Category Archives: skin in the game

What to do after you fail at your New Year’s Resolutions

How are your goals for the new year going so far? Have you failed yet? 🙂

hang in there

In NLP we have this phrase “there is no such thing as failure, only feedback.” This is the essence of a growth mindset or a learning goal orientation. Because I can improve my abilities, when I don’t immediately get what I set out to accomplish, that’s information I can use to continue to improve.

If you’ve failed at your New Year’s Resolutions already (which most people have), what have you learned that can help you to improve your goal pursuit? Did you set too high a bar and want to try lowering it? Was your goal too all-or-nothing? Perhaps try chunking it down, making your goal more feasible, but still making sure it is exciting enough to be desirable.

As far as my goals for the new year, I’ve made some progress and had some learning too. I have one fitness goal and one career goal. I keep my goals private to increase “goal shielding” so I won’t mention what they are. Basically I don’t want to get praise for having set a goal, as that can decrease motivation to actually pursue the goal.

With the fitness goal, I’ve already failed at progressing at the speed I wanted and felt discouraged for a a little while, but then realized I just needed to slow down the progression a bit. Feedback, not failure. Yesterday I met my lowered progression goal in my training – it was hard, but I did it! I might have to keep going at a slow pace, but it will still be worth it.

With my career goal, so far I’ve already tried a bunch of things and changed my mind about what exactly I’m going for, but I feel I am making progress. I’m also going slower than expected with this goal – I thought I’d have completed a bunch of things by the end of the first week in January, but as it turns out I haven’t yet. But that’s OK – I’m learning a lot, and continuing to try things.

And if you want more science with that advice, check out this fantastic interview with Kelly McGonigal over at the TED blog.

How about you? What are you learning this year so far?

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Skinny Guy Problems – Success! Gained 5lbs

Most people in the United States would like to lose a few pounds. Then there are skinny guys like me.

I’m not complaining, but a few years ago I was 138lbs at 6’5″. That’s really skinny, unhealthily skinny even. I ate and exercised my way back up to about 155lbs using bodyweight exercises and healing my gut (thanks to my herbalist).

At the end of 2012 I switched to lifting weights and wanted to continue the upward trend which had stalled for many months. Historically when I don’t focus on gaining weight, I tend to lose weight, so gaining lean muscle is like health insurance for me.

So on January 1st I set a goal to gain 5lbs, ideally of lean muscle mass but I’m wasn’t measuring too closely (still can see my flexed abs in good light which is good enough for me). To be precise, my goal was to weigh 167lbs, as weighed first thing in the morning — without clothes, before eating, and after using the bathroom.

I set this goal using the well-tested psychological method of mental contrasting with implementation intentions (see Oettingen, 2012). In other words, I first chose a desirable, highly feasible goal. Then I thought first about an aspect of the desired future, then contrasted that with an aspect of the present reality or obstacle that stood in the way. I repeated this process a few times. Then I made if-then plans to overcome each obstacle, like “if it is breakfast, I will cook and eat 5 eggs and 3/4 cup of oatmeal!”

On February 6th, I reached my goal. And I’ve maintained it or close to it since, despite going on vacation for my wedding/honeymoon for 11 days (normally I’d lose several pounds on vacation — yea, I know, skinny guy problems). I’m now solidly in the “normal” BMI for my height (not that BMI is a good measure of health, but it’s still something).

I’d actually like to gain more than 5lbs, but when I thought about a goal to get to 175lbs, it didn’t seem feasible. The most I’ve ever weighed was 165lbs…and that’s when I was taking creatine (which adds 5-7 lbs almost instantly in water weight) and stuffing myself with protein shakes on a “Body for Life” challenge. Back then I hurt for 5 days after every balls-to-the-wall workout, and felt constantly bloated and terrible due to overeating (6 meals a day) to try to gain weight. It was a totally unhealthy method based on self-hate, and I don’t recommend it.

Now I’m almost never sore after a workout, and my main strategy was to just eat slightly bigger meals 3 times a day, and eat until somewhat full each meal. I switched to StrongLifts 5×5 as my training program to make sure I was progressing in the major barbell strength exercises. I already eat relatively healthy and focus on getting enough protein in each meal in order to gain mass (about 0.7g protein per lb of bodyweight each day — I’ve found the standard “1g per lb of bodyweight” to be excessive for me).

Let me tell you this though — it wasn’t all linear progress. The first few days after I started making bigger breakfasts I had some linear progress, but then I stalled out and even backslid a bit when I approached 165lbs. I changed to StrongLifts and it took a week or for the heavy weights to kick in because the volume was less than the previous program I was on, and I also bumped up my lunches and tried eating bigger at dinner. I also threw in some cottage cheese and fruit before bed. All these things combined seemed to do the trick.

