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10 Ways Successful People Achieve Their Goals

10 Ways Successful People Achieve Their Goals

Setting and achieving goals is one of the best ways to improve your life. Goals reduce boredom and the sense of drift that many people experience, plus working on your goals gives your self-confidence a great boost.

Let’s look at ten ways that successful people in various fields use goals to improve their lives. As with any approach, your results will vary depending on your commitment and understanding. Consider this article an introduction to the important principles of goals.

1. They use a proven goal setting system

It is important to start working on goals with a proven system. In December 2014, I bought and used Michael Hyatt’s excellent 5 Days To Your Best Year Ever program. As a result of going through the program, I set nine goals for 2015. The process Hyatt lays out takes a few days (though one could compress it into a weekend in a pinch) and it worked out. Hyatt has achieved significant success in the publishing industry, as a professional speaker and as an author.

2. They balance planning and action

Planning and action both play an important role in achieving major goals. Some professions – architects, engineers and project managers for example – have developed strong planning skills and approaches. Unless you are building a space ship, it is vital to put a time limit on planning.

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In my experience working toward annual goals, I find it is helpful to plan 1-3 actions to be accomplished in the next week.

3.They set goals for all areas of their life (not just career and money)

Many of the experts and articles on goal setting focus on business and career goals (e.g. earn more money, increase one’s sales commissions, launch a new product). That is an understandable focus, however a relentless focus on career goals to the exclusion of other aims tends to lead to unhappiness and decreased productivity.

Successful people take the time to define leisure goals (e.g. visit wine country in California with my spouse), health and fitness goals (e.g. run a marathon race) and personal growth goals (e.g. learning a language). It is a mistake to assume that the rest of your life will somehow drift into place if you fail to set goals.

4. They set their own goals for their life

Many companies and employers have an annual goal setting process for their employees. Successful people know that this activity is only one part of their goals. As business philosopher Jim Rohn observed: “If you don’t design your own life plan, chances are you’ll fall into someone else’s plan. And guess what they have planned for you? Not much.”

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Working on your own goal ensures you have an active and interesting life outside of the office. Besides, it is fun to set and achieve demanding personal goals.

5. They have a goal review system

Putting your goals into writing is a vital step that many successful people use to reach success, however it is not enough. When you are working toward challenging goals that takes months or years to achieve, regular goal reviews are essential.

Business consultant and author David Allen proposed the Weekly Review in his classic book “Getting Things Done.” Successful people add the step “review annual goals” to that weekly review. During that time, successful people reflect on their progress, challenges encountered and plan for future steps.

6. They seek expert help when they face challenges

Seeking out expert guidance and advice makes a major impact on achieving your goals. Seeking outside help takes several forms. For example, a young George Washington developed relationships with powerful people in colonial Virginia to launch his career. Your relationships and network can play an important role in supporting your goal achievement.

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In addition to your personal network, there are other resources you can access to reach your goals. For example, if you need to learn more technology skills to get the type of job you want, you can take a course in programming or earn a certification.

7. They are thoughtful about sharing their goals

Successful people understand that their goals say a lot about their interests, desires and challenges. Given that reality they are selective in how they share their goals. For example, a successful person may share their business goals in the context of a mastermind meeting where they can receive helpful comments and advice from other highly motivated people. In contrast, a successful person building a side hustle is unlikely to mention that activity at their corporate day job.

When in doubt, do not share your goals as you are working on them.

8. They seek inspiration to get through tough times

Disappointments and challenges are part of the picture when you work on challenging goals. Fortunately, many other successful people have sought outside inspiration to get through tough times. Strategist Ryan Holiday has found much practical help and insight from studying Stoic works such as The Meditations by Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius.

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Tip: To sustain your motivation in the face of challenges, develop your self-knowledge with personality analysis tools such as the DISC Profile.

9. They are not perfectionists in their goals

In certain circumstances, it makes sense to adjust your goals. You may adjust the deadline on a goal. I have done this myself in 2015. In my case, I adjusted the exam date for a professional exam because my studies and self-assessment tests indicated that I had to study further. You may also need to abandon goals (or put them on hold) if you suffer a serious illness.

Remember your goals are the vehicle on the path to success. Sometimes you have to leave a goal behind if it is simply not working for you.

10. They celebrate goal achievements!

One of life’s great pleasures is to celebrate achieving a goal. Many of us have the experience of celebrating graduation days and earning degrees. Here is journalist Minda Zetlin, writing in Inc Magazine about several ways to celebrate success at work. You can give yourself a day off or you may decide to issue a press release for a major corporate success. Zetlin also suggests reflecting on how far you have come (e.g. “a year ago, I had never run for more than five minutes and today I finished my marathon race!”)

Featured photo credit: Business Suit/Unsplash via pixabay.com

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Bruce Harpham

Bruce Harpham is a Project Management Professional and Founder and CEO of Project Management Hacks.

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Last Updated on July 17, 2019

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

What happens in our heads when we set goals?

Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

The Neurology of Ownership

Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

The Upshot for Goal-Setters

So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

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Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

Reference

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