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Setting powerful goals

In the last lesson we saw that being hopeful or optimistic involved having clear goals. In this lesson we will look at how we can formulate powerful goals that are inspiring and that continue moving us upwards and onwards.

  1. The importance of having goals: Having some goals, that one looks forward to achieving, are by themselves good for well-being. If you have goals, you have something to look forward to, some clarity on what you need to do and some idea of what success looks like.  Having clear and coherent goals ups the ante on well being further. By coherent and self concordant goals we mean that the various sub-goals you mave have should be coherent and not contradict each other and also be in concordance with an overarching life/ work goal.
  2. Finding overarching work/ life goal: Daniel Pink advises people to write a one sentence mission sentence defining who they are and what they are passionate about. Another way to think about it is to think as if you died and imagine what would be your epitaph or what eulogies people will say about you. These define your core essence and will help define your overarching work/ life goal.
  3. SMART and WISE Goals: It’s good to have one overarching life / work goal but achieving that and addressing it in its entirety can be paralyzing. That is why we are advised to chalk out sub-goals that are more short term and both SMART as well as WISE. A SMART goal is Specific, Measurable, Agreed-on, Realistic and Time-bound. These dimensions ensure that the goal is concrete and manageable. WISE goals on the other hand are Worthy, Inspiring, Stretching and Energising If we are to continue growing and remain invested in our goals, they better be WISE too.
  4. Materialistic vs Organismic goals: Some life goals are materialistic like owning a ferrari. Others are more intrinsically motivated and organismic in nature like becoming a  good physician and saving many lives.  Organismic goals have been shown to be better for well-being than materialistic goals. Having materialistic goals is associated with worse mental health outcomes like depression, anxiety etc.

In this lesson we learned the importance of goals, how to define and choose goals and also which types of goals are better for well-being. The emphasis on organismic goals gels nicely with our earlier emphasis on intrinsic motivation and viewing work as a calling. In the next lesson we will take a look to how to discover and deploy strengths at work.

What if time was not a constraint?

Some of you may be familiar with this speech by Alan Watts where he discusses ‘What if money was no object?’

The idea is to get people thinking about what they are really passionate about, and would love to do, and questions such as these are many times used, by coaches like me, to make our clients explore such options and dream big.

However, as a coach, we also come across clients who are not able to make out time for healthy habits like exercise, meditation etc and often times the excuse for not making any positive changes is the lack of time.

Now, consider the adage that time is money. Putting the above two thoughts together, one can pose a question as to what would happen if time was not a constraint. Suppose you got double the amount of time in a day (48 hrs), what would change; which happy habits will you eke out time for? Will you spend more time with your family? And if you plan to spend, say 4 hrs with family, in a 48 hr day; can you at least keep aside for the family 2 hrs in a 24 hr day?  Thought experiments like these can be powerful levers for change.

I developed this line of thinking, when I came across a post yesterday, on Facebook by Scott Barry Kaufman (whose website just got a fabulous new design), where he was grappling with a thought experiment at 1 am in the night: what if we lived 1000 yrs; at the deathbed would we say life flew too fast, or instead that it felt like forever.

While I have my own take on what we might say on the deathbed in that condition, this also prompted me to ask a different, but related more powerful question. What if instead of asking our clients of ‘how they would re-prioritize their life if they had cancer and had only 6 months to live‘ we in addition also asked ‘ What would you really do, if time was no constraint and you were to live for a 1000 years’. Would you invest more in relationships, would you slow down your hyper career focus, or would you invest more into things that only bear fruit with a lot of investment like caring for a child?

Each person will have a different take and that would provide them with additional insight into what they want to do in life and what their real priorities are.  By playing around with their time horizons (cancer/ 1000 years) as well as making them sensitive to their daily experience of time (48 hrs vs 24 hrs) one can trigger powerful insights, in the client.

So what are you waiting for? Think about how your day will change if there were 48 hrs in it and also how your life priorities will change if you were to live 1000 years; and, if you feel like, leave, a line or two, in the comments regarding the same. Maybe this little exercise can lead to a real transformative insight.

Beyond PsyCap and Grit: Towards Work & Life Flourishing

Concepts like PsyCap have become popular in organizational contexts; while concepts like Grit are found to be more useful in academic pursuits and as applied to school settings. But no comprehensive construct exists that could measure and be applied to your whole life domain.

Before we go further, lets recall that PsyCap is a higher level construct consisting of the four lower level constructs: Hope, Self- Efficacy, Resilience and Optimism. Developing and building reserves of these psychological capital in the organizational context has been shown to be associated with higher measures of performance and engagement and job satisfaction.

Grit, similarly, is theorized to be made up of Passion and Perseverance and has been shown to predict GPA better than IQ.

