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When pursuing your goals, action follows attitude.

Coaching is often about setting the appropriate goals in pursuit of one’s personal aspirations. And goals come in different shapes. The Zurich Resource Model framework draws a distinction between action goals and attitude goals. As those terms imply, action goals are linked to something specific that you do. Like, for instance, walk at least 10,000 steps every day or meditate for ten minutes before going to bed.


Attitude goals, on the other hand, are linked to how you behave or act in general. Attitude goals are broad and rather unspecific. This goes against the widely held belief that effective goals need to be as specific as possible. "Specific" is what the first letter in the acronym SMART stands for, a formula frequently used in business for defining goals on the level of teams and the individual. SMART goals are Specific, Measurable, Assignable, Realistic and Time-bound.


The Zurich Resource Model argues that action goals don't have the power to get a person to cross the line from simply having a motif to setting a firm intention. In the model, this psychological threshold is called the "Rubicon", named after the river Julius Caesar eventually decided to cross with his troops to go into battle after a phase of deliberation. Once the Rubicon was crossed, there was no going back.


People need to cross their inner Rubicon for any sustainable change to happen. It represents the crucial barrier between formulating goals and the start of implementing them.


Only once a person has crossed their mental Rubicon specific, action-oriented goals can come into play and help drive the desired change. The attitude goal stands first and creates a sort of target corridor for such actions to take place. Because of their function, attitude goals are also called "motto goals" in the context of the ZRM framework.


A motto goal is typically what we state when asked about our ambitions. We want to "live healthily", "present our ideas with confidence", "be a great dad", or "stay calm in stressful situations". We normally wouldn't answer with "I'd like to swim three times a week" or "I want to read to my kids before bedtime at least five out of seven days".


There's a reason for this. Generic motto goals feel more like a part of our personality. We relate to them on an emotional and subconscious level, whereas action-oriented goals solely appeal to our rational minds. For lasting change, emotions and the subconscious need to play their part.


When it comes to hitting your action goals, it's either or: We make those 10.000 steps per day, or we don't (and, hence, feel we have failed). A motto goal, on the other hand, constantly acts in the background and has us scan our daily life for opportunities to contribute. In the example of living healthily, this means we start making more healthy choices whenever a chance to do so occurs. Because we're firmly and emotionally invested in our motto goal, our actions start to align. We may set a few action goals at this stage, but now they're underpinned by our broader motto goal. We can also swap action goals if we find they don't work for us (without abandoning our attitude goal). Making the right choices and taking actions that help us move toward our motto goal feels like part of who we are.


I'm only at the start of exploring the ZRM framework in its entirety, but the distinction between action goals and attitude goals is already serving me a great deal in my own journey and in my coaching practice. So, next time you'd like to make a change, rather than jumping straight into defining action goals, maybe explore if you can first formulate an attitude goal that can act as your guiding star.

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