Don’t make New Year’s resolutions. Make goals. And make them sticky…

Over the next few weeks more and more thoughts and conversations will turn to New Year resolutions. They are a great way to remind yourself of what you want and to focus on achieving it. But they are really hard to keep and often not well thought through – making it even less likely you’ll stick to them. So how about not making a new year resolution. Make some goals instead.

Sports Psychologists do lots of work with their athletes to help them set, and then stick to their sporting goals, so why not learn from them how to make the right goals. Goals which are really sticky and thus easier to achieve. Research has proven that doing this works with study after study showing setting clear goals can increase your motivation, commitment, concentration and confidence, reduce negative anxiety and ultimately improve your performance.

Below is a 10-point guide to writing sticky goals.

  1. Don’t call it a New Year Resolution. If you do, when you get to that moment in January when you’ve stopped writing Happy New Year on every email (which already seems to go on for far too long!), the resolutions feel dated. So don’t have New Year Resolutions. Have Goals.
  1. Write positive, not negative goals. So rather than writing things you can’t do, such as not drinking alcohol, no eating chocolate or drink no more that eight cups of coffee a day (yes – that is a real goal I’ve seen!) write them as positive things such as I will do 30 minutes of exercise a day, I will drink 8 glasses of water. You are more likely to stick to your goals if they are things you CAN do, rather than things you CAN’T. When you hit them you’ll feel you’ve achieved something great, rather than avoided something awful.
  1. Don’t set outcome goals. These are dream goals like winning a race or getting promoted at work. And they are great for day dreaming – but you can’t control anyone else or what they do. If your goal depends on what someone else does, it doesn’t matter how much you focus or how hard you work – you are still not in control of it happening. Make your goals ones you have direct power over such as run a 10k in under 45 minutes or get an average of 4 on my performance review. If you do want to win a race, pick the race, study previous results, see what time you think it will take to win, make that time your goal and and work towards that. Someone amazing may show up and still beat you but you will have achieved your goal and got faster in the process.
  1. Have long and short term goals. If you only have something in that is a long way away it is hard to stay motivated in the build up.
  1. If you are writing sports related goals, then separate out the ones you need for training and the ones you need for racing. This will make them specific and focused.
  1. The more specific your goals the better. Rather than say: ‘I want to run faster’ a more specific and effective goal would be: ‘I want to run under 20 minutes for my 5k by June 1st.’ It is much easier to break these type of goals down so you can achieve each element required such as ‘I need to be able to run one kilometer comfortably in 4 minutes by May 1st.
  1. Make your goals a stretch, but still realistic. Too easy and you’ll underperform. Too difficult and you’ll lose motivation or destroy yourself. If you are currently struggling to reach 200 watts on a 20 minute cycling time trial, expecting to get to 300 watts in six months is probably a stretch too far and will be demotivating. But 250 could be achieved with a lot of work and will push you to keep working hard.
  1. Give your goals a deadline. Setting a deadline to your goal focuses the mind and allows you to set realistic intermediate goals to keep you on track.
  1. Make your goal exciting. What makes you passionate? What is the thing that makes you animated when you talk? Motivation will come from that passion. So take time to think through what you really really want to achieve. What will make you get out of bed to train at 5am on a cold, wet, windy, winter morning?
  1. Finally, record your goals. Everywhere. The fridge, next to your desk, with your friends, notes on your computer. You need to repeatedly see them and ideally tell someone about them to increase your commitment and accountability. The embarrassment of having to admit to someone you gave up on something which once made you so excited is a great prompt to keep going.

I’m yet to work on my goals but will be doing so over the next few weeks. Would love to hear about yours…

Five rules to live by

A few weeks ago a very well established sports psychologist suggested that it can be valuable to write ‘your story’. 500 words on what makes you, you. 500 words was far too short to cram my ramblings into so I won’t share and bore. But what I found interesting was it became clear that I’ve lived my life to date by some very specific rules. Ones I’ve learnt from some amazing people who’ve helped guide me. Ones I never realised I had but which pop up time and time again every time a decision needed to be made or I was finding my way out of a pickle:

  1. Say yes to every opportunity. The things you’ll look back on and regret will be the things you didn’t do – not the things you did. Take a chance.
  2. Allow yourself to sulk occasionally – it will kick you out of your comfort zone and force you to look around and see what else is out there.
  3. When you find someone who believes in you, believe in them and take their advice and direction.
  4. You can’t control your environment. Don’t try to. Instead control how you respond to it.
  5. Whatever you do, do it really well. You can do anything you want – but you can’t do everything. So do a few things you love really well and the people you need to impress won’t be able to ignore you.

What are your rules?

Tips from retired athletes about dealing with the media

I have recently been researching how Olympic athletes are impacted by the media. I asked ten Olympic athletes, based on their experiences with the media, to give advice to junior athletes just starting out in international competition. The most common and salient points were:

  1. Learn how the media works. This will take away some of the issues you may face, help you see that often negative comments are not personal and help you to make the media work for you rather than the other way round. Find a few athletes in your sport who you see handle the media well and ask them how they manage it.
  1. Know when you need to get into the bubble and come away from reading traditional or social media then so you do not risk distraction, frustration or hurt. If you want to hear what your fans and positive supporter have to say then hand over your social media account to a friend or relative who can mediate what you see and can print messages out for you.
  1. Remember your manners. Smile, be nice and remember the journalist is doing a job too.
  1. Be open and honest about your time commitments. Offer to help journalists when you can but keep it on your terms so neither your training or self-care is disrupted. You are only a good story for a journalist if you are performing well so don’t spend too much time on media commitments to risk that.
  1. Ask lots of questions. Understand what the piece is you are involved in and get exact details of what you are signing up for.
  1. Be an advocate for your sport. Tell your story, be honest and interesting. Work out and practice making any complex stories or ideas simple and how best to communicate those so nothing is lost in translation and you don’t feel misinterpreted. If you have had a bad race it is fine to admit you know that and that you are thinking about how to improve for next time.

The five Cs of networking

I recently attended a great conference having been out of the corporate world for a while. I immediately switched back into my ‘networking’ mode and realised it is a great skill that is hard to pick up (and scary to start with) but one that you never forget and will always value having. So if you are off to an event or conference or awards ceremony and there won’t be many (or any) people there that you know, rather than hide in the corner and pretend to be frantically working on your blackberry (yes – we’ve all done it) these five rules of networking should help you on your way,  ensure you make some new contacts out of the day and enjoy the experience a bit more too.

  1. Commit – to speaking to three people you didn’t know before at every event you go to. It gives you a target and stops you getting lazy or too timid.
  2. Conversation openers – If you don’t know anyone there are a number of different routes you can go down to open conversations. When you arrive speak to the host or the person who invited you and ask them who is interesting and ask them to introduce you. A great tip is never to walk up to a group of 2 people you don’t know (as they may be having a private conversation) but a group of three will always welcome you. In 10 years this trick has worked every time. Work out in advance some easy conversation openers or developers that you can fall back on if it gets difficult. The topic of the event or the subject of the session you have just been in is always the easiest conversation opener.
  3. Cards – always have business cards on you – you never know when you may need them and who you will meet.
  4. Cues – build up a bank of conversational cues you can use to escape dull conversations but don’t be rude. The worst people at networking events are those who spend your conversation staring over your shoulder for someone more important to speak to. Manners cost nothing and make a massive difference so extricate yourself politely.
  5. Confidently follow up – if you meet someone interesting or discuss ways either of you may be able to help the other, do follow up with a short email. Don’t be too shy to do so you never know how they may be able to help you in the future, or you to help them. And being able to give someone else a step up is a fantasitc feeling.