2 Mental techniques to enhance performance and happiness

by | Personal Effectiveness

Did you ever wonder why people get stuck on losses, fail their New Years Resolutions, and don’t seem to be very happy with what they are doing?

Most of my life I just assumed that it was out of their control.

I never guessed that people can actually turn things around by making some small changes in their thought process.

In this article you will learn two techniques that have helped me enhance both my performance and enjoyment of whatever I do; ‘Goal setting’ and ‘Picking the right attributions’.

Technique #1: Goal setting

Setting proper goals is probably the most common and well known technique for actually getting shit done. Everyone grows up setting goals for themselves, which is why it surprises me to see how often it is done in a wrong way!

Setting proper goals is extremely important; everything that is worth having probably takes time and effort that you—without the right course of action and enough gratification—will never put in.

Most people know that goals have to be SMART (Specifiable, Measurable, Assignable, Realistic, Time-related) to be able to really work and that most goals that aren’t at least a bit SMART usually fail. However, did you know there are 3 different types of goals that you can set? And that setting just one type of goal can make you both unhappy and too much dependent on the outcome of things?

Three different types of goals
Task goals (or: performance-/ego-based goals) are goals in which you are focused on being better than others or overachieving them. An example of this could be: “I will become a world champion in the UFC in the weight class of 170 pounds, I will have done this within two years by training in the following way …”
What separates this type of goal from the other goaltypes is that you do not control most of the aspects of it; whether you can become a champion depends largely on the level of competition. These goals can be great for motivation but they can also lead to anxiety, dependency and a reduction of enjoyment.

Learning goals are goals that you set in terms of learning and are usually set to compare you to yourself, not the rest of the world. An example of this could be: “My benchpress will have increased with 25% after an 8 week period of training, during this my training program will look as follows …”
What is great about learning goals is that there are not that many external factors that can influence your success (besides getting hit by a train perhaps) and that it’s just about improving yourself without having to look at others for comparison.

Process goals are goals that are usually set in terms of experience and are about how you feel. An example of this could be: “In 6 weeks I will experience more happy feelings when I finish my work on Friday than I do now, even if I performed less well that particular week, I will do this by reflecting upon my feelings after work each Friday in my journal.”
As you can see this type of goal is often a lot harder to measure and is often not really SMART. Still, it’s worth setting them because they make sure that you actually enjoy what you do, which is an essential ingredient for internal motivation.

… and how to apply them
I strongly believe that all types of goals are important and have their place—but that there is way too much emphasis on the task type of goals in our western society. When someone has had a sports match people immediately ask “did you win?” instead of the—perhaps way more important question—“(what) did you learn from it?”, or “did you enjoy it?”.

There are 7 billion people on this planet, if everyone sets their goals on becoming the absolute best at something, 6.999.999.999 people will fail.

I would encourage people to set task, learning and process goals. This way failing in one type of goal can still mean succeeding in another.

One of the ways to really get yourself accustomed to using learning and process goals is to introduce them to your peer group (or Mastermind!). Ask your peers what they have learned this month instead of asking about their achievements, they probably focus enough on that as it is. Try and get them to focus on how much they have learned and enjoyed themselves.

Next up is the attribution picking technique that is crucial for coping with success and failure and will help you to keep improving.

Technique #2: Picking the right attributions

Attributions are nothing more than factors to which you ascribe your failure or successes. They are what you believe to be the cause for a certain outcome and whether you are conscious of them or not, they can have a big influence on your performance.

Having the wrong attributions can disable you from ever improving and having the right attributions can make you a great deal more successful.

There is a principle in psychology called the ‘confirmation bias’. This principle states that you are generally looking for evidence that confirms the way that you see the world, not evidence for the contrary. It is therefore more likely that whatever attribution you may have about the world, will strengthen rather than weaken over time. If this attribution is an ineffective one, it may be one of the main reasons why you fail to make certain changes in your life. This is why we need to consciously pick them.

What we want to create is self-efficacy which is “a strong belief in your own ability to complete tasks and reach goals.” There are two types of attributions that you need for this to work; attributions to which you ascribe failure and attributions to which you ascribe success.

Attributions to failure
The best attributions—that will make you the most confident and ‘growth-ready’—are attributions that ascribe failure to factors that you can influence (you can become better, you can improve) and success to factors that are stable (they do not occur randomly).

Back in the day when I was really into MMA fighting and was experiencing a losing streak I had the belief that those losses were caused by me not being mentally strong enough. This was a very, very ineffective attribution to have because it was something I couldn’t influence. However, changing my attribution to “My preparation isn’t competition-specific enough” enabled me to change it. You should attribute something that you can improve upon to failure or it will never change.

Attributions to success
The same thing goes for ascribing success to the weather conditions. If you believe that the sun caused you to win; how will that mentally help you during your next challenge when rain is pouring from the sky?

You should ascribe success to the awesomeness and hard work of your co-workers and yourself, even when you guys were in fact a bit lucky (remember; it’s never wrong to give yourself and others a pat on the back!). This attribution should motivate you to keep working hard and is actually why superstition can work in making you more successful. It may seem funny or weird but ascribing success to the wristband that you are wearing can actually be effective because it’s a stable factor that you can control. Wearing it can make you more confident and therefore enhance your performance.

Now, let’s pick our attributions, see all the opportunities for growth and trust in our abilities. Let’s set goals in a proper way and let them guide and motivate us. Let’s make our minds work for instead of against us and start walking the path to victory. These two techniques will help you with that.

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