Kathryn Britton, MAPP '06, former software engineer, is a coach working with professionals to increase well-being, energy, and meaning in their work lives (Theano Coaching LLC). She is also a writing coach, facilitator of writing workshops, and teacher of positive workplace concepts at the University of Maryland. Her own books include Smarts and Stamina on using positive psychology principles to build strong health habits and Character Strengths Matter: How to Live a Full Life. Full bio. Kathryn's articles are here.
This is the second of two interviews with Caroline Adams Miller, author of Creating Your Best Life: The Ultimate Life List Guide, a book about effectively pursuing life goals, and Positively Caroline: How I beat bulimia for good… and found real happiness, a book about her long-term recovery from bulimia.
The first interview focuses on setting goals, while this one explores actions that make goal achievement more likely.
Caroline runs an online course on setting and pursuing important life goals. The course is open to anyone in the world that can access the lessons by computer. A new cohort of the course starts October 21 with early bird pricing through tomorrow, October 8. Click on Your Happiest Life to explore and register.
Caroline: There are a number of things people can do to enhance goal accomplishment. It depends on where they are in the change cycle.
Kathryn: Once goals are set, what can people do increase their chances of accomplishing them?
In the Contemplation stage, they can search for more and stronger reasons that their goals are important to them, or perhaps make sure their goals have the qualities of powerful goals: approach-oriented, leveraging other goals, aligned with their values, and so on. If they are in the Planning stage, they can start to think about resources they need to acquire, people they need to meet, and research that can be done. There are also a number of other questions that will need to be addressed thoroughly to ensure that the next stage, the Action stage, goes smoothly. In the Action stage, people can use environmental primes, implementation intentions, accountability, and other techniques that make success more likely.
In my online course, Your Happiest Life, we work both on establishing high-quality goals and on establishing the primes and intentions that make goal achievement more likely. I’ve described primes and environmental cues in Creating Your Best Life. The license plate images on this page are primes I’ve collected over the last few years.
Kathryn: How did goal-setting help in the recovery you describe in Positively Caroline?
Caroline: My recovery from bulimia was, in hindsight, a textbook example of goal-setting. I had a major goal, complete recovery, but I had a lot of little steps that needed to be taken to get where I wanted to go.I also had accountability to role models called sponsors, I had a written plan for daily success, I spent as much time as possible with people whose behavior was positively contagious, I removed all alcohol from my life because it destroys willpower, and I practiced savoring and gratitude every day. In addition to performance goals with definite outcomes, I had learning goals, such as finding ways to survive in restaurants that made me uncomfortable, where it was okay to just “do my best.” I also found that as I achieved important goals, I reengaged with fresh goals that helped me continue to make progress.
Caroline: The most important thing children need to learn is self-regulation. If you can’t delay gratification, there won’t be many goals you can accomplish that require resilience and grit. The next generation has been raised with the immediate feedback of cell phone calls, text messages, and Facebook posts, so no one waits for anything any longer. We’ve also had a generation of parents who raised their children to have self-esteem based on empty praise, which actually reduces confidence and risk-taking.
Kathryn: What do you most hope today’s children learn about setting goals? Do you have any recommendations for good practice activities?
The research suggests that you select one area of life to improve at a time, and as you get better at resisting temptation, your willpower for other things will get stronger, too. There is also compelling research showing that regular mindfulness practice enhances self-regulation, so those are the two most important components of goal-setting to start with.
Caroline: Hands down, it’s Benefits of Frequent Positive Affect by Lyubomirsky, King and Diener. It was the research that completely changed my life by showing that hundreds of studies prove that success comes AFTER you are happy, and not vice versa. I’ll never forget the day I read that research because it turned a lifetime of misconceptions about success upside-down in the best possible way, prompting me to do the capstone project that became Creating Your Best Life.
Kathryn: What’s your favorite research result about goal-setting?
Caroline: I have an idea for a new book and it won’t leave me alone, even though I swore off book-writing for at least one year. I’m a new empty nester with all three of my children out of the house, so I’ve taken up a new martial art and hope to get another black belt within five years. The martial arts are another textbook way to do goal-setting: you pursue a variety of belts on the way to getting a black belt, with stripes denoting continual progress. You are surrounded by positively contagious behavior in a dojo, discipline and respect are paramount, there are multiple role models and other people pursuing similar goals at the same time that give you enthusiasm to keep going in the right direction.
Kathryn: What comes next for you?
Lyubomirsky, S., King, L., & Diener, E. (2005). The benefits of frequent positive affect: Does happiness lead to success? Psychological Bulletin, 131(6), 803-855.
Miller, C. A. & Frisch, M. B. (2009), Creating Your Best Life: The Ultimate Life List Guide. New York: Sterling.
Miller, C. A. (2013). Positively Caroline: How I beat bulimia for good… and found real happiness. Cogent Publishing.
Miller, C. A. (1991). My Name Is Caroline. Gurze Books.
Locke, E. A. & Latham, G. P. (1990). A Theory of Goal Setting & Task Performance. Prentice Hall College Division.
On the peak courtesy of Mikel Ortega
License plates used with permission from Caroline Miller