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Success Down to a Science: An Interview with the Author of “SUCCEED: How We Can Reach Our Goals”

You might call Heidi Grant Halvorson the Patti Stanger of success.  After all, there are a few striking similarities between the author of  SUCCEED: How We Can Reach Our Goals and TV’s “Millionaire Matchmaker.”  Much like how Stanger has made a career out of helping people who are struggling to find love, Halvorson specializes in helping people achieve that other seemingly elusive goal: success.  Even Stanger’s own theory on love (“Everyone wants it, but not everyone finds it.”) could be applied to success.

But that’s where the similarities end.  Where Stanger’s expertise is limited to matters of the heart, Halvorson, a motivational psychologist, applies her years of experience and research to helping people achieving success in virtually every area of their lives.

And while Halvorson may not have her own reality show on Bravo (…yet), she is spreading her expertise to the masses another way: With the release of SUCCEED, in which she outlines practical strategies people can utilize to help themselves achieve success.  Success, Halvorson says, is surprisingly easy to come by. It’s simply a matter of understanding the habits that help us in – and, in some cases, inhibit us from – reaching our goals and creating a plan to keep ourselves accountable.

“People can’t always explain why they are successful”
“People are surprisingly bad at understanding their own behavior,” Halvorson told me in a recent phone interview to discuss the book. This lack of understanding creates a problem with much of the motivational advice that is out there today: People who write these books base their advice on theories or beliefs about what makes them successful that, in reality, aren’t necessarily right. “Even if they are right, they can’t always tell you how to do the same.” Not to mention that what works for one person won’t necessarily work for someone else.

Unlike so many other motivational books, which are based on anecdotes and personal experiences, Halvorson, who holds a doctorate in the field of psychology, based the advice in SUCCEED on years of scientific research on the specific behaviors that contribute to success. She says she wanted to write a book that explained, succinctly and “in plain English,” how years of scientific research prove the behaviors that lead to success. “The scientific approach allows you to have confidence in this advice in a way that we don’t have with other people’s experiences.”

“’Not having the time’ to reach a goal is almost never literally true.”
The reasons people fail to meet their goals, Halvorson says, aren’t always what they think they are. For instance, people tend to blame their inability to reach a goal on some inherent inability, such as too little willpower. Abilities like willpower, however, aren’t fixed things. In fact, they’re much like muscles in the sense that they simply need to be exercised in order to grow and gain strength.

In actuality, one of the main reasons people fail to meet their goals is that they don’t take time to figure out exactly which steps they’re going to take to reach those goals. For instance, simply giving yourself the goal to include your employees in more decision-making is not enough to motivate you to act on that goal. You need to specify things like which decisions you’re going to include them in and what role they will play in those decisions.

“When we leave goals in the abstract, without getting specific about the behaviors – down to the level of ‘this is the thing I’m going to do, specifically’ – we don’t reach the goals. Your brain requires that you take that extra step of really putting it into action.”

The second thing that keeps people from reaching their goals is that they let opportunities to act on those goals slip away. “I hear from people all the time say, ‘I didn’t have time.’ But that’s almost never literally true.” The problem is that it’s far too easy to miss the many opportunities throughout the day to reach those goals.  One of the main focuses of the book is how people can apply scientifically-proven strategies for overcoming these obstacles and find the strategy that works for them.

“There’s almost nothing there isn’t a solution for”
If there’s one thing Halvorson wants readers to take away from her book, it’s that there’s almost no goal a person can set for him- or herself that can’t be reached.  No matter the obstacles, Halvorson says, there are proven strategies – surprisingly simple strategies, at that – that anyone can find and implement to overcome them.  “If there’s a goal you’ve been trying to reach – at work, in your personal life, wherever it is – that’s been giving you trouble, you can do something about it.” If this message sounds too good to be true to some readers, Halvorson says to simply look at the research.

“There’s a science to this…It’s really about finding the information about what’s going to work for you and solve your problem,” Halvorson says, adding, “The overall message of the book is optimistic because the science suggests that you should be optimistic.” 

Heidi Grant Halvorson is a motivational psychologist and the author of SUCCEED: How We Can Reach Our Goals which will be published December 23. Stay tuned for the second part of this interview, in which Halvorson discusses tips for engaging employees and managing a diverse workforce.

Mary Lorenz

About Mary Lorenz

Mary is a copywriter for CareerBuilder, specializing in B2B marketing and corporate recruiting best practices and social media. In addition to creating copy for corporate advertising and marketing campaigns, she researches and writes about employee attraction, engagement and retention. Whenever possible, she makes references to pop culture. Sometimes, those references are even relevant. A New Orleans native, Mary now lives in Chicago, right down the street from the best sushi place in the city. It's awesome.
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