The key to success – at anything – is persistence, staying positive, and an ability to bounce back, discovers Sharon Walker.
Just imagine the scenario. You have a presentation to give at work. The big day comes and your mind goes blank. You get through it, but only just. You vow “never again”. You’re no good at public speaking. That speech you were planning to give at your husband’s big birthday? Forget it.
But what if you handled the fallout differently? What if you said, “That didn’t go so well, but next time it will”? Or, instead of hiding away, you bought a book on public speaking – comedienne Viv Groskop’s How to Own the Room would be a good place to start – and had another go? And that, according to psychologist Ian Price, is the key to achieving your goals.
Whether you want to make a speech, write a novel, or get a work promotion, the secret is the same – you have to pick yourself up and start over.
“Evidence shows success isn’t about innate talent. It has far more to do with whether you quit or not,” says Ian. “It’s about building persistence muscles.”
Resilience is the ability to bounce back and keep going. Luckily, it’s a skill we can learn as adults. Follow these steps…
1. Start by trying
When it comes to striking out, many of us fall at the first hurdle. Or rather we don’t fall at all because we don’t try in the first place.
“If you believe ‘I’m not cut out for this’, that will flow through to your behaviour,” explains Ian. “So you will either give up or you won’t try.” The first step, therefore, is to acknowledge the negative beliefs.
“We can talk ourselves out of doing things because they seem frightening,” says Ian. “Even leading sports people experience doubts. It’s what you do next that matters.”
Next time you hear that panicked voice saying “I’m not good enough”, do as Ian suggests: “Put a few words before the belief. Tell yourself, ‘Oh, there’s my emotional brain saying I’m not good enough.’ It will put a bit of distance between yourself and the thought.”
“Write the thoughts down in a journal,” says Ian. “That will help you notice when you cling to negative experiences. How is that negativity affecting your behaviour?”
2. Deal with distractions
Anticipate distractions that may stop you achieving your daily goals, such as pinging phone notifications or your kids treating you as a taxi service. “Explain to your family that, for an hour, they need to let you focus on what you’re trying to achieve,” says Ian.
Most of us say we’re too busy to focus on goals. But Ian isn’t buying it: “Do a little each day – if you can’t manage an hour, do 30 minutes; if you can’t do 30 minutes, do 15.” He advises against multitasking, too. “Achieving anything this way will take 30% longer and you’ll make twice as many mistakes.”
Review your settings on your phone. Better still, switch if off while you’re trying to focus.
3. Get specific
Be clear on what you want to achieve. “Goal-setting is important,” advises Ian. “A goal should be binary – you can tick it off and know when you’ve achieved it.”
A defined goal focuses the mind and gives you something to shoot for. “A clearly defined goal hierarchy is even better,” says Ian. So, if a successful presentation at work is in your sights, start by giving a presentation in a safe environment, perhaps to your friends. You could then present at a networking event, so you gradually build the stakes. Break down your problems into manageable chunks and deal with them one by one.
Write down your big goal. Note how it makes you feel. “If you feel a mix of excitement and trepidation, that’s great,” says Ian.
4 Eyes off the prize
It sounds paradoxical, but if you’re too focused on a big goal, it can get in the way of success. “A big goal can feel intimidating,” says Ian.
He cites an example of tennis players who, the minute they start doing well, are asked about Wimbledon. “Johanna Konta worked on a goal hierarchy with a psychologist and put Wimbledon to the back of her mind, and her tennis improved,” Ian points out. “She put her success down to developing ‘a process mindset’, focusing on daily mini goals.”
Write your big goal at the top of your journal. Halfway down write two mid-level goals. At the bottom write your ‘process goals’ – daily tasks you need to complete to reach mid-level goals.
5. Be brave
Stepping outside your comfort zone is scary. That new job… you could mess it up, get fired and fall into debt! That’s what Ian calls a fixed mindset – and it’s hard to do anything new if you think like this.
Instead, develop what psychologists call a growth mindset. “People who progress rapidly lean in to the challenge,” says Ian. “They tell themselves, ‘This is going to be tough, but I can acquire the skills. I can make a plan.’” With a growth mindset, you’ll take on more difficult tasks.
The key here, explains author Jane Clarke, is what you tell yourself when things go wrong. If you say, “That speech was a disaster, I’m not cut out for this, I’ll never be any good at anything,” you’ve made a classic mistake of falling for the three Ps. You’ve judged your failure as:
- Personal It’s your fault.
- Permanent It can’t change.
- Pervasive I’m not just bad at this, I’m bad at everything.
You are allowing the failure to colour your outlook and affect other areas of your life.
Jane recommends ‘reframing’. When something goes wrong and your first thought is ‘I’m useless’, instead tell yourself, “I’m new to this, I can practise, I can build the skill.”