Talking to a friend, you describe a great idea you’ve just had. You’ve got it down in crystalline detail. You know what’s involved, what’s going to happen, and how great you’ll feel when it’s done – even better than you’re feeling right now.
Then nothing happens.
One thing gets in the way, then another. Your friends’ interest fades. Family stops asking. Bit by bit, you watch with waning interest as your great idea slowly deflates into the sunset …
What went wrong?
You had a laser-sharp image of what you really, really wanted. You stayed positive – really, really positive. And you focused on it every available minute you had – even as it collapsed from view.
What more could you have done?
A Jordanian client of mine once paraphrased an old Persian proverb that perhaps you’ve heard before: “Believe in God all you want: you still got to tie up your own camel.”
Here’s a simple “camel-tying” formula you can try for yourself next time you want to realize a great idea:
- Imagine what you want to accomplish, the outcome it will produce for you, and how you’re going to feel once it’s done: This is the step you’ve already proved yourself in. Done really well all on it’s own, you’re pretty well guaranteed not to achieve your great idea.
- Identify what you can do to achieve this outcome: Let’s take an example. Say you wanted to socialize with Susan and Fred once a month. This step might be as simple as tweaking your idea from “I want to get together with Susan and Fred once a month” to “I want to organize getting together with Susan and Fred once a month”.You might find it even more helpful to ask yourself a question aimed at getting yourself into action. Something along the line of “How can I get together with Susan and Fred once an month?”
- Create a simple plan to get things going: This could could be as simple as coming up with a process. Like setting up a recurring date, time and place with Susan and Fred to get together. Maybe backed up with an email reminder. It might involve making a commitment – the more public the better – to call Susan and Fred once a month. Maybe devising an “if/then” scenario would be helpful to give yourself a default way of handling a situation likely to reoccur. For example, “if I feel like getting together with Susan and Fred then I’ll send them a text”.
To keep yourself on track, here are three points to keep in mind when giving this approach a go:
- Follow the steps outlined above in their given order. Finishing off with a detailed visualization of what you want to accomplish is perhaps the most effective way to ensure you’re not going to follow through on taking action toward realizing your great idea.
- Be prepared to deal with interference from your “What the Hell” perfectionist. We all have one, and they sound something like this: “It’s January 31st and I forgot to call Susan and Fred! Why do I always stink at stuff like this? What the Hell: I’m not even going to bother trying to call them any more!”Moments like this offer a great opportunity to practice your “if/then” scenario-making. If you have a thought like this then what will you do :)?
- Use practical rather than moral judgments when facing unexpected events. Like forgetting to call Susan and Fred, for example. This is also useful in the case of unwelcome feedback, like hearing yourself say :Why do I always stink at stuff like this?”.Moral judgments – identifying events and feedback as “right” or “wrong”, “good” or “bad”, “success” or “failure” – do not help us identify and act on what next needs doing to achieve our great idea. Identifying the practical specifics of what’s working and what could be improved upon does.
All the best with achieving your coming year’s batch of great ideas – I look forward to hearing how you get along and answering any questions you might have!
This article was inspired by two sources: a call from Global News researching how people can follow through on New Years resolutions, and friend of mine facing her own “Susan and Fred” New Years commitment challenge. If you’re interested in some of the science behind this article, check out Gabriele Oettingen’s Rethinking Positive Thinking: Inside the New Science of Motivation (2014). Happy 2015!