I’ve just finished reading a book called the 9 Things Successful People Do Differently is a book written by Dr Heidi Grant Halvorson. She has found that there are 9 things that highly successful people do differently to others who are not so successful.
She is associate Director of Columbia Business School’s Motivation Science Center, serves on the advisory boards of several companies, and is an expert blogger on motivation and leadership for Harvard Business Review, Huffington Post, Forbes, Fast Company, and Psychology Today. So you better listen carefully to what she has to say if you wish to achieve your important goals!
I like this book because not only is it short and to the point packed full of interesting studies, but contains practical tips you can immediately apply to your daily life.
What I love about it is it contains the latest cutting edge research – some of which dispels many of the myths self-improvement gurus like to preach work but can actually do more harm than good. I’m just going to roll through the chapters now and let you know what I found most useful. Here goes –
1. Get Specific
I don’t know about you, but sometimes I have ten different things on the go, and my goals are just a vague picture in my head of what I want to achieve.
“Lose five pounds is a better goal than lose some weight, because it gives you a clear idea of what success looks like. Knowing exactly what you want to achieve keeps you motivated until you get there” says Heidi.
This really helps turn something of an imagined dream into a real goal you can achieve. Plus you actually know what success will look like in concrete terms.
She also explains the need to do visualisation, but the right kind of visualisation;
- Visualise the desired outcome. Soak in all that lovely goodness that will happen when you achieve your goal for a minute or two
- Next visualise the action you need to take. Obstacles that are in the way of what you want and how you will overcome them.
By imagining the obstacles you need to overcome, a psychological ‘necessity to act’ kicks in that helps spur you on to make it happen. Next time you meet a self-help expert or someone imagining their dream future, make sure you tell them to include the most important part – visualising the action steps required.
2. Seize The Moment To Act On Your Goals
With all the noise, distractions and things to do in our life it’s easy to get caught up and be ‘busy being busy’ whilst making no progress on your really important goals.
“To seize the moment” says Heidi, “decide when and where you will take each action you want to take, in advance. Again, be as specific as possible (e.g., “If it’s Monday, Wednesday, or Friday, I’ll work out for thirty minutes before work”). Studies show that this kind of planning will help your brain to detect and seize the opportunity when it arises, increasing your chances of success by roughly 300 percent.”
Our brains are very good at using ‘if X then Y’ patterns to guide our behaviour, and you can use this to change your own. Try it now;
If [insert time or situation] then I will [perform desired action]
If it is 8am every Monday to Friday then I will meditate for 20 minutes
If it is 6pm on Wednesdays then I will learn to code for 2 hours
Write out your if/then plan now to experience the brilliance of this simple technique!
3. Know Exactly How Far You Have Left To Go
It’s hard to stay motivated when you don’t know how long you have left to go;
“Fundamentally, this is a result of the way our brains are wired.” Heidi explains, “We subconsciously tune in to the presence of a discrepancy between where we are now and where we want to be. When your brain detects a discrepancy, it reacts by throwing resources at it: attention, effort, deeper processing of information, and willpower.”
When you’re not sure how much progress you’re making, that discrepancy starts to disappear, along with your motivation. So when you take on a new goal, make sure that you (or someone else) is regularly checking in on your progress, perhaps on a weekly basis if you want to achieve it quickly.
4. Be A Realistic Optimist
One of the great takeaways from this book for me, and I believe many other people that have read it, is that she dispels probably one of the biggest myths and best-seller lies which I believe to be nothing more than a marketing tactic used by many in the self-improvement world, which has always irritated me because it is probably one of the biggest reasons why people still haven’t achieved the things they want.
“There are quite a number of motivational speakers and self-improvement books with a surprisingly simple message: believe that success will come easily to you, and it will”, Heidi writes. “There is one small problem in this argument, however, which unfortunately doesn’t seem to stop anyone from making it: it is utterly false.
In fact, not only is visualizing “effortless success” unhelpful, it is disastrous. This is good advice to give only if you are trying to sabotage the recipient. It is a recipe for failure. And no, I’m not overstating it.”
There you have it. Books that have become New York Times best-sellers that have made their authors into millionaires that are purely based on this message of just thinking positively and it will somehow happen are missing key elements and are appealing to peoples laziness.
Whilst it is crucial to believe we can achieve our goal, the trouble is they miss out one vital piece – taking consistent daily action. Any goal worth achieving will require planning, choosing the right strategies, effort and persistence.
You need to believe you will succeed, but you also need to believe that you are going to have to make success happen – otherwise you won’t take the required action.
