Check Yourself: Using Ready, Willing and Able Scales for Goal Setting
You wouldn’t necessarily think of Ice Cube for life advice, but he’s got some gems. One of the most famous is: “Check yourself before you wreck yourself.” I think it’s fair to say we could all do better with getting into the habit of checking ourselves before we end up wrecking ourselves, if for no other reason than to avoid awkward social situations, like this one here:
But another great time to check yourself is when you’re embarking on a new goal. Here is one quick and easy method that will help you navigate approaching a new goal in a way that increases your odds of success: Ready, Willing, and Able Scales (for ease of remembering, it really helps that ‘able’ rhymes with ‘scale’)
How Able Am I on a Scale of 1-10?
The first thing to check in with is your ability to do the thing. Ability exists on a continuum and certainly skills can be learned, and sometimes they need to be (and that takes time!). Sometimes preparing to approach your goal by learning or developing skills is necessary.
Let’s say you want to become a Hot Air balloon pilot. I assume you’d have to at least take some sort of training course and/or licensing exam (there is! I checked!) before you hit the skies (or whatever the expression is for hot air balloon aviation). Even more common goals like starting a running habit or cooking more at home might require a brief pause to learn about gait and training routines or skills like chopping, slicing, dicing, mincing, and other cooking verbs my brain has currently run out of.
Sometimes we literally aren’t able to do certain things. If you decide I’m going to be more productive by working for 12 hours a day, 6 days a week, ideally checking yourself here will elicit the awareness that whenever you’ve tried that before, it’s only possible for a few weeks and then you end up burnt out because humans aren’t built to sustain that sort of schedule. That’s good awareness to have if it leads you to a different, and better, way to achieve your goal of being more productive.
If you check in with your ability and find you’re a 9 or 10 out of 10 on the scale, get it, you!
If you’re a 6 to 8 out of 10 on the scale, something needs to happen. Figure out what it is and make a plan to get yourself as close to that 10 as you can.
If it’s lower than 6 out of 10, consider adjusting your goal. Using the running example, if you’re prone to knee pain and that’s why you gave yourself a 5/10 (i.e. it could go either way), then maybe the best place to start is by going to see your Doctor about that knee pain, focusing on a less impactful form of exercise like swimming or cycling, and setting your goal to run into the future
How Willing Am I on a Scale of 1-10?
This might seem like an unnecessary step but you’d be surprised at how often we absorb and integrate other people’s (family, culture, Bossy McBosses we know, etc) expectations and beliefs into our own goals. This can be especially true when something is good for us. Quitting smoking is a good example. Met anyone recently who was staunchly pro-cigarette smoking? Me neither. 10 out of 10 everybodies agree that cigarette smoking is bad for you and if you’re doing it, you shouldn’t be. With a consensus like that, what would go wrong? Well, if you’re not really willing to do the work to quit smoking, you’ll likely not be successful. If you do succeed, the risk of relapse is high.
Another common example is establishing a meditation practice. It’s a great goal and you’ll meet very few meditators who don’t at least recommend it (if not going on and on about how great it is). Enthusiasm is contagious so let’s all meditate! It’ll be great! Unless you’re not actually willing to do it, then it will not be great and will also probably not get done. Undone goals become nagging ‘shoulds’ that rattle around in our brains reminding us how much we suck at that thing. And that’s no help at all!
This doesn’t mean that you have to be 100% committed to any new goal. Some (self-) doubt is normal and natural. But being really high on this scale is important because it’s your goal and you need to be willing to do the work to achieve it.
If you check in with your willingness and find you’re a 9 or 10 out of 10 on the scale, then woo hoo (and get to work!)
If you’re a 6 to 8 out of 10 on the scale, something needs to happen. Maybe it’s a matter of getting yourself jazzed up and/or making your approach to the goal more exciting (like using gamification).
If it’s lower than 6 out of 10, consider adjusting your goal. Using the smoking example, maybe a starting place you’re willing to engage with is cutting down on smoking, setting a daily goal and working on that until you’re in a place to think about quitting altogether. With the meditation example, there are lots of different ways to practice mindfulness, such as during daily tasks (i.e. mindful eating or savouring) or integrating more engaging and enjoyable experiences (i.e. flow states).
How Ready Am I on a Scale of 1-10?
If you’re able and willing, the final check is how ready you are to start your goal. Readiness has less to do with skills (ability) and motivation (willingness) and more to do with preparing yourself and planning ahead. Maybe there is some stuff you need to acquire or set up or eliminate or otherwise adjust to make it more likely for you to succeed with your goal. Want to cook more? Do you have pots and pans and knives and… food? If not, better get some first! Want to start running? Do you have shoes and water and a place to run? If you want to quit smoking and have a 3 month supply of cigarettes, it might be a good idea to do something about that prior to starting. Decided to start meditating? Do you have a quiet and private place and time to do it and a way to make yourself comfortable (pillows, etc)? Getting ready is incredibly helpful and often overlooked. Attending to your environment and making changes that will help you change in an easier way is helpful from the perspective of sustaining your effort over time.
If you check in with your readiness and find you’re a 9 or 10 out of 10 on the scale, that’s amazing (and a great confidence booster!)
If you’re a 6 to 8 out of 10 on the scale, take a beat to consider what you need to feel more ready and then do those things first.
If it’s lower than 6 out of 10, consider adjusting your goal. Maybe what you’ve outlined is just too big or scary for your brain to digest right now. If you don’t feel ready, scale back until it feels do-able.
These three 1-10 scales, and the associated self-reflection questions that come with them, are great ways to make sure you are going in the right direction with your goals. Ideally, by taking the time to check yourself, you’ll do the opposite of wrecking yourself and set yourself up for success with any goal you choose to take on.