Do you know that the most popular blog post ever written in the Harvard Business Review was written not by a CEO or business guru but by a social psychologist?
The name of the psychologist: Heidi Grant Halvorson
The name of the blog post: ‘Nine Things Successful People Do Differently’
But whom exactly is a successful person?
When we think of success no one thinks of their good buddy or cousin or co-worker who was 300lbs a year ago but weighs a healthy lean and fit 190lbs now.
Society have programmed us to define success in terms of how much money we make or how much properties we own and how much degrees we have behind our names.
These people who have achieved these things did work hard, but so did your friend who dropped that 100lbs of fat and now eats healthier so he can live longer to see his kids grow up.
Whether its business, love, romance or health the principles of success remains the same.
What are these nine principles Ms. Halvorson talks about? Read on to see what they are and how they can be applied to fitness and health.
Too many of us set goals that are not specific such as ‘I want to eat less’ or ‘I want to lose some weight’.
This type of goal setting does not work as you have no target that you are working towards and you have no picture of what success would look like.
Vague goals are also not motivating. It’s better to set a goal that is specific such as ‘lose twenty pounds’.
More importantly is to focus on the specific actions that you would take to lose that 20 pounds.
This could be following through with your specific diet plan and workout plan, keeping a workout journal or a diet journal etc.
So set your number e.g. 20lbs BUT be obsessive and relentless about the actions you take or the process you follow to achieve that number.
Seize the moment to act on your goals
I like to refer to this as giving your goals a ‘time and place to live and breathe’.
Decide in advance when and where you would take each action related to your goal.
For e.g. ‘I would work out for 30 minutes before work on Mondays, Wednesdays Fridays’.
These statements you make to yourself is known as ‘implementation intentions’ and studies have shown that your chances of success is increased by 300 percent if you use them!
I have a full article on implementation intentions coming up soon.
Know exactly how far you have to go
Progress and feedback is motivating to our brains. And we can also use that feedback to adjust our strategies we are using to achieve our goals.
In our case our strategies would most likely be the particular workout and diet plans we are using.
Ms. Halvorson recommends checking progress weekly or even daily depending on the goal.
My personal take on this is that you should check progress daily or weekly as she mentions but not on how much weight you are losing but on how closely you are sticking to your diet or workout plans. (See point 1 above).
In terms of progress I found that setting many sub-goals and knocking off one at a time keeps me motivated.
For e.g. if you are training for a marathon and the training is 3 months long, then you should set sub-goals by the week. So aim to run 5 miles each day for week 1, 6 miles each day for week 2 and so on.
Many athletes and even Navy Seals use this technique of setting sub goals during a difficult event or training.
Be realistic optimistic
This means being positive but realistic at the same time.
Let’s be real. Sticking to a diet plan or workout plan or getting washboard abs involves lots of hard work and sacrifices.
Most people underestimate the amount of work it involves and when the inevitable roadblocks do pop up they crumble and give up….because they didn’t take these into account.
A few years ago I tried Krav Maga. I visualized myself being good at it but I quit when I realized that I had to repeat a punch or a kick hundreds of time before I perfected it.
I wasn’t prepared for it and thought it would have been a breeze.
It’s all well and good to visualize and be positive but also make sure you anticipate the roadblocks that would pop up.
Focus on getting better rather than being good
I like to refer to this as mindset.
According to Carol Dweck, author of Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, people either have a fixed mindset or growth mindset.
Fixed mindset people believe that intelligence, personality and certain physical attributes are fixed and cannot be improved. Of course if you are short you can’t get tall unless you wear extra tall shoes.
Growth mindset people believe that abilities of all kinds are perfectly malleable and that you can change and improve with hard work.
This belief that their abilities are not fixed enable them to try harder and be more optimistic in the face of adversity.
I found that a good way to adopt a growth mindset is to look at people who have done what you want to do.
When I started out in my fitness journey I looked at people who were fatter than me but lost weight and became fit.
When I did plateau at times I didn’t give up as I knew I could adjust and tweak and try harder and the results would come in a matter of time.
Grit is the willingness to commit to long term goals.
Angela Duckworth author of No 1 Best Seller Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance defines grit as ‘The combination of intense passion + intense perseverance toward a long term goal that matters to you’.
This book is ranked #4 on Amazon’s health, fitness and dieting category and is applicable to any area of your life…not just health and fitness.
According to Duckworth, grit determines your college GPA, which cadets would stick out the first grueling year at West Point and which round of contestants would make it to Scripps National Spelling Bee.
In my experience having a strong ‘why’ as well as knowing that your workout and diet plans would give results contributes heavily towards grit.
Build your willpower muscle
I have drafted a full article on willpower and would post it in a few weeks’ time so we would just briefly touch on it here.
Halvorson recommends taking up challenges for something that you really don’t want to do. For e.g. giving up high fat snacks or doing 100 pushups per day.
Anytime you find yourself wanting to give up or wanting to not follow through then try and push through to build your willpower muscle.
She recommends starting with just one activity and as your willpower grows you can take up more willpower challenges.
One of the best books on willpower is the Will Power Instinct by Kelly Mc Gonigal.
Don’t tempt fate
No matter how strong your willpower is, remember that it is like a muscle and if you overtax it then it would run out of steam sooner or later.
Halvorson recommends not trying to take on two challenging tasks at once such as quitting smoking or dieting at the same time.
To be honest I don’t know if I fully agree with that as I have found that sometimes adopting a new habit can kick start a chain reaction of other positive habits.
For e.g. a good friend of mine started exercising which led to him eating healthier and quitting smoking and also taking evening classes……all at the same time.
According to Charles Duhigg author of The Power of Habit this is called a Keystone Habit.
A keystone habit is simply a habit or action which leads to a chain of other positive habits….automatically.
If you find that you cannot adhere to your workouts or diets then make sure you are not trying to change too much at the same time or that you have conflicting priorities in your life.
Focus on what you would do, not on what you wouldn’t do
When most people go on a diet they focus on what they are going to eliminate from it. E.g. sweets and candy or refined carbs.
So the focus is on what you would not eat: sweets and candy and refined carbs.
Instead focus on what you ARE going to eat. E.g. I’ll eat broccoli, grilled chicken, brown rice, sweet potatoes and oatmeal.
What you do is start with a blank slate and you add the desired foods to it. So no need to eliminate anything. Instead you are just adding healthy stuff.
I know it sounds simplistic but this simple change in mindset and how you view it makes a HUGE difference.
The psychological name for this is the ‘white-bear’ effect. If someone tells you don’t think of a white bear then you ARE going to think of a white bear even more!
There you go! Each of these nine points are actionable and maybe you are already doing some or all of them.
I do recommend that you pick up a copy of Halvorson’s widely popular book Success: How We Can Reach Our Goals.
If you really want to achieve your health, fitness or ANY goals this is the book to get.
It’s engaging and most of all its practical and easy to follow and shows you how most people go about setting goals the wrong way.
After reading it you would know a whole lot more about effective goal setting than 98.258 percent of the population.
Happy goal setting and goal achieving!