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This content is taken from the University of Michigan's online course, The Science of Success: What Researchers Know that You Should Know. Join the course to learn more.

Skip to 0 minutes and 9 seconds Hi there, congratulations are in order, because you now know more about what predicts success in life than most people know. For example, you know that your IQ is not enough to guarantee your success. And overrelying on your IQ scores and school grades at the expense of developing other skills is likely to hold you back from achieving your goals. You now know that it’s a big mistake to assume that someone’s talents are innate or that his or her success came easily. Because you know that it takes years of mindful, deliberate practice for someone to develop an expertise that may look like natural ability.

Skip to 0 minutes and 50 seconds You now know that having a growth mindset and believing in the power of not yet are critical for achieving the kind of success that you desire in life. And you now know about the importance of having an expertise that matters to you and others. As well as the importance of conscientiousness, grit,and building your relationships and social capital. In this session, you’ll l have the opportunity to turn what you now know about achieving success into an action plan that, if you implement it, will bring you significantly closer to achieving your goals. In this session, I’m going to give you a format for creating a six step action plan.

Skip to 1 minute and 33 seconds These six steps are the same as those listed in the final assignment for this Coursera course. And you can find a template for writing your action plan online, in the Coursera assignment section for this session. Before I get into the details of creating your action plan, let me give you a high-level overview of the six steps you’ll be taking to create your action plan. Your action plan will be most effective if you engage your heart, your head, and your hands.

Skip to 2 minutes and 3 seconds Steps one and two will be the heard of your action plan. Because in these steps, you will identify the parts of your life that matter most to you in your heart of hearts. As well as the specific goals you want to achieve in each of these life areas. Step three will be the head of your action plan. Because in this step, you will think carefully and select the one goal you will work on immediately to make progress toward the kind of success that you desire in life. Steps four and five will be the hands part of your action plan.

Skip to 2 minutes and 37 seconds Because in these steps, you will identify the specific actions you will take in the one area that you want to work on immediately. You’ll also consider what you’ll need to stop doing, so that you’ll have time to focus on what really matters to you.

Skip to 2 minutes and 55 seconds In step six, the final step of your action plan, you will have a chance to reflect on the most important things you learned from taking this course and creating your action plan. Now let’s get started with the heart of your action plan. In this first step, you’ll look deep into your heart to consider your values. What’s most meaningful to you? How you want to contribute to others, and how you want to spend the limited days you have here on Earth. For Step 1, you will right down at least three parts of your life that are most important to you.

Skip to 3 minutes and 34 seconds You can see on this slide that I drew a pie chart and then divided the pie into slices, with each slice focusing on a specific part of life that’s important to you. You may decide to make a list rather than create a pie chart. Do whatever works best for you. In this example, I focused on work, career, and well-being. But you will write down whatever areas are most important to you personally. You’ll also write down why each of these parts of your life matter so much to you. Now for step two, you’ll write down at least three goals for each of the important parts of your life that you identify.

Skip to 4 minutes and 17 seconds You can see on the slide that I divided each part of this pie chart into smaller slices. But you may want simply create a list of your goals under each part of your life that you identified in Step 1. For example, in the work part of your life, you might want to become an expert in a particular area, or you might want to develop negotiation or communication skills. If you have a career category, you might include goals such as getting promotions, earning salary increases, having job flexibility, or retiring at a specific age.

Skip to 4 minutes and 54 seconds If you have a well-being category, you might include goals such as becoming or staying healthy, participating in your faith, having time to engage in social justice activities, spending time with your friends and other people you love, or maybe finding someone to love. As tempting as it may be for you to strive for work-life balance, I recommend against using this as a goal. Because balance, at least for most people, is elusive. Life simply doesn’t fit into equal sized categories that demand the same amount of time, effort, and attention at every stage of your life. Frankly, you may be able to achieve balance for a while, but then something is likely to happen that will throw your life out of balance.

Skip to 5 minutes and 41 seconds And it may not be easy or possible for you to get it back, at least not for a while. And if you spend all of your time trying to balance your life, you may not be able to appreciate the life you have, as imbalanced as it is. So instead of striving for balance, I recommend you strive for a meaningful life. A life well lived, and a life for which you are grateful, as imbalanced as it may be.

