How to achieve your goals: Achieve your goals by focusing on the positive, while overcoming the negative. Our world is made up of opposites. There’s an inside and an outside, left and right, male and female, good and bad, positive and negative, strengths and weaknesses, and so on. Much of the talk these days around goal setting focuses on positives or strengths. Which is probably a good thing, given our historical love of fixing our weaknesses. We needed to restore that balance between positive and negative, as the latter seemed to be ganging up on us.

But is all this optimism and positive thinking really working? Has the pendulum swung too far to the positive side, to the extent that we are blind to our weaknesses or problems?

While most psychologists agree that focusing on the positive is a good thing, they also warn us not to get too optimistic in our goal setting…and they have a number of pretty good reasons for thinking this way.

Easy goals don’t count

While it may be tempting to go after the easiest goals first, experience has shown us that achieving easy goals does not establish the momentum we need to keep going. Easy goals simply do not inspire us to achieve more.

Ignoring weaknesses can be dangerous

While we should focus on building on our strengths, if a weakness has the potential to stop us from achieving a worthwhile goal, then you must attend to it.

Your beliefs can undermine goal attainment

Researchers now know that our self-efficacy beliefs play a powerful role in goal attainment. If our belief in our capacity to perform a task or achieve a goal is low, then failure can erode that belief even more. We can fall into a downward spiral. The key is to set goals that are a bit of a stretch, but we believe we can achieve them.

Use Mental Contrasting to achieve breakthroughs

Psychologist Gabrielle Oettingen advises us to engage in what she calls mental contrasting. For each goal you set, ask “what will achieving that goal do for me?” The answer should spell out the benefits of achieving that goal. Then, for each benefit you list, think about the obstacles you are likely to encounter. Keep doing this until you have listed all the benefits and obstacles (keep in mind that your belief for achieving that goal should be strong.) This creates what Peter Senge called “creative tension”, i.e. the tension created by contrasting the benefits with the obstacles. Tension always demands resolution, and it’s that demand that provides the energy to pursue our goals. To relieve the tension, we can either give up on our goals or overcome the obstacles.

If you are still trying to figure out how to achieve your goals, don’t worry, as goal achievement should engage us in a struggle, one that we firmly believe with hard work we can overcome. If you truly want to achieve your goals, then don’t take the easy way out.