Now is the key moment to make your dreams for 2015 a reality. We’re at that rare time of year when your personal batteries are charged, your goals are clear and you are not yet overwhelmed by the business of life...
Here are three ways to think yourself to bigger achievements over the next 12 months:
1. The lesson of Massive Monday: identify your mission.
The most valuable gift of the holiday period is clarity. The combination of time away from the never-ending bustle of the day-to-day charge of getting things done, as well as the marking of another year passing, leads each of us to reflect upon life; its shortness, its potential and what we want to achieve.
One of the consequences of this alchemy is a phenomenon that the recruitment industry calls Massive Monday. Millions of people decide they want change in their life, they decide that enough is enough, that time flies and life is precious and more of the same will not do. And this determination drives them into action. On the first working Monday of the year registrations at recruitment firms spikes.
It never reaches those heights again. Not for 12 months. What happens of course is that the business of life takes over; the beeping of phones, the never ending to do lists, tasks-that-must-be-accomplished distract people from the big picture.
The story it tells us is that if people have a little bit of time to reflect upon what they want from life they want change. And they take steps to make change but then fail to stick to the plan. Because sticking to the plan is hard to do. The lesson is to be very clear about what matters. And right now is the time to do it. Because right now, after the holiday and the turn of the year you may have some clear sense of new direction, purpose or ambition for you and your business.
This fresh clarity is a gift. Be absolutely certain what it is: whether it’s an ambition to start your business, grow your existing one to a specific level, achieve a new personal goal, or learn a new skill. Don’t let this intent be vague. Be crystal clear what it is. You’re going to need it.
2. The lesson of ‘nine-enders’: Keep your eyes on the prize
Once you’ve clearly identified your big thought you need to keep prioritising it. And this is harder than it sounds. The world, the digital world particularly, is designed to distract you and draw you back to the routine, the sofa, or someone else’s agenda. If you’re looking to set a course yourself then you must keep checking your compass. As the sea of noise and distraction rises you must keep hauling your goal to the top. The good news is that focused attention is surprisingly powerful. So long as you maintain your focus on your big prize then you will make progress.
And this brings us to the ‘nine-enders’.
In 2014 some researchers examined data on a marathon-running website. Among 500 first-time marathon runners they found that those whose age ended in a 9 were over represented by 48 per cent. All things being equal you’d expect the ages of competitors to be evenly distributed across the ages. But there was a massive weighting towards people who were 29, 39, 49 and so on. No doubt the competitors had considered running marathons for years.
But they only set their mind to it when they reached an age that felt significant. It’s a powerful demonstration that setting a target results in achievement.
Sure, it’s the legs that do the heavy lifting but it’s the mind that defines the mission and the mind could decide to do a marathon any year. But nope the mind itself has to be spurred into action by a social construct: the end of a decade.
Consider this further research by psychologists Adam Alter and Hal Hershfield. They looked at the performances of two groups of marathon runners (aged 27,28 and 29) and (37,38 and 39). Those who were 29 and 39 ran 2.3 % faster than those who were one or two years younger. So much for the physical fitness of the young! Superior performance is all in the mind. You don’t have to be turning 29 or 59. Age, like the turn of the year is just a trigger to find the target. You must invest yourself in that task throughout the year. Don’t let it get submerged in the business of life. Sustained focused attention and action is the secret to making your dreams real.
3. The lesson of ‘flow’: Be wholehearted
A legion of psychology experiments demonstrate that it is easier to apply yourself over long periods of time if the thing you are doing is one that you are wholehearted about. You do your best and feel your best when you’re “in the zone” or what the psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmehalyi calls a state of “flow”. During a *flow-state* people are full absorbed and highly focused; they lose themselves in the activity.
A simple experiment at Michigan State University last year demonstrated this. A group of students were asked to perform word puzzles. The students that solved the most puzzles were those who were primed in advance to think that the task would be exciting, enjoyable and personally valuable. Not only did they solve more puzzles but their work rate didn’t flag.
Instead it stayed consistently high. In contrast the lowest scoring students didn’t think the task would be either enjoyable or of any value. In another experiment high school students were split into two groups. One group was asked to summarise each science classes they attended during the term while the other group was also asked to describe the usefulness of each science class to their own lives. By attaching personal relevance to their science classes the second group of students found the classes more valuable and relevant which produced more wholehearted learning. This in turn generated significantly higher scores than the first group in assessments during the term.
This wholeheartedness is critical to stickability. When the work involved in pursuing your goals starts to feel too much to bear then remember the big mission.
In isolation certain tasks may seem hard, unpleasant or boring but as part of your bigger mission they have meaning. By retaining your perspective - by keeping your main goal front and centre you will be able to be wholehearted. If you can’t find anything to be wholehearted about then it’s time to reflect upon the direction you’re travelling. Don’t wait until the end of the year or your next “niner” - get thinking about what you do want. Right now.
In short, my advice is:
- Identify your mission
- Keep your eye on the prize
- Be wholehearted
This is how you harness the power of the mind and this is what thinking bigger is all about. It’s that deliberate effort to apply the enormous power of your mind to take control of your life and move your energy into a positive direction. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said: “Life consists of what a man is thinking all day."
Think big for the rest of the year and you shall never suffer another Massive Monday.