Nine things successful people do differently

Heidi Grant

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.
It’s not who you are but what you do that will help you get ahead and achieve your goals

Why have you been so successful in reaching some of your goals, but not others? If you aren’t sure, you are far from alone in your confusion. It turns out that even brilliant, highly accomplished people are pretty lousy when it comes to understanding why they succeed or fail. The intuitive answer—that you are born predisposed to certain talents and lacking in others—is really just one small piece of the puzzle. In fact, 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.

Get specific

When you set yourself a goal, try to be as specific as possible. “Lose 5 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. Also, think about the specific actions that need to be taken to reach your goal. Just promising you’ll “sleep more” is too vague—“I’ll be in bed by 10pm on weeknights” leaves no room for doubt about what you need to do.

Seize the moment to act on your goals

Given how busy most of us are, and how many goals we are juggling at once, it’s not surprising that we routinely miss opportunities to act on a goal because we simply fail to notice them. Did you really have no time to work out today? No chance at any point to return that phone call? Achieving your goal means grabbing hold of these opportunities before they slip through your fingers.

To seize the moment, 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 30 minutes before work.”).

Know exactly how far you have left to go

Achieving any goal also requires honest and regular monitoring of your progress — if not by others, then by you yourself. If you don’t know how well you are doing, you can’t adjust your behaviour or your strategies accordingly. Check your progress frequently—weekly, or even daily, depending on the goal.

Be a realistic optimist

Most goals worth achieving require time, planning, effort and persistence. Studies show that thinking things will come to you easily and effortlessly, leaves you ill-prepared for the journey ahead, and significantly increases the odds of failure.

Focus on getting better

Believing you have the ability to reach your goals is important, but so is believing you can get the ability. Many of us believe that our intelligence, personality and physical aptitudes are fixed—that no matter what we do, we won’t improve. As a result, we focus on goals that are all about proving ourselves, rather than developing new skills.

Fortunately, decades of research suggest that the belief in fixed ability is completely wrong—abilities of all kinds are profoundly malleable. Embracing the fact that you can change will allow you to make better choices, and reach your fullest potential.

Have grit

Grit is a willingness to commit to long-term goals, and to persist in the face of difficulty.

The good news is, 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 successful people have. If that describes your own thinking…well, there’s no way to put this nicely: you are wrong. As I mentioned earlier, effort, planning, persistence, and good strategies are what it really takes to succeed. Embracing this knowledge will do wonders for your grit.

Build your willpower muscle

Your self-control “muscle” is just like the other muscles in your body—when it doesn’t get much exercise, it becomes weaker over time.

To build willpower, take on a challenge that requires you to do something you’d honestly rather not do. Give up high-fat snacks, do 100 sit-ups a day, try to learn a new skill. When you find yourself wanting to give in, give up, or just not bother—don’t. It will be hard in the beginning, but it will get easier, and that’s the whole point.

Don’t tempt fate

No matter how strong your willpower muscle becomes, it’s important to always respect the fact that it is limited, and if you overtax it, you will temporarily run out of steam. Don’t try to take on two challenging tasks at once, if you can help it (like quitting smoking and dieting at the same time). Successful people know not to make reaching a goal harder than it already is.

Focus on what you will do

If you want to change your ways, ask yourself, What will I do instead? For example, if you are trying to gain 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 using deep breathing as a replacement for giving in to your anger, your bad habit will get worn away over time until it disappears.

Remember, you don’t need to become a different person to become a more successful one. It’s never what you are, but what you do.


Global CEOs share their recipe for success

Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google, is known to be a good listener. He used to sit quietly through meetings and after everyone is done, would give ideas that would work for all.

Indra Nooyi, chairman and CEO, PepsiCo is probably one of the most well known female leaders. She advices to be lifelong learner especially in the fields of data analytics, automation, and other new trends and technologies.

Ajay Banga, CEO and president of MasterCard Inc is known to be “competitively paranoid”. He suggests leaders to question everything and see all options before deciding on one solution.

Sources: LinkedIn and IIM-A

This article was first published on HBR Ascend is a digital learning platform for graduating students and millennials.

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