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8 Things High-Achieving People Do Differently: A Psychotherapist Explains

Elizabeth Lombardo, Ph.D., PT
January 26, 2017
Elizabeth Lombardo, Ph.D., PT
By Elizabeth Lombardo, Ph.D., PT
Elizabeth Lombardo, Ph.D. is a licensed practicing psychologist with a master's in physical therapy from Duke University and a Ph.D. in psychology from Drexel University. She’s appeared on Dr. Oz, The TODAY Show, Steve Harvey, CNN, Fox Business News and many more, where she shares her mission to free people from the stress of perfectionism and unlock their own, personal happiness code.
Photo by Stocksy / mbg creative
January 26, 2017

Manifest the year of your dreams by going inward. Renew You 2017 is a month of mindfulness during which we’ll share content that guides you to create a deeply rooted intention for the new year. We’ll help you navigate inevitable obstacles with the latest science on habits, motivation, ritual, and more and equip you with tried-and-true techniques to outsmart even the toughest inner critic.

Anyone else a little sick of hearing about New Year's resolutions? It's OK to admit it. Here's the thing: Regardless of whether you have a resolution, starting a new habit is tough, and falling into old habits is all too easy. If we rely on willpower alone, chances are we'll fail. People who are high achievers know this: In my experience, they tend to take more risks, create more often (get rejected more often, too), and know how to recalibrate when things are imbalanced. The more often we perform our new habits, even in spite of failure, the more likely they are to become second nature. So I culled the latest and greatest in motivation research to help you do just that. Here's everything you need to know to outsmart your brain, get over that plateau, and stay motivated like the high achiever you want to be—whether you're working on your resolution or you've set new goals.

1. Optimize your stress.

I call this the Goldilocks phenomenon—scientists call it the Yerkes-Dodson Law. The basic premise is too little stress will make it unlikely that you will take steps to make a change because there is not enough reason to do so. Too much stress, however, can cause avoidance and practical paralysis. The best way to do this is to focus on why you want to make a change.

2. If you feel too stressed: Keep your goals to yourself.

Research shows that not sharing your intentions with the world may actually help you stay motivated. Why? The pressure of success when others are aware of your intentions can result in avoidance of doing the task.

3. If you're feeling a lack of pressure: Get an accountability partner.

Another study found that sharing updates on your progress with a friend can double your likelihood of sticking with a goal. While this may seem like a contradiction from above, it may be that having a close friend who you think has your back can help motivate you, as opposed to being fearful of how others will react if you fail.

4. Drop perfectionism and acknowledge the "gray area."

"I had one cookie and messed up my diet; might as well eat the rest of the plate" is a common reaction for many. This perfectionistic, all-or-nothing mentality, however, can prevent you from staying with your new habit. If you revert to old ways, use it as a learning experience. And celebrate every "win" or step in the right direction.

5. If you don't feel like you're "good enough," focus on abundance.

Research demonstrates that the belief that you have a limitless amount of willpower can help keep you motivated. So remind yourself that willpower is not limited—you can do this!

6. Procrastinating, big time? Make your chores fun.

Whether your goal is to stay organized or stick to an exercise program, take steps to make the experience fun. If you are competitive, find someone else who is focused on the same goal and have a fun contest. If you are exercising, look for ways to move your body that are enjoyable for you (dancing, playing a sport, trying a new class).

7. Can't get that thing done? Use the Pomodoro technique.

Set a timer for 25 minutes and focus on doing one task. Then take a five-minute break. This can help ward off procrastination fueled by "I don't want to do X" or "I don't have time to complete Y, so why start now?"

8. Use the principle of loss aversion.

It is human nature to not want to lose—so use this to your advantage. One study found that having to pay back money received when not sticking with a goal is more motivating that getting money for actually doing it. How can you apply this? Agree that you will donate money to a cause you do NOT like if you don't stay on track.

Elizabeth Lombardo, Ph.D., PT author page.
Elizabeth Lombardo, Ph.D., PT

Elizabeth Lombardo, PhD is a licensed practicing psychologist with a master's in physical therapy from Duke University and a Ph.D. in psychology from Drexel University. Based in the Greater Chicago Area, she combines research findings, real life stories and humor to provide actionable tips you can benefit from immediately.

Considered Shaquille O’Neal’s “Head coach for Happiness,” Lombardo is on a mission to free people from the stress of perfectionism caused by their own inner critic. Her ability to help men and women unlock their own, unique personal happiness code has made her America’s most interviewed celebrity psychologist, with hundreds of radio and TV appearances on shows like Dr. Oz, The TODAY Show, Steve Harvey, CNN, Fox Business News and many more. She has been quoted in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Women’s Health and more.