as commonly discussed, i.e. understanding and remaining true to yourself as you are today. This is a refined definition of authenticity–understanding who you are and how you’re perceived, then making behavioral changes to become the leader you want to be, even if it means operating outside the identity you’re comfortable with. 

It’s authenticity via self-awareness and adjustment. And it requires focused attention to your internal (our identity) and external (our reputation) channels of feedback. 

Executive coach Johnson cited the example of a high-level client to illustrate. The coachee realized (through guided self-observation) that he needed to learn to give people difficult feedback if he wanted to progress up the ranks. Doing so didn’t represent his authentic-self today, but to be the leader he wanted to become, he had to adapt.

That said, Self-Observational Leadership is also about self-congruence. Luther described another coaching client who was already an effective leader but was perceived as a hard-nosed person, which couldn’t have been farther from how he wanted to be perceived. His internal and external feedback mechanisms were providing conflicting data. He had to make behavioral adjustments too, but in this case to align with how he wanted to be known.

So with all this in mind, how do you deliberately practice Self-Observant Leadership?  Luther and Johnson shared these 6 steps:

1. Live your values.

This starts with taking time to truly know your values–which Johnson says surprisingly few people really know. Your identity is grounded in your values, and in your purpose, which brings us to the next item.

2. Move towards purpose.

Understanding your Profound Why (Why are you working so hard? For what higher order reason?) is the other half of your identity. With a clear understanding of values and purpose in tow, you then compare your identity to how you’re perceived, which happens in the next step.

3. Learn.

Pay attention to feedback, both internal and external, to learn how you’re perceived and be ready to accept some things you don’t want to hear. 

4. Be present.

Part of learning is to always be present in the moment, so you can be aware of how you’re moving on the dance floor and are better able to view yourself from the balcony.  Which leads to step 5.

5. Reflect.

This separates the good from the great. Now you must reflect on the gap between your desired identity and how you’re perceived. Journaling is a powerful tool here–taking 5 minutes in the beginning of the day to reflect on the values and purpose you want to exemplify, then reviewing it for 5 minutes at the end of the day to see how you did.

6. Adjust.

Self-Observant Leadership culminates in action (self-adjustment). Without it you’re passively observing, and passing-by the opportunity to be a significantly better leader.

No matter what leadership philosophy you subscribe too, it’s hard to argue with the need for self-observance–especially given today’s rightfully sensitive workplace.

I should point out that there are those that can game the system for a while–acting exactly as the system needs them too without consideration to their authentic selves, all in the effort to rise up the ladder. 

But it always catches up with them in the end. At some point, raw performance intersects with potential. 

And those with the greatest potential for advancement see the potential in being honest with themselves.