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What I Learned About Achieving Goals and How to Achieve Yours

Stay On TargetBehind every achieved goal, there’s a story about our own personal development.  It is a manifestation of experiences, challenges, and our inner abilities all accumulating to one glorious moment, marking off a goal from your “to-achieve list”.

Every goal is a test; a test of willpower, courage, and intellect. But what really sets apart people who are able to reach their goals from those who cave in?

Since achieving most noteworthy goals takes some time, it’s quite difficult to isolate the exact cause that allows some people to achieve their goals and prevents others from achieving theirs.

So let’s ask ourselves a few questions first.  Hopefully by the end of this post, we’ll have a broader understanding of what it takes to achieve our own goals.

Why some people achieve their goals and others don’t?

Back at school, I remember that I always wondered why some students are better than others.

I understood that successful students are not necessarily intelligent; they’re definitely not more intelligent than the less successful student i.e. me.  So I began to search for the differentiating factor.

What I found after observing my environment was what most people instinctively understood yet failed to implement. That you have to stay on the grind!

According to research psychologist Angela Duckworth self-control and grit are the two qualities that actively determine how much effort people put in their pursuits. Grit is about sustaining your commitments over the very long term.  The one thing that I remember is that although not overly intelligent, the students who succeeded were definitely gritty.

One of the surprising findings in the research is a sort of inverse correlation between grit and measures of talent like IQ test scores. Apparently, people who are intelligent and as a result tend to achieve things more easily; don’t develop the tools required to deal with long term achievements.  They often don’t learn how to get back up again after failure or deal with hardship.

That’s why gritty people tend to be slightly less talented but have the ability to deal with difficult tasks and work methodically without looking for shortcuts.  They have real life training in getting things done and as a result, they persevere and achieve their goals.

So only gritty people can achieve their goals?

Unfortunately, even gritty people get sidetracked from time to time. Grit alone can’t serve as an engine for personal development and achieving goals.

Our lives are not linear (to say the least), interruptions bombard us from every angle and our ability to keep a steady routine is challenged on a daily basis.  Often, even the grittiest amongst us just lose sight of our goals.

Now, interruptions in their many forms are not going away, that’s why we need to learn how to deal with interruptions since we only have control over our own actions and the habits that we develop.

In his book “The ONE Thing”, Gary Keller explains that the only thing that can help you fight interruptions and keep your focus is the development of powerful habits that will stick with you even under the worse of conditions.

What’s a powerful habit? It’s the kind of habit that you develop over a long period of time that sticks with you. Much like smoking, a powerful habit, if missed, makes you think about it and pushes you back to perform the habit’s associated actions.

master routine is a great place to begin…

So I need to develop powerful habits right? But how can I muster enough willpower to make them stick?

When it comes to willpower, people usually split between two groups:

1.    Believers – those who believe that their willpower is limitless and that they’re able to achieve just about anything.
2.    And Non-Believers – those who believe that their willpower has its limits and that if they won’t work on replenishing it or take breaks from time to time, they’ll lose it.

They are both right.

According to a study conducted by Greg Walton and Carol Dweck from the department of psychology in Stanford,your belief preordains how much willpower you’ll have and if you’ll be able to plow through difficult cognitive tasks.

How do they explain that?

“People who think that willpower is limited are on the lookout for signs of fatigue. When they detect fatigue, they slack off. People who get the message that willpower is not so limited may feel tired, but for them this is no sign to give up — it’s a sign to dig deeper and find more resources.”

Buffer released in the past more than one post about how to improve, develop and maintain control over your willpower and you should definitely check them out.  However, the one thing that will determine if you’ll have the willpower required to complete a task or not, is your belief in your ability to complete it.

Although reliant on a lot of things, our willpower is conditioned by us and as a result gives us the reins to succeed or fail. If we think it’s hard, it will be hard; if we think we can do it, we’ll get it done.

This theory posits that our ability to develop a habit consistency is entirely suggestive in its base.

But don’t think that your willpower has the ability to “save you” from failure

Failure is going to happen, and probably a lot; it’s a natural part of our inner learning mechanisms and you don’t need to treat it as a bad thing. The reason we assume failure is a bad thing is because we’re ruled by an ancient mechanism called the lizard brain.

Before we had our more modern brain layer, which we now call the neo-cortex, we had a lizard brain.

The term Lizard brain is a nickname for the most primitive part of our human brain, the brainstem and the cerebellum. Our Lizard brain sits at the top of our spine and serves as a command center for the entire human body.  It functions automatically, telling our body to do certain actions and react to certain situation without investing any complex thoughts.

You can watch this video for an example on how this works.

Our lizard brain passes judgment on an instinctive level; the lizard brain is concerned with our own survival, that’s why failure feels so bad. When we were lizards failure meant pain, starvation, attack, conflict etc.

That’s why when we fail we usually make a snap judgment that instinctively sends us so of speak to our hole in the ground to lick our wounds.

But luckily for us we’ve developed the neo-cortex.  Now, a more sophisticated part can sift through information, draw the relevant data, process it and produce an action that might be even beneficial in the long term if not the short.

This means that we can learn to treat failures along the road as a learning opportunities and valuable lessons.

Science writer Jonah Lehrer tells us about his encounter with Pixar’s Lee Unkrich and what he learned about how they treat failure as a learning opportunity in the company.

“I got to spend some time at Pixar while writing Imagine.  And I was talking to Lee Unkrich, who’s the director of Toy Story 3, and I was asking him what’s the secret sauce of Pixar, what has allowed this animation studio to, in a sense, go 12 for 12, to produce 12 movies and have everyone be a box office success.  And he gave this very eloquent answer about how most companies assume the way to succeed is to avoid failure at all costs.  But if you’re trying to make something new, you have to realize that failing is going to be part of the process and you’re going to make mistakes.  You’re going to go down cul-de-sacs, go down blind alleys.  You are going to screw up.  That’s why, as he described the process at Pixar, it was all about screwing up as quickly as possible.  It was failing fast and then fixing those failures.”

Learning to screw up quickly and deduct the right conclusions can help you get back on your feet and continue without the hampering throes of remorse.  There’s no reason to be hard on yourself or lose your self-esteem. As a result, try to embrace self-compassion on the road to achieve your goals.

What’s the connection between self-compassion and achieved goals?

As it turns out, developing self-compassion can really help you in the long run according to a recent study conducted by Juliana Breines from the Department of Psychology in the University of California and can improve your motivation dramatically.

Her findings suggest that:

“Somewhat paradoxically, taking an accepting approach to personal failure may make people more motivated to improve themselves.”

Some might think that self-compassion facilitates the kind of behavior that allows us to go easy on ourselves, but that’s not the case. Self-compassion gives us a sense that we can improve, and our belief in our ability to improve serves also to further the concept that our willpower can be conditioned by us.

In my experience, people who achieve their goals tend to be self-compassionate. They have the capacity to look past their failures, forgive themselves and try again and again to achieve whatever they were after.

I hope that you have a better grasp now of what it takes to achieve your own goals, it all boils down to this:

1.    Develop grit.
2.    Develop powerful habits.
3.    Believe in your ability to work harder.
4.    Treat failure as a learning opportunity.
5.    And be more self-compassionate to loosen failure’s grip on you and propel yourself forward.

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