The ABC model is a performance transformation framework that can help you to accelerate your personal and professional growth, and realize your potential. The article explains the ABC model so that you can use the model to help visualize, organize and track your change journey. (Click here for a related article that maps the ABC model to The Good Life Book)
In my work as a management consultant and coach I use a transformation mindset to examine problems and opportunities in a particular situation. In brief, transformation is about moving from where you are right now, to a desirable future state such that you are changed as part of the process. While other approaches, such as motivational thinking, or quick fixes might produce a short-term change in behavior, a transformation approach aims to lock-in and make sustainable the positive effects of a change.
All of this is highly relevant in the case of personal change since I think that we want the results of time and energy invested in change to last, and to provide a new baseline level of performance that we can then build on to reach our potential.
The ABC model is shown in the diagram below:
In the model, Point A is where you are today, Point B is where you want to be in the future, and C is the course of action that gets you there. Additionally, when you use the model in practice, D is what you must Do in terms of the next concrete steps, and E refers to Execution, or taking action.
Now, let me describe each part of the model in more detail.
Point A – Where you are today
It is no accident that the first point in the model is where you are today. The road to your potential starts with today. Your change starts not from your history or a point in the future but from where you are right now. The only place to live the better life that you seek to create is and will always be today.
Part of understanding where you are now is to understand who you are in terms of your values, your passions and how you currently define success.
Understanding who you are can take the form of structured self-knowledge exercises, reflection/feedback or action-based learning and experiences, or some combination of those methods.
Although understanding who you are at a greater level of detail might involve looking into your past, the point of view that you use to view your past is who you are today. You won’t dwell in your past except to analyze and learn from it.
Many of us might contend that we already know who we are and thus can skip this step however, I’ve found from experience, that quite often we will describe who we starting from the perspective of our jobs and perhaps our surroundings rather than the intrinsic characteristics of our being (who we really are i.e. our core values).
I like to ask clients what their passions are, and often use an exercise like The Three Circles, to help structure that discussion. There are two reasons for this. Firstly passions are often linked to, and can reveal core values.
Secondly, if we’re to design a future life for ourselves, shouldn’t we also ensure that the life we design is one that makes us feel alive?
Your current set of goals can also provide insight into who you are. For example, you can ask yourself why you have the goals that you have. Even a fairly clear-cut goal such as losing weight or getting a promotion can reveal deep insights into what you really want out of life, if you ask yourself why you have that goal several times, and at successively greater levels of depth. The 5 whys technique, described in Chapter 2 of The Good Life Book is a structured method to get at the underlying roots of why we do what we do.
Part of living a happier, balanced and more meaningful life involves understanding the context for how success is defined in society, then creating your own language of success based on what is really important to you. In Chapter 1 of The Good Life Book I describe five languages of a good life:
The languages are:
In our current situation, many of us use only the languages of Attainment and Gratification to set our goals and to think about our future, and then are disappointed if our lives don’t deliver what we truly need in a balanced and meaningful way that provides ongoing happiness. What would be the effect of using the languages of Importance, Meaning and Being more often in how you think about your future?
The final step in working out where we are now is an assessment of how our life is performing (i.e. in terms of happiness, balance and meaning) across the most important parts of our life. In Chapter 5 of the book I describe The Five Pillars of a good life, which are: Vocation (Meaningful Work), People (Strong Relationships), Health (Physical and Mental), Spirit (Spiritual connection and groundedness) and Expression (self-expression and contribution).
These pillars are ones that I’ve found, through personal experience and through working with clients and colleagues, cover the majority of the aspects of our life that you might like to measure and improve as part of living a better life. To assess how your life is performing you can assign a score from 1 (not performing) to 5 (performing very well) for each of the pillars.
Point B – Where you want to go
Getting the right outcomes from your transformation journey (and life) often comes down to setting the right future state to begin with. Frequently the goals that you bring along with your initial desire to live a better life will evolve or change as you complete the steps in Point A of the ABC model.
The reason why is that we might find that the goals we were seeking to achieve were based on what we thought that we “should” do, rather than embodying what we really want out of life (based on our values, what is truly important and we’re passionate about).
Point B describes the whole life that you want to live in future – across all of the Five Pillars and including your own personal definition of success. Often we set goals hoping that when we achieve them that we’ll live a better life, only to find that when we reach the goal it doesn’t deliver the life we want. In some cases we find that striving for a goal has thrown our whole life out of balance.
You can use the languages of Importance, Meaning and Being to begin to describe the type of life that you wish to live in future. By their nature these languages are principle-based i.e. they describe the characteristics of the life you’ll life rather than specific stuff and experiences that you’ll have.
Designing your future based on principles has two distinct advantages. Firstly – principles guide you rather than being prescriptive (and dictating how to reach your goal). This means that the number of possible paths and possible future Point B’s is broadened, increasing the likelihood that you’ll reach your desirable future state.
