The Psychology of High Achievers

Studies in educational psychology reveal why some are able to achieve more than others.

We all want to succeed in life. But wanting and achieving are two very different things, and some people never manage to bridge the gap. The good news is, our ability or inability to achieve isn’t set in stone. We can learn how to achieve more.

Mental health practitioners and educational psychology professionals have spent years studying the psychology of high achievers. What they’ve learned is that almost all high achievers share certain traits and outlooks, whether their achievement is in school, business, the arts, or any other endeavor.

High achievers tend to:

Focus on Achieving Rather Than on Avoiding Failure

Psychologists have found that high achievers primarily concern themselves with reaching their goals, while lower achievers primarily worry about avoiding failure. It’s not that high achievers are okay with failing, it’s that they understand the importance of pushing themselves beyond their comfort zone, which allows them to continually improve and, ultimately, succeed at a high level. Those who are mostly worried about failing tend to stick to their comfort zones, which inhibits their ability to improve and leaves them with average or below-average results.

See Success as Their Responsibility

Sometimes, bad luck or bad circumstances keep us from reaching our goals. High achievers face these kinds of setbacks just as often as anyone else, but they don’t get discouraged by what they can’t control or use misfortune as an excuse to stop striving. Instead, they push on through hard times, believing that success is a matter of work and will, not a matter of luck and circumstance.

Develop Grit

Recent studies by psychologist Angela Lee Duckworth demonstrated that grit is just as predictive of success as is talent. What is grit? In Duckworth’s words, “Grit is the disposition to pursue very long-term goals with passion and perseverance, sustained over time.” As such, developing grit means developing the day-to-day self-control necessary to stay on task and the mental stamina necessary to endure the long process of improving your abilities. If you have grit, you have the willpower it takes to achieve.

Enjoy Achievement

High achievers take great pleasure in reaching their goals. They like to be one of the best at what they do and this helps them stay motivated through the hard work and disappointments that come with improving skills. While enjoying achievement may be partly due to basic personality, it’s also a matter of perspective. If you train yourself to focus on the pleasure you’ll feel when you finally succeed—rather than focusing on the unenjoyable aspects of hard work—you can help give yourself the drive you need to keep moving toward your goals.

Value Practice and Learning

No one can achieve much without taking the time to absorb knowledge and practice skills. High achievers understand this and don’t allow themselves to feel like they ‘know it all’ or can’t improve.

High achievers understand that practice makes progress, and learning makes permanent. Continual learning contributes to higher levels of resilience and self-efficacy.

Author Dan Pink, in his book, ‘Drive,’ explains that the secret to high performance and achievement is ‘autonomy, mastery, and purpose.’ The keyword here is Mastery; it requires the desire to get better and better at something that matters.

This article is adapted from GoalsOnTrack Blog. It is written by Walden University.

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