In last week’s blog, I trashed Rhonda Byrne’s book/DVD, The Secret, along with the c0ncept of the law of attraction. No, I don’t believe that wishing — alone — can make it so. But in our affluent western society there is something which can combine with wishing to make it so. What is it?
Behavior change. Setting specific goals and then making them happen, one behavior at a time.
Here’s an example. My friend Annette and I had the dream of being substantially better at taking care of ourselves, and we decided to do something about it. So for the past 6 weeks, we’ve been touching base on a weekly basis, for what we’ve named our “coaching call.” During this call, we set intentions (goals) for self-care during the week. The key to setting these goals is to be so specific and behavioral that if a chimp were observing you, he’d be able to tell whether you did these goals or not. So rather than setting a goal like, “Meditate,” we set a specific number of minutes we’re shooting for during the rest of that week. Or if there’s a goal that contains more than one step to it, we put all the steps in there as separate goals. That way, we give ourselves credit for every step. So here’s a typical week’s goals for me:
Meditate a total of at least 60 minutes during the week (cumulatively, to empty my mental hard drive)
Go to yoga at least 2x/week (relaxing, takes care of health, increases chances of maintaining sanity)
Speak with friend Jane at least one time during the week (a good source of moral support)
Do at least 2 hours of housework (I do much more than this anyway, but have never gotten credit for it before, or even counted up how very much time it requires! Also, when I get behind on housework, I get stressed out by looking at the mess).
The goals are very simple, and it feels quite rewarding to check them off as I do them. And, more importantly, I don’t lose track of these — they’re essential maintenance ingredients for me. It takes a special effort for them to not slip through the cracks, and I’ve committed to making that effort.
In the past, I’ve also set more ambitious goals, such as with the writing of FALLING TO HEAVEN, and its sequel, HALFWAY TO THE ETHER. First I started with dreaming big. That’s where I think Byrne has tapped into something. She challenges people to open their minds to possibilities. And then, the diligent ones among the crowd break it down into tiny steps to finally reach the end goal. So at times, I have set goals like, “Write 2 and a half pages a day,” with an eye toward having a completed rough draft of a novel in about 6 weeks. And I’ve gotten there!
You can do this with nearly anything you want to accomplish. I first started doing this with doctoral dissertation students, who had to conceive a research question, narrow it down, develop a plan of how to study it, get approval to do a study, run the study, then analyse and interpret their results, and finally defend it in front of their professors. A very daunting task, that has turned more than one doctoral dissertation towards screaming, and often towards quitting school.
But it’s not so hard if you break it down, week by week, into a million little steps. Then it’s quite do-able. With some psychotherapy clients, I use this process to help them overcome social phobias. One step at a time. The key is to keep at it, and find yourself someone to hold you accountableeach week. And if you didn’t meet your goals, compassionately ask yourself why. Maybe you weren’t realistic about the amount of time you’d have available that week. Use that insight in setting your goals for the next week.
I imagine Rhonda Byrne initially thought big — really big — and then worked her butt off to make The Secret happen, one step at a time.