Below my latest amazon review on the book “Succeed – How We Can Reach Our Goals” by Heidi Grant Halvorson

Succeed” is a wonderful book for anyone interested in goal-setting and goal pursuit, which is to say pretty much every one.

It is science-based yet not dry.

The author puts a lot of effort trying to be engaging and she largely succeeds (pun intended).

Being based on science, this book does not offer the simple, clean-cut, one-size-fits-all solutions of many delusion-based self-help books, so most of the time the answer to a practical question raised in the book is “it depends” – immediately followed by a clear explanation of the key variables at play, which should make it very easy to any readers to plot their own course.

Here is a break-down of the chapters, I hope this is useful:

Chapter 1 – do you know where you are going?

About choosing an appropriate formulation for your goal ( “well formed”): being specific, making it hard,  why vs. what frame, value vs. feasibility, chances of success vs. the road to get there, mental contrasting as a decision making tool for goal setting.

Chapter 2 – do you know where your goals are coming from?

About beliefs (fixed vs. growth mindset; see Carol Dweck’s work) and about environmental triggers for goal pursuit

Chapter 3 – the goals that keep you moving forward.

An excellent explanation of be good (achievement, performance) vs. get better (progress, mastery) goals.

Chapter 4 – goals for optimists and goals for pessimists.

Promotion-focused (maximizing gains) vs. prevention-focused (avoiding loss) goals. A very important and extremely useful distinction, further articulated in terms of when to choose one or the other, how the distinction is linked to optimism / pessimism, motivation, feedback, risk-taking and inner needs. I think the book is worth buying for this chapter alone.

Chapter 5 – goals can make you happy.

How some goals are better than others because they nourish our essential needs of Relatedness, Competence and Autonomy (see Self-Determination theory). How internal goals are different from external goals and the important role played by intrinsic motivation in goal pursuits.

Chapter 6 – the right goals for you.

In this chapter the author recaps the ground covered so far but from the perspective of the user. In the previous chapters the author presented psychological research results and how they are relevant to goal setting. In this chapter the author starts from a specific need / situation (e.g. “when you can’t seem to get going”; “when you need speed”; “when you want to be creative”…) and then matches the situation with the appropriate goal frame (e.g. in the 3 examples above, why & prevention goals, promotion goals, promotion & autonomous goals respectively).

Chapter 7 – the right goals for them.

The author shift gears, and this chapter is about assigning goals to others (vs. to oneself, the topic of the previous 6 chapters). The tips given center around leaving a sense of personal control, using the right triggers, using the right frame, making the goal contagious.

Chapter 8 – conquer the goal saboteurs.

This chapter is about seizing opportunities, knowing what to do, increasing monitoring and shielding your goal pursuit from distractions or competing goals.

Chapter 9 – make a simple plan.

This chapter is all about the virtues of the magical formulation “if… then…”, i.e. “if I am in this situation, then I will take this action”. Making such plans is the most effective strategy for goal pursuit. According to the author, if you take nothing else from the book, take at least this.

Chapter 10 -build the self-control muscle.

This chapter explains the concept of self-control as a muscle and useful strategy for goal pursuit based on this insight – namely, like any other muscle, strengthen it, rest it and compensate when tired. I am personally very critical of some formations of this analogy (e.g. the glucose explanation, see Kurzban) and I think a better treatment of the topic is given in the book : “The Willpower Instinct”. However it is true that this is not the main focus of Grant Halvorson’s book.

Chapter 11 – keep it real.

This chapter further elaborates on the role of optimism in goal pursuit. Given the good press optimism gets in self-help books, the distinction made by the author in this chapter between realistic vs. unrealistic optimism is pure gold.

Chapter 12 – know when to hang on.

This chapter is about another key ingredient of goal pursuit: grit. That old-fashioned virtue of commitment to long term goals and persistence in the face of adversity. And no, long term does not mean tomorrow and adversity does not mean “twitter is down, OMG!” or “I do not have the latest iPhone”.

Chapter 13 – give the right feedback.

Frankly the least interesting chapter of the book, at least for me. The good part though was the author presenting the “5 rules of positive feedback” by Henderlong and Lepper. It is research-based and it is a useful checklist for anyone tasked with giving feedback to others.

Overall a great book, an essential reference for anyone (coaches, executives, consultants)  involved in developing leaders, and a useful treasure throve of good tips for anyone engaged in goal pursuit.

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