Maybe you are a right-brained person and you think setting clear goals or a defined course of action will limit your creative freedom.
I hear you.
Pablo Picasso, in all the glory of his variety of styles, said:
“Our goals can only be reached through a vehicle of a plan, in which we must fervently believe, and upon which we must vigorously act. There is no other route to success.”
What?! There is no other route to success?
Do you think he was being dramatic?
What is clarity?
When we think of clarity, we think of being clear and observable. In the sense that what you see is what you get. That’s one definition of it.
The other, which I am more interested in, is the quality of being coherent.
Having clarity in speech, in my opinion, is about being about to say the same thing in one sentence — or 100 sentences — without changing the meaning of what you are saying.
Why is clarity important?
When it comes to effectively working towards your goals, you can would need a clear action plan.
If I were to ask you to fold a paper aeroplane for me right now, you would be able to visualise what you need, the steps it will involved, and how the end result will look.
Even if you are not 100% sure of the steps it will take, you should have an awareness of how the end product would look and you would be able to correct wrong folds should you make any along the way.
Needless to say, the person with a clearer and more accurate visualisation is more likely the one who would complete it faster.
This is effectiveness.
You are right. This is probably too much of an arbitrary example.
Think of your own experiences.
Are you able to recall instances where poor clarity led to reduced efficiency?
What about that time you tried to assemble an Ikea furniture and you installed it the wrong side up?
How was your experience?
What did you think could be better to help you avoid that?
To be clear is to contain
According to Wilfred Bion, a British Psychoanalyst who developed theories around clarity in the 1960s, we need to be able to contain our thoughts and emotions if we want to fully and effectively process them.
If you want to separate a thousand red marbles from a thousand blue ones, you’d probably want to have a space to work through them.
Just think about trying to pick up your favourite colours from a bag of M&M’s chocolate or Skittles.
What is the first thing you do?
I would pour it out on the table and start moving them around within a contained, albeit poor-marked, space.
Containing means to gather and to hold
In Bion’s work, he talked about being present. To be able to directly experience our thoughts and emotions in a nonjudgmental and empathetic way.
I have been working with a client on the compassion framework. How can we be self-compassionate and self-kind without being indulgent, lazy, or the-negative-association-you-have-with-nice-that-you-are-thinking-of-right-now?
To a huge extend, being kind to yourself starts with using fair, accurate and positive narratives in your day to day life.
This is non-judgemental.
This client in particular had the tendency to shove his frustration and anger away so he can focus on his work.
After two sessions of working together, he retrospectively realised that he is able to acknowledge his negative emotions, especially during work events that are outside of his control, experience it that way it is, then redirect his attention to the task he has on hand without trying to quash it.
Retrospective as per he only realised that after he had experienced it i.e. it was not a conscious practice.
With his observations, he realised that when he allowed himself to experience his frustration to its fullest extend, he is able to focus better at work.
The reason is because this nonjudgmental and compassionate containment process gave him space and permission to allow him to move navigate through his thoughts and feelings.
Like trying to sort out a bag of M&M’s chocolate, you need space.
Once you can separate what you think and how you feel, it’s likely that you are more able to do what you want (e.g. focus on work).
Clarity is not about bottling up negative thoughts and emotions.
By creating a safe space for you to be fully present, you can directly experience, engage, and process everything to be clearer of who you are, what you are experiencing, and what you should do next.
This in turn means you can focus better, which often leads to better productivity!
Goal clarity impacts work performance
Locke in 1968 asserted that there was reasonably consistent evidence to indicate that clear and specific goals lead to improved performance and that behavioural intentions can regulate choice behaviour.
This is great right? We have known for over 50 years that a simple exercise can make you deliver better results.
Why wouldn’t you do it?
Data from 105 teams and the researchers found that goal clarity had an impact on performance.
A study published just this year (sample size: 2766 individuals) found that a coaching-based approach to performance can address the chronic problem of goal ambiguity, which ultimately leads to employees’ productivity and organisational performance.
I honestly don’t think it can get any clearer than that.
The study specifically found a positive direct relationship: performance goal clarity → individual performance.
Meaning if you have clearer goals, you as an individual is going to deliver better work outcomes.
When it comes to indirect relationships, the study reported:
• Performance feedback → performance goal clarity → individual performance
• Autonomy → performance goal clarity → individual performance
It should be clear by now why coaching has such a important role to play in increasing performance.
Coaches ask, reflect, summarise, and clarify. In doing so, we provide feedback and encourage autonomy. Both of which leads to better work outcomes!
How to find clarity?
Hopefully by now you’re sold on the value of clarity.
There are multiple ways to look at it. If you have clarity of your thoughts and emotions, you know exactly where you are right now and what you are doing. If you have clear goals and a clear action plan, efficiency increases because you know exactly what you after.
Clarity empowers you to take more meaningful and effective action. If you want don’t know how to be clear, here are a few ideas to get you started:
Journal your daily reflections
Most people do have some idea of what they’d like or what are the things that are important to them.
When we start to dig deeper into what’s more important and how important is important, this is when things start to get murky.
