9 Things Successful People Do Differently

Some believe that you are born blessed with certain success talents and lacking in others, but that is one small piece of the puzzle.

Decades of research on achievement suggest that successful people reach their goals not simply because of who they are, but more often because of what they do.

Heidi Grant Halvorson believes there are nine things successful people do differently. She is a Ph.D., a motivational psychologist, and author of the new book, Succeed: How We Can Reach Our Goals, and The Science of Success blog.

The nine things and Heidi’s advice about them:

1. Get specific – When you set a goal, be as specific as possible. “Lose 5 pounds” is a better goal than “lose some weight,” as it provides a clear idea of what success looks like. Knowing your goals exactly keeps you motivated until you get there. Also, know the specific actions to achieve your goals.

2. Seize the moment to act on your goals – We’re all busy and juggle so many goals, so it’s not surprising that we can miss opportunities to act on a goal because we simply fail to notice it. Did you really have no time to work out today or no chance to return that phone call? Achievement means grabbing hold of those slippery opportunities. To seize the moment, decide when and where you will take each desired action, in advance.

3. Know exactly how far you have left to go – Achieving any goal requires honest, regular monitoring of your progress. If you don’t know your progress, you can’t adjust your behavior or your strategies accordingly. Check progress frequently – weekly, or even daily, depending on a goal.

4. Be a realistic optimist – Certainly engage in positive thinking. Belief in your success ability helps create and sustain your motivation. But don’t underestimate the difficulty of attaining success. Most goals worth achieving require time, planning, effort and persistence. Thinking things will come easily and effortlessly makes you unprepared for the journey, and significantly raises the odds of failure.

5. Focus on getting better, rather than being good – Believing you have the ability to reach your goals is important, but so is believing you can get the ability. Many believe that our intelligence, personality and physical aptitudes are fixed. So, we focus on goals that are all about proving ourselves, rather than acquiring new skills. Research suggests that the belief in fixed ability is completely wrong – abilities of all kinds are profoundly malleable. Embracing change allows you to make better choices, and reach fullest potential. People whose goals are about getting better, rather than being good, take difficulty in stride, and appreciate the journey and the destination.

6. Have grit – Dedication to long-term goals and persistance in the face of difficulty. Gritty people obtain more education in their lifetime, and earn higher college GPAs. Grit predicts which cadets will stick out their first grueling year at West Point. Grit even predicts which round contestants will make it to at the Scripps Spelling Bee. If you aren’t particularly gritty now, there is something you can do about it. People who lack grit more often than not believe that they just don’t have the innate abilities of successful people. If that describes your attitude, you are wrong. Effort, planning, persistence and good strategies breed succeed. Embracing this knowledge helps you see yourself and your goals more accurately, and does wonders for your grit.

7. Build your willpower muscle – Your self-control “muscle” is just like other muscles: when it doesn’t get much exercise, it becomes weaker. But give it regular workouts, and it will grow stronger and better help you succeed. To build willpower, take on a challenge that requires you to do what you’d honestly rather not do. Give up high-fat snacks, do 100 sit-ups a day and try to learn a new skill. When you want to give in, give up, or just not bother — DON’T. Start with one activity, and plan to deal with troubles when they occur (“If I have a snack craving, I will eat fresh fruit or three pieces of dried fruit.”) It’s hard initially, but gets easier, and that’s the point. As your strength grows, you can take on more challenges and step up your self-control workout.

8. Don’t tempt fate – No matter how strong your willpower muscle becomes, it’s important to respect its limits and that if you overtax it, you will temporarily run out of steam. Don’t take on two challenging tasks at once, if you can help it (like quitting smoking and dieting). Don’t put yourself in harm’s way — many people are overly-confident about resisting temptation, so they enter situations where temptations abound. Successful people don’t make reaching a goal harder than it already is.

9. Focus on what you will do, not what you won’t do – Do you want to successfully lose weight, quit smoking, or put a lid on your bad temper? Then replace bad habits with good ones, rather than focusing only on the bad habits. 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 is true with behavior — trying not to engage in a bad habit, our habits get strengthened, not broken. If you want to change, ask yourself, what will I do instead? If you want to control of your temper, you might make a plan like “If I am starting to feel angry, then I will take three deep breaths to calm down.” By replacing deep breathing for anger, your bad temper habit will erode and disappear.

Heidi hopes we can identify the mistakes that have derailed us, and use that knowledge to our advantage. She reminds us that you don’t need to become a different person to become more successful. It’s never what you are, but what you do. Thanks, Heidi!


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