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Coach Yourself to Success in 5 Steps

Coach Yourself to Success in 5 Steps

Achieving success can be one of the best feelings in the world. There are tangible benefits of success such as promotions or awards, but also less obvious ones like the opportunity to grow, to stretch ourselves, and to learn. The more ambitious we are with our goals and dreams (be it running a marathon or starting our own business) the more help we need to reach them.

Professional coaches are one useful resource. They may be experts in the area of the goal we’re pursuing, like a running coach or an executive coach, or they may just be an experienced sounding board to give a different lens on our problem.

But in order to establish patterns of success and consistently achieve our goals, it’s helpful (and more convenient, and cheaper!) to adopt some self-coaching behaviours. (No, this doesn’t have to involve talking to ourselves – but it can.)

I believe it’s possible to get 80% there with 20% of the effort. To start: develop a success habit by asking yourself these questions at least once a month (or better yet, every week). Carve out an hour to sit, reflect, and write. You’ll not only achieve your goals for success faster than ever before, you’ll grow and learn while you’re doing it.

They key questions to ask yourself are…

1. What do I want to achieve?

“Happiness lies in the joy of achievement and the thrill of creative effort.” – Franklin D. Roosevelt

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This is the foundation of everything that follows. Numerous studies find that people who set goals are most successful in the long term. The brilliant thing is that you don’t have to work out all the steps to get there – at least not yet. Just identify what it is you’d like to do, and intend to do it. For instance: I want to become a successful blogger. (Bonus points if you put a date to it – eg ‘by December 31, 2014’ or ‘by end of day Tuesday’).

If you’re new to setting goals, come up with three then pick the one that feels most meaningful for you right now. Focus on this for the rest of the exercise.

See? That was easy.

Next…

2. What does success look and feel like? How will I know when I’m there?

“Visualize this thing that you want, see it, feel it, believe in it. Make your mental blue print, and begin to build.” – Robert Collier

This is where the magic starts – this is part of the ‘secret sauce’, the stuff we so often skip over because we underestimate how powerful it is.

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Close your eyes and visualize what ‘success’ really looks like. For instance, being a successful blogger means different things to different people. How will you know you’ve reached YOUR version of this goal? It could be that you will have achieved success when you have written 5 blog posts with 10,000 views each. Or when you get so many guest post requests you’re turning them away. Or when your blog generates $1000 per month in revenues. Whatever success means, paint a detailed picture in your mind, then write down the key elements. Otherwise you won’t know when you’ve achieved it, and you won’t be able to assess as easily if things have gone off the rails.

Now that you know where you want to go and what it will look and feel like to be there, put your brain to work immediately to determine…

3. What is the first step towards this success?

“Success seems to be connected with action. Successful people keep moving. They make mistakes, but they don’t quit.” – Conrad Hilton

Ask yourself: what’s the next step I need to take to make this happen? By when will I commit to doing this?

You may be thinking, “I don’t know how to become an uber-blogger!” The great thing is that you don’t need to know the entire path to your goal – just one step at a time. If you can map out the entire journey, great. But if not, ask “what is one action item I can take that would bring me closer to this goal?” It could be as simple as compiling your favourite blog posts and authors and assessing what it is that makes you want to read them. Or, it could be signing up for WordPress to get your own domain and blog site. Once you’ve got an idea of the next steps, get moving. Do yourself a favour and follow through on this commitment to yourself, the way you would follow through on a commitment to someone else.

But what if I can’t figure out the next step? That’s ok. There are some great hacks for overcoming resistance. Try…

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  • Talking with someone who’s already achieved the goal you set. Ask them what might be a next step.
  • Closing your eyes and picturing a future you who’s already achieved this goal. Ask this version of you ‘what would be my next step?’

Once you know what your next step will be, decide…

4. What barriers will I have to overcome to accomplish this step with success?

“Success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles which he has overcome.” – Booker T. Washington

This is the ‘troubleshooting’ step. Undoubtedly something (or many somethings!) will come up that will get in the way of your goal. Some may not be foreseeable, but most will be. By anticipating these roadblocks upfront you can ensure you stay on track and train your brain to anticipate and problem solve. Working out these muscles will pay dividends in every aspect of your life.

A common problem: you may run out of time. Or (reverting to the blog example), you may decide that the first step is to write a post for a friend’s blog and he/she gives some extensive feedback on your writing. Anticipate the most likely barriers and visualize NOW how you will overcome each. So IF your friend sends back significant edits to your post, you’ve built in a buffer of an extra day to revise and resubmit.

Bulletproof your timelines and action plans to ensure you can leap over most hurdles that stand between you and success.

Once you’ve completed your step, ask yourself…

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5. What can I learn from this experience?

“I’ve failed over and over again in my life – and that is why I succeed.” – Michael Jordan

High achievers across sports, business, entertainment, and government share this one behaviour: they will reflect thoughtfully and detachedly on their performance and outcomes. Once you’ve achieved your step/goal, reflect and see what can be learned from your work. Some subquestions could be:

  • Did you get to the outcome you envisioned?
  • Were there challenges you didn’t expect?
  • What factors helped you?
  • Would you do anything differently if you had a ‘do over’?

Research has shown that our brains don’t actually need to ‘do’ something in order to learn – rehearsing behaviour patterns, or reflecting can be as powerful as if we’d actually had more practice, or been given the real-life opportunity for a do over.

By reflecting deliberately and learning from every situation, your can accelerate your personal and professional growth. The key for getting the most out of this is staying objective. To learn the most you need to examine from every angle with a scientist’s lens. Getting hung up on emotions or baggage will hinder your learning.

Finally, recognize that setbacks happen all the time. They’re part of life and the learning process. But the most successful people are able to ‘fail forward’, or fail in such a way that they gain valuable insight that will make them more successful next time. Being your own coach means cheering yourself on, holding yourself accountable, and sometimes, dusting yourself off! But by using this process you can set yourself up for a virtuous cycle of successes and train your brain to achieve – so that success truly does become the norm.

Featured photo credit: Paxon Woebler via flickr.com

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Last Updated on July 17, 2019

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

What happens in our heads when we set goals?

Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

The Neurology of Ownership

Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

The Upshot for Goal-Setters

So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

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Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

Reference

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