Enjoy Success Without Aiming
For It From
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Success is a lot like happiness. You don't
get it by shooting for it directly. It's a byproduct of doing other, important
things that take you beyond your everyday zone of comfort.
Don't just take my word for it. Renowned
psychologist Victor Frankl once said, "Don't aim at success -- the more you aim
at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success,
like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the
unintended side-effect of one's dedication to a cause greater than oneself."
Though the connection may not be obvious at
first, one way of increasing the likelihood of success in any endeavor is by
volunteering. By donating time and effort for some purpose outside ourselves,
we connect with other people. And in doing that we are likely to find the
motivation and energy to meet our own personal goals.
Volunteering takes the focus of our
attention off ourselves. And therein lies the answer to many problems.
By itself, volunteering takes you out of
your comfort zone, explains Bernardo J. Carducci, Ph.D., professor of
psychology at Indiana University Southeast. The reason people don't go out of
their comfort zone is that they worry about not doing the right thing, about
being judged or evaluated. The upshot: you wind up staying in a narrowly
defined group doing narrowly defined activities.
When you volunteer, those you serve are not
really concerned with how skillful you are. They care more about your
willingness. So you can do things with minimal evaluation and that allows you
to try out new behavior.
Say you're an accountant and you volunteer
as such in a social service agency in a part of town you usually don't
frequent. Perhaps you are involved in a program that feeds the homeless or
assists unwed mothers. Right away that puts you in contact with different
people than you associate with in your daily professional life. You are
applying your customary strengths in a slightly different environment.
In addition to operating in a new
environment, volunteering gets you to deal with individuals different from
yourself, and by seeing them again and again, you form a relationship. That
alone is an expansion of your comfort zone.
At the same time, you are also expanding
your own social network, as you are also exposed to others who, like yourself,
are volunteering. Because you already share certain interests with the other
volunteers, social contact is eased. The need for conversational
trial-and-error that most people fear is minimized. Fellow volunteers can turn
into companions. They can accompany you to movies and perhaps even become a
source of dates. It's a way of getting out of routine.
"Ideas come from many different places,"
says Carducci. "The more people you're involved with, the more likely you have
a diverse set of resources."
By putting you in contact with people who
think differently than you do, volunteering contributes directly to creativity,
as one of the core ingredients in creativity is divergent thinking. An expanded
social universe increases the likelihood you will come into contact with ideas
and advice that you can use to go forward in your own life.
Unfortunately, Carducci explains, most
people get stuck in the past and can't let go of it. That's because they take
the path of least resistance.
"It's so easy to do things that you've
previously done -- what is called the dominant response," he says. "In times of
emotional turmoil and distress, anxiety creates the dominant response, which is
the old worn-in behavior."
But there are ways to change those dominant
- Perhaps most important, think about
the past simply as one source of feedback. It need not be the determinant of
the future. Ask yourself, does your past provide constructive feedback or not?
Is it feedback that you can modify for new situations? Or is it feedback that
you can ignore because it no longer fits? If it's constructive, then you use it
to keep moving forward.
- Focus on small aspects of change
and practice them at times you are not under stress. For example, in new social
situations, the dominant response for many people is to turn and run, or to
clam up. The way to get around that is to practice a new response, you develop
the ability to make small talk, which is a form of social glue. You use the
encounters you have every day (when you buy your newspaper or your coffee) to
practice little social exchanges. It's important rehearsal for making small
talk at parties.
Carducci would have us remember a lesson
first taught by the great Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget: The development of
thinking involves two basic principles -- assimilation and accommodation.
Assimilation involves taking new experiences
and incorporating them into old ones. Accommodation is to take old experiences
and build them into new information. Both mechanisms are essential.
"But people typically try to take new
experiences, the future, and shove them into old ways of thinking," says
Carducci, "because that's the easiest thing to do. So they get stuck living in
the past, rather than incorporating the notion of accommodation. It goes back
to where we began: start hanging around with different people."