Groovy Links of the Month: Tips on achieving your goals from Heidi Grant Halvorson

After the party, © 2010, Wren M. Allen, all rights reserved.

The party's over, and 2012 has begun.

I’ve decided to go offline this month, except for emails. But fear not! I’ve prepared a few amuse l’oeils to entertain and inform while I’m away from the digital world. To prevent an overflow of spam, comments on the blog will be turned off January 1-31. Happy New Year, and I look forward to returning to the blog in February.

Once again the immense, empty calendar space of a new year stretches before us. And once again, if you’re like me, you have a long list of all the amazing things you want to achieve this year, yeah, this year for sure.

Researcher Heidi Grant Halvorson offers handy advice on how to set and achieve goals. While she repeats the time-honored tips we’ve all heard from our mothers, fourth-grade teachers and business gurus, she does offer some new, inspiring angles on the classic rules.

Heidi Grant Halvorson wrote “Nine Things Successful People Do Differently” for the Harvard Business Review. She also gives strategic advice on fulfilling goals on her blog, The Science of Success. Halvorson points out that even the most passive underachiever makes good on some commitments, while even the most successful and driven people have their own nagging bête noir. Just think of President Obama and his on-again, off-again smoking habit.

Halvorson differs from many other self-improvement gurus in her bluntness about the degree of effort required to change a habit and reach a milestone. In fact, she explicitly lauds grit and willpower as the the two most necessary virtues that anyone must develop in order to attain one’s dreams.

She describes willpower as a mental muscle. Just like a bicep, willpower gets stronger when forced to work at slightly more than its current capacity. She points out that this high degree of effort can only be maintained for a short period of time, but that strengthening this mental muscle requires frequent repetitions of  training, with a bit more load added each time.

Grit is another mental muscle that must be trained with increasing difficulty levels. She defines grit as perseverance when confronted with setbacks. Halvorson acknowledges the discouragement and even momentary failure that await anyone who is trying to achieve a lofty goal. In fact, she argues that one of the criteria of a worthy goal is that it must challenge you beyond your current skill level, although it should not be unattainable.

Finally, Halvorson suggests that you should look at a goal as a process of doing and learning new skills, rather than achieving a new state of being. In other words, when you set a goal, you should focus on a dynamic process, rather than a static existence.

Halvorson’s essay is not only useful now when writing up those 2012 resolutions: You might want to re-read it in early April when you need a pep talk after you’ve derailed your diet with yet another tiramisu or torpedoed your triathlon training by sleeping in three weekends in a row.

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