Thinking of challenges as opportunities and maintain one's optimism can propel the organization forward, writes columnist Marshall Goldsmith.
When people initiate a personal campaign to improve themselves — for example, shed a bad habit, exercise more, be nicer to their co-workers, learn a new language, elevate their spirit — there is a high probability they will fail. At some point, early in the game or near the finish line, most people will abandon their campaign to get better.
My daughter Kelly helped me review the research on goal achievement, and we came up with six major reasons why people give up:
1. It takes longer than we thought. Our need for instant gratification trumps patience and discipline.
2. It’s more difficult than we thought.
3. We have other things to do. Distractions take our eyes off the ball.
4. We don’t get the expected reward. This creates frustration rather than inspiration to persist.
5. We declare victory too soon. Lose a few pounds? “Let’s order pizza.”
6. We have to do it forever. Maintenance is tough.
Most of us don’t articulate these reasons; we simply accept defeat and vow to do better next time. This isn’t a failure of discipline, or an unrealistic vision of our future, or being overwhelmed by distractions. It’s a crisis of optimism. After the first wave of success, when improvement gets harder, our efforts can seem more hopeless than hopeful. You lose your initial burst of optimism, and optimism is the fuel that drives the engine of change.
Optimism is a form of behavior that guides everything we do. It can be self-fulfilling, and it’s contagious. People pick up on optimism and gravitate toward it. It’s more attractive than pessimism.
I am not suggesting you abandon realism. Just the opposite. Take a hard look at the six factors that can derail your goal achievement. Then, when they happen, you will realize these challenges are normal and be more likely to maintain your optimism.
I saw the impact of optimism firsthand with my client Harlan, a division chief at an industrial company who was leading thousands of people. He was given a challenge by his CEO — increase the positive impact you have across the company, not just in your division. He made more progress toward his goals than anyone I have ever coached, even though I spent very little time with him — and he was great to begin with.