Have you ever wondered why when you change things, it seems doomed to failure? That no matter how hard you try or how much willpower you use, you can’t save that money, start that novel, lose that weight... I have been there. I’m very good at starting things and making a bit of progress (sometimes quite a lot of progress) and then I fall off the wagon and slip right back into old habits. Sometimes it happens within hours of a new resolution, sometimes after a couple of years.
After months of successful weight loss, for example, I am currently battling doughnut creep. This is a phenomenon where you think, “Oh, I have lost some weight. It must be totally OK for me to eat doughnuts again and maybe quite a lot of them. Give me the doughnuts.”
My problem? I don’t have the right “success architecture”. This is a new phrase I have borrowed from the brilliant Tara Mohr, author of Playing Big, a leadership expert who always has sound advice. “Success architecture” is about looking at whether you’ve got the right things underpinning what you’re trying to do. It will be different for everyone — and you need different “architecture” according to whether your goals are to do with work, home life, fitness or whatever.
It’s really about figuring out whether you have the right support structure and a realistic plan. As soon as you change those basics, you make it much easier to do what you need to do. For example, the right “success architecture” for a job search would be a mentor who you can bounce ideas off, downtime where you calculate what’s going wrong and what’s going right, and a cushion of money in case you don’t get a job as quickly as you want. Once you’ve listed those prerequisites, you have the equivalent of what an architect has when they build a house — a blueprint you can work from.
Choose goals that really mean something to you and feel exciting. Don’t choose goals that you feel that you ‘should’ achieve
Tara Mohr insists that the right goal is also part of this. “Is your goal about pleasing you – or pleasing other people? Is it about becoming more of who you really are, or about being hard on yourself and perfectionist?” If so, you’re setting yourself up for failure. Choose goals that really mean something to you and feel exciting. Don’t choose goals that you feel that you “should” achieve.
Mohr says we all need people who will help us along the way (“champions”) and remind us that we can keep going when we’re feeling low. Some of us need helpers (“sources of accountability”) who we can check in with to make sure we’re keeping up with things. For me, this would perhaps be The Gatekeeper of Doughnuts. I just don’t think I can face appointing such a person. I would end up killing them and eating them.
Most of all though, “success architecture” requires a definition of success: how, for instance, will you know when you’ve achieved your goal? And it needs build-in moments of celebration: it’s up to you to decide when and how often. You might also need “re-inspiration” moments when you revise your goal and refine it, according to what you’ve learned. Mohr says your plan should feel like “water flowing downhill – not like climbing a steep uphill.”
So I now have a revised architecture plan. Find an item of clothing I want to fit into that would make me very happy. Set fitness and strength goals instead of focusing on doughnuts. Build in (non-food) rewards and allow for a few lapses. Sorted. Plan B is, of course, that I turn myself into a sort of human building made of doughnuts. It’s a success architecture of sorts.