Skip to 6 minutes and 9 seconds Now once you’ve completed Steps 1 and 2 of your action plan, in which you identified what’s most important to you in your heart of hearts, you’ll move to Step 3. I call this next step the head part of your action plan because it requires thinking carefully about your priorities. What others need from you, the feasibility of the changes you want to make. For example, do you have the time and money needed to make certain changes? And the trade offs that you’re willing to make in the short term, in order to achieve your longer term goals. This is where you take personal responsibility for your choices as well as for the trade off involved in just about any important choice.

Skip to 6 minutes and 53 seconds In this step, you’ll choose only one of the goals that you listed to begin working on immediately. For example, you may want to focus on developing a particular expertise, or getting a promotion, or spending more time with family, or taking better care of your health. You’ll also write down why you chose to invest in this one goal, and what you expect to gain if you accomplish this goal.

Skip to 7 minutes and 19 seconds Keep in mind that the effort that you put into one part of your life may provide advantages in other parts of your life as well. For example, if you decide to become an expert in a particular area, you may be able to do your work with higher quality. And you may become increasingly in demand, which can lead to higher pay and promotions. If you decide to develop your negotiation skills, you will be in a better position to negotiate a higher salary or more job flexibility, that will enable you to spend more time with your family. Once you’re identified the one thing you want to work on, you’re ready for Step 4 of your action plan.

Skip to 8 minutes and 1 second This is the hands part of your action plan. Where you’ll write down the specific action steps you will take, when you will start each one, when you expect to finish each one, who you will tell about your plan, and how you will measure your success. It’s important to tell someone about your plan, because researchers have found that people are more likely to keep a commitment if they make it public. It’s also important to put your action plan into writing because as social psychologist Robert Cialdini found, people are more likely to live up to what they write down.

Skip to 8 minutes and 39 seconds Here’s an example of an action plan that focuses on improving communication skills. You’ll see that it’s organized into a table, with one column for what you will do. The next column for how you will do it, the third column for when you will do it. The fourth column for who you will tell. And the last column for how you will measure your success. You may choose to use a different format for your action plan. But if you like this format, you can find a template for creating this part of your action plan in the Coursera assignment section of this session. You will notice that each of the steps in this table are what are considered small wins.

Skip to 9 minutes and 18 seconds For example, taking a course on public speaking, speaking up more at meetings, giving at least three presentations in the next month, and join in a Toastmasters club. And for those of you who aren’t familiar with Toastmasters Clubs, this is a highly, okay, it’s still behind a slide. Yep, for those of you who aren’t familiar with Toastmasters, this is a highly respected club in which peers help each other develop communication skills. And Toastmaster clubs are available in most major cities, as well as many organizations and universities.

Skip to 9 minutes and 55 seconds As you create this part of your action plan, I recommend that you too focus on achieving small wins. Because researchers have found that small wins are very powerful. And I’ll tell you why they are so powerful later in the session. Now that you have your action plan, ideally built on this power of small wins, let’s move to Step 5. In this step, you’ll write down at least one thing you will do less of, or stop doing. So that you’ll have more time and energy to focus on your action plan. For example, about ten years ago I wanted to get healthier, which meant I needed to lose some weight and start exercising.

Skip to 10 minutes and 35 seconds I wanted to find about an hour each day for exercise in my already busy schedule. So I changed my morning routine from spending an hour drinking coffee and reading the newspaper, to going to a gym to work out instead or working out in my basement. Today I motivate myself and find time to exercise by allowing myself to read Facebook on my iPad only when I’m walking on the treadmill. My point here is that what you stop doing can be as important to the success of your action plan as what you start doing.

Skip to 11 minutes and 8 seconds A clever manager who is taking one of my MBA classes told me that she uses the famous fashion designer Coco Chanel’s rule of accessorizing as a metaphor for managing her life. Coco Chanel encouraged restraint in fashion, and famously recommended that women remove one accessory whenever adding another. Now that you’re just minutes away from completing this course, you have just one more step to take. In Step 6, you will write down the two most important lessons you learned from creating your action plan or from taking this course. Frankly, you’re going to forget a lot of details about this course or any course you take. That’s simply how our minds work.

Skip to 11 minutes and 52 seconds But you’re much more likely to remember the lessons from this course that are most relevant to you if you write them down. So there you have it. Those are the six steps you need to take to complete your action plan. Before we end this course, I want to again emphasize the power of small wins in helping you to achieve your goals in life. Social psychologist Karl Weick explains that a small win is a small achievement that by itself may not seem important.