Secondly, by emphasizing who you’ll be, rather than what you’ll have your ego is not brought into play a significant way. Instead of competing with others in order to be happy, you seek to express yourself fully, and happiness, balance and meaning are the result.
It’s often useful to create a visual picture or vision of what your Point B looks and feels like then to consciously visualize that Point B on a regular basis. Visual imagery often has a much more powerful effect than words in programming our sub-conscious to guide our decision making in a way that supports our vision.
The final step in Point B is to really understand why we want to make the change in the first place, and then to deeply feel that reason (or reasons). In personal change we’ll often encounter challenges and obstacles. If we don’t feel a strong reason to change then either we won’t start at all, or we’ll give up at the first obstacle.
This deeply felt reason to change is often called the compelling reason to act, or burning platform. You understand your personal burning platform by firstly understanding the benefits of moving from Point A to Point B. How will your life change. Try to get into as much detail about what will change as you can.
Next, imagine that you don’t make the change to travel from Point A to Point B. What will you miss out on. Will you achieve your potential or not. How will you feel if you don’t change. Which problems will remain unsolved and perhaps continue to stew. How will those close to you be affected if you don’t change? Often our greatest motivation to begin to change is to avoid what happens if we don’t change.
C – Course
Instead of an all-or-nothing effort, your journey to a better life should be framed as setting a course to a better future. A sailing metaphor comes to mind. If you were to set off sailing to a destination, then find that the wind conditions are not quite what you expect, you’d have two choices: give up or change course. In the case of personal change many of us give up too easily because we encounter obstacles and give up or we double down on a course that’s not working and get burned out.
The course is a separate entity from your destination. You can be off course most of the time, and change course many times and yet still reach your destination. In fact for most of us we should treat course as our best hypothesis rather than set in stone i.e. a beginning idea that we can objectively evaluate and fine tune through trial and error.
In personal change the final course to Point B may not be clear at the time you begin. Instead you must use your judgment as to what actions will move you towards your vision (rather than away from it).
Your personal change journey might be focused on a single part of your life e.g. health or people, or your vision might necessitate a portfolio of actions to be taken over time. In that case you’ll develop a course for each set of actions, ensuring that the individual courses align sufficiently to allow you to reach your overall desired destination.
D – Do (next concrete steps)
After selecting a course you’ll list out the next concrete steps required on that course, then group those steps into a plan.
While some level of planning is essential to get you to engage and into detail about exactly what you’re trying to achieve it often is not possible to know the full extent of what’s possible before we take the first step.
We can spend months or even decades worried about whether we have the right first step (and thus doing nothing), whereas we can usually recover from a miss-step in minutes or days. Instead of getting stuck in “analysis-paralysis”, find a concrete next step to do, and then do it. You’ll learn more than you ever could from more analysis, and most importantly you’ll have started.
E – Execution (taking action)
The final stage of the ABC model is E for Execution (or taking action). Taking action is the only thing that will propel you toward your future state.
In the book I describe the Plan, Do, Review action cycle. To get the most from each concrete step we take we should Plan (think about how to do the step, and what we want to get from taking it), Do (execute the step) and then Review (what actually happened versus what we anticipated, and then what adjustments are required to next steps).
As you begin to take steps on your course your Point A (where you are) will change and your understanding of who you are will also be enhanced. You will begin to further understand the reasons and benefits of moving to Point B or if you need to tweak the Point B you are heading towards. As a result of taking action you’ll almost certainly have a much clearer picture of what is required to move to Point B and if your current course will get you there. You might need to explore other courses that will get you to Point B more efficiently and effectively.
To deal with the insights you are getting from your journey, to track progress and as a way to prompt required course changes I recommend having a weekly tracking cycle where you step through where you are at with: A, B, C, D and E, and what needs to be done next.
Value of the ABC model
I hope that you see by now the value of having a convenient mental model and framework to apply to your personal and professional changes. The ABC model helps you to visualize your planned change, both the final destination and your journey there. The parts of the ABC model provide a way to group activities and to organize effort. Finally the model provides you with a structured way to track your progress on a periodic basis, and to make the required changes.
What to do next?
I’d recommend that you try to overlay the ABC model on your current goals and course. Do this by stepping through A to E above, and applying each stage to your own situation.
If you have not examined your values and passions then I’d suggest completing the exercises in Chapter 2 of The Good Life Book. You can download the first two chapters of the book for free by joining the mailing list at: http://www.brettcowell.com
Next, examine your current set of goals. Are they really bringing you towards the life that you want to life (as defined in a holistic way)? What actions could you take to begin living who you want to be, today? Do you have a clear picture of how you want your life to operate in future?
What course of action will most likely lead you to the life that you want to live, and what are the next concrete steps you must take?
Lastly, how often do you track progress on your goals?
I hope that this article and the ABC model will help you accelerate the path to your goals (and to ensure they are the right goals in the first place).
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