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Ch-9: Create a Better World for Yourself and Others

Part 2: Achieving Your Dreams and Goals and Maximizing Your Health

Tom G. Stevens PhD
Psychologist/Professor Emeritus, California State University, Long Beach
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Chapter 9,  Part 2,  from You Can Choose To Be Happy,  Tom G. Stevens PhD
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How you can achieve your dreams and goals in life



ACHIEVING EXCELLENCE CYCLE--Achieving distant goals and dreams

You can make it a happier place!


What is your dream of La Dolce Vita--the good life. When I was 16, the good life meant someday having a wife who is beautiful, charming, loving, understanding, romantic, and fun. It was having an interesting career, being the best at something, making a lot of money, and having time to play. The good life meant travel, friends, sports, and fun in my free time. I wanted to live in a beautiful home in a beautiful, interesting area. Even though I now know that I don't need these things to be happy, I still prefer them; and I still believe that these external routes contribute to my happiness.

We create our personal worlds (within limits). Happily, most of my teenage dreams have come true. These dreams have provided direction for the decisions, goals, and actions I have taken to create the personal world I so love today. In addition, seeing my dreams come true gives me a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment.

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My first image of my personal world must have been a room full of bright lights and a giant wearing a white mask and rubber gloves. It must have been quite a shock. My personal external world suddenly expanded from my mother's womb to a place filled with strange images that I have been coping with since.

Now, my personal external world consists of my home, my neighborhood, my wife Sherry, my family, other people, my work environment, tennis courts, restaurants, and my natural environment. My more immediate personal world environment also consists of books, music, TV, movies, and journals. Media are windows to an even larger personal world.

Zones of influence in our personal worlds. The actions of Mikail Gorbachev ended the Cold War, and affected my life half a world away. Any event, anywhere, could potentially influence my life. However, events occurring in my immediate zones of influence (such as my family and job) normally have greater impact on me. What are the zones of influence in your personal world?

Choosing our boundaries and priorities gives us more control of our lives. As a child, I had little choice about who my parents were or where I would live. But, as an adult, I have a wide range of choices about where I want to be, what activities I want to be in, and who I want to be with. Clarifying my boundaries and prioritizing my zones of influence helps me make decisions and helps me emotionally let go of less important areas. I choose to make my wife more important than my friends, and make my friends more important than my acquaintances--and so forth. We cannot be all things to all people.

Personal worlds can vary dramatically. Sometimes we fail to recognize how different various people's worlds can be, and how these differences can dramatically effect their thinking and behavior. Put yourself in a day of the life of several different people--such as a family member, a homeless person, a corporation president, a physician, a factory worker, your boss, or a convict.

Understanding people's personal worlds is necessary to understand the person and the issues they must deal with to be happy. The insights gained can help us create a happier personal world. Experiencing other people's worlds has been an interesting benefit of being a psychologist.

PRACTICE 1: What is your current personal world? What are the main environments in your personal world? Does each environment seem powerful when you are in it--almost as if the others didn't exist? Where do you usually feel happiest? Where, the unhappiest? How do your feelings, thoughts, and behaviors differ in these different environments? What can you learn from this comparison that will help you create a happier personal world?

PRACTICE 2: What is your image of the good life? Get in touch with your current and past images of the kind of personal world (life) you want (family, home, work, play, community, etc.). (Warning: From past chapters I hope it is clear that becoming too attached to any specific goal can lead to unnecessary anxiety and pain. Become aware of several routes to happiness and productivity--if one becomes blocked you can create another.) Develop a variety of scenarios and prioritize them.

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As my friend Jack says, “It’s a great day whenever you wake up on the right side of the grass.” While this is not a book on health, it is a book on how to maximize happiness and well-being. Health and longevity are vital for well-being and maximizing happiness.� Research strongly supports the value of healthy habits including exercise and good nutrition for good health, longevity, and happiness. By integrating good health habits into your daily routine, you can maximize your health, longevity, and happiness. Studies have even shown that regular vigorous exercise alone can be as effective as medication in reducing clinical depression�(Babyak, et al., 2000). Following is a list of health guidelines that is strongly supported by current search. Sherry and I follow them all.� If you love yourself, then you will care for each cell in your body, and live as healthily has possible.

•Regular vigorous exercise.� At least 20-30 minutes daily; better, an hour or more. Also, spread at least mild exercise throughout the day. Use weight-bearing exercises multiple times per week to make sure that you exercise all muscle groups and do full-range of movement to help all joints.

•Healthy diet.� Adequate complete protein, low-fat/adequate Omega 3 fats and other good fats, lots of dark fruit and vegetables, multi-grains, fiber, etc. Drink tea and coffee. Eat low-fat chocolate, and other beneficial foods. Keep alcohol to one drink daily—best drink red wine. Control calories to keep weight in ideal range.

•Supplements.� Adequate minerals and trace minerals—most don’t get enough in our diet. Omega 3 fatty acids, proper amounts of all vitamins, CQ10, Alpha Lipoic Acid, vision supplements, amino acids, additional supplements supported by research. Go to Life Extension Foundation,, or other respected sources for good information.