Skip to 12 minutes and 23 seconds But small wins are very powerful for several reasons. They are motivating, because you’ll feel less overwhelmed by the enormity of a long-term goal. If you break it up into small steps, with every small win you’ll have learned something new, and you’ll experience a sense of accomplishment. And because small wins are more achievable, controllable, and predictable, they are much less disruptive to your life than trying to make big changes.

Skip to 12 minutes and 54 seconds It’s great if you can jump right in and make big changes in your life immediately. But if you can’t, maybe you don’t have the time, money, or flexibility to make big changes at this time in your life, small wins will help you get where you want to go. For example, you may not be in a position to go to school full time, but you may be able to take a few classes in the evening, maybe at a local community college, and then transfer the credits to a four year college later. Or you could take online courses that will give the perspectives and skills you need.

Skip to 13 minutes and 27 seconds You may not be able to take on the responsibilities of a promotion at this time. But you can volunteer to be on committees that give you the prospective skills and personal contacts that will set you up to be ready for a promotion when the time is right. You may not be able to exercise for an hour every morning, but you may be able to do 10 or 20 minutes of exercise. You may be too exhausted after a long day at work to engage in high effort activities with your children, but you can curl up on the couch with them and create a tradition of reading a book or watching a favorite show together.

Skip to 14 minutes and 2 seconds And here’s another advantage of small wins, you don’t have to obsessively coordinate small wins. Weick explains that as long as the small wins are all heading in the same direction, you’ll be making visible progress. And eventually these small wins are likely to merge into a coherent and impactful result. Weick explains that small wins represent a steady application of small advantages. He explains that once a small win has been accomplished, forces are set in motion that favor another small win. So if you are in a position to fully invest in one area, by all means go for it. But if you can’t, remember that the power of small wins is within your reach. Here’s an example of a small win.

Skip to 14 minutes and 54 seconds Philanthropist and billionaire Warren Buffet was very aware, okay, I’m going to start again, all right. Here’s an example of a small win. Philanthropist Warren Buffet, one of the wealthiest and most successful investors in the world, was very afraid of speaking. Here is an example of a small win. Philanthropist Warren Buffet, one of the wealthiest and most successful investors in the world, was very afraid of public speaking when he was a young man. But he got over his fear and became an engaging communicator. Listen to him talk about how he developed his skills in public speaking.

Skip to 15 minutes and 38 seconds I was terrified of public speaking when I was in high school and college and I couldn’t do it, I mean, I’d throw up and everything. So I took this Dale Carnegie course, and as soon as I finished, I was 20 years old, I went out to the University Omaha and I said I want to start teaching. because I wanted to get up in front of people and make sure I didn’t lapse back. I actually have the diploma in the office and I don’t have my diploma from college. I don’t have my diploma from graduate school, but I’ve got my Dale Carnegie diploma there, because it changed my life.

Skip to 16 minutes and 9 seconds Buffet worked on his speaking skills step by step until he became what seems to be a natural at public speaking and communicating effortlessly with others. He’s now known to be an engaging communicator. And as psychologist Angela Duckworth says, the most dazzling human achievements are, in fact, the aggregate of countless individual elements, each of which is, in a sense, ordinary. I have a few more pieces of advice for you as you implement your action plan. The first is to remember to be compassionate with yourself as you pursue your goals. Researchers have found that everyone experiences what they call high variance performance. This means that no one succeeds at all they do all the time, in every part of life.

Skip to 16 minutes and 59 seconds So you want to expect that mistakes and failures will be an inevitable part of your life. Being compassionate, for example, kind and forgiving with ourselves when we fail, or don’t live up to our own or other’s expectations, is important because it gives us the strength and courage we need to be resilient. The motivation to keep trying, and the willingness to adjust our goals as we learn, change, and grow. My second piece of advice is when you have achieved the success that you desire, be helpful to those who come after you.

Skip to 17 minutes and 32 seconds Melinda Gates, co-founder of the Gates Foundation, wisely said, if you are successful, it is because somewhere, sometime, someone gave you a life or an idea that started you in the right direction. Remember, also, that you are indebted to life until you help some less fortunate person just as you were helped.

Skip to 17 minutes and 56 seconds I wish you all the best on your journey in life. Not only because you deserve to achieve the success you desire, but also because the world needs your talents and contributions. It has been a pleasure working with you. Safe travels and enjoy the trip.

The Power of a Plan – Creating a Personalized Action Plan that Gets Results

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This video is from the free online course:

The Science of Success: What Researchers Know that You Should Know

University of Michigan