The Achievement Habit by Bernard Roth


The Achievement Habit by Bernard Roth

Read the summary below and get the key insights in just 10 minutes!



[text_block style=”style_1.png” align=”left” font_font=”Raleway”]This book is a pleasure. It offers helpful advice and engaging, illustrative anecdotes. Bernard Roth calls upon his design perspective – and lessons he learned as academic director at the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford University – to offer workable suggestions for building an active, successful approach to work and life. He provides ways to achieve goals you might not otherwise reach and shares the motivational secrets he’s been teaching his graduate design students for years. Most of his ideas are easy to implement – like to stop making excuses – and can make a big difference in your life. Roth also suggests deep breathing, meditative exercises and visualization to assist readers in overcoming a negative self-image. Overall, Roth provides worthy assistance for setting and achieving your goals. getAbstract recommends his insights to anyone seeking to free themselves from destructive habits and become more productive.[/text_block]

In this summary, you will learn

  • How to adopt a more productive perspective,
  • Why you must stop making excuses, even reasonable ones, and
  • How to move beyond roadblocks and reach your goals.


[text_block style=”style_1.png” align=”left” font_font=”Raleway”]

“Nothing Is What You Think It Is”

Mike’s professor saw him as “a slacker” because he failed to complete a project. Years after college, Mike created an amazingly innovative exhibit at the annual Burning Man festival. The professor who considered Mike a talentless failure and totally dismissed him made a mistake. You, too, may perceive things in ways that might not be accurate. Be open to changing your mind and to seeing people and events in a new way. The professor clearly was wrong about Mike.

To escape your current perceptions, take these steps: Breathe deeply several times. Shut your eyes and sit quietly for two or three minutes. Open your eyes and scan the room slowly. Look around and say, out loud, that each thing you see “has no meaning.” For example, “The chair has no meaning,” and so on. Consider the people in your life and remove their meanings, one by one. After you are done, see how you feel. You can now relate to everything and to yourself in a fresh, new way. State that you have no meaning, and be open to discovering a new you. Don’t think of yourself as a loser because you failed at something. Your goal is to develop the skills to deal with life’s challenges. Make achievement into a habit. People tend to engage in “functional fixedness,” a cognitive bias that causes them to view things in only the most obvious ways. Consider a container of cereal. It holds food, and it also offers a source of “cardboard and wax paper” that you can use. Be open to new possibilities.

“When something is a priority in your life, you have to be willing to walk away from anything that’s standing in its way.”

“Who Controls Your Brain?”

The amygdala part of the brain generates your initial reactions. Following your first reactions isn’t always the smartest course. Consider a speeding driver who cuts you off. The amygdala sends a message to stay with that car and fight, even when the safer decision is to take flight and run away. Your second thought is often more logical and fuels a better outcome. Take these four steps to move from a gut reaction to a thoughtful response: 1) Stand still and don’t do what your body pushes you to do. 2) Breathe deeply. 3) Observe how your body feels. 4) Access a pleasant memory to feel upbeat and content. Now that you’re calmer, consider healthier options.

“Achievement can be learned. It is a muscle and once you learn to flex it, there’s no end to what you can accomplish in life.”

“Your Turn”

To focus more intently on the “meaning of your life,” ask yourself the following questions, and say or write your answers. Ask each question over and over for at least five to ten minutes. Do this alone or with a partner. Ask: “Who am I?” “What do I want?” and “What is my purpose?” Be open to new ideas about yourself.

“Right and Wrong”

When you interact with others, forget about who’s right or who’s wrong. You are the one who infuses your life with meaning. When you worry about who is correct, you waste time and energy. You have the ability to alter how you think about every issue. If you hate cleaning the dishes, focus on the parts of washing that are pleasurable – the feel of your hands in water, how clean the dishes become and how much you enjoy having a tidy kitchen. Focus on the positive to feel the joy in any activity.

“If you stop labeling the world, your job and your life, you may find that an amazing trajectory is there for the taking.”

