In grade 6, a new girl joined our class. She was tall, had blond hair…was developed. So naturally, all the girls hated her and all the guys followed her around like awkwardly sheepish sheep, as 12-year-old boys at that time could only be around a woman girl. We all expected her to date the cutest guy in the class (to my dismay, because I wasn’t tall enough or blond enough for him), but we were in for a surprise. She ended up going out with (for 2 weeks, which is like, 2 years at that time) with the shortest, geekiest, non-athletic, never-gave-him-a-second-look boy in the class. When we asked him how he felt about it during recess, he said “I knew I could be her boyfriend. I just KNEW it was going to happen!”
So what is the basis of these amazing accomplishments? Of rags-to-riches stories? What pushes the unlikely underdog to oust a championship against all odds? Why do some people still manage to achieve nearly impossible goals despite being told by everyone that they would never succeed? In essence, what is the personality make-up of an achiever? Is it more than sheer stubbornness? This is what we attempted to answer with our Goal-Setting Skills Test, and after collecting data from nearly 10,000 from all walks of life, we uncovered some interesting insights.
Although gender differences were minimal, different age groups had distinct approaches to goal achievement. When compared to older age groups, people below the age of 18 seemed to be more proactive when striving to achieve an objective, using techniques such as regularly evaluating the progress of their goal, motivating themselves, and breaking large goals into smaller, achievable steps. Young goal-setters were also more likely to reward themselves after reaching a goal.
Younger age groups are just laser-focused on achieving a goal, no matter what – they are totally fixated on the end result. Granted, our data also shows that they are slightly more likely to change their mind about what they want to accomplish, but they have that headstrong determination where they absolutely refuse to give up. They are not afraid of obstacles or challenges, whereas older adults might throw in the towel a little earlier when the road to their goal gets bumpy. Case in point: My younger sibling and cousins have changed majors at least twice. But every new direction they head into is done so with a new-found motivation and determination.
Our data also shows that those who view themselves as being a success were more likely to believe in themselves and in their abilities, and to have an internal locus of control (i.e. they believe that their success is due to their own effort rather than external, uncontrollable forces, such as luck or being at the right place at the right time).
When comparing high goal-achievers to low goal-achievers, our analysis reveals that:
- 67% of high goal-achievers vs. 56% of low goal-achievers refuse to let obstacles stop them – they anticipate and plan for how to overcome them.
- 78% of high goal-achievers vs. 64% of low goal-achievers will push themselves to keep trying when having difficulty reaching a goal.
- 78% of high goal-achievers vs. 62% of low goal-achievers will, after deciding on a goal, immediately take the first step toward achieving it. They are proactive in their pursuits.
- 80% of high goal-achievers vs. 58% of low goal-achievers will ambitiously set the bar high.
So it isn’t that those who succeed at achieving their goals are more skilled or have better privileges and opportunities. They are not necessarily taller, smarter, or blonder. The difference is, those who want to accomplish something will “think” success – they believe in themselves, they refuse to let anything hold them back, and they make concrete plans to get where they want to be. They aren’t afraid to take destiny by the hand and say “This is what I want. Now let’s make this happen.” On the other hand, those who doubt themselves will protect their ego by placing the bar too low or not setting clear goals at all. They visualize problems, rather than success, and this frame of mind affects their thinking patterns, their emotions, and their behavior. It’s hard to succeed when you expect to fail.
Here are some goal-setting tips:
- Set SMART goals. Let’s say you goal is to lose weight. This goal should be:
- Specific: Rather than simply stating “I want to lose weight”, have a number in mind, like “lose 40 lbs”.
- Measurable: Being able to track your progress at set intervals (every month, for example) is important – you’ll see and appreciate the efforts of your labors. A monthly weight loss check can be number of inches lost, or amount of steps you can now climb.
- Attainable: This is the key to success. Goals that are too easy won’t motivate you; goals that are too hard will discourage you and are more likely to be left unfinished. Set a goal that is high, but reasonable. So in terms of a weight loss goal, don’t aim for the “30 lbs in 30 days.”
- Relevant: Why are you setting this particular goal? Why do you want to achieve it? You’ll be much more motivated to achieve a goal that means something to you. For example: “I want to lose weight so that I feel better about myself…so that I can keep up with my children/grand children…so that I can run in a charity marathon…etc.
- Time-bound: Set a flexible, realistic deadline. This will keep your eyes on the prize. Setting a goal to be achieved at some vague time in the future is not going to stick. That being said, be willing to tweak your deadline if unexpected situations arise (for e.g. you’re on track with your weight loss goal, but injure yourself and need to take a break.). A realistic weight loss deadline could be 40 lbs in 6 to 8 months.
- Break down your goals into smaller steps and create milestones for yourself. If losing 40 lbs seems too overwhelming for example, break it down into smaller weight loss goals, like 5 lbs a month. Smaller goals will keep you motivated and make that one large goal seem more and more attainable.
- Celebrate achievement of milestones. Give yourself small rewards for reaching a small goal, and plan for a major reward after achieving your main goal. For example, for every 5 lbs you lose, treat yourself to a night of watching your favorite shows (rewards don’t have to be expensive). After reaching your goal weight, splurge on an outfit. Just make sure your rewards are not counterproductive, like treating yourself to a chocolate sundae after putting all that effort into losing weight.
- Enlist the help of others to keep you on track. Find someone who has either achieved the goal you’re striving for, or someone who will simply be there to offer their emotional support. Having someone rooting for you can provide an amazing boost of motivation. For our weight loss example, this could mean finding a buddy to work out with, or joining an online weight loss forum. You can share milestones, weight loss tips, and motivate each other.