It’s January and you’re raring to go.  You’re feeling fantastic today.  You can conquer the world.  You choose 16 metrics to track your program’s effectiveness.  You decide your Code of Conduct needs a refresh – immediately.  You plan to bring in an improv team and to create a gameshow during Ethics and Compliance Week.  You can do it all!

Cut to six months later.  Your metrics project has died.  You’ve given up on the Code refresh.  Your plan for Ethics and Compliance Week now consists of putting out cupcakes and hoping people come to talk about compliance.  You feel defeated and spend your workday watching the latest cat videos instead of tackling your to-do list.

What’s going on here?  In his book The Code of the Extraordinary Mind, author Vishen Lakhiani argues that “we tend to overestimate what we can do in one year and underestimate what we can do in three years.”  He argues that we tend not to expect nearly enough of ourselves in the long term.  This leads to short-term frustration, which can hinder our capacity to get done what can be accomplished.  The feeling of failure from missing our short-term goals often leads to diminishing expectations of what we can accomplish long-term.  In response to our perceived failure with respect to our year-long goals, we withdraw from grand long-term goals. Both tendencies work against our success. 

What can we do about this? 

Know that it is a Problem

The first thing is to recognize that chronic over and under-estimating is a problem for most people.  Before I read Lakhiani’s book, I hadn’t realized that this self-defeating practice is common, nor would I have recognized it in myself.  Simply knowing that this challenge exists can help you to plan short-term goals more realistically, and long-term goals with greater assertiveness.

Create a Vision

Think about where you’d like to be in three years – and think big.  Imagine how many people you’d have working in your program.  Determine the budget that you’d have.  Maybe you envision virtual reality anti-bribery training for your sales team.  Maybe you’d like state-of-the-art metrics software, or a dedicated third-party due diligence team. Don’t let the size of your vision scare you. 

See Your Vision in Technicolor

Pick some emotional touchstones that resonate with you.  If you want to have virtual reality anti-bribery training, see yourself in the room with the sales team all walking around with facemasks talking to invisible people in the midst of a truly innovative experience.  Hear the thanks you receive as they experience a new reality – one in which they’ve practiced how they will respond if pressured to act unethically.

Imagine yourself presenting fancy graphs and charts to the Board or Audit Committee using the reports that come out of your fancy new metrics software system.  Feel your pride in your successful presentation.

Envision yourself training your third-party due diligence team on how to clear red flags in a consistent way.  Really feel the experience as if it is happening already.

Set Small Nudge-Creating Goals

Numerous studies show that people lose faith in their own capacity to meet their goals when they’ve set them so high that they’re impossible to meet.  Social science has proven that people lose trust in themselves when they fail at what they’ve set out to do, which can affect their sense of self and lower their self-esteem.  Instead of making large goals, start with small milestones that will nudge you toward your long-term vision.  Nudge Theory posits that small accomplishments lead to feelings of success, and those feelings make a person more likely to reach for the next small goal.  Small goals are the key to large successes.

By simply remembering that your three-year vision can be accomplished with small goals, you’ll make your vision much more likely to become your reality.  Besides, by the time you reach your three-year vision, it’ll be time for a new one to be created.  Imagine that.