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Why You Need to Push Yourself and Aim High in Everything You Do

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You’ve heard of S.M.A.R.T goals, correct? In order not to set yourself up for failure, experts tell us we need to pick goals that are smart, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-oriented. This makes sense, of course. But here is the wrinkle— S.M.A.R.T goals were created as a managerial tool in organizations. On a personal level, easily achievable aspirations are demotivating. “Easy” doesn’t equal “fulfilling.” Often, it doesn’t even give you a temporary burst of happiness.

There is just something about working hard to achieve what you aim for and getting it. Oh, the high you feel. One of the most important (but perhaps somewhat neglected) ingredients for the successful completion of anything we set our minds on is what is known as the Pygmalion effect, or the power of positive expectations.

As the story from Greek mythology goes, a legendary sculptor from Cyprus—Pygmalion— carved a statue of the ideal woman. He worshiping his creation, and he ended up falling in love with her. Then, at a festival for Aphrodite—the Greek Goddess of Love, he prayed that she sends his way a wife exactly like the statue. The Goddess heard his prayers and instead—she brought the sculpture to life. Pygmalion and her lived happily ever after.

The moral of the story is this: Positive reinforcement can lead to favorable outcomes.

“Once you replace negative thoughts with positive ones, you’ll start having positive results.” – Willie Nelson

Fast forward a few hundred centuries—to 1963, social psychologist Robert Rosenthal created a test where he told a group of student lab workers that certain rats in the lab were “maze bright” while others were “maze dull,” when in fact the rats were separated between the groups randomly.

The results confirmed the hypothesis of the test. The students subconsciously treated the smart rats differently. That is, they expected them to behave more intelligently, and guess what they did! They learned the mazes much faster than the “dull” rats.

Similar results were later done with school children. Rather amazingly, teachers’ higher expectations of some students (after being told they had exceptional potential for growth) made the students perform better on tests, when in fact, the test groups were formed at random.

The take-home idea here is this: Expectations can alter reality.

Let’s take this a bit further and on a personal level. Setting big goals and expecting of yourself to achieve them, can give you a much better chance of actually getting there. It’s a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy—by anticipating a certain positive or negative outcome, we may engage in behaviors to either improve or sabotage our chances to get there.

This idea runs contrary to what we’ve been often advised by gurus and such—to not set big goals as we increase our odds of failing. Hairy goals are scary when we think about them in the absolute. They’re even a bit stressful.

But at the same time, in order to do better, we need the scary and we need the discomfort. If all is great and rosy, then why change, right?

The moral of the story is this: You must aim high and set big Empire-state goals.

“Whatever we expect with confidence becomes our own self-fulfilling prophecy.” – Brian Tracy

How you plan for achieving these is a different matter. This is where the common advice comes in—break The Goal into smaller ones—so small that you can’t say “No” to doing it. As in “taking a 5-minute walk, eat one apple a day, write one sentence”—depending on what you set out for yourself.

But here is another catch. Not every tall mountain you want to conquer should be out of reach. You need the tall ones and you need the medium ones too, just so that you can practice and move forward.

So, ideally, you want to have on your list a few Everests or K2s (number one and two highest mountains in the world). That is, the “I-must-be-crazy-dreaming-it’s-possible” kind of goals. But you must also keep some Muztagh Atas or Ismoil Somoni Peaks (number forty-nine and fifty highest mountain)—still challenging but S.M.A.R.T too.

And if something is too effortless, know that it’s not a proper goal. Find a better one. It goes down to this—when you go to the gym, do you want to have a great workout or just a good one? Do you think you will lose weight by having it easy or by breaking a sweat?

You must always remember: The magic happens when you push yourself.

In the end, remember that when you strive for high and you don’t get there, you are still in a good place. You have a better chance to get the closest alternative. Always remember how to be ready for the ups and downs that come with every success trajectory. It’s as simple as the saying: Hope for the best but prepare for the worst.

How do you push yourself when you’re feeling down? Let us know how you get out of the slump. Comment below!

Evelyn Marinoff is a writer and an aspiring author. She holds a degree in Finance and Marketing,  works in client consulting, and spends her free time reading, writing and researching ideas in psychology, leadership, well-being and self-improvement. On her website evelynmarinoff.com, she writes tips and pieces on self-enhancement and confidence. You can also find her on Twitter at @Evelyn_Marinoff.

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5 Simple Hacks to Help You Develop the Habit That Will Transform Your Life

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It’s excruciating when we know what’s killing us but we can’t do anything about it because as you know, it is not easy to pull the brake on a high way. According to Napoleon Hill, “remember this always – the best (and one might say the only) way in which old habits may be removed is to form new habits to counteract and replace the undesirable ones”. (more…)

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Why Do We Have An Unconscious Bias and How Can We Manage It?

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When I hear someone using my name once in a while throughout the conversation we are having, I cannot stop myself thinking “this person must have read Dale Carnegie’s books or must have been influenced by someone who read them…” Have you just recalled a similar moment and it felt nice?

As Dale Carnegie famously said, “Remember that a person’s name is, to that person, the sweetest and the most important sound in any language”. Why did Dale Carnegie highlight the importance of an individual’s name to that person in his “How to Win Friends and Influence People” book published in 1936?