“Reasons Are Simply Excuses”

In reality, most reasons are simply excuses you offer because you didn’t rank a task high enough on your to-do list. Release yourself. You don’t have to “justify your behavior.” Steering clear of excuses frees you to discover fresh methods and ideas. You don’t have to share your reasons for what you do. “Trust yourself and act.”

“It’s empowering to realize you have more control than you ever knew over what you achieve in life.”


People tend to see themselves in others. When you assign a particular emotion to someone else, you may feel that way about yourself. A “genuinely naïve, truthful person” assumes that everyone he or she meets speaks honestly. If you are deceitful, you often mistrust others. Consider the behaviors that push your buttons. For example, do you hate it when people are tardy? Perhaps you struggle with lateness. Write down co-workers’ behaviors that bother you, and consider how these issues manifest in your own actions.

“Decision and Indecision”

If you have difficulty making decisions, consider the “Buridan’s ass paradox,” a 14th-century story attributed to philosopher Jean Buridan (c. 1295-1363). A donkey can’t choose between two mangers – one offers hay, the other water. Paralyzed by options, the mule dies of both hunger and thirst. When multiple choices are all worthwhile, choose the one with fewer downsides. List the positives and negatives. Then use the “gun test.” Transform your hand into a toy gun and point it at your head. Give yourself “15 seconds to decide or…pull the trigger.”

“Don’t blame others, and don’t use reasons to justify or rationalize your behaviors.”

Try the “life’s journey method” of decision making. Describe one of your options and consider its effect on your current reality. For example, you are considering whether to get an advanced degree. Ask, “Then what happens?” You complete your coursework and begin to teach. “Then what happens?” You might meet the love of your life, marry and start a family. “Then what happens?” and on and on, until you “get old and die.” This exercise shows that you can’t predict where a choice will take you. Few decisions are matters of living or dying, so relax.

“In life, if you want to get things done, it is much better to be powerful than to be forceful.”

“Who’s Really Stopping You?”

Don’t play the blame game. Your loved ones, boss or other people don’t prevent you from achieving. Only you are in charge of your decisions. Some people say they don’t have adequate time. That’s just an excuse. Your days are as long as those of the people who achieve great things. If something is important to you, you will find the time. Jot down the activities you do for a week and note the amount of time you spend on each. Consider whether your time is well spent.

“Getting Unstuck”

If you feel stuck, make sure you’re asking the correct question and solving the appropriate problem. For example, if you are stuck on how to find a spouse, write your concern as a “what would it do for me?” question, such as, “What would it do for me if I found a spouse?” Generate new questions from the answers you reach about what solving your original problem would do for you. So if you are stuck on how to “find a spouse,” you would replace that question with, “How might I get companionship?” or “How might I get my parents to stop nagging me?” Even if getting married could answer these problems, it might not be the best resolution. When you search for better questions and better responses, you start solving your real problems.

“If someone goes to great lengths to tell you that he is not a liar, a crook, a troublemaker or green with envy, he probably is those things.”

To move forward, “reframe” or “change your point of view.” A group of students went to Nepal to help hospitals deal with baby incubators that kept breaking down. Initially, they focused on ways to fix the incubators. Then, they changed their focus to ways mothers could keep their babies warm. That led them to discover better options. Try other ways of generating solutions. You could brainstorm, make lists, create “idea logs” (like Leonardo da Vinci’s journals), joke around until fresh thoughts come to mind, speak to others, wonder “what if?” or “work backward” by pretending you fixed a problem and then working in reverse from that point. Search for coaches or mentors who can help you achieve your goals. Use other people’s ideas as a springboard.

“Having talent and good ideas is only part of the equation. The next step – the harder step – is the doing, taking the responsibility for designing success in your own life.”

Make a “mind map” by jotting a word or two in the center of a page and then writing an idea the word brings to mind. “Connect the two words with a line.” Return to the original word, think of another related idea and add it to the sheet. Place a line between that word and the first word. Add words and lines until you can’t think of anything else. Review how you connect words and ideas. What does your map tell you about your problem? How can you make better, more appropriate associations?

