What is the single most important factor in reaching your goals?
Updated: Mar 31, 2020
Scientific research into the study of those who reach their goals verses those who do not has revealed the single most important factor. The good news is, this element, which defines how likely we are to find success in our lives, to reach our goals, both big and small, is something each of us has complete control over.
The problem though, is that the answer to this question is one we've all heard so many times, it may feel like a platitude, or a remark used so often it's thought as no longer interesting or thoughtful.
But in this instance, we couldn't be further from the truth.
And there's research to back it.
When psychologist C.R Snyder from the University of Kansas compared academic achievements of freshman students during their first year of college, he discovered that "hope" acted as the best predictor of their scholastic success, over and above SAT scores, used to grade and bring students into college or university.
Students of similar emotional and intellectual levels were asked to rate their levels of hope as either high, medium, or low in terms of their belief of making the grade for a specific course they took.
Time and again, the students with the highest levels of hope achieved their expected results over the long term, regardless of minor setbacks during their journey.
As Snyder explained:
"Students with high hope set themselves higher goals and knew how to work hard to attain them. When you compare students of equivalent intellectual aptitude on their academic achievements, what sets them apart is hope."
Snyder goes on to highlight that students with the highest levels of hope were most likely to find and make use of a wider range of options and approaches in reaching their academic goals, regardless of if they failed to hit the ground running early into their college life, i.e. with some getting bad grades early into their college or university semester.
In the book Emotional Intelligence, Daniel Goldman highlights that this hope, also seen as optimism, really was the greatest motivator and predicator in reaching one's goals, with other factors being equal.
In another experiment showing the power of optimism or self-belief, Martin Seligman, a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania tested Matt Biondi, a gold medal swimmer for the US Olympic Team of 1988.
Prior to the 1988 Olympics, Seligman tested how Biondi, a strong gold medal hopeful, would respond to a bad swim result. Biondi was asked to complete a timed swim where he and those watching expected him to do well. When Biondi exited the water he was told his time, which, disappointingly, was lower than everyone expected.
Biondi was asked to rest and try his swim again.
On his second swim attempt Biondi went on to beat his original time.
The catch - Biondi's original time was ALREADY an excellent one. The experimenters lied to Biondi to see how he'd respond to the perceived failure - to test his resolve. Biondi's response was to provide an even stronger performance, and better time than his first swim.
In the 1988 Olympics that followed shortly after, Biondi was expected to win seven gold medals but failed to make gold in his first two events. Reporters speculated that everyone had over estimated his abilities.
Biondi's response was to go on and win gold in his next five events.
Seligman explained that optimists saw failure as an opportunity to learn and change their approach.
That the failure of the experience improved those with high levels of hope by showing the optimists what they needed to do to improve. It then just came down to putting in the time and effort to make it happen.
To reach one's goals, it really just was as simple as that - if the right attitude could be applied, no matter what the result.
Seligman stated that the opposite was true for those who failed to meet their goals.
Pessimists saw failure as proof that some characteristic within them had let them down, and could not easily be repaired. That the failure was part of them, and not part of an experience that could be improved on.
In other words, the failure of pessimists was not to take power, strength and learnings from the disappointing result.
The pessimists displayed what can be seen as a victim mentality towards life and failures that will happen for all of us.
This profound idea impacts many today but the choice is still ours to make, no matter what our position in life.
In other words, there is an inspired lesson in this all...
Through these stories we see that the power of hope is real, is meaningful, and does dictate our long term success in life.
We can all expect failures in our journey, but the narrative we tell ourselves will determine our final outcome.
Some battles will be lost, but in the end, through hope, through optimism and self-belief, and through the hard work required to push on, to keep going, anything truly is possible.
And that is something we can all find inspiration in.
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