How to set and achieve your goals 3

Written by Jo Burnett on .


Bring them to life!

You might have heard the expression “mental rehearsal”. This is when you use your imagination to rehearse an upcoming situation. Successful athletes, entrepreneurs, coaches and educators use this technique to ensure they’re successful at what they do. A runner will have rehearsed winning the race 100 times before they actually get onto the starting line.

It’s important to rehearse success repeatedly because often the unconscious default is to rehearse failure. I can remember early on in my career going for a job interview and, as I was preparing for it, I was imagining the worst: going blank, not being able to answer a question, getting an answer wrong, not being the right person for the job, being so nervous I’d mess up, forgetting important details, etc… You can imagine the resulting state of high anxiety and stress. I was rehearsing failure before I’d even got through the doors.

Whatever limiting or unhelpful beliefs we’ve been carrying about ourselves, whatever things that critical voice in our heads has been telling us, if we allow those unconscious and automatic thoughts to shape our experiences, then we’re more likely to get the results we don’t want.

So, how do we ensure we reach our goals successfully instead of allowing the unconscious, critical part of us to take over and prepare us for disappointment?

The trick is to mentally rehearse success. To bring our goals to life. To imagine ourselves happily and easily achieving them. We need to counteract any unconscious negativity or failure predictions by consciously bringing to life a picture of success.  

And, to bring success to life, we use our senses and we use our imagination.

Whatever the goal, whether it’s running a personal best in a race, being authentic and confident in an interview or replacing anxiety with calm tranquillity, by imagining how it will be when we’re successfully doing it, we make it more likely to happen in the way that we want.

So, let’s say I often experience anxiety or panic attacks when I travel away from home. Each time I have to travel, I might be anticipating an attack in advance. I might start to imagine the attack happening. Every time I think of the journey I have to make, I’m imagining how awful it’s going to be and I’m rehearsing the attack happening. I’m setting myself up to experience the very thing I want to avoid. I don’t want to be doing this, it’s just automatically and unconsciously happening.

My goal is “to be calm and confident and to enjoy the journey when I’m travelling”. I’ve phrased it positively (Step 1) and I’ve checked that it’s within my control (Step 2) – it doesn’t depend on anyone or anything else – I can take full responsibility for it. Step 3 is to mentally rehearse doing this successfully. Imagining what it’s like to be calm and confident and to enjoy the journey and to really bring that successful outcome to life.

I do this through my senses. I imagine what it’s like when I’m on the journey and I imagine how it’s different when I’m calm, confident and enjoying it. I imagine everything I see around me, down to the details: the colour of the train seats if I’m travelling by train or the view of my dashboard if I’m travelling by car. I bring the scene to life by bringing in all the real-life details. I imagine what I’m going to be hearing when I’m enjoying the journey: maybe there’ll be voices, conversations, phones going off if I’m on a train, or maybe a radio or cd on if I’m in the car. Maybe I’ll just be hearing the sound of roads, rails, other traffic. I’ll imagine how it feels different in my body when I’m calm and confident and enjoying the journey. How my breathing will be different, any sensations in my neck, shoulders and arms. I can imagine how my face feels different when I’m calm, what expression I might have. I can even go into the detail of what I might feel against my skin: the texture of the seat I’m sitting on, the feel of the gearstick or the steering wheel if I’m driving. The more detail I go into, the better. I can imagine what I’ll taste and smell as I’m making this journey feeling calm and confident. I might be able to smell the coffee other passengers on the train are drinking. Or my car might have a particular smell that I notice when I’m driving. Maybe the windows are open and I can smell fresh-cut grass outside.

By imagining myself being calm, confident and enjoying the journey and imagining the scenario unfolding through my senses, I’m bringing it life and making it much more likely to happen.

The more we mentally rehearse successfully achieving our goals, the more we create the reality, the future and the version of ourselves that we want. 

How to set and achieve your goals 2

Written by Jo Burnett on .


Own them!

It’s no good setting a goal that’s dependent on other people or circumstances beyond your control.

Your goal needs to be owned by you. You need to be able to take responsibility for it. There’s no point having a goal you can’t control or affect.

For instance, when people say things to me like:

I want my boss to take me more seriously

Or, I want my girlfriend to show me she loves me

Or, I want my son to show me some respect

I need to help them rephrase their goal so it’s about them and not about another person.

The world and the people around us can throw all sorts of shit at us and there’s nothing we can do about it. The bit we can control is how we respond to what’s being thrown at us. We can choose how to think, feel and behave. Our internal responses to the external world are what we can shape and steer.

I can’t make my boss behave, think and feel differently, I can’t change how my girlfriend behaves towards me and I can’t force my son to respect me. Those people are in control of how they are and behave and I’m wasting my energy if I try to change them.

So, when you’ve followed step 1 in my goal-setting series and have checked that your goal is phrased positively, the next thing to do is to check that you can own it.

So, when someone says I want my boss to take me more seriously, I might say something like:

  • And, what kind of person do you need to be for your boss to take you more seriously? Or,
  • What do you need to do differently for your boss to take you more seriously?