Both of the above concepts like Grit and PsyCap have been operationalized and valid and reliable measures exist to measure them and also measure the effectiveness of interventions aimed to increase them. It is to be noted that PsyCap is more state-like while Grit is more trait-like, but both are assumed to be capable of development.

However, in my opinion, a newer construct is needed, that is consisting of eight low-level factors, that aims to capture the entire essence of goal related pursuits and how that may relate to psychological well-being and flourishing.

The need and structure of that construct I wrote about yesterday in my psychology blog The Mouse Trap. Here is an excerpt from that delineating the eight factors:

  1. Purpose: Everyone should start with defining their life purpose. Once defined, it provides a general direction and decision-pulse for all your decisions, actions etc.  It is the super-ordinate goal of your life and all other goals should be subordinate and aligned to this.  A firm commitment to this purpose provides the motivation/ drive to achieve and flourish. This acts as the ‘narrow’ polarity of the fundamental four ABCD model by restricting our choices, once purpose is determined and defined. This is the end goal.

  2. Pathways : If purpose is the end goal, pathways are the means or subordinate goals and strategies to achieve that super-ordinate goal.  It enables one to flexibly take stock of the progress towards the end goal and adjust or change the means goal to continue momentum towards the end goal. As Angela Duckworth says ‘ “Go, go, go until you can’t go anymore…then turn left.” This acts as the ‘broad’ polarity of the fundamental four ABCD model by expanding our repertoire of responses.

  3. Positive narratives: We all tell stories to ourselves and our view of past is not objective but actively constructed. And its better to tell positive stories to ourselves than otherwise. This is related to learned optimism. As per Seligman, one should make stable, internal and pervasive/ generic attributions about positive events and temporary, external and specific attributions about negative events. This eventually enables us to  have a positive image of our abilities in the past and leads to hope and self confidence that we will be able to achieve in future too. This is related to ‘other’ polarity: how we interpret what happens to us via others .

  4. Positive self-belief: Call it confidence, call it self-efficacy or call it even agency ; this is belief in one’s own ability and efforts to lead to positive outcomes.  This is obviously related to ‘self’ and is cognitive in nature.

  5. Perseverance: This is being in for the long haul. When set upon achieving a goal, time is not a constraint, and one would continue investing time into the pursuit; if setbacks happen, one rebounds or emerges more determined. One does not change one’s goal or strategy easily. This is also related to resilience. This is ‘passive ‘ polarity as one reacts to setbacks / obstacle when they happen, but otherwise just continues investing time and energy. This is behavioral in nature.

  6. Practice: This is ensuring that efforts are not a constraint when it comes to achieving the goal. One is willing to work hard to archive ones goals and one actively and regularly and diligently puts in that effort. This again is ‘active’ and behavioral in nature. The willingness to put in hard work can again be developed like other constructs.

  7. Passion: This is not the regular definition of passion; by passion here I mean a consistency of interests and a fascination with a subject. It includes things like not getting distracted or waylaid by competing interests and also not letting you interest wane or fade over the time. It is obviously related to emotions and is the ‘pain’ polarity as an obsessive passion may sometime lead to pain.

  8. Playfulness: This is about having a playful attitude when working towards your goals;  it includes things like enthusiasm towards the goal, enjoying the journey by having flow experiences and being engaged and curious. This too is emotional in nature and is related to ‘pleasure’ polarity.

I use the above framework to coach my clients to achieve their goals/ dreams in life. I start at the top with defining the life purpose, or overarching dream and goal, and work backwards till they can me made to discover and build upon a passion for that goal.

I can also potentially see some strengths (Gallup framework) that align more closely with some of these than others.  Belief can help with committing to a clear purpose/ vision; Strategic can help with finding alternate pathways; Self-assurance can be used to build self-efficacy; Postivity can be used for interpreting events positively;  Focus lets you pursue goals with single minded determination without being distracted and leads to perseverance; Discipline lets you practice day in and day out with a plan and schedule;  Learner or Input can be the cornerstone of passion in a domain; and finally, Positivity, again, can be used for cultivating the playful attitude.

I would love to see more people using this framework and would love to hear back from them as to how useful this is, over and above, and beyond, the usual concepts like Grit and PsyCap. Of course, for this to be really useful, this construct (either as a whole or as sub factors) would need to be operationlised and measured and  interventions validated for boosting all of its sub factors.

With more and more movement toward work-life integration, its time to have a single goal pursuit related construct, investing and building on which could provide you with the resources to pursue it successfully, while maintaining and even enhancing your well-being, in all domains of life.

Successful goal pursuit, and even the mere fact that you have some important goals in life, has been shown to be associated with better psychological well-being. Research by Sonja Lyubomirsky on happiness has shown that at least 40 % of happiness is under our control and is related to pursuing activities and interests.

