Why have you been so successful in reaching some of your goals, but not others? If you aren’t sure, you are far from alone in your confusion. It turns out that even very brilliant, highly accomplished people are pretty lousy when it comes to understanding why they succeed or fail. The intuitive answer – that you are born predisposed to certain talents and lacking in others – is really just one small piece of the puzzle. In fact, decades of research on achievement suggests that successful people reach their goals not simply because of who they are, but more often because of what they do differently than others.
#1 Get Specific.
When you set yourself a goal, try to be as specific as possible.
#2 Seize the Moment to Act on Your Goals.
Given how busy most of us are, and how many goals we are juggling at once, it’s not surprising that we routinely miss opportunities to act on a goal because we simply fail to notice them. To seize the moment, decide when and where you will take each action you want to take, in advance. And per #1, be as specific as possible
#3 Know Exactly How Far You Have Left To Go.
Achieving any goal also requires honest and regular monitoring of your progress – if not by others, then by you yourself.
#4 Be a Realistic Optimist.
When you are setting a goal, by all means engage in lots of positive thinking about how likely you are to achieve it. Believing in your ability to succeed is enormously helpful for creating and sustaining your motivation.
#5 Focus on Getting Better, Rather than Being Good.
Many of us believe that our intelligence, our personality, and our physical aptitudes are fixed – that no matter what we do, we won’t improve. Believing you have the ability to reach your goals is important, but so is believing you can get the ability.
#6 Have Grit.
Grit is a willingness to commit to long-term goals, and to persist in the face of difficulty. (love that word “grit”)
#7 Build Your Willpower Muscle.
Your self-control “muscle” is just like the other muscles in your body – when it doesn’t get much exercise, it becomes weaker over time. But when you give it regular workouts by putting it to good use, it will grow stronger and stronger, and better able to help you successfully reach your goals. To build willpower, take on a challenge that requires you to do something you’d honestly rather not do.
#8 Don’t Tempt Fate.
No matter how strong your willpower muscle becomes, it’s important toalways respect the fact that it is limited, and if you over-tax it you will temporarily run out of steam. Don’t try to take on two challenging tasks at once, if you can help it (like quitting smoking and dieting at the same time).
#9 Focus on What You Will Do, Not What You Won’t Do.
Plan how you will replace bad habits with good ones, rather than focusing only on the bad habits themselves. Research on thought suppression (e.g., “Don’t think about white bears!”) has shown that trying to avoid a thought makes it even more active in your mind. The same holds true when it comes to behavior – by trying not to engage in a bad habit, our habits get strengthened rather than broken. If you want change your ways, ask yourself, What will I do instead?
For original article, see Forbes piece on success, which goes into more depth under each thing. Also posted in Harvard Business Review. For more on putting these strategies into practice, check out Havlorsons new book entitled Succeed: How We Can Reach Our Goals.)