It’s February; we’re running out of steam on those New Year resolutions. What happened to all that willpower and motivation? Where did the light-footed exuberance and optimism of a new start, turn into a trudge through a muddy, ploughed field, with no end in sight?
It happens at work as well. All through the year. The team starts a new project full of optimism, energy. Planning is done by groupthink with a “How could anything go wrong?” mindset. Six months down the line people are looking for a scapegoat, and the exit, before they get engulfed in the crapstorm of blame and recrimination.
Where did it all go wrong?
“What do you do when the plan starts to fall apart, when willpower has gone and working long hours just doesn’t work?”
I’ve written before about the pre-mortem. It’s a thought experiment. You fast forward to the future, a future where your resolution/project failed disastrously, and list the reasons why it did. It forces you to remove the rose-coloured spectacles and face a different reality. One where willpower, guts, blood, sweat and tears are all exhausted. All those plentiful resources that you start with are depleted. Time has run out.
At the planning stage it doesn’t feel like this could ever happen. The glass is completely full, never mind half full. And it feels like it will never be empty. There’s even a superstitious feeling that imagining it being empty will help bring it about failure. We mustn’t allow negative thoughts to drag us down. Think positively.
Any plan must be capable of failing. So planning for failure must also make sense. What are you going to do when the plan starts to fall apart, when willpower has gone and working long hours just doesn’t work?
First, name some of the possible triggers. What will I do about my diet when I have to go to three business dinners in one week?s When I’m stressed out by my boss, and I’m reaching for a cigarette, how will I respond? What will I do when I just want to pack in the new routine, because it’s too hard and I’ve run out of willpower?
Then come up with a plan for when you meet these inevitable obstacles.
But it’s more than having a theoretical plan. Rehearse the whole scene, including visuals and dialogue. You need to be ready with an automatic response that doesn’t need any willpower to put into action. “If this happens, I know that I need to do this”. “When we’re faced with situation X, we’ll recognise the trigger and do behaviour Z”.
By the time your faced with the nightmare scenario, it’s OK. You’ve already been there in your head. You know what to do, because you planned for this, and you’ll be happy you did.