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Four Months to the Finish Line

This blog post comes from Julie and her business partner, Karen Voloshin. Together they lead DesignArounds, developing and deploying innovative training solutions worldwide. Karen is a certified coach and Julie will publish her first book (co-authored with Beverly Kaye), Help Them Grow or Watch Them Go: Career Conversations Employees Want, in September.

Don’t get us wrong. We love summer vacation as much as the next guy. But we’re usually not too sad about it coming to an end because we love what follows just as much.

September is more than the end of vacation season, shopping for school supplies, and getting the kids settled in for another year of education. September is our chance to finally get serious about what we have intended to do all year.

The fall feels a lot of January … but with a sense of urgency attached to it. All of the resolutions and goals the we set with the best of intentions around New Years come back into focus. But now we no longer have the luxury of a whole year. That long time horizon that gave us permission to defer key tasks and milestones, has shrunk … leaving just four months, a time-frame we can more easily comprehend and work toward.

So, what are you going to do to ensure that you transform intentions into new behaviors, achievements, and results? Five research-based strategies can help you make good on your goals.

Put it in Writing

It’s only ‘something you might want to think about doing’ until you capture it in writing.  Nearly three decades ago, Claypool and Cangemi conducted research that clearly established what many of us take for granted today: goals have a dramatically better chance of being accomplished if they are written down. Yet, we frequently hide our deepest desires away in our hearts or minds, and then wonder why they haven’t materialized.

So, type it. Write it. Draw a picture. Just get it down on paper… and don’t forget to be very specific about what you are looking to achieve.

From Deadline to “Lifeline”

In his University of Pennsylvania course, The Foundation of Positive Psychology, Dr. Tal Ben-Shahar suggests that the term ‘deadline’ has been overused and inspires dread rather than motivation. Yet, a date by which a goal is to be achieved drives focus, energy and results. (Tami, 1999) Since the ‘by when’ breathes life into the goal, Ben-Shahar suggests that we re-frame our thinking, establishing ‘lifelines’ (rather than deadlines) for all goals we are serious about achieving.

So, with only four months left in the year, get serious. Set some realistic milestones and get going.

Go for the Stretch

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi introduced us to the concept of flow, that stretch zone that resides between boredom and anxiety. Considerable research (Bexton, Locke and others) reveals that stretch goals – those that are achievable but require concentrated effort – are most effective and satisfying.

So, evaluate your goals and re-calibrate if necessary so they are challenging enough to really keep you interested, but still within reason.

Think Differently about the Goal

“It is often easier to start something new than to stop something,” according to The Solutions Focus: The Simple Way to Positive Change.  It makes sense. Setting a dieting goal to stop eating cookies just keeps cookies front of mind. Instead of setting a goal to ‘refrain from monopolizing conversations,’ try focusing on the new behavior to begin: ‘ask questions of others and listen carefully before offering an opinion.’

So, make sure that your goals are phrased in positive terms that maintain a focus on what you want – not what you don’t want.

Break it Down

Ellen Langer, researcher and positive psychologist, states that “people can imagine themselves taking steps, while great heights seem entirely forbidden.” The kinds of big, ambitious, audacious goals that characterize business today can be overwhelming. Where do you start? How can you ever get ‘there’ when ‘there’ is so far away? The answer is to break the goal down, identify the series of steps and just get started.

So, develop an action plan with that first (and most do-able) step that establishes momentum and leads to results.

What goals have you set for yourself this year … that you’ll need to achieve over the next four months? What strategies work for you?

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