Which factors are crucial for reaching our goals?
I think the most crucial factor is motivation. As they say in English, if there’s a will there’s a way. Hundreds of books and enormous amounts of scientific papers have been written about motivation. Recently many researchers have started to look for new answers by analyzing computer games. It is amazing how much motivation people can have when they play a computer game. Personally, I rely on a simple model of motivation. I like to think that motivation is dependent on how you answer the following questions:
1) Do you feel that the goal is yours, or is it just something someone else wants you to do?
2) Do you see that the goal has meaningful benefits for you, and for other people too?
3) Do you believe that it’s possible for you to succeed in achieving the goal?
4) Do you experience successes as you take steps to achieve your goal?
5) Do you have supporters, who help and encourage you, and with whom you can share your successes?
These five questions can help you to see what you need to do to improve motivation when it is weak or non-existent.
Are there specific character traits one needs in order to achieve said aims?
You can think of such qualities as determination, stubbornness, or goal-directedness (beloved child has many names) as a character traits (which is certainly true too), but I think it is more useful to think of determination not so much as a character trait but as something that appears in all of us when the conditions are right. We are all very determined to do whatever when there is a will. Think about kids playing computer games, women and men trying to hit on a member of the opposite sex they are attracted to, about athletes training for the Olympics… Yes, definitely there is a character traits that makes us go an extra mile to get there but fortunately we all have that trait, even if it appears to be dormant at times.
In your experience, which factors or circumstances keep people mostly from reaching their goals?
There are the factors that can be concluded from the five questions I presented above. In other words, your motivation tends to be low if 1) you don’t feel that the goal is yours, 2) if you don’t see that there are any meaningful benefits in achieving it, 3) if you don’t have confidence that you will be able to make it, 4) if you don’t have success experiences and 5) if you don’t have anyone to support you and to share your joy of success. However, you might want to add one more factor to this obvious list: if you are don’t know how to deal with setbacks. Whatever we want to learn or to achieve, we are likely to experience some setbacks as well as some successes. In order to continue to work for our goal we need strategies to deal with setbacks. That’s why it is good to ask yourself, ‘What kind of setbacks to I foresee that you may have along the way?’ and ‘Suppose that happens, how will I deal with such setbacks in a positive way’. Aim high and be prepared deal with the some stumbling along the way.
Is it possible to train stamina and if yes: how so?
What is called stamina can also be called optimism or confidence. English speaking people say “success breeds success”. That can mean many things, but one thing that it means is, that the more you have success experiences, the more you believe that you can have more of them. With children this is obvious. You don’t want to give them too difficult task to begin with. You want them to succeed and you want to make them experience success: “Yee! You did it. Wonderful. You did a good job! I am proud of you.” You want to see that smile on their face before you give them the next task, which of course is more difficult than the previous one. I think the same simple psychology applies to adults as well. Don’t set your goal too high, and also not too low. Make sure you will succeed and experience feelings of success before you raise the stakes and lift the goal to a higher level.
Are there systematic methods to support our strategies?
There are many systematic methods to build motivation. In fact the very coaching business is based on the idea of helping people increase their motivation. There are specific methods that you can study and learn to use and “new” methods appear on the market every year. In reality, not much is new in this field. The ideas stay the same but the names we use to describe our work change. My own favourite method is solution-focused psychology, which is a kind of motivational tool. The reason why I like it more than other methods is because in sf you take advantage of imagination. You imagine the future, you imagine the benefits, you imagine your next step, you use your imagination to find creative ways of utilizing your own resources and the resources that are available in the social network… you systematically use imagination to build motivation, hope and feelings of competence. That’s why I like sf. It takes advantage of the most effective change agent in our brain: imagination.
What is your own advice especially for graduates/ young professionals, who, from a professional point of view, typically aim very high?
The same as for everyone else. Set small goals, find an enjoyable way to work (for example study with friends rather than alone) , allow people to help and support you, celebrate small successes with your friends, etc. If you are interested in solution-focused motivational methods, you can familiarize yourself with Kids’ Skills It is a motivational method for children but all the fifteen steps of the approach work just fine with adults too.
Recently a 21-year old intern died apparently in London due to overstressing: At which point does one need to decide against pursuing a goal? How can one find the confidence for a necessary re-orientation?
This is an important question. My personal view on this is that it’s not our goal that is the problem, but the way we are trying to achieve the goal. I think that achieving goals should be fun. We should organize our life in such a way that we enjoy reaching our goals. You want to learn to play the piano, or you want to find a husband, or you want to lose weight… whatever it is, you can do it in an enjoyable and healthy way. They used to say: “no pain no gain”. I’d like to say the opposite: The more you enjoy what you do, the less you will have pain, and the more you will gain!