Archive for the ‘Goal Setting’ Category

Why Jed Clampett really moved to Beverly Hills and why Environment is the forerunner of Success

In Goal Setting, Malcolm Gladwell, Psychology, Psychology of Success, Success on July 18, 2009 at 4:15 am


By Bakari Akil II, Ph.D.

When Jed’s ‘kinfolk’ ordered him to “move away from here” it was for a very good reason. Although “here” was never really explained on the show, it was easy to tell that the Clampett’s had it rough by one line in the theme song; “A poor mountaineer, barely kept his family fed.” Mining, raising crops in poor soil, moonshining and working in the wood mills meant that people like the Clampett clan led a hardscrabble lifestyle. What did the Appalachian landscape have to offer the Clampett’s and their new found wealth? 

Richard Florida’s  book, Who’s your City?, describes in detail how where you choose to live affects social and educational opportunities, your level of employability and job industries you’ll be involved in. Essentially, what type of life you will lead. He asserts that being unafraid to move to another city or live abroad may be the ticket to success.


Because environment matters.

Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Outliers, was written with the intention of explaining that environment plays an enormous role in the life of the extremely successful. No, it is not the final predictor, but its influence cannot be denied. Of course he had to use the most successful of our species (i.e., celebrities, mega-CEOs, pro-athletes, etc.) to make his point, but what about the rest of us? Environment plays a huge role in our development as well. (Which of course was one of Gladwell’s points.) 

But how often do people when starting a project or who are in the midst of their development evaluate if they have the proper environment to achieve the outcome they seek? We may have the ambition, drive, heart, skill and potential required to succeed but not the environmental settings that would make it a reality. 

Long before Gladwell, psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (chick-sent-me-hi) talked about the environment’s affect on success. Author Tom Butler-Bowden, quotes Csikszentmihalyi as saying people are “a link in the chain, a phase in the process.” In other words, no person’s achievement stands ‘alone.’ In his book, Creativity, Mihaly interviewed over 90 people, ranging from famous musicians to obscure scientific Nobel Prize winners. He asserted that their success was a combination of many elements; “environment and culture” being two of them.

We have all seen documentaries that demonstrate that there has to be an infrastructure in place before there can be success. But, it’s pretty easy in hindsight to discover the environmental factors that led to another person becoming a superstar or standout. How much planning is devoted to setting up the proper environment, before we begin, in our own lives may be a greater concern?

‘Environment’ is only the tip of the iceberg! Check out over 100 innovative ideas on success in Dr. Akil’s new book SUPER YOU! 101 Ways to Maximize your Potential on Amazon or Lulu. You can also download a free chapter on your Kindle or iPhone at Amazon.


Beat the Competition: Practice when you Sleep!

In Brain, Goal Setting, Neurons, Psychology, Psychology of Success, Sports Psychology, Success on July 12, 2009 at 6:48 pm


By Bakari Akil II, Ph.D.

Let’s say there are two piano players, Jim and Bob. In their individual lessons their instructor, Leslie, tells them a position is opening up in their city’s orchestra. Who gets it will be based on 5 songs they must play before judges. She gives them the sheet music for the competition and sends them on their way.

At this moment they are equal in skill and ability and neither Jim nor Bob has ever practiced the songs they are given. They dive with equal fervor into their preparation. Unknowingly, both adopt the same training regimen and practice an equal amount of time. However, this is where their similarities end. Jim and Bob are two very different people in one key area. Jim has always been very disciplined about going to bed early and insuring that he gets 8 hrs of sleep. Bob is a night owl and stays up late watching TV and reading books.  He usually gets 5 hrs of sleep each night.

However, if Jim and Bob’s training methods and length of training are exactly the same why is it more likely that Jim would perform better at the competition than Bob?

According to, “Your Brain: The Missing Manual,” Bob is missing out on a precious benefit gained during sleep that would boost his piano playing ability.  That precious gift is the brain reviewing the previous day’s activities and increasing the ability for Bob to perform those actions better the next time he tries them.

As we practice any activity neural pathways are created that help the brain to remember how to perform the action at a later date. Each time we perform a particular task the pathways become a stronger series of networks that can help us get the job done.  This apparently happens even when we’re sleeping.

So by sleeping three more hours Bob would perform just as well as Jim?

Most likely.

But there’s a catch to improving performance by sleeping. It has to occur during the Rapid Eye Movement (REM) phase of sleep. That is one of four stages of sleep we cycle through throughout the night. It is also the deepest level of sleep. If Bob does not cycle through the REM stages then he can’t reap the benefits.

The author of “Your Brain,’ Matthew MacDonald, cites two studies, one involving rats and the other humans that demonstrate the effectiveness of REM sleep in improving our ability to conduct tasks we perform during the day. In a study (2001), rats who had “electrodes implanted” in their brains were sent through a series of mazes. Their neuronal activity was “recorded.” When the rats later fell into REM sleep those same neurons fired in the same way as if they were running the mazes.

