THE SCIENCE OF HEALTH ENGAGEMENT and behavior design is confirming some common sense notions that have application to successful business development. Check out the work of Stanford's health design professor Kyra Bobinet, MD, MPH who specializes in the field. In a recent (and short article) in Experience Life magazine, (January/February 2016,)
Dr. Bobinet advises that "setting ambitious behavior-change goals often backfires, diminishing our chances for success in the future." To understand why "setting outcome specific goals may not be the best way to approach making important changes in our lives," Dr. Bobinet discusses how two high performing individuals approached the task of losing weight in a weight-loss study she conducted.
The first individual set specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-bound goals and promptly set about counting calories, excluding junk food and exercising. She succeeded but later gained it all back.
The second participant and self-proclaimed sugar addict adopted a more process oriented approach. First, he moved the vending machine that provided the doughnuts and other high calorie snacks he craved to the other side of his building. He set goals and created a spreadsheet to figure out how wean himself off sugar. He succeeded and kept the weight off.
Dr. Bobinet explains that an area of the brain called the habenula records our failures. When we fail it inhibits our motivation to try again by suppressing dopamine-releasing neurons. When we measure our goals in terms of success or failure, this suppression can keep us stuck on square one.
Another physiological function that can also inhibit success of outcome-oriented goals is something called implicit memory. When your have harsh goals, like getting up at 5 a.m. to jog, implicit memory of the discomfort of those goals can encourage you to stop the unpleasant behavior. This is what likely kept our first participant from keeping off the weight.
So, what does this say about business building? We know setting ambitious goals is a touchstone to success in an entrepreneurial company. And failure is a staple in any new business as it charts a new path to a new development or offering.
Dr. Bobinet's research suggests you can improve your odds of success by keeping our focus on your process for achieving your goals. When you get stuck try other approaches and enjoy the problem solving process as you proceed.
And, from one who has witness many entrepreneurial successes and failures, remember that failure to some extent is inevitable. Remember that it is part of the process and be flexible and creative in your approach.
Many venture investors can give your story after story of the company team that failed because of their single minded focus on one approach and stories, too, of the many teams they backed who changed course dramatically and succeeded because their process included an intense attention to market and competitive changes.
As Dr. Bobinet would say, there is more power in the process than in the specific goal and greater chance of sustained success when your focus is on process.
Note: The article referred to is in the January/February issue of Experience Life Magazine. Dr. Bobinet is also author of Well Designed Life: 10 Lessons in Brain Science & Design Thinking for a Mindful, Healthy, & Purposeful Life. Image by Hywards courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net.
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Clinton Richardson, has been writing and photographing for decades. His acclaimed venture strategy series is now in its 5th edition. His Ancient Selfies is an International Book Awards Finalist and an eLit Award Gold Medal Winner. Many of his images can be seen online at TrekPic.com.