Co-authored by Jason Gracia, author of Shifting the Balance.
It’s that time of year, the time to set goals and resolutions for the year to come. From starting diets and making more money to living of life of your dreams, goals of virtually every shape and size bounce throughout the days and weeks of January. But a goal rarely heard, a goal I believe to be among the most important ever set in mind and down on paper, is the goal to become a better parent.
Spending more quality time with the kids, practicing patience, creating special moments, teaching values and morals… all vital goals to a parent and a child.
But there’s a problem.
It’s not strategies. Tips and tricks tumble from the pages of countless magazines, websites, and blogs.
The problem is motivation.
Like any goal, if you lack the motivation to see it through, it’s as good as whispering in the wind. So today I’m going to walk you through a simple system to help you get and stay motivated to move those parenting resolutions from Do to Done.
Step One: Define the Outcome
Clarity is power when it comes to setting and achieving goals. If the outcome is vague, more cloud than concrete, your chance of success plummets. Why? Because there’s nothing actually to work toward (and, as you’ll see, no rewards or prices to uncover). You need to be as clear as possible with your parenting goals, such that success is obvious when it happens. “Be a better parent” doesn’t make the cut. What does that mean? What steps should you take to get there? When will you know when you’ve done it? Instead, a goal such as “Spend one night a week of quality time one on one with my daughter” is a step in the right direction. The outcome is clear, success is defined, the steps forward are easily uncovered.
Step Two: Uncover the Rewards
When you have a clear outcome, you also have the key to motivation: rewards and prices (prices are up next). Without diving too deep, think of motivation as a balance. On one side are all the reasons you have for wanting to do something. On the other side are all the influences against it (for example, pain is working against exercise). Whichever side carries more weight with you — logically, emotionally, spiritually — wins. If you have more positives than negatives linked up with, say, attending your son’s basketball games, you’ll do your best to be there. If not, you won’t.
The first part of the equation is the rewards, all the good things you associate with following through and acting on your goal. These are the ideas that kick the goal off to begin with, rewards such as a new body after exercise or more money after working for a promotion. To get and stay motivated, you need to make a detailed list of every good thing that will come from reaching your parenting goal. What will it do for you and your family? Emotionally, socially, financially, etc. Think of rewards as weights — the more you have, the heavier the balance will tip toward action.
Step Three: Uncover the Prices
Rewards aren’t alone. They have a counterpart which are often more powerful in getting people to act: prices of procrastination. Think of prices as the rubber band snap of motivation — they are the negatives that will happen if you don’t do what you say you’re going to do. For example, if you don’t help your teen practice driving before the big road test, they may fail. Two major prices to be paid for this laziness: First, their negative reaction to failing. Second, now Johnny can’t drive Sally to soccer as you had hoped. These negatives drive you to make sure you do what it takes to succeed to avoid paying the price. Like rewards, make an exhaustive, detailed list of every price you’ll pay if you fail to do what it takes to become the parent you hope to be. The more painful, the better.
Step Four: Map the First Steps
With your motivational weights in hand, you’re ready to go. But where do you go? That’s the final piece of the puzzle. All the motivation in the world will do you no good if you don’t know what to do with it. You need a plan, but not the usual one. I don’t want you to create a long, drawn-out diagram of what you need to do; that only leads to resistance (negative weight on the balance). Instead, I want you to make a list of three simple steps you can take to move toward your goal. The simpler, the better. The point is to build momentum. A wonderful thing happens when people take small steps toward their goals — the rewards and prices tied to success get stronger. They’re self-reinforcing.
If I want to spend more quality time with my kids, a major reward will be their reaction: love and happiness. When I see that, when I feel that positive reaction, the rewards I wrote on paper take on an entirely new meaning. They’re real, tangible. In turn, they become even more powerful and drive me further toward success. Each small step you take toward your goal will make it that much easier to continue down the path.
You want to be a better parent. That’s the first and most important step. But you can’t stop there. To ensure your early hopes don’t become future disappointments, tap into the natural workings of your motivation to create an unstoppable force for positive change.