While it is common for businesses to define goals and values with mission statements, most people never take the time to identify their individual senses of purpose. Most focus on single acts of self-improvement — exercising more, eating more healthfully, spending more time with family — rather than examining the underlying reasons for the behavior, says Jack Groppel, co-founder of theJohnson & Johnson Human Performance Institute, an Orlando-based coaching firm.
“A resolution is a well-intended action plan, but because a person hasn’t really connected to the ‘why’ behind it, the old way of life, the chaos, comes back into play and they can’t really sustain it,” says Dr. Groppel, who created the “Corporate Athlete,” program that uses the training concepts of elite athletes to improve personal and business performance.
By creating a mission statement people can begin to identify the underlying causes of behaviors, as well as what truly motivates them to make changes. “A mission statement becomes the North Star for people,” says Dr. Groppel. “It becomes how you make decisions, how you lead, and how you create boundaries.”
The concept of a personal mission statement is not new. It was popularized by Stephen R. Covey, a self-help guru and author of “The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People.” Habit No. 2 advises people to “begin with the end in mind.” The habit is about creating a personal mission statement, or “defining the personal, moral and ethical guidelines within which you can most happily express and fulfill yourself,” Mr. Covey writes.
Since then, mission statements have become the cornerstone for the life and wellness coaching business. Just as sports coaches help athletes achieve larger goals, personal coaches help clients refocus their energy on personal priorities and identify the obstacles blocking from achieving goals.
A review of five health coaching studies, published in October 2013 in the journal BMC Health Services Research, found that coaching can lead to meaningful behavioral changes. In one study, individuals with uncontrolled diabetes improved after taking part in a health coaching program.
Overall, the study authors said the review showed “mixed but promising results.” The coaching programs evaluated showed a tendency toward improved goal attainment, adherence to healthful behaviors and improved health and self-esteem.
John C. Norcross, a psychology professor at the University of Scranton and author of “Changeology: 5 Steps to Realizing Your Goals and Resolutions,” says that the most useful mission statements will have components of change that are supported by research. He notes that such statements help people publicly declare their goals to change, which works better than staying private. Identifying a new behavior, rather than focusing on changing an old one, is also more likely to lead to success, he says.
In creating a mission statement, coaches say it is important to identify the underlying values that may motivate change rather than focusing on a single behavior. Many people, for instance, make a New Year’s resolution to lose weight. But setting a goal like losing weight, eating more healthfully or exercising doesn’t tap into the underlying motivation to get there.
“Exercising and eating better is an action plan,” says Dr. Groppel. “You have to start with why. Losing weight to look better is superficial. Is that really at the core of why you want to lose weight?”
People wanting to achieve weight loss should ask themselves, “What happens if I don’t change? Why is losing weight important to me?” The resulting mission statement might be: “I want to be a role model for my children, an extraordinary parent who has the energy, health and stamina to support them in their dreams.”To get started on your personal mission statement, ask yourself the following questions used by the Corporate Athlete program:
■ How do you want to be remembered?
■ How do you want people to describe you?
■ Who do you want to be?
■ Who or what matters most to you?
■ What are your deepest values?
■ How would you define success in your life?
■ What makes your life really worth living?
Use your answers to craft a personal mission statement that reveals your ultimate purpose in life. Rather than listing a behavioral change, focus on a set of guiding principles that capture how you want to live your life. Some examples of mission statements from the Corporate Athlete program include:
“I plan to spend more time doing things that I like to do.”
“I want to become more physically active and try new hobbies.”
“My mission is to incorporate a healthy balance of work and personal time.”
“I aspire to transform negative work-related situations and put energy into relationships with family and friends.”
Dr. Groppel acknowledges that some people may find such self-reflection “soft,” but delving into your most basic beliefs and motivations actually is hard work. I can attest to that. Recently I decided to take the Corporate Athlete training course to see if I could benefit from personal coaching. Forcing myself to focus on my values and how I define success was a surprisingly enlightening exercise.
The process helped me realize that I was spending too much time on other people’s priorities and neglecting my own health and emotional well-being. I crafted a new personal mission statement that attempts to capture my desire to support my daughter and build stronger personal connections with family, friends and colleagues.
How to get there?
“My ultimate mission is to live a present, disciplined life, in which I take care of myself in order to achieve my larger goals.”
Creating a personal mission statement is, of course, a start. The next step for anyone seeking change is to examine the obstacles that have prevented you from achieving your mission, and develop an action plan to get there. These are issues I will explore with you over the coming weeks.