Make it Happen

by | Mar 1, 2015 | Blog, Jessica Chivers | 0 comments

International Women’s Day[1] will soon be upon us (Sunday 8/3/15) and the theme this year is ‘make it happen.’ I’m applying this to democracy and will be holding a market stall in St Albans on Saturday 7thMarch to encourage more (young) women to vote[2]. In this post I’m offering you four insights from the world of psychology to maximize the chances that you ‘make happen’ what’s important to you.

Before you read on, it could be helpful to bring to mind a personal challenge – something you’d like to change – and as you read you can consider how these four golden nuggets relate to your situation.

In their terrific[3] new book ‘The Small Big,’ behavioural scientists Robert Cialdini and Noah Goldstein with co-author Steve Martin (not the funny guy, although he may well be) reveal a series of research findings that we can apply to our lives to help us make things happen. I’ll draw upon examples of current and recent coachees to illustrate along the way (names changed).


Setting a range

Success is increased when you set a goal range rather than a single date or number found researchers Maura Scott and Stephen Nowlis (when studying members of a weightloss club). We could apply this to my coachees Emma and Isla (who are ambitious and mothers of young children) who find it challenging to make time for networking and other career development activities. A goal of engaging in 3-5 activities in the next three months that bring them into contact with colleagues who’s radar they’d like to be on is likely to be more motivating than pledging to attend all after work drink sessions. That’s because the goal range is stretching and attainable at the same time.


Implementation intentions

I wrote about implementation intentions several years ago and worth a recap. Essentially, once you know what you want to achieve and the actions you need to take to get there, you identify a trigger for each action. For instance, Rebecca has decided she wants to use humour and story-telling much more at work when she returns after maternity leave. She’s a leader with a sizeable team and says she’s always believed those qualities don’t fit with the image of being a strong, senior woman but now she’s changing her mind. She’s worked out some of the key situations (the triggers) when using story (action) and humour (action) could lighten the mood and re-energise her team and is committed to having a go.

And there’s Lisa who wants to be able to run a 5K in May. She’s worked out her training plan (her actions) and has tied the actions to a specific trigger – in her case, particular days and times of the week: ‘at 7pm on Tuesdays and Thursdays I will go out and move my body for 30 minutes come what may.’ Having these planned intentions significantly increases the chance that the actions will happen.


Future self 

Alison has recently begun a PhD and is earning at the same time. There are several benefits (the most significant being financial) to completing the PhD in five years instead of six. Researchers Chris Bryan and Hal Hershfield[4] discovered something which could be useful to her: that we’re better able to put ourselves through seemingly ‘painful’ experiences in the short term in order to benefit in the longer term when we appeal to our moral responsibility to the future version of ourselves. Their proven logic is that if ‘Alison Now’ keeps in mind how ‘Alison Future’ is dependent on the decisions she makes and how much better life would be for ‘Alison Future’ if ‘Alison Now’ chose to make sacrifices so that she can devote more time to her PhD, Alison is much more likely to do those things to help her future self. Clear as crystal? I hope so. If not, dip into Chapter 15 of The Small Big.


The Next Fortnight

Switching from a long-range to a short-range timeframe, what are you prepared to do over the next 14 days that will move you closer to accomplishing your goal? The UK Government’s Behavioural Insight Team (AKA the ‘nudge unit) found in a three-month trial that asking jobseekers ‘what activities will you undertake in the next two fortnight that could help you secure a job?’ led to a significant increase in the likelihood that those people were off unemployment benefits after 13 weeks.

I’m standing for election to become a St Albans City & District Councillor this May and I’m applying these four golden nuggets to the challenge. Each week I ask myself ‘what will I do in the next seven days that will take me closer to my goal?’ and then knowing my optimism usually gets the better of me I’m learning to apply the range principle so I don’t feel dejected that I haven’t done everything on the list.


What are you taking away?

You can use psychology research to help you be successful. It’s easier to make things happen when you: 1) set a range rather than an absolute date or number for what success is; 2) work out specific triggers for taking actions that will take you closer to your goal; 3) imagine how you’ll be better off in the future for making sacrifices now and 4) plan what you’ll do in the next two weeks to get you there. The power is in your hands – make it happen.


International Women’s Day 2015 #makeithappen

The Southbank Centre in London is once again holding it’s annual ‘Women of the World’ festival and I recommend checking out the programme. Last year I heard Malala Yousafzei speak and it was incredible.


In the Media

Some things you may have seen or heard, or will, in the coming weeks from me:



  • The Daily Telegraph – 5 ways to Be a Better Parent
  • Emerald Street (the online sister publication to the ever popular Stylist magazine) – The Joy Of Missing Out or JOMO
  • BBC 3 Counties radio – various interviews on fly-tipping and my litter-picking activities
  • Radio Verulam – ‘Tracks of Your Life’ on Sunday 8th March 10am – 12 noon and repeated Wednesday 11th March. (A bit like BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs).

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