Successful people reach their goals not simply because of who they are but because of what they do.
Heidi Grant, global director of research and development at the Neuroleadership Institute and associate director for the Motivation Science Center at Columbia University, explains how we can reach our goals.
- Get specific.
Knowing exactly what you want to achieve keeps you motivated until you get there. Just promising you’ll “eat less” or “sleep more” is too vague—be clear and precise. “I’ll be in bed by 10 PM on weeknights”.
- Seize the moment to act on your goals.
No chance at any point to return that phone call today? To seize the moment, decide in advance when and where you will take each action you want to take. Again, be as specific as possible. Studies show that this kind of planning will help your brain detect and seize the opportunity when it arises, increasing your chances of success by roughly 300%.
- Know exactly how far you have left to go.
If you don’t know how well you are doing, you can’t adjust your behavior or your strategies ac- cordingly. Check your progress frequently—weekly, or even daily.
- 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.
- Focus on getting better rather than being good.
Many of us think that our intelligence, personality, and physical aptitudes are fixed. Fortunately, decades of research suggest that the abilities of all kinds are profoundly malleable. Embracing the fact that you can change will allow you to make better choices and reach your fullest potential.
- Have grit.
Grit is a willingness to commit to long-term goals and to persist in the face of difficulty. If you aren’t particularly gritty now, you can do something about it. You might believe that you just don’t have the innate abilities successful people have, but… you are wrong, as said in point N°5.
- Build your willpower muscle.
To build willpower, take on a challenge that requires you to do something you’d honestly rather not do. It will be hard in the beginning, but it will get easier, and that’s the whole point.
- Don’t tempt fate.
Don’t take on two challenging tasks at once, successful people know not to make reaching a goal harder than it already is.
- 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.If you want to change your ways, ask yourself, What will I do instead? Research on thought suppression (for example, “Don’t think about white bears!”) has shown that trying to avoid a thought makes it even more active in your mind.
Remember,you don’t need to become a different person to become a more successful one. It’s never what you are, but what you do.
Adapted from Heidi Grant, Nine Things Successful People Do Differently (Harvard Business Review Press, 2012).