• Believe that you can. When confronted with a seemingly nasty problem or an apparently complex mathematical formula, people often give up without even trying to work on it. Often, however, with just a little effort you can solve such problems. An author wouldn’t put an equation in a book if it were beyond most readers. A surprising number of problems are solvable with a little brainwork. Don’t immediately think that you can’t solve a problem. Set an alarm for 10 minutes and give it a try.

• Give yourself a few loopholes. Dieters, for example, will often say, “I can’t have any sweets.” Then when they have a doughnut for breakfast, they see themselves failures and give up on the diet. Without an occasional loophole, a single incident can destroy your entire program of commitment. This dieters’ wisdom is transferable to the workplace as well. It is important to make safety valves that exact a price for disobedience, but that also permit the occasional mistake. It is equally important to keep exceptions exceptional.

• Be wary of your own good intentions. Many people believe that if they have good intentions, that is enough. They are wrong. Results are what matter. Suppose your child is sick. Which would you rather have, a doctor with the best of intentions, who ends up killing the child, or a greedy jerk who just wants the insurance money, but who cures your child? Measure by results rather than by intentions. Get feedback on your actions. Was the result as good as you intended?

• Adapt a problem-solving orientation. An important step in successful problem-solving is simply to engage the problem as a problem. A somewhat extreme example that illustrates the point is that Nobel Prize winning physicist Richard Feynman used to go to bars, but could never pick up a woman. He said to himself: “This is a problem. Engage problem-solving mode.” So he interviewed ‘experts,’ men who seemed to have no problem meeting women in bars. He learned their secrets and had no problem picking up women in bars.

• Think, then react. A common cause of self-defeating behavior is for people to react to a situation before they fully understand it. The end up voting against things they would vote for, sabotaging their own self interest, and working against their own goals. Make sure you understand what you are reacting to before you react.

Author's Bio: 

Tad Waddington says he achieved literacy while getting his MA from the University of Chicago’s Divinity School where he focused on the history of Chinese religions. He achieved numeracy while getting his PhD from the University of Chicago in measurement, evaluation and statistical analysis. He achieved efficacy as Director of Performance Measurement for Accenture. He is currently seeking to achieve a legacy with such books as Return on Learning and Lasting Contribution. To find out more, go to www.lastingcontribution.com.