Simple Tips for a Happy and Successful Life
Everyday strategies to help you meet your goals for your career, family, health—you name it.
Levi BrownSome strategies for success have been the same since Helen of Troy rose from mere pretty face to The Face That Launched a Thousand Ships: Never give up, have oodles of confidence, appear in a reality show (oh, wait, wrong century). But in these fast-paced, high-tech, self-promotional times, there are whole new tactics for acing life.
"Women these days often juggle a lot of success goals, but research is showing that we can achieve the ones most important to us by making key changes in the way we think and act," says Carol Dweck, PhD, a professor of psychology at Stanford University and author of Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.
We spoke with top experts and pros who help people thrive in a variety of fields to gather the most simple yet effective ways to get exactly what you want.
Think big and small
Success is almost always the culmination of a series of mini successes—something that's easy to forget when you read about over-overachievers (we're talking about you, Marissa Mayer). "At work, women often measure themselves by the endpoint, rather than progress made," Dweck notes. Yet advancing yourself, whether in your career or level of fitness, is all about nailing small goals. A comprehensive California State University review of research on dietary and physical activity goals found that people were more likely to achieve specific ones—such as "walk one mile at lunch three times this week"—than grand, vague kinds like "exercise more often."
What you can do: "Create a spreadsheet of goals, note the tactics and resources that will help, and schedule check-ins with yourself," says New York City career coach Roy Cohen, who's worked with thousands of Fortune 500 execs. By all means, share your aspirations and your progress; one study found that people who did weekly email updates with friends were 33 percent more likely to score success than those who just created goals.
Put in the time
Seemingly perfect Gwyneth Paltrow reportedly had one thing to say to haters: "Everything in my life that's good is because I worked my ass off to get it and to maintain it." She's right, of course; connections and luck only get you so far. Hard work's a longtime tenet of success, though our culture doesn't always prove it. "We see the Snooki types achieve fame and fortune for doing what seems to be nothing and think, 'Why isn't someone rewarding me?'" says Scott Love, a legal search consultant who trains recruiters worldwide. While celebrities' day jobs may seem nothing like ours (nothing!), there's almost always work involved in mega-success, he continues: "Spending real time and effort makes the difference between wishing you had something and actually getting it."
What you can do: In the best seller Outliers: The Story of Success, Malcolm Gladwell talks about the "10,000-hour rule"—the amount of practice required to ace a skill. But work won't feel like a four-letter word if you're passionate about what you're doing. As for the inevitable tasks you dread, they'll be more palatable if you focus on what you'll get out of them, notes Elizabeth Lombardo, PhD, author of Your Ultimate Prescription for Happiness: "Instead of thinking, 'I have to do this because my boss told me to!' think 'If I do it, I'll look even better to my boss.'"
Next Page: Build up grit [ pagebreak ]
Build up grit
J.K. Rowling's got legendary amounts of it; she wrote her first Harry Potter manuscript while on welfare and sent it to some 12 publishers before finding a taker. "Grit can be as essential to success as talent or intelligence," says Angela Duckworth, PhD, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania who's researched the trait. You don't have to be born with it, adds sports psychologist JoAnn Dahlkoetter, PhD, who's worked with athletes at the last five Olympics: "Anyone can have incredible determination—and achieve great things—if they set their mind to it."
What you can do: Motivational psychologists often recommend daily visualization. The more detailed you can be (you're wearing a blue shirt as you fly past the finish line, friends are cheering), the more motivating it is. DIY pep talks also help. "Elite athletes push past pain and fatigue with power words," says Dahlkoetter, author of Your Performing Edge. "One athlete came up with 'Keep going, energy flowing.' Saying it engages other senses, which makes it more potent."
Make failure work for you
Successful types view setbacks as learning opportunities—not irreversible disasters. "Think of a scientist who puts two chemicals together and doesn't get the desired outcome," Lombardo says. "Does he beat himself up? Nope. He thinks, what do I need to add or do differently next time?" In fact, research published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology shows that people with a history of some setbacks are likely to have more satisfying lives.
What you can do: Take time to dissect failures. "If you're trying to lose 10 pounds and you eat a fattening dinner out, really think about what happened—say, you were tired—and use that data to score success next time," Lombardo says. Then move on. Take a tip from baseball coaches, who tout a "closer's mentality": Forget yesterday's performance and focus on the now.
Keep emotions in check
President Obama and the head of your school board have one thing in common: They think twice before they speak. "Managing your emotions so they work for you, not against you, is a common behavior of people with successful careers and relationships," says David R. Caruso, PhD, one of the leading experts on emotional intelligence. Social media and email can instantly erase trust and respect, he cautions: "How many people hastily write an email in anger, only to regret it later?"
What you can do: "If you're upset, pause and ask yourself why," Caruso says. "See if you're overreacting or [if you] misperceived something, or if some other issue is adding to your anger." You'll have a more measured response—a winning tactic in life.
People are getting ruder, say 76% of Americans in a Rasmussen Reports poll—one reason someone with finesse stands out, experts agree. And it can pay off: A University of California at Berkeley study found that "feminine charm" (being warm, friendly, and even a little flirty) produces good results for women in salary negotiations and more.
What you can do: Researchers have pinpointed specific behaviors of world-class charmers: They smile and are animated when they talk, they make eye contact, they use people's names, and they listen. Go to it, you charmer, you!