“Doing Is Everything”

Attempting something and accomplishing it aren’t the same. When you are determined to get something done, nothing can stop you. Too often people believe the negative thoughts they have about themselves and dismiss positive thoughts. Focus your self-affirming comments on the work you do, not on your accomplishments. Praise how hard you try, not your outcomes.

“Once you accept that you give everything in your life its meaning, you feel like the master of your life, not a powerless victim of circumstance and chance.”

“It’s Like Riding a Bike”

A 30-year-old woman wanted to “learn to ride a bike.” She had never learned because she had difficulty with balance. What issue did she think she could solve by learning to ride a bike? Was she focused on the real issue? When asked, she said her child recently mastered bike riding, and she worried she couldn’t share that experience. She could run next to her daughter, but when her daughter rode more proficiently, the mother felt she would be unable to jog along. Her real dilemma was to find a way to “keep up with her daughter.” To ride, she first had to solve her balance issue. How? Take a special exercise class? Take medication? Or, even better, maybe buy an adult-sized tricycle? That common-sense choice enabled her to ride with her daughter.

“We need reasons so we appear reasonable, yet when we use reasons, we are not taking full responsibility for our behavior.”

“Your Turn”

Don’t let the odds shake your confidence. If your likelihood of success is low, you can still be one of the few to succeed. Getting fired isn’t the end of your career. Oprah Winfrey’s boss asked her to leave her first broadcasting position. When circus clowns mess up their routines, they break into big smiles, stick their arms in the air and yell, “Ta-da!” They embrace, rather than hide, their mistakes. How would you approach projects if you no longer worried about your mistakes?

“Watch Your Language”

Choose your words carefully. Convey your stories clearly. What you say affects how you feel and what you do. Try to say yes when you would normally say no. Transform actions you must do into those you wish to perform. Replace the term “I need” with “I want”; instead of saying “I’m afraid to,” say, “I’d like to.” When you interact with others, share your emotions and experiences. Try not to interrupt them; they may say something of value. If someone shares a personal story, don’t tell a personal tale of your own in response. That may come across as you “playing…one-upmanship” or trying to diminish the value of the other person’s story.

“Many reasons are simply excuses to hide the fact that we are not willing to give something a high enough priority in our lives.”

To improve your conversations, use first-person language. Say, “I feel,” not “Everyone feels.” Don’t judge others or offer unsolicited guidance. Let people know that you paid attention to them, and ask questions if you don’t understand what someone says. Don’t shy away from tough interactions. Dodging a sensitive subject only creates more issues.

“Our hatred of others is really the hatred of our own unwanted or feared capabilities, projected onto them.”

“Self-Image by Design”

How you see yourself affects what you can accomplish. If you believe you are a “risk taker and a doer,” you will probably take chances. Giving into fear or excess care undermines your potential choices. Many perceptions start in childhood. Your self-image develops as you interact with others, receive feedback from friends and family, and respond to life events.

Describe yourself as you are today using five adjectives. Invite five pals or relatives to list five adjectives about you. How does your list differ from theirs? Don’t confuse who you are with what you own or with what you do or have done. You can alter your self-image. Consider what steps you would take if you only had “ten minutes to live.” How about if you had that many days, months or years? As you respond, use the personal details that come to mind to consider how you might change the way you view yourself. “Start designing and changing!” You are the author of your personal story. You assign meaning to yourself and to everyone else in your saga.

“The problem with reasons is that they’re just excuses prettied up.”

“The Big Picture”

Know your main objectives, and don’t be inflexible about the road you take to achieve them. Don’t shut out other people or ideas. You don’t have to take or succeed at every opportunity. Accept that you may fail. Next time you tackle a problem, jump in with both feet. Don’t spend excess time reflecting. Act.[/text_block]

About the Author

[text_block style=”style_1.png” align=”left” font_font=”Raleway”]Engineering professor Bernard Roth is a co-founder and the academic director of the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford University (also known as the[/text_block]
[text_block style=”style_1.png” align=”left” font_font=”Raleway”]Get key insights from 15,000+ non-fiction books at[/text_block]