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Baby Steps and Gentle Nudges

January 7, 2016 by  
Filed under blog

 

Ever since I was a teenager, I’ve been very big on setting goals including New Year’s Resolutions which are pretty much at the top of my list. At years’ end, I’ve always been surprised and often disappointed by how many goals I failed to accomplish or fell short of accomplishing during that one year. I’ve always thought that I just needed to set bigger goals and try much, much harder. And yes, I would end up berating and beating myself up for my failures. But now I am learning from Amy Cuddy’s book, Presence, that there is growing evidence and research indicating that most of us having been going at the goal setting and resolutions thing all wrong.

Under the section entitled, “Many Popular Self-Change Approaches Fail–And Even Backfire”, Amy says, “For one thing, New Year’s resolutions are too ambitious. Setting big goals such as getting straight A’s in school or working out three times a week is a positive step in theory, but these goals are not designed in a way that actually allows us to build toward them.  They’re reliant on the success of hundreds of smaller changes and they don’t come with step-by-step instructions showing us how to get there”.

I will say, as I do in my preaching on goal setting and what I almost always do myself, we all need to break down our goals into small steps. But Amy goes further saying we need to break our goals down into ‘baby steps’ and gently ‘nudge ourselves’ along.

Additionally, Amy says, “One of the biggest culprits, as least in the United States, is the repeatedly dispiriting New Year’s resolution, which is riddled with psychological traps, that work against us.”  The problem with big goals, with a time frame that is way in the future, is that we really can’t easily visualize the end results and so it’s easy to get down on ourselves and give up along the way.  Quoting Amy again, she adds “focusing on process encourages us to keep working, to keep going, and to see challenges as opportunities for growth, not as threats of failure.”

In other words, take lots of baby steps.  Amy mentions her ambition to be a runner which at one time in my life I thought I wanted to do also. The problem is, when we set big goals, like maybe running a marathon in 6 months or doing a 3 or 4 mile run our first or second time out, we usually get totally exhausted very early on and we give up or become very discouraged.  I’ve talked to many runners who have had a similar experience. However, if I start with very small goals—baby steps—such as saying to myself, “I’ll just run for 10 or 12 minutes,” or “I’ll just go down to that mailbox or tree,” then when I’ve reached that very small objective I can say, “Hey, I want to see if I can just run another 5 minutes or just to that house down there.”  That approach is such a hugely different experience and it sure seems to fit what Amy Cuddy is discovering in her study of goal setting and resolutions.

So I would challenge all my readers to give more thought to your goals and objectives as we begin this wonderful new year. Think ‘baby steps’ and ‘gentle, small self-nudges’ and we all might find that we stop beating up on ourselves for thinking we have failed and instead find we have made some very big gains in our physical, family, social and financial life.

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