Pay-off: get clarity on where you’re heading and what could derail you
Investment: 6 mins (3 min if you’d learned to speed read)
I’m going to share perhaps the simplest but highest impact (vs investment) method I’ve ever come across for getting what you want, and avoiding what you don’t in your career, sales, or life in general. The value this has brought me over the years is huge, and in case you’re wondering, it’s not ‘goal setting’.
Don’t underestimate this
It’s easy to underestimate the impact of this technique once you see it’s simplicity. To do so would be a missed opportunity to reap potentially high rewards. So I recommend avoiding the ‘unuseful’ thinking of, “that’s obvious” or “I already do that in my head” and instead think useful thoughts such as, “I’m not yet doing this, I wonder what the fuss is about?” or “I already do this, I wonder what would happen if I did it even more?”
I recommend using the exercise I’m about to share with you to think through any part of your life or work where you would like to increase your chances of getting what you want and avoiding what you don’t. I would also consider how to use it to help others make important decisions, especially buying decisions. It’s a great sales tool for sales or non-sales people.
Why lack of clarity (and goal setting) hurts
Before I explain the exercise, let’s just quickly look at the problem it addresses.
A major problem that I often see when people don’t get what they want is that they weren’t clear in the first place on what they did and didn’t want, and particularly didn’t acknowledge risks ahead, which they could have prevented or reduced. Sometimes focusing hard on what we want can put the blinkers over our view of growing threats.
This is one problem I have with goal setting. It looks at the positive result you desire. But most goal setting processes I have come across don’t get you to consider ‘avoidance goals’ to avoid growing risks that threaten your goal achievement. Which is insufficient, because risks are always there.
Worse still, most goal setting processes seem to focus on whipping up some excitement for you, blinding you even further from the risks between where you’re at and where you want to be.
Hmmm. Hyped up goal setting is beginning to sound like some sales people! But what if you could help your customers make their buying decisions by navigating them through the potential risk to arrive at a useful decision?
So, when planning ahead and helping others do the same, you’re going to need to look at both what you want and what you don’t want that could happen if you don’t act accordingly.
It gets harder..
And interestingly, just to make things harder for us, most people tend to naturally lean one way or the other. The positive goal setters often tend to miss the things that could derail them. Whilst the risk-averse planners often tend to protect themselves from threats and failure whilst ironically failing to set and boldly go for big goals.
The point here is, as you make decisions, be careful of the downsides of focusing too much on your natural preference (gain or avoidance). You’re going to need to consider and get clarity on both.
The other important reason why you want clarity on both what you want, and what you don’t want but that could happen if you don’t act accordingly, is that when making decisions and moving forwards in your career or life, you’re up against a lot of external forces ALL designed to throw you off track! Nice.
(Why to throw you off track? Because your brain doesn’t want you to do what you want to do – it wants you to ‘survive’ and somehow be the ‘fittest’. If you’re looking for something to blame for this conflict of interests, blame your amygdala.)
So what’s out there to derail you?
Well…there’s anything from advertising, marketing, the Jones’s next door, and other people’s opinions, to your own cognitive biases, emotions, fear and how you tend to react to things. All of these can throw in real or perceived benefits and risk to your decisions (and that of your customers when they make buying decisions) and it pays, therefore, to do your thinking up front away from some of these forces that compete for your decision.
(Note, to overcome your own cognitive biases which often have the final say, you’re going to need to read up on them first, understand them, and spot them triggering your behaviour..I don’t know, maybe it’s just me, but I find it quite good fun trying to outsmart myself. This book is interesting to help do that.)
Not only that, but these external and internal influencers, manipulators and malfunctions tend to stay a few steps ahead of you and keep changing too (becoming more tailored and potent than ever – think targetted online advertising that watches your consumer behaviour and tells you what you want next), as do you as you grow older and progress too.
Put simply, getting what you want and avoiding what you don’t want is hard. (How are you getting on with it in general in life by the way? If you’d perfected it, you probably wouldn’t still be reading this.)
And so…I hope this simple approach helps (it will if you work hard to throw the right thoughts in to it):
Grab a sheet of paper and draw up two columns.
Label the right column, “want”.
Label the left column, “don’t want but could get if I don’t act”.
This is on the left to give a sense of ‘past’ on a timeline, and the ‘want’ column is to the right to give a sense of ‘future’.
Now, consider what it is you’re exploring – your next year ahead in life, your next 6 months in your career, a big purchase you’re making, or simply how to spend your next weekend.
Then take as long as you need to, to empty your mind out into those columns in your chosen context.
Once you’ve filled it out and feel satisfied with what you’ve ‘downloaded’ from your mind, you can pick the most important ones from each list. Either star or highlight them. These are the main ones to focus on, and usually in doing so, you take care of the remaining ones anyway. Pick those high impact ones.
Now, you can either jot down some actions to increase your chances of making those things happen (or not happen if you’re working on prevention). Or, you could take any one of them and repeat the exercise based on that one thing.
E.g you said you don’t want to put any more weight on, but it could if you don’t act accordingly. So you pick that up and repeat the exercise, asking yourself, ‘what do I want to happen to help me avoid putting on weight? And what do I want to avoid happening?” You just get more specific until you’re clear on what you must do.
And that’s it.
You keep going to the level required, until you’re clear and ready to take charge of the situation.
I don’t know about you, but for me it often feels therapeutic, inspirational, emotional sometimes or simply just functional, depending on what you choose to think about. But one thing I’m confident of is that you’ll come out the other side better off than you were before you started. If you do it.
And once you’ve tried it on yourself, don’t forget to use it as a tool to help other people make better decisions. I often sit in sales meetings with the same two columns in front of me, and my clients seem to enjoy thinking it through. They see the benefit.
That’s just one simple tool of many, but I repeat, don’t underestimate what it can do for you.
If you want more help for your sales or non-sales team, give me a shout.