W is for Focusing On The Three Keywords ‘What, How, When’

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These were the three keywords I learned when working with young people in therapeutic communities. At the time there were many models for encouraging people, but most boiled down to asking them.

“What are the results you want to achieve? How can you do your best to achieve these results? When do you want to achieve these results?”

The approach obviously went deeper and involved more questions. So let’s explore how you can use these keywords to help people to succeed.

You can focus on the ‘What’

“Most people want similar things in life,” said one of my teachers in the therapeutic community.

“They want to be healthy, loved, happy, successful and find peace.

“Different people try to achieve these goals in different ways. Some strategies work, but others cause trouble.

“People who come to this community want to take responsibility for shaping their futures.

“We help people to clarify what they want out of life and then find healthy ways to achieve these goals.”

Imagine somebody has asked you to help them to shape their future. You will probably start by clarifying their aims.

Depending on the topic they want to explore, you will ask questions that revolve around the ‘What’. For example:

“What are your goals? What are the real results you want to achieve?

“What are the controllables? How can you build on what you can control and manage what you can’t? What is your picture of success?”

Clarifying the ‘What’

It is vital to clarify the ‘What’ before moving on to the ‘How’. So you may use exercises to help a person clarify their short, medium and long-term goals.

One popular exercise is called Success. This invites a person to clarify their life goals.

Looking back at the end of their life, what are the things they want to achieve by then that for them will mean they have had a successful life?

People sometimes prefer to set shorter term goals. If so, invite them to pick a date in the future and focus on the specific goals they want to achieve by then.

Here is the exercise on the lifetime picture of success. There are, of course, many similar exercises that encourage people to clarify their ‘What’.

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“But what about the ‘Why’ question?” somebody may ask. “Don’t they need to know why they want to achieve a goal?”

I have found that people often find it easier to uncover their motives by asking them:

“What are your reasons for wanting to achieve the goals? What will be the benefits – both for you and other people?”

In terms of deeper motives, let’s return to the key things that most people want out of life.

They want to be loved, happy, successful and find peace. This means different things to different people. So quite a bit of time is spent on the question:

“What are the real results you want to achieve?”

Imagine that you are using this approach in your own life or work. Here are some of the classic questions you can use to clarify your goals.

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You can focus on the ‘How’

This is the opportunity to sit alongside the person to do some brainstorming and creative problem solving.

When working with the young people, for example, I asked: “How can you get what you want?”

This led to them exploring the possible routes they could follow in the future. Each route did, of course, have consequences.

Many had got themselves into trouble, so we also considered: “How can you stop yourself getting what you want?”

This enabled them to describe their self defeating patterns and the choices they could make.

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Imagine that you are using this approach in your own life or work. Here are some of the classic questions you can use to clarify how to reach your goals.

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You can focus on the ‘When’

“When do you want to reach your goal? When do you want to pass the various milestones along the way? When can you get an early success? Bearing in mind these answers, when do you want to begin?”

These are some of the key questions to ask when enabling a person to clarify their action plan. The crucial part, however, is that the person must ‘own’ the plan. They must believe in it and want to translate it into action.

Peak performers recognise that it is important to follow daily disciplines. Before committing themselves to a task, they again ask:

“Am I really serious? Bearing in mind the pluses and minuses involved, am I really prepared to work hard to reach the goals?”

If the answer is “Yes,” they translate their aims into a clear action plan.

This often involves making clear contracts. The first contract is with themselves. They commit to doing the right things in the right way every day. Sometimes they may also need to make contracts with other people in their personal or professional lives.

Peak performers often build in some early successes when mapping out the milestones on the road to reaching their goals. They then keep working hard until they achieve their picture of success.

Imagine that you are using this approach in your own life or work. Here are some of the classic questions you can use to clarify your action plan.

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If you are helping a person to work towards achieving their goals, you will return to the beginning and double check the following things.

The What: The person’s picture of success.

The How: The person’s strategies for achieving success.

The When: The person’s specific action plan for doing their best to achieve success.

This approach can be applied in many different situations. You can use it to help yourself or other people to achieve specific goals.

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