5. Focus On Getting Better, Rather Than Being Good
If you’re like most people when it comes to trying new things, you want to be good immediately. When you try and then realise you suck and that it’s really hard, you give up, thinking that you will never be good at it. However, decades of research show that abilities of all kind can be vastly improved.
“When many of us take on a new project or goal, we expect to be able to somehow do the work flawlessly, no matter how challenging it might be. Our focus is on being good, and the (very real) prospect of failing to meet expectations becomes terrifying.
The irony is that the pressure to be-good results in many more mistakes, and far inferior performance, than would a focus on getting-better” writes Heidi.
Also make sure you’re not comparing your performance with others, only compare it to your previous past performance. What really matters is ‘Are you improving?’
6. Have Grit
Grit is defined as having passion and perseverance for long term goals and to persist in the face of difficulty. It’s something that is said to often be lacking in my generation, those whiny ‘Millennials’. I do agree with this to some extent; we live in the age of 4OD (that’s Channel 4 On Demand for any non-Brits reading this) and Amazon next day delivery™.
This combined with the media constantly pushing in our faces the new Bieber ‘overnight’ success or latest 17 year old founder of a tech company to be acquired for $Xbillion dollars by Google after being in business for barely a year means we’re becoming increasingly impatient and we want our dreams to come true now!
But in reality, apart from the odd 1 in a million Zuckerberg case study that Forbes likes to splash around, our most important goals and crazy dreams could take years if not decades to come to fruition.
That’s no reason to give up on them though, the time will pass anyway so you might as well be working towards what you really really want in life. And remember, to be truly happy it needs to be what you genuinely really want to do with your life, not what your parents, friends, the wider society you live in, or Forbes want for you.
Anyway let’s listen to what Heidi has to say –
“Study after study of successful people – whether they are athletes, musicians, mathematicians, or inventors – shows that the key to success and enhanced ability is deliberate practice, thousands and thousands of hours spent mastering the necessary skills and knowledge. That kind of practice doesn’t happen without grit”.
There you have it. If you want to get to world class in any field, you have to put in thousands and thousands of hours of practice (10 years of intense deliberate practice 4-7 hours a day many researchers argue).
It’s easy for the average Joe to look at Michael Jordan and say ‘he’s a natural, he’s highly gifted, he’s a genius at what he does. He was born with it. He did a slam dunk coming out of his mother’s womb…’
No. Sorry Joe. Average people like to think this way (fixed mindset) because it gets them off the hook for not doing anything with their life. It allows them to carry on watching Family Guy and eating some kind of very greasy pizza.
But if you have read Mike’s bio – you will know he worked his ass off crazily hard and failed many times for decades but carried on persisting anyway (grit) and believing he could improve and get better (growth mindset)!
Stay focused on progress, remember that the science proves our abilities can always be vastly improved over time and keep going even when you’re bored and want to give up.
GRIT = not giving up.
7. Build Your Willpower Muscle
Willpower can actually be builT up, just like a muscle. You can build it up by doing something you’d prefer not to do e.g eat more vegetables, work on a difficult task, go to the gym etc.. It may be difficult at first but over time new neural pathways rewire your brain which installs the new healthy habit.
Remember though that willpower can get depleted – this is when you’re tired/stressed and the urge to give into X is overwhelming. Take a break, do something that boosts your mood e.g listen to upbeat music, go for a run, call a friend who always makes you laugh.
Studies have found that even merely thinking about someone you know with strong willpower can boost self-control, even believing that your self-control is unlimited can help boost your willpower.
8. Don’t Tempt Fate
Although we all have some degree of willpower, it’s important to remember that it can run out during the course of a stressful day.
We often think our willpower is a lot stronger than it is, but when we’re in the heat of the moment we give in to the temptation. So it’s best to avoid situations where you know your willpower will be low and the temptation to give in will be high.
Also avoid having ‘one’ of something that you really like if you are trying to give it up. It might be nice to have one chocolate, but next thing you know the whole box has been devoured.
9. Focus On What You Will Do, Not What You Won’t Do
Ok I want you to try this really quickly.
Close your eyes and whatever you do, don’t think of a big white bear. DON’T think of a big white bear I said!!
“Research on thought suppression has shown that trying to avoid a thought makes it even more active in your mind. The same holds true when it comes to behaviour; by trying not to do something, the impulse gets strengthened rather than diminished.”
Instead of thinking I won’t eat chocolate cake, your focus needs to be on what you will do instead (the new positive habit you want to install). Create an If-Then plan around this e.g If I feel like eating chocolate cake, Then I will eat a banana instead.
Anyway, this is just a handful of the many gems contained in this great book. If you’re serious about being successful in achieving your short and long term goals, the 9 Things Successful People Do Differently is a must read.