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Thinking like a winner – or a Jack Russell Terrier: The personality traits needed to achieve success

Posted by Deb Muoio

Jan 14, 2014 11:31:00 AM


Small dogs don’t act like small dogs. They don’t even realize they’re small - and if anything, what they lack in size they make up for in attitude. “It’s not the size of the dog in the fight,” counseled Mark Twain, “it’s the size of the fight in the dog.”

So what pushes the unlikely underdog to oust a championship team? How do people manage to achieve seemingly insurmountable goals in spite of their naysayers? In essence, what is the personality make-up of a winner? Is it just stubbornness?

Research we conducted using the Goal-Setting Skills Assessment (GSSA) revealed that people who consider themselves a success were more likely to have a strong sense of self-efficacy and an internal locus of control (i.e. they believe that their success is due to their own efforts, rather than external, uncontrollable forces, such as luck or being at the right place at the right time). In fact, when comparing high goal-achievers to low goal-achievers, here’s what we discovered:

  • 67% of high goal-achievers (vs. 56% of low goal-achievers) refuse to let obstacles stop them – they anticipate and plan for how to overcome them.
  • 78% of high goal-achievers (vs. 64% of low goal-achievers) will push themselves to keep trying when having difficulty reaching a goal.
  • 78% of high goal-achievers (vs. 62% of low goal-achievers) will, after deciding on a goal, immediately take the first step toward achieving it. They are proactive in their pursuits.
  • 80% of high goal-achievers (vs. 58% of low goal-achievers) will ambitiously set the bar high.

Age differences reveal that people below the age of 18 seemed to be more proactive when striving to achieve an objective, using techniques such as regularly evaluating the progress of their goal, motivating themselves, and breaking large goals into smaller, achievable steps. Young goal-setters were also more likely to reward themselves after reaching a goal.

It isn’t that those who succeed at achieving their goals are more skilled or have better privileges and opportunities. The difference is, those who want to accomplish something will “think” success – they believe in themselves, they refuse to let anything hold them back, and they make concrete plans to get where they want to be. They aren’t afraid to take destiny by the hand and say, “This is what I want. Now what can I do to make this happen?” On the other hand, those who doubt themselves will protect their ego by putting the bar too low or not setting clear goals at all. They visualize problems, rather than success, and this frame of mind affects their thinking patterns, their emotions, and their behavior. It’s hard to succeed when you expect failure.”

Here are some goal-setting tips:

  1. Set S-M-A-R-T goals. Let’s use weight loss as an example:
    1. Make it Specific: Rather than simply stating “I want to lose weight”, have a number in mind, like “lose 40 lbs”.
    2. Make it Measurable:Being able to track your progress at set intervals (every month, for example) is important - you’ll see and appreciate the efforts of your labors. A monthly weight loss check can be number of inches lost, or amount of steps you can now climb.
    3. Make it Attainable: This is the key to success. Goals that are too easy won’t motivate you; goals that are too hard will discourage you and are more likely to be left unfinished. Set a goal that is high, but reasonable. So in terms of a weight loss goal, don’t aim for the “30 lbs in 30 days” gig.
    4. Make it Relevant:Why are you setting this particular goal? Why do you want to achieve it? You’ll be much more motivated to achieve a goal that means something to you. For example: “I want to lose weight so that I feel better about myself…so that I can keep up with my children/grandchildren…so that I can run in a charity marathon…etc.
    5. Make it Time-bound: Set a flexible, realistic deadline. This will keep your eyes on the prize. Setting a goal to be achieved at some vague time in the future is not going to stick. That being said, be willing to tweak your deadline if unexpected situations arise (for e.g. you’re on track with your weight loss goal, but injure yourself and need to take a break.). A realistic weight loss deadline could be 40 lbs in 6 to 8 months.

  2. Break down your goals into smaller steps and create milestones for yourself.If losing 40 lbs seems too overwhelming for example, break it down into smaller weight loss goals, like 5 lbs a month. Smaller goals will keep you motivated and make that one large goal seem more and more attainable.

  3. Celebrate achievement of milestones. Give yourself small rewards for reaching a small goal, and plan for a major reward after achieving your main goal. For example, for every 5 lbs you lose, treat yourself to a night of watching your favorite shows (rewards don’t have to be expensive). After reaching your goal weight, splurge on an outfit. Just make sure your rewards are not counterproductive, like treating yourself to a chocolate sundae after putting all that effort into losing weight.

  4. Enlist the help of others to keep you on track. Find someone who has either achieved the goal you’re striving for, or someone who will simply be there to offer their emotional support. Having someone rooting for you can provide an amazing boost of motivation. For our weight loss example, this could mean finding a buddy to work out with, or joining an online weight loss forum. You can share milestones, weight loss tips, and motivate each other.

If you’re interested in using GSSA (Goal-Setting Skills Assessment) or other tests for HR purposes, request a free trial for ARCH Profile here.


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Topics: Leadership Development, Goal Achievement, Personal Development, Employee Development

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