What are your
UNDERSTANDING HOW you look at
things can be a big part of accomplishing your goals, and allows you to modify
how you approach the type of challenge
you’re facing. In her book Succeed,
Heidi Grant Halvorson explores these
How do you think about the
things you do?
Concrete thinkers view their behavior in terms of what they are doing, the
“nitty-gritty of getting from point A to
point B”; abstract thinkers [think] in
terms of why they are doing something.
The different approaches work better for
different types of goals.
succeed How to
So she set out to learn why. Her studies
led her to various scientific journals, where
she unearthed more than 40 years’ worth of
psychological studies on goal setting and
achievement. She distilled these findings in
her book Succeed: How We Can Reach Our
Goals (Hudson Street Press, 2010). Not the
ruminations of another motivational guru,
Succeed is based on real data about hundreds
and hundreds of real people. When you look
at the results of experiments with that many
people you get a very objective sense of what
works, she explains.
Are you as smart as you’re ever
going to be?
Some people believe that “
smartness” is something you are more or less
born with, is largely genetic and stays
pretty much constant throughout adulthood. Others believe that smartness
develops over time through experience
and learning, and that anyone can get
more of it if they apply themselves. If
you believe the latter, challenges aren’t
threatening, they’re opportunities.
Mistakes don’t mean you’re stupid, they
help you learn.
By Anita Thompson
HAVE YOU EVER wondered why some projects you undertake feel like exciting challenges
and others are just a slog? Why have you managed to be successful in your profession, for
example, but you still can’t quit smoking?
Costco member Heidi Grant Halvorson
wondered the same thing. Halvorson, an
assistant professor at Lehigh University,
with a Ph.D. in social psychology, was obviously successful in her chosen field, but still
struggled with parts of her personal life. “I
was curious about motivation,” she tells The
Connection by phone from her home in
Pennsylvania. While an undergrad, she
relates, she could resist going to a party with
her friends the night before an exam, but
somehow couldn’t say no to a doughnut.
How we go wrong
So why do we fail at achieving our goals?
A key reason, Halvorson says, is that people
tend to blame their failures on the lack of
some innate ability (“I’m just not good at
“We have this idea in this country that
people are successful because they’re born
that way,” she says. “That some people are
born with more willpower, more intelligence,
more grit or perseverance, and other people
aren’t. That’s simply not true.
“Even very talented people, when you
look at their lives, are often workaholics. It’s
always about effort, strategy and persistence.”
Motivating children by telling them they
What motivates you: being good at
something or getting better?
The desire to be good, to show that
you are smart, talented or capable or to
outperform others, is known as performance orientation. For example, you’d
want to get an A on a test.
The desire to get better, to develop
or enhance your skills and abilities, is
a mastery goal. You look at goals in
terms of the progress you’re making.
Getting better is almost always preferable to being good when it comes to
Are you promotion- or prevention-focused in terms of goals?
Promotion-focused goals are about
achievement and accomplishment. Pre-vention-focused goals can be thought
about in terms of safety and avoiding
danger—something you feel you ought
to do. Promotion goals are about maximizing gains; prevention goals are about
minimizing loss. You can choose the
right strategies to approach your goal
when you understand your focus.—AT