Advisor Perspectives welcomes guest contributions. The views presented here do not necessarily represent those of Advisor Perspectives. Dan Richards

As we approach the end of January, there’s lots of media attention on making resolutions happen.

Recently, a free webcast offered by the Harvard Business Review website featured Heidi Grant Halvorson, a psychologist who has done extensive research in the areas of motivation and achievement. In that interview, she discussed some of the traps that stand in the way of achieving your goals … and also outlined a proven strategy to make your key objectives happen.

The power of positive thinking

Halvorson first dispelled the widespread view that being confident about and visualizing the achievement of your objectives are sufficient for success. This attitude is expressed in the title of Norman Vincent Peale’s The Power of Positive Thinking and the well known aphorism by Napoleon Hill: “What the mind can conceive and believe, it can achieve.”

It’s not that a positive attitude towards achievement doesn’t correlate with success.  Research was conducted with a group of obese women about to embark on a comprehensive weight-loss program. Those who truly believed they would lose weight going into the program lost on average 26 pounds more than those who  were uncertain about the outcome.

But there is an important corollary: To maximize your chances of success, you need to also anticipate the difficulties and challenges of achieving your goal. In that same experiment, the women who believed that it would be easy to resist temptation or to stick to their exercise regiment lost 24 pounds less than those subjects who believed it would be difficult.

This finding has been widely replicated in follow-up research with students looking for jobs and patients about to undergo a hip-replacement operation. Those who thought that finding a job or recovering full mobility would be easy had significantly less success than those who went into the process believing that achieving their goal would take lots of effort.

Quite simply, people who believe their goals will be difficult expect to have to work hard and as a result put in more effort, plan more and take more action. The result should be no surprise – if you anticipate that a goal will be challenging and work harder as a result, your chances of success increase significantly.