I’m a big fan of setting goals but writing down what I want is not the same as achieving it.
My friend, Sara, and I have agreed to hold each other accountable for moving forward on our high-flying aspirations, since creative types often excel at using our creativity to procrastinate in new and interesting ways.
That’s why I loved this Harvard Business review article headlined “Nine Things Successful People Do Differently.” It doesn’t imply that success is about being smarter or more talented than average. It spells out some reasonably simple ways to go from having dreams to achieving them.
A very abbreviated peek at the nine pointers:
1. Get specific. When you set yourself a goal, try to be as specific as possible. “Lose 5 pounds” is a better goal than “lose some weight,” because it gives you a clear idea of what success looks like.
2. Seize the moment to act on your goals. Did you really have no time to work out today? No chance at any point to return that phone call? Achieving your goal means grabbing hold of these opportunities before they slip through your fingers.
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. Most goals worth achieving require time, planning, effort, and persistence. Studies show that thinking things will come to you easily and effortlessly leaves you ill-prepared for the journey ahead, and significantly increases the odds of failure.
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. As a result, we focus on goals that are all about proving ourselves, rather than developing and acquiring new skills. Fortunately, decades of research suggest that the belief in fixed ability is completely wrong — abilities of all kinds are profoundly malleable.
6. Have grit. Grit is a willingness to commit to long-term goals, and to persist in the face of difficulty. Studies show that gritty people obtain more education in their lifetime, and earn higher college GPAs.
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.
8. Don’t tempt fate. No matter how strong your willpower muscle becomes, it’s important to always respect the fact that it is limited, and if you overtax it you will temporarily run out of steam. Successful people know not to make reaching a goal harder than it already is.
9. Focus on what you will do, not what you won’t do. 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?
If you’re looking for help deciding what you want and/or achieving your goals, the full article is here with much more detail on each point.
And here are some of my past blog posts on setting and achieving goals:
- Guidance to help you get lucky
- Feel the fear and do it anyway
- Setting my goals for 2011 as a comprehensive view of my life
- Be careful what you wish for: setting goals you’re sure you want
- Christine Kane: How to Create Anything (Even When You’re Scared, Inexperienced and Don’t Believe in Yourself)