As we move into the middle of the first month of the year, the most ambitious among you are either looking at – or still gently polishing – your goals for this year. Most people will have given this ‘new year, new you’ idea some thought as we rolled into a new decade, but a much smaller number will have actually written them down. That makes a difference, but is not the subject of this blog.
Here is what I know: no matter how big the goal you’ve set, or how daunting the obstacles that appear to block your path, the biggest thing in the way of achieving them is you. More specifically, who you think you are and what you think you are – or are not – capable of.
If your goals fit inside your current sense of yourself (or your identity), there is a good chance you’ll manage to reach them. If not, a happy result is much less likely.
Let’s just say that for the purposes of this blog you will need to perform at a new level to achieve the new goal you’ve set. Our performance is determined by our sense of what is normal for us, and if you don’t think it’s normal for you to do or have the thing you want, then you’ll find a way to not do it. Why? Because it is more important for you to stay sane (remain who you think you are) than to achieve your goal. Strange but true. It can begin to feel a bit like a Catch-22 type situation.
But there is a way through. Fortunately, a big chunk of who we think we are comes from the conversations we are having with ourselves all day, every day, about what is happening in our lives. Effectively, our identity is built through what is called our ‘self-talk’, the 50,000 – 80,000 thoughts we have each day. Many of those thoughts are evaluative of our performance, some version of the following: “that’s like me, I’m good at that”, or “that’s not like me, I’m better than that”, or (least helpfully) “that’s not like me, I’m not that good!”.
To recap, if you want to shift performance, one of the biggest levers you have is to shift your identity, to make the new performance level seem absolutely normal for you. If you want shift your identity, one of the most reliable approaches is to shift your self-talk.
We are living in what has been called an ‘attention economy’. Whole businesses – huge businesses – are built on the idea that our attention has value, and that they will be able to claim some share of it. Why do they want our attention? Because it has value to advertisers.
Do you think they advertise for fun? No, they advertise because it works. If you know that it works, do you really want to have someone else decide what it is that builds your sense of what you want, and motivates your actions?
How about this?: If you accept that advertising can shift your desires and move you to action (to buy something, for instance) how about you advertise to yourself – about who you want to be and the future you want to act your way into.
So if you’ve written down your goals for the year, you are already way ahead of the pack. What matters now is what you do with them next. If you put them in the drawer until the end of the year, that will make for an amusing exercise in December. If you are serious about them, you’ll want to write some affirmations to support them.
Affirmations are simply structured self-talk, a way of consciously changing your subconscious sense of who you are.
Affirmations are not magic thinking, but a way of leveraging what we know how humans change fastest and most easily. They are not a guarantee of getting the outcome in question, but they dramatically enhance the probability of the outcome you want.
So, you can allow the attention economy to determine what you want, and which direction you go this year, or, you can advertise your desired identity, performance and achievement to yourself, and set off in that direction.
Like last time, this is not what most people expect when they think of GTD®, but these ideas are in the very fabric of the methodology. There is, for instance, no way that we could have created two of the largest GTD franchises in the world without these ideas.
What are ‘these ideas’? They are the fastest way we know to create the changes in identity that lead to a change in behaviour and results. Most people try to get the results before the behaviour change, which doesn’t work, but actually neither new results nor lasting behaviour change are possible on top of an unchanged identity.
“Wait a minute!”, I hear some saying, “Isn’t this just more self-obsession?”
Again, the idea of ‘why?’ or ‘for the sake of what?’ plays a big role here. If this is all just for your own self-aggrandisement, then yes, we are probably just looking at more self-obsession. If, however, your desire is to grow yourself to be of more service to your friends, family and community, then we move into much more constructive territory.
Have a fabulous year.