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8 Ways to Achieve Success in 2008

8 Ways to Achieve Success in 2008
8 Ways to Achieve Success in 2008

I don’t believe in resolutions. The idea that a trick of the calendar should be the driving force for real change in my life seems silly. And yet, there’s no denying that a year is a good block of time to think with — long enough to carry out big projects and short enough to keep the end-goal in sight. Plus, a year is a good block of time to look at to get a “big picture” view of your life — what you’re doing wrong, what you’re doing right, what you’d like to change.

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So while I won’t be sitting down to make a list of resolutions this January 1, I will spend some time over the next couple weeks thinking about what I want to achieve in the next year: new projects I want to start, old ones I want to wrap up, personal faults I want to conquer, and personal strengths I want to build on.

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However you define it, we’re all working towards some sort of success. Whether that’s achieving wealth, happiness, fame, greater family togetherness, a stronger commitment to one’s faith or one’s vocation, or whatever else, we all want to succeed at everything we set out to do. Here’s 8 tips to help make that happen in the coming year:

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  1. Set SMART goals. Don’t just make goals, make SMART goals. The idea of SMART goals is credited to George Doran, and stands for:
    • Specific: Goals should be as particular as possible. So, for example, not “lose weight” or “make more money” but “lose 10 pounds” or “increase my salary by $10,000 a year”.
    • Measurable: It should be possible to keep track of your progress. You can track weight loss on a chart, or check your salary to know if you’re moving towards your new salary goal, but you can’t measure progress towards, say, “be happier”.
    • Achievable: Unfulfilled goals make us feel terrible about ourselves, so make realistic goals. So “lose 10 pounds” is better than “lose 150 pounds”; if you’ve never run before, “run a 5k” is more achievable than “do an Iron Man triathlon”
    • Relevant: Is this a goal that a) will have an impact on your life, and b) that you are prepared to pursue? If not, maybe your goals should be to attain the skills and resources you need to tackle the bigger, more distant goal.
    • Time-bound: Give yourself a clearly defined end date to achieve your goals by. This gives you a sense of urgency, and also helps keep you focused — you want to lose 10 pounds by June, not at some point in the course of your life, right?
  2. Make a plan. How are you going to achieve success this year without a plan? Planning is the big “gotcha” for lots of people — we might have a big general plan, but when it comes time to sit down and actually do something, we have no idea what to do. Write a plan for achieving your goals in specific, discrete, and doable actions, one after the other. If some steps are contingent on actions or conditions you don’t know right now, sketch them out as well as you can. Make a contingency plan, too, in case things don’t go as you thought they would.
  3. Commit to a due date. Go through your list of projects and assign each one a due date. Do the same for any vague “I’d like to do this” things you have floating around in your head. I use a formula that goes “By March 31st, I will have [insert goal here]” and list everything I want to have finished by then, with matching lists for June 30, September 30, and December 31. Maybe quarters don’t work for you; if not, pick another way to do this, but do it.
  4. Make it public. Share your goals and commitments with other people — your partner, your parents, your friends and co-workers, your blog audience, anyone — to make the commitment more real. If you’ve told everyone you’re going to finish your novel by June 30, then you’ll have a powerful incentive to get it done. And they’ll help, too, if by nothing else than nagging you about it.
  5. Find a support group. A group of like-minded people with similar goals can be a great motivation. Not only will they understand what’s holding you back, they may have tips that can help you overcome your blocks. And if not, chances are they’re struggling with the same things you are, and you can work through them together with the knowledge that it’s not because there’s something wrong with you.
  6. Accept failure graciously — and move on. There’s a chance with any undertaking that you’ll fail. Accept that, and do it anyway. If you do fail, examine the reasons why, and move on. The only real failure is the failure to learn from your mistakes.
  7. Change yourself, not the things around you. Too many people fall into the trap of believing that they can buy their way to happiness — a new product will make them super-organized, a new car will make them feel better about themselves, etc. Change your attitude, not your things– if you’re unorganized, figure out why you have a hard time putting things into a memorable system and change that; if you don’t feel good about yourself, look at your life and what’s not going well, rather than seeking out a remedy that has nothing to do with what’s making you unhappy.
  8. Silence you inner critic. There’s a difference between knowing yourself and undermining yourself. Learn to ignore the nagging voice in your head that says you’re not good enough, smart enough, or good-looking enough to succeed. Set goals, make plans, and move forward in spite of that voice, and soon enough it will start losing its power over you. It might not ever go away, but you don’t have to let it run your life.

Too many of us go through life without reaching success not because there’s something wrong with us but because we’ve failed to define what success even means to us. Instead, we sleepwalk through our days, doing the things that we’ve learned we’re supposed to do, and wondering why none of it feels quite right. If you’ve ever found yourself wondering whether you’re going to have to keep doing the things you do today for the rest of your life, it’s time to sit down and figure out what you’d rather be doing and how to start doing them.

And this year is as good as any to do that. Good luck, and Happy New Year!

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Last Updated on January 21, 2020

Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

Most of the skills I use to make a living are skills I’ve learned on my own: Web design, desktop publishing, marketing, personal productivity skills, even teaching! And most of what I know about science, politics, computers, art, guitar-playing, world history, writing, and a dozen other topics, I’ve picked up outside of any formal education.

