Psychologist Heidi Grant Halvorson discusses the latest research on what works in goal setting in her book Succeed. The way we think about and construct our goals has a lot to do with whether we achieve them.
There a few things that a strongly related to successful goal pursuit. One is to have goals focused on “getting better” rather than on “being good.” Many people focus on being good and operate from a theory that talent, ability and personal traits are fixed. This can lead to discouragement and giving up in the face of difficulties (if you’re not succeeding now, you probably won’t later). The more fruitful, and it turns out more true, theory is that many personal traits are flexible, even intelligence and personality. If we make our goal to get better at something, it takes the pressure off of having to do things well at the start (of course you won’t do a new thing well the first time), and gives you the perspective of a learner who can be resilient when experiencing set-backs.
Another important aspect of successful goal pursuit is planning. Grant Halvorson describes a type of simple planning that helps people achieve goals. One of the especially powerful things about these plans is that you can foresee temptations and obstacles and plan your response. If you plan in advance what you’ll do when someone brings doughnuts to the office (I once was acquainted with someone famous for shouting out “Who brought the damn doughnuts?”), you’ll be more like to do it and avoid eating one (or three).
Succeed includes many other strategies for improving goal pursuit. The effectiveness of these strategies varies depending on what motivates the individual person or the type of goal being pursued. Grant Halvorson provides simple tests to help the reader discover which strategies will work best for them. I was not at all surprised by the type of things that motivate me. I had not previously tried to structure my goals to take advantage of it. I’m looking forward to putting that idea to the test.
The book also addresses positive thinking and optimism. I’ve read quite a bit of self-help and you’ll find in some of that literature suggested that positive thinking and optimism is unmitigated good and the essence of achieving dreams. Grant Halvorson says that imagining you will succeed is very good, but imagining it will be easy is not. We need to recognize that the road to success has many obstacles, and realistically assessing the obstacles will help us deal with them.
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