There is no lack of advice out there on how to achieve success, whether it be getting the job you want, or getting ahead in your career. But, unfortunately, much of the most common advice is useless at best. It really does nothing to help you achieve your goals, according to research psychologist Heidi Grant Halvorson

One piece of well-worn advice is to write down your goals. Writing your goals will help you to achieve them, so the thinking goes. Unfortunately, it just isn’t true, Halvorson says. There is really no evidence to back up the claim that writing down your goals is the road to success. There is evidence to suggest, however, that being specific about what you want to accomplish can help you to achieve.

Another common piece of motivational wisdom you hear is just “try to do your best.” Unfortunately, this piece of advice really isn’t much help either, Halvorson says. In fact, it actually takes the pressure off, allowing you to do whatever you want.

What works a lot better than telling yourself just to do your best is making specific and difficult goals. Research has shown goals that detail exactly what you want to achieve and also force you to push yourself to achieve them are much more effective. Goals that are harder to accomplish force you to ramp up your effort and commitment to the goal, and persevere.

Another big motivation technique is telling a person visualize success. But this too is not helpful at all. Yes, it emphasizes positive thinking, and that is good. But it also leaves out a few steps – the hard work and effort that is involved in achieving success. You go from start to finish without anything in between. You can believe you will succeed, but also realize that you are going to have to make that success come about through hard work, planning, and persistence. You can believe you will succeed but also realize you are going to have to face obstacles and work out how to handle them.Again, relying on visualization alone can actually work against you if it leads you to take a more passive approach, believing that if you do enough imagining, that will be enough to see you through.

Don’t visualize success, Halvorson says, visualize the steps it will take to achieve success – in this case, getting the job.

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