Accomplishment refers to mastery and success.

Research by Angela Duckworth has conceptualized achievement as skill x effort. Because effort is more directly under our control, we can achieve more by exercising self-discipline and putting in more effort. Grit, a form of self-discipline combined with high passion for something, is a particularly desirable trait that correlates with success in various educational settings.

Many other factors, such as believing in our ability, social relationships, and a growth mindset, are important in accomplishment. In fact, having others who believe in us can improve our performance, and the belief that we can change through effort is called a growth mindset. It is important to note that IQ accounts for only about 20% of success. Examples of self improvement, such as setting goals, seeking feedback, and learning from failures, can help us to continue to grow and develop our skills and abilities.

Another driver of performance and motivation is the feeling that we’re in control. Those of us who feel this way have an “internal locus of control” and tend to have higher academic achievement, greater career achievement, higher motivation, and better performance and problem solving.

Simply having goals helps us enjoy the journey of life. Healthy goals are personally meaningful (intrinsic), chosen by us (authentic), complementary to other goals we have, and flexible. Goals involving growth, connection, and contribution (intrinsic) make us happier than goals involving money, beauty, or popularity (extrinsic). These self-concordant goals come from a desire to express ourselves rather than impress others. The best goals take the form of an “approach goal” – something to pursue, not avoid – and an activity, rather than an object or change in material circumstances.

To give ourselves the best chance of success, we need to make our goals even more meaningful, commit to them with passion, start taking action, and focus on intrinsic motivation.

Sources: Shawn Achor, The Happiness Advantage; Tal Ben-Shahar, Happier; Sonja Lyubomirsky, The How of Happiness; Martin Seligman, Flourish


When we commit to a goal, we are rewarded with a feeling of anticipation and a sense of structure and meaning. We feel confident and efficacious and learn skills like time management and planning. Having goals we’re working toward brings us closer to other people and helps us cope with problems in life.

Who studies it

Shawn Achor (happiness at work, happiness and success), Angel Duckworth (grit), Carol Dweck (achievement), Robert Emmons (personal goals), Ken Sheldon (goals)


Shawn Achor, The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work (2010)

Carol Dweck, Succeed: How We Can Reach Our Goals (2010), Mindset: The New Psychology of Success (2006)