By Engr. Carlos V. Cornejo

There are a lot of self-help books you can find in the market but this one stands out because not only is it down-to-earth in its advice in goal setting, but it also is backed up by research.  “Succeed: How We Can Reach Our Goals” by Heidi Grant Halvorson is a best-seller in the U.S. because it is packed with wisdom. Here are her 4 great ideas.

Self-Control is Contagious

Recent research has shown that engaging in daily activities such as exercising, keeping track of your finances or what you are eating—or even just remembering to sit up straight every time you are reminded of it so as not to develop a bad back—can help you develop your overall self-control capacity. For example, in one study, students who were assigned to (and stuck to) a daily exercise program not only got physically healthier, but they also became more likely to wash dishes instead of leaving them in the sink, and less likely to impulsively spend money.  In other words, one self-discipline act can influence your other actions in a positive way.  In philosophy this is called virtue (good habits) begetting other virtues.  The bad news is, the opposite is also true.  Vice (bad habits) begets other vices too.  That’s why you can’t find a thief who is not also a liar.  Thus, I advise my students to start their day right by waking up on time and making their bed if they want to reach their goals in life.  If you don’t start your day right, then you can’t expect to have a productive day ahead (imagine waking up late and arriving late at school).  A good start is requirement to an overall good day.

Goal Targets Should be Difficult but Possible

Edwin Locke and Gary Latham, two eminent organizational psychologists, have spent several decades studying the extraordinary effectiveness of setting specific and difficult goals. In more than one thousand studies conducted by researchers across the globe, they’ve found that goals that spell out exactly what needs to be accomplished, and that set the bar for achievement high, result in far superior performance than goals that are vague or that set the bar too low. And this is true regardless of whether the goal is something you adopt on your own, something you are assigned to complete, or something that you develop jointly with your parent, teacher, boss, or coworkers.

In other words, not all goals are the same.  We have to choose those goals that are specific, and challenges our abilities.  If there is no clear path on how to accomplish that goal or if that goal is too easy, we will likely not attain it, or the goal would not be meaningful and satisfying because it will not have a significant impact on our personal growth.  Goals should be difficult but at the same time possible.  If goals are beyond your capabilities, frustration sets in and you might stop setting goals in life.

Noble Goals Matter

If your goal is to become famous, seeking power over others and even become rich you are planning for disaster and dissatisfaction.  Why?  Because these are not guaranteed goals and there is a self-serving agenda behind them. However, if you make goals such as developing better relationships, personal growth (in character and abilities), and to contribute to the betterment of society, you have far better chance to succeed and be more satisfied with your life.  The former goals are vices, and the latter are virtues.   Vices make us miserable and virtues turns us into a good and happy person.

Visualizing Success

Many self-help books recommend visualizing success telling people that if they just picture what they want in their minds, it will somehow happen.  That would be great if it were true, but scientifically speaking, there really isn’t much evidence to it. On the other hand, visualization can be very helpful, if you imagine the steps you will take in order to succeed, rather than the success itself.  The author suggests, “Don’t visualize success. Instead, visualize the steps you will take in order to succeed. Just picturing yourself crossing the finish line doesn’t actually help you get there—but visualizing how you run the race (the strategies you will use, the choices you will make, the obstacles you will face) not only will give you greater confidence, but also leave you better prepared for the task ahead. And that is definitely realistic optimism.”