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Why Do We Always Find Ourselves Doom Looping a Mistake?

Why Do We Always Find Ourselves Doom Looping a Mistake?

Whether it’s the friend who keeps falling for the wrong person, the employer who can’t seem to make things better at work, or the individual who won’t stick to a healthy routine, we all know someone caught in a negative cycle. The concept of the vicious cycle is nothing new. In yogic philosophy, the repeating patterns that manifest in our lives are called samskaras.[1]

Samskaras can be positive or negative. They are reinforced by repetition until they become second nature. Some yogis use the imagery of a butter knife running along a pat of butter as a way to explain samskaras. The knife leaves tiny ridges on the butter, and as you continue to run the knife along the same pattern, the grooves become deeper. When we develop positive patterns, they become easier to maintain over time. When our samskaras are negative, we enter into what is referred to in systems thinking as “doom looping.” Doom looping is as ominous as it sounds–problems compound and initial solutions don’t seem to have a positive effect.

It really isn’t easy at all to get out of a doom loop.

It’s easy to get caught in a vicious cycle. Imagine, for instance, a person trying to lose weight. This person may vow to exercise daily and eat better food. The morning begins full of commitment to the goal of living a healthier lifestyle, but then the person encounters a big pile of doughnuts in the break room at the office. This individual, feeling the mid-afternoon energy-slump that is perpetuated by their unhealthy body and schedule, eats a doughnut or two. He or she gets through the work day on a sugar high, but after arriving home, there’s dinner to cook, the sugar buzz has worn off, and ultimately the person becomes too tired to exercise.

Despite all those good intentions, the individual reinforced a negative pattern that will be harder to break tomorrow. Tomorrow when they get up, they will feel the cumulative effects of poor habits plus their recent failure to stick to a goal. Thus, they have initiated the doom loop.

But breaking the vicious cycle is the only way to stop negativity from coming back.

Employee turnover, poor health, and unhappiness are a handful of the many symptoms of being caught in a doom loop. In some cases, struggle may feel so natural that it is the only condition that people know. The cycle of poverty is a classic example of this.[2] Even though people in this situation understand that there are better possibilities, they lack access to them because of a series of compounding factors. This sort of cycle must be broken at a systemic level, and is not likely to be resolved through the power of a single individual.

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In other cases, businesses or entities may become reactive to problems instead of performing a proper causal analysis. They respond to an immediate need without fully understanding the problem. A company may notice that employee turnover is high, which leads them to increase their benefits package. This may draw new workers, but they fail to address the root of their issue, which is the tyrannical manager that makes every day a challenge for employees.

A school with a poor performance record may develop a turnaround plan that involves firing most of the teachers. Such drastic measures fail to yield results that districts desire in most cases.[3] In this instance the environment has been further destabilized by the reactionary policy.

Whether you are personally affected by doom looping, or you are watching it play out for someone else, there are steps that can break the cycle. The results may not be instantaneous, but they will be sustainable.

Sometimes we are so close to the problem that it can be difficult to see where we’re going wrong. The actions that lead us to this place feel normal to us, after all. Negative cycles can rob us of our power. You may be able to recognize the problem on your own, but there’s no shame in reaching out for help if you feel that you can’t resolve the issue alone.

Here’s a powerful way to stop circling the drain.

One of the main reasons that people fall into doom cycles is that they don’t take time to perform a causal analysis on their situation. If you attempt to tackle a problem without fully addressing its roots, you are putting a bandage on a broken arm. Our fast-paced world values quick results. Self-reflection, the key to breaking the vicious cycle, has become secondary to ideas that provide instant gratification.

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To get to the root of the problem, you can use the “5 Whys” method.[4]

At its most basic level, this method involves naming the problem, and then asking yourself why the problem is occurring five times.

For example:

  1. Employee turnover is high. Why?
  2. Workers are unhappy. Why?
  3. Their work-life balance is poor. Why?
  4. Their manager expects them to take work home with them. Why?
  5. As a company, our goals for this quarter are too ambitious for our staff. Why?

As you can see, this reflective line of questioning can yield some insights into what has led to such a high turnover rate for the company.[5] After this causal analysis, leaders may decide that they need to re-evaluate their quarterly goals so that they do not put inordinate pressure on the manager. By rethinking their strategy, they may be able to keep the manager from asking employees to take work home with them, which may make them feel better about their jobs.

A second way to break out of the doom loop involves using the following line of inquiry:[6]

1. Name a symptom of the problem. What is something that seems to be getting worse for you as time goes on?

I struggle to pay my bills every month.

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2. Choose three immediate and independent causes. What are three things that lead to the symptom you described above.

My job doesn’t pay me very much. I buy things on impulse. I feel social pressure to keep up with everyone else.

3. State the consequences of the causes. How are your behaviors impacting your life?

I’m stressed all the time. My cupboards are always empty. People think I have more money than I do.

5. Demonstrate how the consequences perpetuate the causes. How do the consequences of your actions enable the symptom to continue?

