The Science of Success

Check out an excerpt from the transcript for The Social Capitalist interview featuring Heidi Grant Halvorson. Read Tahl’s Raz’s blog post on the interview here. Click here for the full transcript: Social Capitalist Transcript – Heidi Grant Halvorson. Please access the audio recording here. Enjoy!

Tahl Raz:    So the application of all of these new – and when I say “new”, the last 30 years of social science’s focus on, as you say, the science of success or achievement – you said something incredibly provocative, I thought, that you make suggestions in your book and that you have implied that you have the answer.  But what are the best goals to pursue – as in, what goals kind of create the most well-being, the most fulfillment, the most – I think you said authenticity – what are those best goals?

Heidi G. Halvorson:    Well, again, they have to do with – I mean, it’s a broad class of goals.  So it’s not that there are three very specific things you need to do.  But it all comes down to why you’re pursuing the goals that you are pursuing.  So if you are trying to, for example, get ahead at work, which many of us are – you know, kind of climb the ladder – are you doing it because you find it personally challenging and rewarding, or are you doing it in order to, for example, seek the approval of other people?  So often it’s not about necessarily what the goal is on the surface, but really the why that matters.  And when we choose goals in our lives that satisfy our basic human needs – people have been arguing for thousands of years about what human beings really need in life.  And really the consensus in psychology has kind of focused on three in particular.  We talk about the need – for anything to be universal cross-culturally – the need for belonging.  So people have this basic need to relate to other people and to be part of meaningful groups, to contribute to their communities.  Another need is the need for what psychologists call competence.  And that has to do with sort of growing our abilities, working on new skills, acquiring knowledge, being able to sort of impact your environment in meaningful ways.  And then the third basic human need has to do with the sense that psychologists call autonomy, the idea that we do things because we are intrinsically motivated to do them, because they reflect something about our values, who we are as unique individuals.  So really it’s the why that matters.  Why are you deciding to go to medical school?  Why are you doing what you’re doing at work?  Why are you in a particular relationship?  And if it’s to satisfy these basic needs, then if you are successful, that’s going to bring you that kind of authentic lasting happiness that many of us associate with being truly successful.  It’s when our actions and our goals are motivated by things outside ourselves, by the approval of others, by seeking things like power and fame for their own sake, rather than to use them to do something positive, those kinds of goals can make us happy – I mean, certainly when you have reached a goal you’re going to feel some happiness.  The question is whether or not that happiness is fleeting. And it your goals really satisfy these basic human needs that we all seem to have, relatedness, competence, and autonomy, then that happiness is going to be a more lasting deeper happiness than you would have otherwise.  I mean, achieving goals is always a good thing.  But when we pursue things that really satisfy us as human beings, then you’re going to have another kind, another level of happiness than you would otherwise have. Continue reading

The Research-Backed Two-Word Solution to Tripling Your Productivity (no, really)

I love planning. Planning gets an invite to my dinner party every night of the week. Planning is like a devilishly charming raconteur thrilling you with their adventures in far-flung locales like the Laotian Mekong. Then there’s doing – doing is like an autistic geographer detailing in monotone the troubled and complex history of that same locale.  Doing is hard, something to be avoided, but planning — the clean slate, the bold ideas, the big-eyed promise of all you’ll do and how — comes easy.  And the centerpiece of planning is the to-do list.

Oh, the gratifying joy of merely jotting down a list of tasks. To have begun is to be half done! Unfortunately there’s not much of a market for half done and so, over the years, I’ve tried nearly everything to make me more of a doer. In fact, much of the time when I’m not doing, I’m reading or talking about the productivity tips and systems of super-doers, everything from Lifehacker.com to Behance.com to David Allen’s Getting Things Done.

And then along comes Heidi Grant Halvorson, a recent guest of The Social Capitalist, who made the startling declaration that the last 40 years of social science research tells us the single most effective strategy for improving productivity, greater than all these other tips and systems combined, can be summed up in two words:

If. Then.

Heidi isn’t so easy to dismiss. With popular blog columns in Harvard Business Review, Fast Company, and Psychology Today, and a new book book entitled Succeed: How We Can Reach Our Goals, she is a motivational psychologist at the forefront of the science of success.

Turns out that the doing part of our brains is indeed a bit of an analytical bore that processes information in the language of contingencies. Our unconscious remembers information in “If X, then Y” terms and is constantly scanning the environment, ready to turn X contingency into Y behavior (e.g. Unconscious: It’s April 24th.  Me: It’s my wife’s birthday!! I must get a present or I’ll be murdered!!).

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