Each and every one of us wants to feel special and unique. I guess he recommends using the person’s name in the conversation because that is one of the easiest ways to grab that person’s attention so that we can enhance the chances of getting our point across. However, I am more interested in this from the other side; hearing our names directly addresses our individuality, our need or desire to feel special and unique.  

Let’s park this one for now and we will come back. 

Categorization is essential to our survival

There is countless scientific research telling us about how our brains recognize similarities and put things into categories, which has been crucial to our survival in evolution and still helps us with a lot of things from learning new things to coping with the continuous influx of massive amounts of information through our senses. 

The continuous influx of information is mostly handled by our subconscious mind rather than conscious. It is estimated that our brains receive about 11 million bits of information every second through our senses, of which only 40-50 bits can be processed by our conscious mind. We process more information than we are aware of. The magic here is the subconscious mind.

An example is when you are at a very loud party where you hear a lot of words flying around without you recognizing each one of them, then suddenly, you immediately catch it when you hear your name. Your subconscious had been processing all of those words, without your awareness, but informed your conscious mind when your name was out there because it was relevant to you.

In order to most effectively process this much information and inform the conscious mind with only the relevant ones, our subconscious employs categorization as one of its strategies.

When our ancestors encountered some deadly predators in the African savanna, their subconscious prompted their conscious mind to immediately fight or flight by categorizing the information gathered through their senses into “predator / life threat / take action”. Most probably we are not descendants of the ones that were frozen rather than fighting or flighting! 

Although it is a completely different situation, the same strategy applied in remembering lists. Let’s look at the below two lists.

  1. lion, eagle, shark, leopard, hawk, whale, panther, falcon and dolphin 
  2. lion, leopard, panther, eagle, hawk, falcon, shark, whale and dolphin

The second list is easy to remember because it is reordered into relevant groups even though the content of the both lists are identical.

Subconsciousness is the magic and categorization is one of its key strategies. It is essential to our survival, learning new skills and processing information as well as bringing back the information we had processed and stored. 

This amazing skill has its drawbacks

As a result of our brains’ categorization strategy, we also categorize people, especially if we don’t know them as well as our closest ones.

Imagine I am sitting at the table next to yours while you are having your favorite coffee and working on your computer or reading your novel at your neighborhood coffee shop. I stand up, very calmly grab your bag, and start walking away. Your reaction might be quite different depending on my outfit. It could be much more vocal and harsh if I have a dirty T-Shirt and a pair of torn jeans on. However, if I have some navy colored, 3-piece suit and well-pressed white button up shirt on, you might even say something like “Excuse me, you might have picked up my bag by mistake”. (There is an experiment done by social psychologists which reported similar results)

Similarly, I would not be surprised to hear that my co-worker’s spouse is very skilled and knowledgeable in English grammar and literature because he is an English teacher. However, I would not expect it from my co-worker herself because she is an outstanding chemical engineer.  

This is defined as unconscious bias or stereotyping, as a result of our subconscious brain’s categorization strategy. The outfit I have at the coffee shop impacts your response to my action, because it puts me into a different category in your mind depending on my outfit. My co-worker’s and her spouse’s backgrounds make me put them into different categories, which might mislead me sometimes.

Just like we categorize things, it is very natural that we categorize people.  

The key question here for me is; how do we truly treat people as individuals so that they feel unique, just like as they would want, while we know that our brains categorize people

We can overcome unconscious bias 

Leonard Mlodinow, in his enlightening book “Subliminal”, suggests that “if we are aware of our bias and motivated to overcome it, we can.” That doesn’t mean that we need to fight our brain’s categorization strategy. We just need to employ our conscious mind more when we are working or dealing with individuals. 

Our unconscious bias might tell us scientists are bunch of technical nerds who cannot understand abstract concepts that marketers are talking about or it might say that marketers are some daydreamers who need to be grounded by scientists to the real world all the time. I am an engineer and I love thinking in abstract terms and I worked with quite a lot of marketers who thought primarily in factual and concrete terms. 

Spending some effort to learn more about individuals will help overcome unconscious bias. Gathering more information and qualities about them will make it easier for us to treat them as individuals rather than a member of the category we put them in our minds. 

The moral of the story here is to recognize the fact that our brains do categorize, and it is essential; but also, to recognize that every individual wants to feel unique. When we appreciate these two and keep reminding them to ourselves, we are one step closer to figuring out our own way to overcome unconscious bias and treat people more like individuals. 

What was the most interesting part of this article for you? Share your thoughts below!

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The Problem Is Not Actually the Problem: Here’s Why

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With my understanding of the Three Principles, which is deepening month-by-month, I’m becoming more curious about whether the ‘problem’ that we think we have, is really a problem. Not for one second am I dismissing a persons’ experience; I’m human after all and I encounter challenges and what I think are ‘problems’ just like the next person. (more…)

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5 Things You Can Do to Fend off Boredom and Stay Focused

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Curiosity is human nature and it’s only natural that humans will lose interest in a topic after a while. This has been a topic that has been extensively explored among children, teenagers and adults by a psychologist with similar results being reported from each of the categories. Human’s minds are therefore prone to boredom, making it important for each professional to spend some time to understand the factors that drive boredom and strategies the individuals needs to use to overcome boredom and focus on their profession and development. (more…)

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