If we really want to flourish in life, we should have some WISE goals and should actively work towards them. The above construct will help you do that and not only achieve your goals, but also be happy in the process!!

My CV (of failures)

We all tend to highlight our good qualities and high-points in our CV’s and tend to dwell more over our past successes than failures. We take artistic liberty with how things have played out in our life and try to present a positive picture of ourselves. And this is hugely adaptive.

There is a whole body of positive psychology research that focuses on reinterpreting failures/ traumas etc and to look for proverbial silver lining and modify our narratives accordingly. We did not lose, we fought valiantly for a great cause and so forth.

However, there is another stream of research that highlights the fact that nothing ventured and nothing gained; only by falling seven times and getting up eight times do you learn to walk. As per this philosophy, failures are an integral part of life- be it in innovation / creativity / entrepreneurship where fail fast methods are encouraged; or be it in life itself where the regrets of not having attempted to do something is perhaps the biggest regret at the death bed.

So why do we try to push our failures under the carpet? While its important not to dwell on your failures too much and keep them in perspective with what you have also achieved, having a realistic assessment of your life and being courageous enough to live with that assessment authentically may be good for your resilience and optimism . Knowing that you have managed to overcome and learned from failures and moved on, may give you renewed hope and optimism for your resilient abilities.

Also for the widely successful people, perhaps it makes more sense if they could share more openly the various failures that had strewn their path; and post which they emerged stronger and more wiser and more determined. Otherwise as Prof Johannes Haushofer of Princeton points out in his CV of failure, other people may get a lopsided idea of what  entails success or a persona of success.

With that in mind, I want to share my brief list of failures:

  1. Gave two attempts at  UPSC exam in order to become an ambassador working for peace; however fate had other plans for me so never got to the interview stage also.
  2. Realized late that my real passion lay in psychology so gave GRE and Advanced GRE Psychology and got very good marks but never applied to any University and the plans of being an academic were indefinitely shelved.
  3. Left my job to first start a web 2.0 based service (that failed) and then later launched a Flourish Mentoring (1.0) project whereby approached local schools for positive psychology interventions. The venture failed and I had to go back to my day job.
  4. Fresh out of college had great aspirations of getting my books/ poems published. Got many rejections for my poetry collection. Finally settled on self -publishing my novella using print on demand Lulu publishers. The poetry collections still remains unpublished…except freely on the web:-)
  5. Aspire to write a non-fiction psychology book for past some years and have not  moved beyond outline (done when inspired on a crazy day) ……a character failure of not being disciplined/ not overcoming the writers block/ fearing rejection by publishers again / whatever.
  6.  As a psychology blogger I got good recognition and also acceptance into many science blogging  networks, but there are also many others like HBR and PLOS blogs where I applied to get entry and got rejected.
  7. In some euphoric state of mind, I applied to be a TED fellow quite some years back and got rejected.
  8. In relationships (and your CV of failures need not be restricted to professional domain) one of the person I cherish most as a true friend has broken all communications and social connections and I don’t even know why?
  9. My latest venture Flourish Mentoring (2.0) where I would have expected to had a flourishing business of coaching clients and workshops lined up is fledgling to say the least…….and I am perennially at cross roads of when I will be able to align my day work with my passion for psychology.
  10. There are more mundane failures like applying for job in various companies like Google and getting rejected. Or being passed over for promotion in the companies in which I worked (despite on my part being totally convinced that I deserved it) etc etc….you get the idea.
  11. My dream of Coach4India remains on paper and is nowhere near being actualized. But hope lives on……

So overall what conclusions do I draw…..its better to be adventurous and live  a life of no regrets- do attempt things out of your comfort zone- sometimes you will fail and that’s ok…..if you can learn form that failure and use it as a springboard for future success, nothing like it!

WISE and SMART goals

We have all heard of the SMART goals framework, whereby Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time bound goals lead to laser focus 0n results and accomplishments.

Goals, by themselves are important for success and productivity. Those who have goals are more successful and productive than those who do not have goals; self-concordant goals have even been shown to be helpful to well being. If you make goals SMART enough they will surely lead to desired results, right?

Unfortunately no! SMART goals may make you accomplish things, but may also leave you drained, demotivated or pursuing the goals that are not conducive to long term sustainability.

An alternative, or additive, to SMART goals framework is having WISE goals. What follows is my definition of a WISE goal:

Worthy: the goal should be meaningful and worthy of your effort and attention.

Inspiring: when you look at the goal you should not feel drained, but inspired to achieve it.

Stretching: the goal should stretch you just beyond your comfort zone/ skill level to ensure that you experience Flow while executing it.

Energizing: The goal while executing and when accomplished should leave you energized and looking forward to doing similar stuff again, rather than drained and deflated.

So next time you set goals for yourself or others consider not just whether they are SMART, but whether they are WISE too!