In the research of the most successful people in business, it's been found that they are able to reach their goals not because of who they are but due to the habits they practice every day.

Motivational psychologist Heidi Grant Halvorson, author of Nine Things Successful People do Differently, puts on display the science-backed strategies of the most successful people.

When setting goals, one of the tricks to remember is to be as specific as possible. Sounds like common sense, but far from common practice. "Knowing exactly what you want to achieve keeps you motivated until you get there," writes Halvorson.

Deriving her conclusion from thousands of studies, she says getting specific is one of the most critical (though often overlooked) steps any one of us can take to reach any goal we set forth.

Here are five sure ways you can put it into practice, per Halvorson. Get pen and paper ready for a quick and useful exercise in self-awareness. 

1. Write down your goal.

What's your specific goal? Halvorson uses two examples for you to consider as possibilities if you're having a hard time coming up with your own:

  • Example A: My goal is to get ahead at work.
  • Example B: My goal is to lose some weight.

2. Ask yourself, "How will I know when I have succeeded?"

Describe the moment when you will know that you have reached your goal. In the case of Halvorson's two examples, success looks like this:

  • Example A: I will know I have gotten ahead when my boss tells me that I'm getting promoted to director.
  • Example B: I will know that I have lost weight when I can fit into my size eight jeans.

3. Rewrite the goal, using the information.

  • Example A: My goal is to get promoted to the director level.
  • Example B: My goal is to fit into my size eight jeans.

4. Contrast the positive outcomes with the negative outcomes.

Think about two positive aspects of reaching your goals and two obstacles that stand in the way. In the case of Halvorson's first example:

  • Positives: 1) I will make more money. 2) will have more influence on the company's strategy.
  • Obstacles: 1) My co-worker wants the same promotion. 2) I'm not sure what my boss is looking for.

5. Write down what you're likely to experience from each.

Beginning with the first positive aspect, write a few sentences about what it will be like to experience it (i.e., making more money). 

Next, write a few sentences about the first obstacle (your co-worker wants the same promotion), and why it's a problem.

Repeat for the second positive aspect (having more influence in the company) and obstacle.

When done, consider how you feel in the moment. Halvorson says if you feel good about reaching your goal, you should be feeling energized and determined.

Now think about next steps--what do you need to do now? This simple exercise in mental contrasting should help give you more clarity and understanding as to your next step.

Published on: Aug 14, 2019
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