Another experiment, conducted by Robert Strickgold (Harvard Medical School) in 2000, was where human subjects were asked to play Tetris for 7 hours a day. Participants were observed while sleeping and awakened during their REM cycles. Many of the test subjects were indeed dreaming of playing Tetris (17 of 27). MacDonald goes on to say that in these types of studies, subjects who are prevented from going into REM sleep do not perform as well as others who are allowed REM sleep when learning “new tasks.”

Sometimes succeeding in something boils down to small advantages. We can only practice for so long or in so many ways. If I can gain an edge through a relaxing deep sleep, someone please, hand me a pillow.

Find out 101 more ways you can ‘beat the competition’ 🙂 in Dr. Akil’s groundbreaking new book SUPER YOU! 101 Ways to Maximize your Potential on Amazon or Lulu. You can also download a free chapter on your Kindle or iPhone at Amazon.

How Navy Seals Increased Passing Rates and My Random Army Experience

In Brain, Goal Setting, Psychology, Psychology of Success, Self talk, Sports Psychology, Success, Visualization on July 7, 2009 at 6:25 am
Navy Seal Training

Navy Seal Training

By Bakari Akil II, Ph.D.

It was 10 PM, pitch black and I was in the middle of the woods in North Carolina. My job was simple. I had to erect a 30 foot antennae that would be used to gather radio transmissions so our artillery platoon could conduct fire missions. I had been dropped off by a Humvee along with another soldier in another platoon.  We were all alone. He had the same mission but had to set up his antennae about 100 yards from mine.

It was the beginning of many such missions my unit conducted as ‘practice’ in the Army. In the snow, in the rain, in the summer heat we practiced the science of artillery. At least half of the year, every year, we spent in the woods in 3 to 7 day chunks. I thought my stint as a Cannon Fire Direction Specialist  (13-E) would be indoors in a command center like the one in the 1980s classic, War Games, starring Matthew Broderick. At least that is what my recruiter told me.


I was mere yards from the gun line, had to dig foxholes, pull guard duty, man the M-60 and listen to the artillery rounds fired up close and personal throughout the day and night. Luckily, I never had to go to war. I served during a relative time of peace (1993-95).

So,– why did we spend so much time living in the woods, firing live rounds, going through the motions? Why were 2 twenty year olds trusted to set up communications for 2 platoons (100 men) and to guide them into their new base in the woods for the next few days?

Well, we had to do this under as realistic conditions as possible so if we were called to war we would be able to perform our jobs with confidence and without thinking about it. Many of my fellow soldiers had served in the first Iraq War and they continuously relayed how serious warfare was and how we needed to be prepared. Our training reflected that mentality. But the ‘practice makes perfect’  approach isn’t always enough.

Which brings me to the Navy Seals. I will admit that training to become a combat soldier is tough. But becoming an elite soldier such as a Navy Seal or Ranger is even tougher. These guys are not only regular soldiers they also go through further training to become masters of terrain and conditions and to handle situations in hostile territories as a small group or on their own. Their training has to be super intense in order to have soldiers who can actually carry out their missions.

Hence, they had an extremely low passing rate for trainees. According to  The Brain, a show featured on The History Channel, out of 140 recruits (average/each cycle) only 36 would make it. However, they noticed that they were losing a number of good recruits not because they couldn’t phsyically hack it, but because they had a mental block. It was in one key area; the water. The Navy Seals have a drill in a pool where recruits have to remain under water for 20 minutes. They are equipped with oxygen tanks for air. All they have to do is stay under water without coming up. Seems simple enough.

Well there’s a catch. The recruits are constantly harassed by their instructors who rip off their masks, tie their (air) lines in knots and conduct other general forms of harrassment. The recruit’s job is to not panic; wait until the attack is over; calmly fix the problem while remaining under water and then wait for the next attack. At the end of the 20 minutes the recruit will be required to kiss the floor of the pool and then will be brought up by the drill instructor.

But the opposite often happens. Soldiers do panic and even with 4 chances to pass (at different times in the program) many never make it. So the Navy Seals turned to psychology. Using a four step process they increased the passage rates in their program. What did they do? They emphasized what psychologists and communication academics have been advocating for years:

Goal Setting    –    Mental Rehearsal    –    Self Talk    –    Arousal Control

With goal setting the recruits were taught to set goals in extremely short chunks. For instance, one former Navy Seal discussed how he set goals such as making it to lunch, then dinner. With mental rehearsal they were taught to visualize themselves succeeding in their activities and going through the motions. As far as self talk is concerned, the experts in The Brain documentary made the claim that we say 300 to 1000 words to ourselves a minute.  By speaking positively to themselves the soldiers could “override fears coming from the amygdala, a part of the brain that helps us deal with fear.  And finally, with arousal control the recruits were taught how to breathe to help mitigate the crippling emotions and fears that some of their tasks encouraged.

This simple four step process increased their passing rates from 25 percent to 33 percent, which is excellent in a rigorous program as theirs. This just demonstrates that achieving success doesn’t always have to be a difficult process. A few minor changes and tweaks may be all that is needed.

For an outstanding number of ways to increase performance, check out Dr. Akil’s exciting new book SUPER YOU! 101 Ways to Maximize your Potential on Amazon or Lulu. You can also download a free chapter on your Kindle or iPhone at Amazon.