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All About You: A different approach to setting goals

All About You by Richard Hawk

EDITOR’S NOTE: Motivating employees to work safely is part of the safety professional’s job. But who motivates the motivator? In this monthly column, veteran safety pro and professional speaker Richard Hawk offers his entertaining brand of wisdom to inspire safety pros to perform at their best.

We’re beginning a new year. That’s exciting! For millennia, humans have packaged the passing of time into units such as weeks, months and years.

Perhaps, like me, you typically plan to start a new project or habit at the beginning of one of those units. The onset of a new year often prompts us to think about what we can do to improve some part of our life – whether it’s our health, relationships, career or something else.

This year, I’m trying something different. It’s an idea I got from a longtime friend and fellow professional speaker, Al, to whom I’ve gone many times for advice.

Last year, a few months before I was scheduled to host a Professional Development Seminar at the National Safety Council Congress & Expo, I had lunch with Al. I was looking for new ways to get attendees involved in the topic of my PDS, “Creating a Vibrant Safety Culture.”

Al said, “Why don’t you try the 180-degree technique that my brother uses in his seminars? It works for any aspect of your life or work.” I included Al’s suggestion as part of an exercise during my PDS, and it was a success! I’ve also been using the 180-degree technique to help me set new goals and habits. Here’s how it works:

First, ask yourself what it would take to ruin something? You can choose just about anything. For example, what would it take to ruin your health? Here’s a short list of what you’d need to do: Eat a lot of fast food, be chronically dehydrated, do nothing to relieve stress, avoid medical checkups, drink alcohol excessively, smoke, be sedentary throughout the day, etc.

Next, ask yourself how many of the things on the list you’re doing? When I asked my PDS attendees to make a list of what it would take to have a “lousy, apathetic safety culture,” my request got a good laugh. And I was surprised at how easily everyone came up with a long list of failure items. I then asked the group to note any of them that are happening at their workplace. (One attendee said “Every one!”)

The next step is to come up with ways to eliminate elements from your failure list that you’re doing. Sure, you can come up with many of the same solutions using the traditional “How can I improve my life?” method. But using the 180-degree technique not only will help you evaluate your present situation, but it often brings up things you wouldn’t have considered.

When I asked myself what it would take to sabotage my career as a professional speaker, I came up with a few items I hadn’t seriously thought about before (i.e., not regularly spending time keeping up with new technology, rarely posting to safety groups).

Why is this 180-degree technique more effective than just thinking of ways to improve something? It’s because humans notice and react more strongly to negative events than positive ones, even if you’re an optimist. (Our species developed this bias as part of our survival skills.) So, coming up with a list of ways to ruin something is easier and will be more extensive than thinking of ways to improve it.

Here are a few examples of questions for trying the 180-degree technique on some of your projects at work or aspects of your personal life:

  • What would it take to ruin my relationship with my supervisor?
  • What would I have to do to become depressed or uninspired?
  • How could I make my safety presentations boring?
  • What would I act like if I were a lousy parent?

I’m not finished with my 180 lists, but so far I’ve found the process more productive than some of my past New Year’s goal- and habit-setting efforts. One reason: It’s something new. However, it’s also because I’ve been looking at my life in a deeper, more critical fashion. Because I could easily have removed some of the items on my list years ago, I’ll admit this approach has made me feel some regrets. But overall, I’m inspired by the results. Why not try the 180-degree technique? It may inspire you, too, and help you have a happy new year!

This article represents the views of the author and should not be construed as a National Safety Council endorsement.

Richard Hawk helps companies around the world create more vibrant safety cultures by showing them how to make safety fun. As a professional speaker, author and musician, he also inspires employees to focus better and enlightens safety leaders about ways to increase their influence. To learn more about Richard, visit


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