In answering these questions, you’re reclaiming your ownership of the goal and focusing on what’s within your control. You’re making the goal about you.

Similarly, I could ask

  • What kind of person do you need to be for your girlfriend to show you she loves you? Or
  • How could you behave differently for your girlfriend to show you she loves you?

Notice the difference between I want my boss to take me more seriously and I need to be more assertive and confident in meetings – I need to speak up more… You can work on assertiveness and confidence. You can practise speaking up more. You can’t force your boss to take you more seriously.

But, the interesting thing is that, as you make the changes you want to make within yourself, as you learn to behave, think and feel differently, this has a ripple effect around you and influences the people around you. So, for example, behaving more confidently in meetings might well get you more respect from colleagues and bosses. The important thing is that your energy and focus is going into you and what you want to achieve for yourself. This can then positively impact your relationships and work dynamics but you need to be working on you for your goal to be both realistic and achievable.

How to set and achieve your goals 1

Written by Jo Burnett on .


Phrase them positively

When you’re setting yourself a goal, it’s important to phrase it positively. To state what you do want rather than what you don’t. There is a lot of complex neuroscience as to why this is important but, in a nutshell, it’s this: what you give your energy and thought to is what you get more of.

Check out the difference between:

  1. I don’t want to feel miserable anymore, and
  2. I want be slim, fit and healthy.

The first one is phrased negatively. It describes what I don’t want. The way our minds work is this: if I’m thinking about not being miserable any more, I have to conjure up the concept of miserable before I can think about not being miserable. Our minds don’t process negatives very well.

If I told you to not, under any circumstances, think about a field full of flowers, your mind will create a field full of flowers for you not to think about.

So, if I’m focused on not being miserable, I’m likely to create the misery I’m trying to avoid.

It’s much better to think about what we do want to have happen instead. The second goal is phrased positively and is about what I want. If I’m thinking about being slim, fit and healthy, if I’m picturing what that’s like and if that’s where I’m putting my thoughts and energy then that’s the reality I’m more likely to create.

Saying “I want to be an understanding boyfriend” is better than saying “I don’t want to feel impatient with my partner”. Creating the concept of an understanding boyfriend and putting your energy into that is one step closer to getting there.

Saying “I want to feel confident and calm when I do my presentation” is better than saying “I don’t want to feel nervous and go blank when I’m doing my presentation”. Creating the concept of being confident and calm and focusing on that instead of feeling nervous and going blank is more likely to make it happen.

There are three easy steps to phrasing your goal positively:

  1. Decide what your goal is. Ask yourself “What would I like to have happen?” and write it down, type it out or record it in some way;
  2. Check it to see if it’s phrased negatively or positively. If it contains not, don’t want, I’m sick of or other negatives or if it contains a reference to the thing you’re trying to avoid or move away from, then it’s phrased negatively. If it describes what you do want to have happen, how you’re going to be when you’ve reached your goal or how you want to be, then it’s phrased positively. If it’s phrased negatively;
  3. Ask yourself, the question “And when …(the thing I don’t want)… what would I like to have happen instead?”

Here’s an example.

  1. Q. What would I like to have happen? A. I don’t want to dread going into work anymore.
  2. Check your response: I don’t want to dread going into work anymore is about what I don’t want and is therefore phrased negatively. I need to go to step 3.
  3. Q. And when I’m dreading going into work, what do I want to have happen instead? A. I want to look forward to going into work.

By learning to phrase your goals positively, you put your energy and mindset into the right place from the start. You give your mind a head start by helping it to tune into the thing you want and stand a much better chance of making it happen. Remember that what you pay attention to is what you get more of so make sure that, instead of paying attention to the things you don't want, you're paying attention to the things you do.

What can you turn to your advantage today?

Written by Jo Burnett on .


When I first woke up this morning to the gun-shot sounds of the neighbouring farmer’s crow-scarers at 6:45am, my first instinct was to grumble (“It’s bloody Sunday… I was looking forward to a lie-in… That’s my day ruined…” and so on).

As tempting as it was to spend the morning grumpy and with the perfect excuse to have a bad start to the day and then lots of justification for work-avoidance, I had gone to bed priming myself to be productive and get things done in the morning, thereby earning my rest and relaxation in the afternoon. I had even prepared a check-list (for me, there’s nothing quite like the satisfaction of seeing things ticked off on completion). So, when I noticed myself feeling grumpy, I asked myself, “How can I turn this unexpectedly early start to my advantage today?”

The answer was simple: a hard-core workout would wake me up, give me energy and give me a feeling of control and satisfaction that would be the best possible start to a productive morning.

One workout and breakfast later, I’m fired up and ready to go.

The point to this anecdote is this: when things don’t go according to plan, or something seemingly “unhelpful” happens, or we feel de-railed by something or someone, in asking ourselves, “How can I turn this to my advantage today?” we can end up with a much more positive result and stay on track with our goals and intentions. How we respond to what is going around us is within our control – what is going on around us is not.