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Since people think I have more money than I do, they expect me to lead a certain lifestyle that involves spending lots of money. This keeps me from saving and causes me to dip into my rent and grocery money.

Break your chains!

Samskaras are a natural part of our existence. When vicious cycles arise from negative patterns, it is up to us to break them. Causal analysis should always begin with self-study. Whether you choose to use one of the methods listed above, employ the assistance of a life-coach or therapist, keep a journal, or engage in mindfulness exercises, persistence will allow you to identify the core of the doom loop.

Don’t allow yourself to be a prisoner to unhealthy mindsets and habits. You are the driver of the change that you want to see in your life.

Featured photo credit: Stocksnap via stocksnap.io

Reference

[1] Yoga Journal: Stuck in a Rut
[2] NPR: One family’s story shows how the cycle of poverty is hard to break
[3] Educational Leadership: Research Says… / Drastic School Turnaround Strategies Are Risky
[4] iSixSigma: 5 Whys
[5] iSixSigma: Determine the root cause: 5 Whys
[6] Systems Thinker: Identifying and Breaking Vicious Cycles

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Angelina Phebus

Writer, Yoga Instructor (RYT 200)

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Last Updated on April 23, 2019

How to Set Stretch Goals and Keep Your Team Motivated

How to Set Stretch Goals and Keep Your Team Motivated

Stretch goals are a lot like physical fitness. When you adopt a physical sport such as running, continual practice leads to increased stamina, growth and progress.

While commitment to the sport improves performance, true growth happens when you are stretched beyond your comfort zone. I know this from personal experience.

For years, I was an avid runner. I ran with a variety of running groups in the Washington, D.C., area and in Columbus, Ohio, where I lived prior to moving to the nation’s capital in 2011.

While I was initially fearful about slacking off on my exercise habit when I moved to D.C., running enthusiasts in the area provided continual motivation, inspiring me to lace up my shoes day after day. Much to my surprise, many of the area’s running stores (including Pacers and Potomac River Running) boasted running groups that met in the mornings and evenings. So, it was relatively easy for a newcomer like me to connect with like-minded peers.

I was never a particularly fast runner, but I enjoyed the afterglow of the sport: being completely drained but feeling a sense of accomplishment; setting and reaching goals; buying and wearing out new tennis shoes. The sound of throngs of feet pounding the pavement in semi-unison is still enough to bring tears to my eyes. Yes, I sometimes tear up at the start of races.

Of all the groups I ran with, the Pacers Store group that met on Monday nights in Logan Circle boasted the fastest runners. I met up with the group week after week only to be the slowest runner. It was difficult to muster the courage to get up every week and meet the group knowing what was waiting for me: sweating and watching the backs of fellow runners.

Each time I joined the group, I was stretching myself without even realizing it. Instead of feeling like I was transitioning into a better running, for a long time I felt I was torturing myself.

Then something remarkable happened. I went for a run with a different set of runners and noticed my time had improved. I was running at a faster pace and doing so with ease. What was once uncomfortable for me I now handled with ease.

The reason I was becoming a better runner was because I was taking myself out of my comfort zone and challenging myself physically and mentally. This example illustrates the process of growth.

Fortunately, we can create situations that stretch us in our personal and professional lives.

What Is a Stretch Goal?

A stretch goal – as authors Sim B. Sitkin, C. Chet Miller and Kelly E. See detail an article “The Stretch Goal Paradox” in Harvard Business Review[1] – is something that is extremely difficult and novel. It is something that not everyone does, and it’s sometimes considered impossible.

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In general, you establish stretch goals by doing things that are difficult or temporarily challenging.

For instance, when I was first promoted to a senior communications management role, I knew I needed to beef up my relationships with media personalities. I set a goal to once a month book a day of media interviews in New York City – which is home to many media outlets, including SiriusXM radio, CNN, NBC News, HuffPost, VIBE.

This was a huge goal because it meant not only identifying the right people to meet with but convincing them to meet with me and my team. While I didn’t end up meeting the goal of doing a full day of media interviews in New York City, I met more people than I would have met had I not established the goal and instead stayed in the comfort of my D.C. office.

It is important to note that just because you establish a stretch goal doesn’t mean you’ll achieve the goal each time. However, the process of trying is guaranteed to provide some level of growth.

The Importance of Creating Stretch Goals

The beginning of the year is a perfect time to assess where you are excelling and where there is room for you to grow. I typically start the year by creating a yearlong strategic plan for myself.

I think about the things that are necessary to do and things that would be cool to do. I assess the people I should know and think through how to meet them. Then I ask myself if the goals are realistic and what would need to happen for me to achieve them.

Over time, I have learned that there are five things I can do to set stretch goals:

1. Get Outside of Your Head

If I exist within the confines of my imagination, I imperil my own growth and creativity.

If I examine my accomplishments and celebrate them in isolation of others’ accomplishments, my vantage point is limited.

I want to be comfortable with what I accomplish, but I also want to be motivated by watching others. In some respects, stretching is about expanding your network of friends, associates and mentors. These are the people who will propel or slow your growth and development.

