Move closer to your career goals with small, simple daily steps. [TWEET]
How many times can you hop on one foot in 30 seconds? Quick! What's your best guess? Right about now, the overwhelming majority of you ventured a guess of maybe 20 hops.
I would like for you to humor me and actually try this right now. Yes, wherever you are (within reason) hop on one foot for exactly 30 seconds. You will most likely find it difficult to get a number that is lower than 70. My count was 82. I don't know about you, but that gave me pause.
This exercise illustrates confidence. Not the kind that comes from pumping your chest as you look in the mirror, but one that springs from knowing, deep inside, that you have the capacity and the willpower to accomplish what is important to you.
Do you find yourself to be your worst critic? Do you sometimes talk yourself out of an opportunity, even though you have the necessary experience and qualifications? Have you ever had a difficult time motivating yourself to try again after a string of rejections?
Imagine if there was a way to take back that “I can do this!” feeling?
Actually, you don't have to imagine it. The key, as Jane McGonigal, a PhD and the author of SuperBetter describes it, may be in seeking out and completing small, simple daily tasks. Researchers call it committed action – taking the smallest daily steps that align with your values and goals. Committing to your daily actions is a profound way to remind yourself that you have the power to do one simple thing every day that brings you one step closer to your goal [TWEET] – no matter how busy, exhausted, or stressed you might feel that day.
However, picking just any item from your to-do list won't do the trick. Designing your small daily tasks for maximum impact takes a bit of soul-searching, because in order to move you closer to your goal, they must meet five criteria.
They must be specific.
In other words, you must know exactly what must be done to complete the task.
They must be realistic.
The mini-goal must seem reasonably possible to achieve given your current skill level and resources.
They must be adaptive.
In other words, they must allow for you to practice a key skill, so that you can challenge yourself to a bigger stretch later. Choosing adaptive tasks means that you get an opportunity to learn something new, or improve on an important skill that will set you up for success in the long run. Think of it in terms of this career advice: every cover letter you write, and every interview question you answer becomes an opportunity to get better at getting hired. No matter how you define your own adaptive task, you must be able to honestly say that it moves you in the right direction.
They must have meaning.
You must see how every task fits into your overall path towards your goal or dream. Choosing meaningful tasks is about aligning them with your values. A value isn't something you can get or accomplish – it is a way of being that brings purpose to your life [TWEET] Research shows that when actions are guided by values, one finds it easier to be motivated and energized, even if the path is difficult, painful, terrifying, or boring.
They must be fun.
There has to be something fundamentally interesting, creative, or exciting about the task. You don't often see this one as a requirement for an effective goal, but fun has several surprising benefits. Planning to have fun can be a powerful state of mind that allows you to enjoy at least something about the task. It is simple to do - just ask yourself, “What portion of the task can I enjoy?” or “What is exciting about this?” Framing a task as fun can have another bonus – it can help you avoid procrastination.
The idea behind combining all those task features is to set yourself up for a boost in motivation and confidence, while also moving you a step closer to your desired end goal.
Let's look at an example to help you get started.
Daniel is a PR professional in his early 40's. After a career in the military, followed by three PR jobs in the gaming industry, he was laid off when his marketing department was downsized to a single person. Daniel was having a difficult time staying motivated and energized through his year and a half long search for the next opportunity. When asked what he loved most about his PR experience, he talked about his passion for solving the marketing puzzle in creative and unexpected ways, even on a tight budget. He also missed the connection with his peers, and the feeling that he was adding value and being of service. Applying the criteria for daily goals to his challenge, Daniel re-framed his to-do list as follows:
Reach out to three contacts daily. This goal was concrete (send an e-mail or call three people), and realistic (Daniel had a large network of contacts, both professional and personal). He got an opportunity to practice his pitch and get better at it, framed the request in line with his values (wanting to be of service), and enjoyed the human connection that resulted, regardless of whether the person he spoke to had an eye on an opportunity that was the right fit.
Volunteer. As a talented mechanic, Daniel offered his services to a friend who needed help with car repairs for one hour every morning. Although seemingly irrelevant to the job search, this task was the main reason Daniel got out of bed in the morning, even when the progress on the job search front appeared to be stalling. Daniel knew exactly what he had to do (show up at his friend's garage at 8 AM every morning), the commitment was reasonable given his schedule and allowed him to practice his mechanic skills. Most importantly, it spoke to his deep-seated desire to add value and be of service and was genuinely fun for him to do.
Daniel landed a job at a firm that was a perfect fit for his skills and experience, and is happily employed as a PR superhero today. When reflecting on his unemployment days, he credits the garage project as something that gave him a purpose, hope and motivation to press on through an otherwise bleak time. Sometimes, having to be somewhere at 8 AM every morning is what you need.
Here's one final piece of career advice: consider looking at your own to-do list right now, and if you don't already have one task that sets you up for success in the long run, create one. You will find that even one task framed and aligned the right way has the power to lift your spirits and boost your confidence.
What will you try?
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