In fact, sometimes, it’s the challenging or difficult situations that help us the most. This morning, not only did I have the time to work on my fitness and health, but I also got to have more time in the day to get more done, as well as relax - all without nursing any ill-will or negativity towards the farmer. And, as a bonus, I got good material for my blog at the same time (which, incidentally, was one of the items on my check-list).

“How can I/you/we turn this to my/your/our advantage today?” is a good question to use in your personal life to help turn things around when tricky situations arise (and, specifically, when you notice you are starting to get into a negative state in response to something), but it is also equally powerful at work when challenges arise. In the right contexts, it’s a useful question to use in one-to-one supervision or in meetings where people might be unhappy about something: a change, a person or a situation. A health warning here, though – it tends to work better when you have created a culture of positivity, reflection and coaching at work, and when people are used to challenging and different questions; or when you are developing such a culture and people are primed to expect different ways of questioning and reacting to things.

Today, I chose to take advantage of an un-asked for early alarm call to start the day with energy and purpose.

What can you turn to your advantage today?

On Leadership... Taking the Time to Shine

Written by Jo Burnett on .


It never fails to amaze me, in coaching sessions with leaders and managers, just how much expertise, skill and talent people have. They shine with sheer brilliance. Sometimes, though, they need help to see their own shine. Their vision of themselves can be clouded by any combination of the following: exhaustion; over-work; difficult demands and diaries; blind dedication; lack of sleep; organisational politics; unhelpful systems and processes; pressure/stress; and a general self-propelled striving for excellence or perfection.  

The thing common to all the people in leadership roles that I meet is their desire to have more time to develop themselves. More time for thinking, for strategy, for reading, for understanding the wider context, for planning, for being inspired, for reflection and review.  Yet it is this use of time that usually doesn’t get entered into diaries, and if it does, is one of the first to give way to a more needy and immediate priority. Research, articles and books on leadership all agree that this type of time is crucial for effectiveness, confidence and leadership development. If we want to do the best job we can, we need to nurture ourselves along the way. Sometimes this means slowing down and literally, taking time, even (and especially) when we feel like we have no time to spare.

So how can leaders under all these different pressures take more time to work on themselves and get their heads into a space that allows them to perform at least effectively if not at their best? There are no easy answers to this. The systems we work within are often out of our sphere of control or direct influence. We can see their failings and understand their limitations and yet we still have to give them time and energy. However, there are things that can be done to help us avoid what we might call “distractions” (both operational and political) and to find the time to do what’s important:

  • Ask yourself the question each morning/week/month, before you start, “What are the tasks that have to be done today that are vital to success and that only I can do?” Do those first.
  • Routines can help with operational matters – create them where you can. And delegate to others the operational bits you don’t need to do yourself. And then accept their way of doing it.
  • Expect surprises and create routines/systems for dealing with them.
  • Scheduling your priorities and binding yourself to them is important – tell people what you’re going to be doing – it helps bind you to it.
  • Create times when you’re accessible to others, but do it without an open door policy – your time is as important as anyone else’s. Schedule your accessibility and let everyone know.
  • Reduce the number and length of unhelpful meetings you attend: show your face only when there’s something on the agenda for you; attend one out of every three of meetings that don’t do anything for you or your service; show your face if you absolutely have to and leave early so you can say you attended.
  • Schedule preparation, travel and action time before and after meetings. Enter these in your diary next to the meeting entry. Keep them sacrosanct. Be realistic about how much time you have and say no when you don’t have the time to slot in a meeting – organise it for the future when you do.
  • Choose what gets your attention: if there is a request from above, ask yourself, “What will happen if I/we don’t respond or don’t respond till later?” Ask yourself, “What out of all these demands really matters?”
  • Do only the paperwork that is necessary – argue your point with those asking you to do more – explain what will happen if you do and if you don’t.
  • Spend time unsubscribing to e-mails you don’t want. Send junk to the junk bin. Set up a response time notification so people know you will eventually respond.
  • When people come to you with problems, ask coaching questions to get them working on a resolution instead of using your time to deal with it … unless you are absolutely the only one who can resolve it …  it’s how they grow and develop and become the people you can trust and delegate to.
  • Schedule regular time for reflection, training, helpful conversations, reading, conferences, thinking, coaching, etc … and stick to it – it helps you grow and develop. It gives you inspiration, ideas and strategies you can use to help manage things better.
  • Absolutely, positively, take a lunch break and use it to nurture yourself – take yourself away to a good place, metaphorically or literally. Eat well. You will perform better afterwards.

A lot of these tips and suggestions come from eminent and successful leaders in a wide range of fields. I can testify to the above list, which is not exhaustive, working. I can testify to being scared about doing some of these things and doing them anyway because I trusted the expertise that gave them to me. And I can testify to nothing bad happening as a result. I can testify to the great feeling of being more in control of my time. I’m not saying these things will make your life simple, but they will make it simpler.

When we take time like this, we get to understand how strong and capable we are. We get to grow in confidence. We get to recognise our talents and strengths and to identify the skills and behaviours we want to develop. We get to perform better and feel better. We get to see glimpses of our own shining brilliance. It’s important that we see it so we can polish it the more and it can shine even brighter and stronger.