Since two are better than one, I always value being able to share my progress with others, seek feedback and then map a plan for success.

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2. Focus on a Couple Areas at a Time

When setting goals, it is important to focus on a couple of areas at a time. Most of us are only able to focus on a few things at a time, and if you feel you are unable to tackle all that is before you, you may simply disengage.

I see this in so many areas of life:

When people get in debt, if they believe the debt is insurmountable, they refuse to look at incoming bills for fear of facing down the debt. Unfortunately, many businesses go awry when setting stretch goals.

In “The Stretch Goal Paradox,” Sitkin, Miller and See note:

“Our research suggests that though the use of stretch goals is quite common, successful use is not. And many executives set far too many stretch goals. In the past five years, for example, Tesla failed to meet more than 20 of founder Elon Musk’s ambitious projections and missed half of them by nearly a year, according to the Wall Street Journal.”

Goal-setting is like a marathon, not a sprint. It doesn’t all need to happen at the same time, and pacing is extremely important if you want to get to the finish line. It is better to focus on a couple goals at a time, master them and then move on to the next thing.

3. Set Aside Time Each Year to Focus on Goal-Setting

When I was a managing director for communications for the Advancement Project, I spent the first part of every year facilitating a communications planning meeting.

The planning meeting began with the team members assessing the goals the team had established in the preceding year, and whether those goals were realistic or not. If we failed to meet certain goals, we broke down why that happened. From there, we brainstormed about possibilities for the current year.

For instance, one year we set a goal of pitching and getting 24 opinion essays published. This was audacious because no one on the eight-person team had the luxury of focusing exclusively on editing and pitching opinion essays to publications around the world. We would need to focus on pitching in between the rest of our work.

We hit this goal within the first eight months of the year. Remarkably, in total, we ended up getting 40 opinion essays published that year, which was an indication that our original goal was too low. We upped the goal to 41 the next year, and amazingly, we hit 42 published opinion essays or guest columns.

From this experience, we not only learned what was feasible, we also learned the power of focus.

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When we focused as a team on getting the commentary on our issues out in the public domain, we were successful. The key in all of this is that there was a ton of discussion around which goal we’d pursue and why.

Equally important, as a manager, I didn’t set the goals alone; the team members and I established the goals collaboratively. This ensured buy-in from each individual.

4. Use the S.M.A.R.T. Goal Model to Set Realistic Goals

S.M.A.R.T.

is a synonym for specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time-bound. For the sake of this article, the realistic portion of the acronym is most important.

While you want to set audacious goals, you want to ensure that they are realistic as well. No one is served by setting a goal that is impossible to accomplish.

Failing to meet goals can be demoralizing for teams, so it’s important to be sober-eyed about what is possible. Additionally, the purpose of setting goals is to advance and grow, not depress morale.

For instance, my team would have been discouraged had I begun the year asking it to pitch and place 40 opinion essays if we didn’t already have a track record of placing close to two dozen essays.

By using the S.M.A.R.T. formula, we were able to achieve all that we set out to do.

5. Break the Goal up into Small Digestible Parts

I am a recovering perfectionist. As a writer, being a perfectionist can be counterproductive because I can fail to start if I don’t see a clear pathway to victory.

The same is true with goal-setting. That’s why I join Lifehack’s fellow contributor Deb Knobelman, Ph.D., in noting that it is critically important to break goals into bite-sized chunks.

When I had a goal of doing daylong media meetings in New York City, I had to think through all the barriers to achieving that goal and all the steps required to meet the goal.

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One step was identifying which reporters, producers and hosts to engage. Another step was writing a pitch or meeting invitation that would capture their attention. Another step was thinking through the program areas I wanted to highlight and the new angles I could offer to different reporters.

Since reporters want to cover stories that no one else has written, I needed to come up with fresh angles for each of the reporters I was engaging. An additional step was thinking through who from my team I’d take with me to the various meetings.

I was clear that, as a talking head, as public relations reps are sometimes called, I needed the right spokesperson in order to land repeated meetings with different outlets.

A final step was thinking through what I needed to bring to each meeting and which reports, videos and testimonials would buttress our claims and be of interest to media figures.

As I walked through what was needed to bring my goal of doing daylong meetings to reality, I realized that not only was the idea within reach, but I was excited to tackle the challenge.

From that point until now, I have learned to break down goals into smaller parts and tackle the smaller parts on the path to knocking the goal out of the park.

The Bottom Line

These are my recommendations for setting stretch goals, and there are a ton of other resources to support you in the workplace and in your community.

For instance, LinkedIn’s Lynda.com platform has a wonderful suite of leadership development videos, including ones on establishing stretch goals. This is a paid resource but may be worth the investment if you lead a team or want to invest in tools for your own growth and development.

Featured photo credit: Avatar of user Isaac Smith Isaac Smith @isaacmsmith Isaac Smith via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Harvard Business Review: The Stretch Goal Paradox

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