Those that know me will be aware that Stephen Covey was a big influence on my life. A chance purchase of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People at a motorway service station in the mid-nineties, introduced me to the world of personal development. I’ve been fascinated with the subject ever since. I was coaching someone I’ll call Joe recently, who had got ‘stuck’ about what to do next in his career. I say stuck, it was more like overwhelmed by the uncertainty and choices about ‘where next’. Covey’s Habit 2, Begin with the end in mind, proved to be the solution.
Looking to make short to medium-term decisions and choices without an objective criteria to base them on, puts us under pressure as our brains look to make sense of multiple variables. Often our self-defence mechanisms kick in as we think about the consequences of different options. For some this will lead to negative self-talk. So, how can you practically work with Habit 2 to improve this situation? Here are five suggestions:
Step 1. Determine what ‘end’ means. You’ll need to flex your judgment muscle and get an aiming point of what ‘end’ looks like. Determining a time horizon is a great place to start. There are others if time doesn’t work for you. In the case of Joe, he decided to work back from the age he’d like to retire.
Step 2. Get your thoughts out your head. It amazes me when I work with people the number who look to manage all their thinking about a subject in their head. This puts the brain under pressure as it looks to hold an increasing number of variables in the conscious mind. This often results in people getting frustrated and stressed. Getting a pad and a pen or whatever you want to capture your thinking is of real benefit. Joe and I explored what he’d like to have achieved and avoided in his career by the time he retired. I recommend not overlooking the avoided component of this exercise. Often people will find it easier to talk about the things that they don’t want than the things they do. That’s a subject for a future blog. In Joe’s case, he decided that he would like to retire with at least six-years of operating at senior management level in his organisation. He also had one particular role he’d like to do. We ended up with a fair amount of information on the page. This included other roles he’d like to do/avoid, what he knew about the promotion process and other questions he’d like to find answers to. Lots of information is typical at this stage.
Step 3. Chunking up your options. It’s important you do not get lulled into the false sense of security that with things out of your head you are now ‘done’. You’ll probably already feel a lot happier having only just completed this part of the process. Chances are that feeling will be short-lived, as you haven’t actually determined what to do next. This is where chunking kicks in. In Joe’s case, we decided that chunking against a timeline from retirement to today would work best. Our time horizons were:
- Next 90 days
- Within a year
- Within three years
- Within five years
- Greater than five years
Chunking the thinking from Step 2 against these horizons allowed a structure to flow. It also prompted some additional things to explore. The further out Joe went, the less certain he could be. This is typical and to be expected. To mitigate this, it really helps if you can identify specific time points when you’ll reappraise your plan. This takes the pressure of the brain needing to answer everything in one go.
Step 4 Next Action. Plans are great however the real progress gets achieved when you take action. This sounds like an obvious point. And it is. I include it here as so often people are not specific enough about what the next action looks like. In Joe’s case, it was to review the promotion criteria, assess where he thought he was against it and then have a meeting with his line manager to discuss his plan. I wouldn’t have been doing my job if I’d not pushed Joe a little further. Before our session finished I got Joe to schedule specific time in his calendar to pursue his immediate actions.
Step 5 Involve others. Joe had developed a rough career plan with a specific end goal in mind. Involving others in reviewing this plan and seeking their ideas and input is an important part of the process. We all have blindspots. This is one way to help overcome them.
Joe commented on how much better he felt about his future. In reality, nothing physically had changed. This is the key point. By investing time to consider the end in mind Joe had taken the pressure off his brain. Our session was 90 minutes long. I suspect Joe had spent longer than that having I’ll-formed thoughts rushing around his head. Is there an issue or subject you’ve had whirring around your head that would benefit from a little ‘end in mind’ thinking? As always, I’m interested in how you get on and if I can be of assistance.