The One Place Where it’s Positive to go Negative in Personal Growth Planning

2 min

You have the ability to commit yourself to personal growth goals you can’t reach without the help of others. The good news is there are people in your life willing to help. I call them growth partners. The counterintuitive reality is enlisting growth partners is the one place where it’s positive to go negative.

Mental Contrasting and the Premortem

Gabriele Oettingen, professor of psychology at NYU, conducted research that affirms the importance of thought experiments designed to identify the most likely obstacles you will encounter in the pursuit of a goal. She describes this as mental contrasting, also described as a premortem, the opposite of a postmortem.

To conduct a premortem, imagine your goal, but from the negative point of view. Imagine you didn’t make meaningful progress. Why? What most likely disrupted your good intentions? Research shows you are much more likely to succeed if you include a pre-mortem into your thought process.

For example, researchers worked with people in a weight loss program with a goal of losing 50lbs or more. Half the people in the study were doing positive thinking, visualizing they had successfully lost the weight by going to the gym and eating healthy. They were encouraged to imagine the positive outcomes of being affirmed by their friends and feeling better about themselves.

The other half of the people in the study were told to imagine things didn’t go well. They imagined they failed to go to the gym, or their friends didn’t notice as they began to lose weight. The second group lost on average 26 more pounds than the first group. Researchers believe this is because they were less discouraged when they experienced difficulty, they were better prepared with what to do, and there are actual hormonal changes from this special kind of negative thinking that inspire action.

Who, How, When & What: Enlisting and Training Growth Partners

Anchor your growth planning in a positive mindset with an affirmation statement (which I have written about here). Then reality-test your plan with a premortem and invite growth partners to support you in the areas where you are likely to struggle, providing much needed encouragement to stick with the plan.

There are people willing to help you reach your goal, but they don’t know how. You need to accept responsibility to equip them. The simplest way to train growth partners is to address how, when and what.

Conduct a premortem, a thought experiment where you imagine not accomplishing your goal. Why? What went wrong? Where did you experience the most friction? Then design check-in points and questions your growth partners could ask you to overcome these obstacles.

For example, imagine you conduct a premortem on your health and fitness goal and identify snacking in the evening, especially on the weekend, as a friction point. You also discover getting in a workout on Mondays will be a challenge because of your schedule.

You have information that informs your personal growth partner strategy. You can now enlist a partner (or several) explaining your goal and weekend snacking obstacle with a request that they text you at 7:00pm on Friday to encourage you toward healthy snacks and call you on Monday to ask: How did you do over the weekend, and did you make it to the gym today?

Personal Growth Postmortem

Think about a time when you set a goal you didn’t reach. If you can’t think of one, you are thinking too small when setting goals. Now, ask yourself, how might a team of carefully chosen personal growth partners equipped with the right questions asked at the right time have impacted your progress?

Don’t make the mistake of going after your goals alone. Conduct a premortem and use that information to help you enlist and train a team of growth partners.

You can go deeper with this topic on my video blog, Learning@ the Speed of Life here.

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