What is Achievement?

I’m reading more from that wise man, Martin Seligman and his book Flourish.

He talks about achievement, and what are the components of it?

He says there is an equation which helps us think about this:

achievement = skill x effort

Which gets those cogs turning again.

He says skill is the result of a number of factors. Firstly, how well do we know a task to become skilled at it? If I’m to achieve well, I need to be able to perform that task to a high degree. Clearly practise, then, is a vital part of skill. It’s not enough to just have talent, you need to keep doing it, under different circumstances, with different parameters and the such like, all of which get you honing and crafting.

When you’re good at that skill, and it becomes a set of automatic responses, this forms one part of that skill development. But what happens when you need to learn new information which is important to that skill?

That’s when our executive functioning part of the brain kicks in and slows things down for us. We start to fumble and make mistakes. We learn and we adapt. But the process is slow. It requires thinking. Different from a finely crafted skill to be automatic, this element is about what we don’t know and require that time to think through to action.

The effort we make in achieving a task is an interesting piece. Research from Seligman and his team shows that when you account for things like IQ, and other demographic data, what matters in achievement is self discipline and perserverance.

With self discipline they found that when you are able to delay gratification to the completion of a task, you enable focus and determination to do it too. Having the ability to focus on a task is now a well understood form of skill development, and people who are able to maintain that focus fare better than others.

Linked closely to this is perserverance. How much do you want to achieve this thing? If you have the right motivation, you will work doggedly at making it happen. If you are skilled at that task and can achieve it well, you build that motivation to achieve even more. The staying with power of doing something is key here. When the thing becomes difficult or challenging or something more exciting presents itself, do we persist in achieving that task or turn our attentions elsewhere?

Which gets me thinking about the world of work and how we build an expectation for achievement. If achievement is a result of the above, how are we designing work to enable this to happen? How are we educating managers to help them understand this as a core part of people development? How are we recognising and rewarding people to help them craft their skills and find reasons to persevere?

And when you put numbers to the equation, it adds to the weight of the equation. If skill or effort = 0, regardless of the value of the other, nothing will be achieved.

achievement = skill x effort

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Published by

Sukh Pabial

I'm an occupational psychologist by profession and am passionate about all things learning and development, creating holistic learning solutions and using positive psychology in the workforce.

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