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Book Giveaways

The Achievement Habit: Stop Wishing, Start Doing, and Take Command of Your Life

July 13, 2015

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Bernard Roth, the academic director and one of the founders of Stanford's famed d. school, teaches us how to make achievement a habit.

Not many books that aim to help you improve your life open up their first chapter by telling you that "Your life has no meaning." Bernard Roth's does. But Roth is no nihilist. Quite the contrary, he is simply saying that we define what everything in our life means to us, from our new car to our children, whether we do so consciously or not.

Getting to know someone can take somewhere around forever. People are always changing and evolving for both good and bad, and we are all capable of reinvention. ... Nothing is what you think it is. You give everything its meaning.

The tricky part of this is that getting to know yourself can take somewhere around forever, too, if you let it. What Roth does is apply design thinking to the process of personal growth, helping you empathize with yourself and uncover what it is you want to do with your time here on Earth, all with a bias toward action. This is something I touched upon in my review of the book last week:

This bias toward action is something he has been teaching in his classes since before he even knew that what he was doing was design thinking—or at least before the term existed.


At the heart of the course is a self-selected project: students must either do something they have always wanted to do but never done, or handle something that is a problem in their lives. I am available to discuss their choices [but] ultimately they decide what projects to work on. I don't decide whether they're good enough or big enough, and I don't grade on anything other that whether they do what they set out to do. If they finish, they pass. If they don't, the don't get credit.

This teaches more than a bias toward action, though. The process of making the decision (students have done everything from jump out of an airplane to write a novel) teaches them to be deep-down honest with themselves about what they really want to do, even if that thing is scary, as it so often is to admit what we really want in life and take hold of it. The key is to reflect on, and know yourself well enough, to know what that thing actually is:


The more self-aware you can become, the happier you can be; by better understanding your motivations and identity, you can figure out how to design your life to be more satisfying and fulfilling.

This is a journey he takes the reader on in the book.

And it's a fascinating journey. Roth is one of the founders of the famed d. school at Stanford, and its academic director. A professor of engineering, he has been teaching his "Designer in Society" course since 1969 to "encourage students to think differently about how they achieve goals in their lives—to get them to stop thinking wistfully about possibilities and start actually doing. In The Achievement Habit: Stop Wishing, Start Doing, and Take Command of Your Life, he extends these lessons to the wider world, helping all of us who want his instruction to stop making excuses, change our mindset, get unstuck, find help where we need it, and quite simply... do things. And one we start getting things done, achieving small victory after small victory, it becomes a self-reinforcing feedback loop. Each achievement helps improve our own self-image, and achievement becomes a state of mind—a habit.

We give everything in life its meaning. We can do this passively, or we can do it proactively, by making up our minds and taking action, by doing things. It may not always work out, but only by acting can we prototype, test, and get feedback in the ongoing experiment that is our lives. This is design thinking applied to personal development, and Bernard Roth, a professor of engineering, has been helping students effectively engineer and improve their lives for almost fifty years in this way. And now he'll teach you, too. And you don't even need to get into Stanford. All you need is a copy of The Achievement Habit.

We have 20 copies available.


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