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Get It Done: Surprising Lessons from the Science of Motivation

Ayelet Fishbach

Personal Thoughts

Summary Notes

  • So how do you motivate yourself? The short answer is by changing your circumstances.
  • You modify your own behavior by modifying the situation in which it occurs.
  • First, you need to choose a goal. Whether you set your mind to finding romance or doing a handstand, and whether you’re an expert or a novice, you start by marking a destination. Second, you need to sustain your motivation as you move from here to there.
  • Mount Everest has taught us: we need to choose our goals wisely. Certain goals put our lives at risk. These goals are set without regard to our circumstances and abilities. They pull us in the wrong direction. Rather than advancing our emotional and physical well-being, such goals blind us to dangers in their path.
  • Each year, I ask teams of business students to imagine that they’re passengers on a floatplane that has just crashed. Each team must decide which items to salvage from the plane to ensure that they’ll survive in the wild. There are two approaches my students could take: they could either choose items, like matches and an ax, that will allow them to set up camp and wait until help arrives; or they could choose items, like a compass and a navigation book, that would allow them to leave and search for help. Too often, teams jump into the task of sorting and selecting items without first deciding on their objective: take off or stay put.
  • Powerful goals feel worth the price tag—they pull you toward your greatest wish. And in order to pull you, a goal has to feel more like an aspiration and less like a chore.
  • A powerful goal defines a desirable state, not the means to get there.
  • When you’re setting goals, remember this lesson and choose to define the goal in terms of benefits rather than costs. It’s better to set your goal as “finding a job” rather than “applying for a job,” or as “owning a house” instead of “saving for a down payment.” Finding a job and owning a house are desirable outcomes. Filling out applications and saving for a down payment are the costly means needed to achieve these outcomes. Achieving a goal is exciting; completing the means is a chore.
  • More abstract goals capture the purpose behind an action, describing what you’re trying to achieve rather than the actions you’ll take to achieve it. And while an abstract goal identifies the purpose of a goal, a concrete goal only identifies the path to get there; it’s a means. Cultivating an abstract mind-set while pursuing a goal can make any goal seem less like a chore.
  • When there’s no clear path to get from point A to point B, people revert to fantasizing about their goals instead of taking action toward achieving them.
  • Optimally abstract goals describe a purpose without losing sight of the actions you need to take to reach them (“improve my mental health” is better than “be happy”). You should immediately know what to do next (start therapy, for example). They allow you to contrast your current state with where you want to be so that you can connect the dots from here to there by making an action plan.
  • Avoidance goals are particularly powerful in the context of preventing harm and escaping danger.
  • ...defining our goals as approaching a state of success and good health is more motivating than avoiding failure and sickness. You should therefore always consider setting goals in terms of approach (“do it”) rather than avoidance (“don’t do it”) and adjust from there.
  • Motivation science tells us that a good target is challenging, measurable, actionable, and self-set.
  • The second ingredient in effective target setting is making sure your target is easy to measure. If a target is vague and missing a clear number, it becomes hard to measure and therefore less motivating.

Get It Done: Surprising Lessons from the Science of Motivation

Ayelet Fishbach
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