Planning for a Fired Up Year

By Chris Ihrig

Pre-plan Your Success

A brand new year inspires big dreams. A new year makes us feel optimistic and hopeful but the truth is, next year will be a lot like this year, unless we change. Changing can be difficult or frightening. Would it be easier to achieve your goals if you had a step-by-step guide that was proven to help you achieve your goals?

If you set big goals then end up on the sofa feeling guilty about binge-watching your favorite Netflix series, keep reading.  

Wanting to accomplish something isn’t enough. Most people know accomplishments require action but getting yourself to take the necessary actions isn’t always easy. How can you take action without resorting to hiring a heavy-handed coach to push you forward?

Mental Contrasting: A Goal Achievement Process

Motivation researcher Gabriele Oettingen discovered that a process she calls mental contrasting increases action in pursuit of goals when the person believes they are achievable. Mental contrasting decreases pursuit of goals you don’t believe you can achieve. This makes sense because taking steps to achieve something you don’t believe you can achieve feels like a waste of time.

Do Beliefs Matter?

Believing you can’t do something becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy because you believe you can’t. We all know the popular Henry Ford quote:

“Whether you think you can or whether you think you can’t, you’re right.”

In most cases, there is a way to achieve your goal. What can you do when you don’t believe you can? Belief isn’t a switch you can turn on with positive affirmations. In fact, if your belief and desire are too far apart, positive affirmations are counterproductive. Positive affirmations are only helpful when the belief you’re affirming is something you are able to believe.

Changing Beliefs

How can you change your belief about your ability to achieve a goal? Break it down into achievable steps. A track record of success allows a person to take bigger steps because it is easier to believe they can. If you don’t have a track record of success, affirm baby steps. Only affirm as far as you can without your mind giving you backlash. That is when your mental self-talk begins criticizing you, “Oh yeah, you’re foolish to think you can do that.” Backlash means you’ve tried to move too far too fast. It doesn’t mean you can’t get where you want to go.  

How can you increase the size of step you can take? Look for evidence that your limiting belief isn’t true. Before you can do that, you have to figure out what beliefs are in your way. Mental contrasting helps you do that.

Mental contrasting helps you achieve goals you already believe you can achieve and highlights assumptions you’ve made that lead you to believe you can’t achieve specific goals. The purpose of mental contrasting is to identify perceived obstacles and create a plan for how you will handle the obstacle.

If-Then Goal Planning


Step 1 – Define your goal

I want to increase customer satisfaction by 10% this year.

Step 2 – Define the desired outcome

Better customer retention and increased sales.

Step 3 – Ask yourself “What could get in my way of achieving this goal?”

Morale has been down and customers respond better to employees who are engaged.

Step 4 – Make an If-then plan to overcome the obstacle

Identify a proven way to improve morale and engagement.

Instead of giving up on improving customer satisfaction, identify the obstacle (low morale and engagement) and solve that problem so the obstacle is removed.

The If-then plan works well for personal goals, too. Peter Gollwitzer, an NYU psychologist found that 91% of people who used an if-then strategy with an exercise program stuck with it compared to only 39% who didn’t use the strategy. A simple plan of setting an intention to set the alarm early enough to exercise before work (alarm going off is the “if) and get out of bed when the alarm goes off (the then) can make a big difference in goal achievement.

Cognitive Distortions, or, Don’t Believe Everything You Think

Our brains conserve energy by developing patterns. Once a pattern is developed, it requires less brain energy to follow the pattern than it does to engage the brain in a decision-making process. The if-then strategy makes the decision in advance, thus making the action you desire the path your brain chooses because it is the path of least resistance. As you repeatedly reinforce the decision, neuropathways develop in your brain that makes it the default choice. Once the pattern is established, self-control is not required to reinforce it. It is also easier to resume it if you interrupt your routine for a vacation or illness.

The assumption that you can’t achieve something may not be true. Our mind perceives the world as if our beliefs are true. That means that when you don’t believe you can do it, your brain will ignore information that would help you find a way to achieve your goal. If you change your mind and begin believing you can, it removes the cognitive distortion and allows new ideas to come to you. There are ways to shift our assumptions and begin believing we can.

Ask yourself, “Is my belief true for everyone or just for me?” If your limited thoughts aren’t universally true, they are limits you’re imposing on yourself. Often people will argue that no one like me has ever achieved this. That, too, is a limit you’re placing on yourself. You’re human. Everyone else is human. Social constructs like race, gender, age, nationality, or religion do not make you less capable than someone else unless you believe they do. It doesn’t matter what someone else believes. It is your belief that will open doors, but only if you believe they will open for you. People treat us the way we expect to be treated.  

As we head into the new year, ask yourself what you want to achieve. Try not to reject any goal at the outset. Initial rejections are because of a belief which may or may not be true. Until you work with it, identify specific obstacles, and see if you can find a way over, around, or through the obstacle, tossing the goal out limits your ability to self-actualize.

When our desire and belief align, we’re Fired Up! Eliminating our own resistance to our desired goal energizes us and unleashes our potential to become our best self. Use these tools to make next year your best year so far!