This is not to toot my own horn at all; if you stop to think about it, much of what you know how to do you’ve picked up on your own. But we rarely think about the process of becoming self-taught. This is too bad, because often, we shy away from things we don’t know how to do without stopping to think about how we might learn it — in many cases, fairly easily.

The way you approach the world around you dictates to a great degree whether you will find learning something new easy or hard.

The Keys to Learning Anything Easily

Learning comes easily to people who have developed:

Curiosity

Being curious means you look forward to learning new things and are troubled by gaps in your understanding of the world. New words and ideas are received as challenges and the work of understanding them is embraced.

People who lack curiosity see learning new things as a chore — or worse, as beyond their capacities.

Patience

Depending on the complexity of a topic, learning something new can take a long time. And it’s bound to be frustrating as you grapple with new terminologies, new models, and apparently irrelevant information.

When you are learning something by yourself, there is nobody to control the flow of information, to make sure you move from basic knowledge to intermediate and finally advanced concepts.

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Patience with your topic, and more importantly with yourself is crucial — there’s no field of knowledge that someone in the world hasn’t managed to learn, starting from exactly where you are.

A Feeling for Connectedness

This is the hardest talent to cultivate, and is where most people flounder when approaching a new topic.

A new body of knowledge is always easiest to learn if you can figure out the way it connects to what you already know. For years, I struggled with calculus in college until one day, my chemistry professor demonstrated how to do half-life calculations using integrals. From then on, calculus came much easier, because I had made a connection between a concept I understood well (the chemistry of half-lifes) and a field I had always struggled in (higher maths).

The more you look for and pay attention to the connections between different fields, the more readily your mind will be able to latch onto new concepts.

How to Self-Taught Effectively

With a learning attitude in place, working your way into a new topic is simply a matter of research, practice, networking, and scheduling:

1. Research

Of course, the most important step in learning something new is actually finding out stuff about it. I tend to go through three distinct phases when I’m teaching myself a new topic:

Learning the Basics

Start as all things start today: Google it! Somehow people managed to learn before Google ( I learned HTML when Altavista was the best we got!) but nowadays a well-formed search on Google will get you a wealth of information on any topic in seconds.

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Surfing Wikipedia articles is a great way to get a basic grounding in a new field, too — and usually the Wikipedia entry for your search term will be on the first page of your Google search.

What I look for is basic information and then the work of experts — blogs by researchers in a field, forums about a topic, organizational websites, magazines. I subscribe to a bunch of RSS feeds to keep up with new material as it’s posted, I print out articles to read in-depth later, and I look for the names of top authors or top books in the field.

Hitting the Books

Once I have a good outline of a field of knowledge, I hit the library. I look up the key names and titles I came across online, and then scan the shelves around those titles for other books that look interesting.

Then, I go to the children’s section of the library and look up the same call numbers — a good overview for teens is probably going to be clearer, more concise, and more geared towards learning than many adult books.

Long-Term Reference

While I’m reading my stack of books from the library, I start keeping my eyes out for books I will want to give a permanent place on my shelves. I check online and brick-and-mortar bookstores, but also search thrift stores, used bookstores, library book sales, garage sales, wherever I happen to find myself in the presence of books.

My goal is a collection of reference manuals and top books that I will come back to either to answer thorny questions or to refresh my knowledge as I put new skills into practice. And to do this cheaply and quickly.

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2. Practice

Putting new knowledges into practice helps us develop better understandings now and remember more later. Although a lot of books offer exercises and self-tests, I prefer to jump right in and build something: a website, an essay, a desk, whatever.

A great way to put any new body of knowledge into action is to start a blog on it — put it out there for the world to see and comment on.

Just don’t lock your learning up in your head where nobody ever sees how much you know about something, and you never see how much you still don’t know.

Check out this guide for useful techniques to help you practice efficiently: The Beginner’s Guide to Deliberate Practice

3. Network

One of the most powerful sources of knowledge and understanding in my life have been the social networks I have become embedded in over the years — the websites I write on, the LISTSERV I belong to, the people I talk with and present alongside at conferences, my colleagues in the department where I studied and the department where I now teach, and so on.

These networks are crucial to extending my knowledge in areas I am already involved, and for referring me to contacts in areas where I have no prior experience. Joining an email list, emailing someone working in the field, asking colleagues for recommendations, all are useful ways of getting a foothold in a new field.

Networking also allows you to test your newly-acquired knowledge against others’ understandings, giving you a chance to grow and further develop.

Here find out How to Network So You’ll Get Way Ahead in Your Professional Life.

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4. Schedule

For anything more complex than a simple overview, it pays to schedule time to commit to learning. Having the books on the shelf, the top websites bookmarked, and a string of contacts does no good if you don’t give yourself time to focus on reading, digesting, and implementing your knowledge.

Give yourself a deadline, even if there is no externally imposed time limit, and work out a schedule to reach that deadline.

Final Thoughts

In a sense, even formal education is a form of self-guided learning — in the end, a teacher can only suggest and encourage a path to learning, at best cutting out some of the work of finding reliable sources to learn from.

If you’re already working, or have a range of interests beside the purely academic, formal instruction may be too inconvenient or too expensive to undertake. That doesn’t mean you have to set aside the possibility of learning, though; history is full of self-taught successes.

At its best, even a formal education is meant to prepare you for a life of self-guided learning; with the power of the Internet and the mass media at our disposal, there’s really no reason not to follow your muse wherever it may lead.

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Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

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