How do high achievers really think

Beliefs that lead to success
Published on October 19, 2011 by Carl Beuke, Ph.D. in You're Hired

Positive affirmations are a staple of the self-help industry , but there is a problem with standing in front of the mirror every morning and saying something like "I prosper wherever I turn and I know that I deserve prosperity of all kinds", "I am my own unique self — special, creative and wonderful" or "I will be king of the world in just five days, I just know it". It makes you feel kinda silly (and sometimes worse ).

What does research show about how high achievers really think? High achievers are often marked, unsurprisingly, by a strong motive to achieve. Less accomplished individuals are often more motivated to avoid failure.

Achievement motivated individuals have a strong desire to accomplish something important, and gain gratification from success in demanding tasks. Consequently they are willing to expend intense effort over long timespans in the pursuit of their goals .

Failure avoiding individuals are more focused on protecting themselves from the embarrassment and sense of incompetence that can accompany failing at a valued task. Consequently they are less likely to attempt achievement-oriented tasks, and may give up quickly if success is not readily forthcoming. Where total avoidance of tasks is not possible, failure avoiding individuals may procrastinate, give less than their best effort, or engage in other 'self handicapping' behaviour that provides a face-saving excuse in the event of failure (eg drinking heavily the night before the morning of an important exam).

Of course, achievement motivation versus failure avoidance motivation exist on a continuum, with most of us falling somewhere in the middle. In the research literature, this continuum is described as Relative Motive Strength.

An individual's relative motive strength does not exist in a vacuum, but is associated with an elaborate matrix of beliefs that justify the commitment of intense effort toward goal achievement, or the relative lack thereof. The core beliefs that differentiate achievement motivated individuals are:

1. Success is your personal responsibility

Achievement motivated individuals tend to believe that initiative, effort, and persistence are key determinants of success at demanding tasks. Failure avoiding individuals are more likely to view success as dependent on available resources and situational constraints (eg the task is too hard, or the marker was biased ).

2. Demanding tasks are opportunities

Achievement motivated individuals tend to see demanding tasks where success is uncertain as 'challenges' or 'opportunities'. Failure avoiding individuals are more likely to see them as 'threats' that may lead to the embarrassment of failure. An achievement motivated individual might tell a failure avoiding individual, "Anything worthwhile is difficult, so stop acting so surprised".

3. Achievement striving is enjoyable

Achievement motivated individuals associate effort on demanding tasks with 'dedication', 'concentration', 'commitment' and 'involvement'. Failure avoiding individuals categorise such effort as 'overloading' or 'stressful'. They see perseverance in the face of setbacks and obstacles as slightly compulsive.

4. Achievement striving is valuable

Achievement motivated individuals value hard work in and of itself. Failure avoiding individuals may mock achievement striving as 'uncool' (eg the attitude that the L on learner plates stands for Loser).