Book Impression: “Succeed: How We Can Reach Our Goals”

Reader Eugene Meidinger left a comment on yesterday’s post Optimizing Later, where I pondered some of the difficulties I felt in starting tasks that I knew were useful yet unexciting. He mentioned the book Succeed: How Can We Reach Our Goals by psychologist Heidi Grant Halvorson, Ph.D, as being an amazing book. Although the title of the book turned me off—I’ve seen soooo much mediocre goal-setting advice—I grabbed a Kindle sample to flip through. I bought the complete book 5 minutes later.

Although I’m just 20% through a fast read, I’m already planning to go buy a physical copy of the book for my shelf of canonical reference material. Perhaps I just haven’t been paying enough attention to the “motivational science” book scene, but I found this book to provide a WEALTH of new-to-me concepts that I’d half-stumbled over for years, but have been unable to define beyond gut feeling and personal experience. As a bonus, it’s much more readable than Dan Gilbert’s Stumbling on Happiness, which has a wry academic cadence interwoven into the material that keep me guessing as to his intent. Maybe this is by design, building plausible deniability into the material in case mobs of “serious academics” were to peer-review him behind his back…but I digress.

While I plan to do a full review sometime in the next year (or ten, given my current progress on this), here’s some takeaways:

  • Some people believe in FIXED levels of intelligence, while others believe it is MALLEABLE. I’m totally on the MALLEABLE side, which gives rise to belief I can do things. There is research that shows that the mere belief gives rise to increased success.
  • Believing that ACHIEVING is EASY, though, has a negative correlation with success. Apparently, we’re far more likely to succeed if we believe it’s going to be difficult.
  • Willpower is like a MUSCLE. It can be exercised and developed. It has a limited store of energy that must be replenished.

I’ve written about various aspects of this over the years, as I’ve experienced the ups and downs of trying to achieve my own vision of what it means to be happy. The above (which is just from the introduction) seems to fit, AND it is based on research observations. The upshot is that I am NOT BROKEN. I’m just human.

Flipping randomly through the remainder of the book (I’ll review this fully at some later time), it seems filled with the familiar material one might expect from a goals book, except steeped in psychology. If you are of an introspective nature and enjoy understanding the differences in mindset that give rise to certain behaviors, you’d find this book fascinating. If you’re looking for a DO THIS THEN THAT book, probably not. I’m of the former persuasion, so I’m jazzed about filling in some gaps in my own personal approach to productivity.

For example, somewhere in the beginning of the book there’s a description of the ways we think of goal choices that are easy versus difficult: we tend to think either in terms of WHY or WHAT. As a dreamer that looks for meaning in everything, I often think in terms of WHY I do something. However, this turns out to be a less effective approach than WHAT to do when the goal is DIFFICULT. There’s an interesting study cited about coffee drinkers and heavy mugs that show the mental proclivity to think one way versus the other, depending on how much effort is required to drink the coffee. There may be a correlation between this and my own stuckness relative to goals, and how I find writing to be the way that I get through things. I often just write what I’m doing to keep continuity and context. This worked, I thought, because my memory and attention needed backup…but perhaps it’s related to WHY and WHAT approaches given a particular kind of task.

Anyway, check it out:

Thanks, Eugene, for pointing this book out to me.