January 14, 2013
We live in an “I want it now” world. We often expect instant and perfect results from ourselves and the people we lead.
How often do we see something once or see an expert demonstrate a new skill and we either expect to be able to do it just as well right out of the chute, or we dismiss it as being too hard to learn? Or perhaps we try it once. But it doesn’t feel natural, it takes effort and we feel inept or uncomfortable. I know I hate that feeling.
Let’s say, however, that we’re really determined. This looks like something worth learning. We try it a few more times. But more often than not, we say, “Well that didn’t work!” And then, we never try it again.
News flash: It takes time to gain competence, let alone expertise and mastery. This is where your mentor can provide you with invaluable support, coaching and a realistic perspective on what tangible progress should look like.
When you want to adopt a new practice, or learn something new, tell your mentor what it is and what you intend to accomplish. Research by behavioral psychologists has shown that simply identifying a new practice that can become a positive habit sets you up for success. For even more insurance, set a specific and measurable goal. Work out an action plan and report your results as you go.
Give yourself at least 90 days to reach your goal.
During the first two weeks, check in with your mentor daily to report progress or setbacks when they happen and for support and encouragement. After that, depending on how you are doing, weekly or bi-weekly check-ins should be sufficient.
These steps will help you to be genuinely confident that you will practice your new behavior, despite occasional slips. Psychologists call this self-efficacy. It’s different from general self-confidence; rather it is the specific conviction that you can change the behavior.
Initially, you might find your mentor’s encouragement and your delight in the vision of accomplishment inspiring. But inspiration is short-lived. At best, it will last about a week or two. Henry Ford once said, “…after that, it’s 90 percent hard work.” Inspiration may get us started, but it won’t keep us going. This is where motivation makes the difference.
And you can’t just go to the store and buy a case of motivation. According to behavioral psychologists, motivation is a series of small behaviors. Reporting your progress to your mentor and tracking it by recording or charting the behavior in question between meetings will give you a solid framework to stay accountable and in action.
Reward Your Successes
Reinforce yourself for each step with a healthy treat. Mentors, here’s where a specific and inarguable acknowledgement will reinforce your mentee’s confidence and resolve. You and your mentoring partner may want to create a reward contract. You will also want to arrange your environment to help, rather than hinder you – limit exposure to any high-risk situations, create reminders. We don’t need to think of motivation as something we have. Motivations are specific behaviors we build into our day.
My latest behavior change is in making certain that I enter every appointment I make in my smart phone calendar, with enough of a reminder alarm to ensure I keep the appointment and get there on time. For the most art this is easy to do, except when I am very busy or when setting up the appointment takes more than three email exchanges, or the meeting gets re-scheduled. That’s when I can lose track and end up missing an appointment altogether or get there late. Both results are bad for business an extremely embarrassing for me.
The plan, which I put into place on January 6, after missing an appointment, is to enter every meeting or appointment as soon as a date and time is identified. Set the reminder alarm for 2 hours ahead or up to 2 days ahead, depending on how much preparation I need to do for the meeting. Next, I review the upcoming week’s appointments on Sunday. I let my mentor know I have done that via a text message.
It’s been a week and a half, and I found a flaw in the plan. When the reminder pops up on my phone I am also going to text or email the person or people to confirm the meeting. That means I have to set the reminders so there is enough time for people to adjust if they have to. Details are not my forte, so this is a challenge. I am confident, though, that I will be able to make this practice a habit that will allow me to be more productive and happier in my work.
Susan Bender Phelps runs Odyssey Mentoring & Leadership, training and consulting company for organizations that want to thrive and survive the Boomer Brain Drain. Her new e-book, “Aspire Higher” is available at Slimbooks.