Lance's Reviews > Succeed: How We Can Reach Our Goals

Succeed by Heidi Grant Halvorson
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Jun 11, 11

Read in May, 2011

It wasn't so much the purple cover that intrigued me (I mean, purple is the default wardrobe color for comic book villians) as it was the subtitle: How We Can Reach Our Goals. I had always been troubled that every year I make goals and only achieve a portion of the them. No matter what changes I seem to make, I could never get at the real root of the problem because the percentage of unmet goals would remain more or less constant year after year.

Now I have some answers. Halverson is a social psychologist who brings her research into motivation and achievement to light in a very interesting and thought-provoking way. Her conversational tone is very inviting. She explains the different kinds of goals and how the way we think about how goals helps to shape our success in accomplishing the goals. We need to set the right kind of goals for the situation at hand, and we need to approach them in the right way.

For example, one of the biggest mistakes people make is setting goals to validate their own sense of worth, what Halverson calls be-good goals. Goals designed to make us better people that focus on self-improvement, what Halverson calls get-better goals, have a higher chance of actually being achieved.

Positive thinking is scientifically proven to be good, but also scientifically proven is the increased risk of failure provided by too much optimism, or what Halverson calls "unrealistic optimism." I would just call this arrogance, pride, or cockiness. What Halverson calls realistic optimism, which is scientifically shown to increase the chances for success, is what I would call tempered optimism, or optimism balanced with a sense of practicality.

But as Shakespeare once wrote, "a rose by any other name would still smell as sweet", and Halverson's bouquet is precisely that. All of her assertions are backed up with scientific studies that reveal the right way to approach our goals in order to maximize our chances for success. Some of what she concludes from her scientific work has already been practiced by others for years. For example, David Allen has long asserted the importance of planning -- doing the intellectual work necessary to decide what needs to happen so that when the moment comes all resources can be focused on execution. Halverson's scientific work confirms what Allen has observed over the many years of his consulting practice.

Because our goals involve other people, Halverson also dives into how to provide proper feedback as well as explaining the cultural difference between Asia and the West. I agree with her that our culture values inherent ability so much that we neglect acquired ability and the reality that many Asians accept readily in their own culture -- anyone can be great with enough effort and persistence. Halverson's suggestions for feedback are good for anyone who works with others, whether as an employer, an instructor, or a parent.

What benefited me the most from Halverson's book is her reassurance that sometimes it is healthy to step away from a goal. I had always thought that quitting on a goal meant quitting on my commitment, but Halverson shows that is simply not true. Sometimes changing circumstances demand that we change our direction. The goals we make are only as good as the information and circumstances at the time the goal was made. Things change, and we shouldn't be afraid to walk away from a goal once we determine it is no longer good for us. But Halverson stresses that a key part of this process is replacing the old goal with a new one that is appropriate to the new circumstances in order to maintain our motivation and sense of movement.

All in all, this was a great book, well worth the time and effort spent with it. I would rank it on the same level as Covey's The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, because this book is a paradigm shifter. Covey described paradigms as maps, saying that only when our map reflects reality can we plot a true course. That's what Halverson's book is -- a map that more accurately reflects the way we are wired to go after achievement.

If you are responsible for other people and/or you have an interest in increasing your own personal effectiveness, then you must read this book. The conclusions made by Halverson are all based on scientific study, and in each of those instances she explains the circumstances of the studies so that you can follow her along to the conclusions drawn. Although not always intuitive, it is a very straightforward way of thinking about goals and how to reach them. I will certainly be applying the principles of this book, and I highly recommend it to anyone.
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