I suggest instead of a radical weight loss (or gain) plan based on self-hatred, try setting a 5lb goal (or other highly feasible, yet desirable and challenging goal) and reaching and maintaining that first through healthy habits. When you succeed, you will know what it takes, and be ready to set another 5lb goal if you so desire. And it can be tough to change one’s diet and exercise habits — another reason to set smaller goals so you can take the challenges in bite-sized chunks (pun intended).

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Second Experiment – Learning

My first experiment was a failure…but I learned from it, and have set up a second experiment which is now in process. So the failure was transformed into helpful feedback.

Since I’m still pursuing this second experiment, I’m keeping it a secret for now! But an interesting thing happened as I pursued this new goal — I found that in the pursuit, I created the philosophy page for this website, which caused me to come across information leading me to create a much larger vision for my career. Since this is a career goal I’m pursuing, the revisioning of my career took me away from implementing my plan!

When we act, we get feedback from the environment and also from within ourselves. This feedback can change how we pursue the goal (the plans). (This is the TOTE loop as taught in NLP and conceived of by Miller et al.)

The feedback we get from doing things can also change the goal itself. (This is what researchers Wang and Mukhopadhyay call the TOTAL loop.) Basically, if the goal wasn’t feasible, we might adjust it downwards, whereas if it was achieved or too easy, we might adjust it upwards to make it more challenging.

The feedback can also change whether we continue to pursue or abandon the goal. If it’s totally not feasible and we discover this by doing something and finding out it is totally unrealistic, we might abandon it altogether. Or we might find that the goal is no longer desirable to us — for instance if we discover that the costs outweigh the benefits.

And what I am adding now based on insights from today is that the feedback can change the vision or context from which the goal comes about in the first place. In pursuing one goal this week, I came up with a vision for this project which then greatly broadened my vision for my career, which put me into a different mindset (a deliberative mindset) than the mindset used for executing plans of action (an implemental mindset). (See Gollwitzer and Bayer, 1999.)

Context is hidden from us when we are in an implemental mindset (focused on how to get something done), and appears again when we are in a deliberative mindset (focused on what options we have and choosing which to do). This can be really helpful, because otherwise we’d be constantly trying to choose between options. But the implementation mindset can also be like putting on blinders.

In any case, now I have to update the flow chart I made for the Creative Solutions Generator. My learning feeds back into the process itself, making the process better!

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First Experiment of 2013 — FAIL

It only took me 6 days to fail at one of my most important goals for the new year — and that is great!

Let me explain. I set just two goal intentions on New Year’s Eve. Unlike most people’s “resolutions,” I made them specific enough that I could do something immediately to find out whether they would work or not.

What I failed at was this:

“I intend to get one person to sign up at minimum (max 3 people) in January, for a month long, 4-session coaching program at $345 each person, testing out the Creative Solutions Generator v0.2.”

This goal intention met my three criteria for a personal development goal: it was highly feasible (9/10), highly desirable (10/10), and moderately to highly challenging (8/10).

At first I actually started with a much bigger wish, but I determined it was not feasible. So I chunked it down to getting just one client right away.

I wanted to get this goal by the end of the first week in January but I got zero people to sign up, so today I am declaring this experiment a failure.

In NLP there is the saying, “there is no such thing as failure, only feedback.” The purpose of my Creative Solutions Generator technique is to learn how to really adopt this attitude — not just to change our vocabulary on a superficial level, but to actually be resourceful no matter what happens as we go through life.

For most things in life are outside of our direct control. This goal certainly was, as are goals like weight loss, or getting into graduate school, or world peace, etc. None of these things is in our direct control.

In this case, what was in my direct control was putting up this website, alerting my various communities online about this project and offer, etc. I did all these things, taking about 8 hours of my own labor on New Year’s Day. Even so, these strategies I employed did not get me the result I was wanting.

I wish I could say I immediately felt resourceful anyway, took in the feedback, and adjusted, but I did not. Instead, I spent the past week moping and feeling sorry for myself! This may be because I’m operating more within a performance goal orientation than a learning goal orientation with respect to career goals. Currently my identity is tied up with wanting to feel like I am already a success, rather than learning and adapting as I go.

After a few days however, I got it together to actually use my method and learn from the experiment.

So what did I learn?

I suspect that I don’t have a big enough list of potential customers at this time. I also didn’t sell the coaching based on the benefits enough — I only gave the features. $345 is a lot for people to invest in something without really understanding why it would be valuable to them. Even though I know the service is good (my clients consistently tell me how great my services are, and I think this service is one of the best things I’ve ever offered), I didn’t sufficiently convince anyone else of how good it is.

I also found that both pursuing this goal and failing at it negatively affected another career-related goal (basically I got temporarily distracted and off-course with the other goal), but the pursuit of my fitness goals were not affected. Goals do not take place in a vacuum — there is a ecology of goal interactions.

So last night I abandoned my first goal and set a new one. And I plan on succeeding or failing as fast as possible again.

On my other goal (fitness related) I’m making excellent progress — only 6 days into the new year and I’m 63% of the way there — but I still have a ways to go.

Wishing you fast failure (and even faster learning) in 2013,

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