Surface-level clarity tells you what you like but not necessarily what you really want.
The fastest way to gain insight into your own life is to start a daily journal. Write down some of your thoughts:
• What went well today?
• Did I achieve what I’ve set up to do for the day/week?
• How’s my general mood and/or work productivity?
• Is this version of myself something I like?
To take it a step further, you can give yourself a score across domains that are important to you:
• Work productivity
• General well-being
• Social relationships
If you are 1/10, you know you need to work on it, invest more time there.
With all of this information are collecting, you will come to know yourself really well.
Don’t treat this as generic advice you already know. Remember, common sense is not common practice.
You actually have to do it.
Journal your small wins and aha moments
I am willing to bet there are good things that are happening in your life on your daily basis. Perhaps even hourly!
Too often we have so many great moments that we forget because we don’t write them down.
Do you remember when was your last aha moment?
When was the last time you have had a great idea?
If you can’t remember exactly when, it’s probably too long ago.
All the small wins and eureka moments are significant life events we shouldn’t be allowing to just trickle away.
It’s such a waste, isn’t it?
Don’t wake up every morning to start afresh.
Keep a journal of everything good and start building yourself with what is already working.
Journal your ideas and all the things you envision your future to be
Most of us would have pass thoughts that are pretty interesting but we don’t think much about because we didn’t want to think of it there and there. That’s okay.
Write it down.
You know how sometimes you have to browse through social media for ideas?
Imagine if you could browse through your own ex-thoughts instead.
I understand sometimes some ideas are just coming at the wrong time. That doesn’t mean they would have no value in the future.
Write it down.
Stop relying on other people’s works or ideas for inspiration.
Look into yourself. There’s something in there worth exploring.
Go deep or go home.
Well, not really. Go deep or write it down.
For everything interesting that is irrelevant or have no significant value to you now, write them down.
Whatever you are not writing, you can start working on them.
In the last post, I shared that it takes possibly only 20 hours to learn a new skill. If there’s something out there that you think can help you, go for it. That will give you a competitive advantage.
Too many people sit on what will be good to have without actually working towards it. If it’s good to have, it simply means you don’t have it.
If you don’t have it, there’s no good for you.
Working towards clarify is not a straightforward or comfortable process.
If you are working with a coach, you can expect them to repeatedly challenge what you are saying to see if what think you want is consistently coherent throughout the coaching session.
The reason is simple. If you are clear of what you want, you should be able to say it in a single line or a thousand sentences without changing what you mean.
With clients who do not have the awareness of their clarity or lack of clarity, it’s common to hear them say:
• But I have already told you.
• You are not listening.
• You are assuming what I want and pushing me towards that.
I’ll like to share a coaching experience with you.
Just earlier this week, I had to work with a client through a clarification process. This client had two distinctively separate goals that she wanted to work with and we spent a good 10 minutes discussing which was more important to her.
At some point during the coaching session, she made the same remarks as those mentioned above.
Luckily for us, we had a audio recording of the session.
Despite her claims that she had shared which was more important to her, she actually never did.
Isn’t this interesting?
This is why coaching is useful. I’ve written about how coaching can change your way of thinking by directing or diverging your beam of attention to encourage exploration.
To a large extend, coaching creates a safe, contained space for you to explore your thoughts and emotions. Without this space, it’s hard to process what you truly want to achieve. Without knowing what it is you are trying to get it, it’s impossible to set a meaningful action plan.
While this space is safe, no one is promising that it wouldn’t be frustrating.
P.S. I acknowledge that I could further develop my effective questioning skills to achieve improved coaching outcomes. I am current working on this.
If you work with a coach, you have to actually say it
Some coaches think they can listen beyond the words. They believe that a person’s facial expressions can tell us a lot about what a person is thinking or doing.
However, research doesn’t support that non-verbal communication is reliable.
A study by psychology professor Lisa Feldman Barrett, one of the most cited academics in the world, was able to demonstrate that the brain sees what it believes.
In the experiments, subjects were shown neutral faces with suppressed scowling or suppressed smiling faces. When the neutral face was shown with suppressed scowling faces, participants reported the neutral face to be more unpleasant.
Similarly, when the neutral face was shown with suppressed smiling faces, it was perceived to be more pleasant.
In that sense, it is true that the context or environment you are in can change how you perceive facial expressions. Your perception, however, is a more accurate representation of your current affect — your underlying experience of feeling, emotion, or mood — not what the other person is trying to say.
With that in mind, it comes as no surprise that the almost-1 billion dollars behavioural screening program by the U.S. Transportation Security Administration was a complete flop. According to the Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general, they program was unable to objectively screen passengers.
So, if you’re working with a coach, you have to actually say it.
Once you’ve verbalised, you’ve brought it to the table and we can work it through.
It’s pretty neat really.
I hope with this little sharing you have a clearer idea of what it means to be clear.
The easiest and fastest way to kickstart your clarity journey is to keep a journal.
If you are struggling and would like more help from me, book in a coaching session via the form below. Alternately, drop me a message. I am always happy to chat more.
Now, go forth and be clear.