•Eliminate drugs and medication. All recreational drugs (including marijuana) have serious, negative effects on health and psychological well-being. Do not use drugs and do not smoke!� Even prescribed medications have negative side effects and in many cases can be replaced by good exercise, diet, and supplements.� Be cautious and get advice from alternative medicine sources as well as traditional physicians.

•Keep weight low. Get to the low side of recommendations for your height. Research on caloric restriction seems to show great longevity benefits.

•Safety counts.� Risk-takers tend to have lower longevity!� If you take a risk that kills 1/10,000 of the time, that seems like pretty good odds—right? But what happens to your odds if you do it weekly or daily for 10 to 20 years?� Wear seat belts, don’t do dumb things, and think about safety in all situations where some risk might be present. �Plan what you would do in worst case scenarios.

•Get enough sleep. Studies show 7-8 hours/night is associated with better health and greater longevity.

����� A mountain of research evidence supports the health, happiness, and longevity benefits of the above habits. Good health and safety habits are an essential part of good self-management.

One of my top goals has been to maximize my health and longevity.� While I’ve always enjoyed sports, I took up tennis at age 30 and have played several times weekly for many years.� Currently, I play tennis, ride my bike vigorously an hour, swim vigorously an hour, or walk several miles almost every day.� My wife, Sherry, does all this except play tennis.� We eat healthily and take nutritional supplements supported by health research.� Our health habits have helped keep us young and energetic in appearance and activities.� We see many people our age who haven’t lived healthy becoming sick, disabled, or limited.

The years and decades multiply the effects of small differences in daily habits. For example, how did one beautiful 120-pound 20-year old become a 200-pound 60-year old while another stayed at 120 pounds? Twenty extra calories a day is about two extra pounds per year.� In 4 years that’s only 8 pounds, but in 20 years it’s 40 pounds, and in 40 years it’s 80 pounds. A secret to controlling weight is keeping it within a 3-5 pound range.� When it gets near the upper limit, put on the brakes and get into gear.

Small daily health habits add together over the years to make the difference between health and sickness and between life and death.

Every cell in our bodies is important to our overall health, and
each cell has very specific needs for nutrition and exercise.
Our daily nutrition and exercise habits
add together to create huge effects on our health and happiness. 
Make your health an important life area
�in your Personal Objectives List (see below)
and get started now!


SHAQ Research Results: Health Habits


   First, good health correlates well with happiness and other outcomes. The Health Outcomes Scale correlated with Happiness, .40; with Low Depression, .38; with Low Anxiety, .34; with Low Anger-Aggr, .39; with good Relationships, .21; with Income, .09; with Education, .12; and with college GPA, .12.

   While health was not a central focus of the SHAQ research, SHAQ did produce some interesting health-related data.  I have already presented a great deal of data relating almost every SHAQ scale so far to the Health Outcomes scale.  In this section I present data relating health habits to important outcomes.


The five Health subscales follow:

1. Physical Conditioning correlated with Happiness, .43; with Low Depression, .30 with Low Anxiety, .25; with Low Anger-Aggr, .28; with Relationships, .28; with Income, .08; with Education, .06; and with college GPA, .06.

    Healthwise, physical conditioning correlated with Low Illness, .32 and with Low Weight, .43.

2. Good Nutrition Habits correlated with Happiness, .39; with Low Depression, .25 with Low Anxiety, .23; with Low Anger-Aggr, .26; with Relationships, .24; with Income, .10; with Education, 18, and with college GPA, .14.

    Healthwise, good diet correlated with Low Illness, .21, with low weight, .26; and with physical conditioning, .43.

3. Hours Sleep correlated with Happiness, .33; with Low Depression, .19 with Low Anxiety, .14; with Low Anger-Aggr, .27; and with Relationships, .31.

    Healthwise, hours sleep correlated with Low Illness, .22, with low weight, .19; with physical conditioning, .35; and with healthy diet, .29.

4. Low Weight correlated with Happiness, .22; with Low Depression, .19 with Low Anxiety, .09; with Low Anger-Aggr, .17; with Relationships, .13; and with college GPA, .06.

    Healthwise, low weight correlated with Low Illness, .15 and with physical conditioning, .43.

5. Low Addictive Habits (low alcohol, no cigarettes, no drugs) correlated  with Happiness, .23; with Low Depression, .24 with Low Anxiety, .21; with Low Anger-Aggr, .24; with Relationships, .12; with Income, .03; with Education, .12; and with college GPA, .11.

    Healthwise, Low Addictive Habits correlated with Low Illness, .16 and with physical conditioning, .18.


   As we have found in all areas so far, good seems to correlate with good.  Good exercise, diet, sleep, and non-addictive habits correlate not only with each other but with lower rates of illness, greater happiness, and lower negative emotions. In this case, it seems likely that there are strong mutually causative forces at play.  People who value themselves and their own happiness tend to value health and have healthier habits. The resulting better health contributes to their happiness, continued health, and reinforces the underlying values and habits.


Note: For all correlations, p < .0001 and Ns ranged from 1908 to 3179.  All ratings are self-report. 


CREATING A BETTER WORLD AS A GIFT OF LOVE--and a message to ourselves

A world full of potential awaits us.
We were given many talents and an almost unlimited potential to learn new ones.
We were given many resources and opportunities.
Our most powerful motives move us to learn and create.
Our sense of inner harmony cannot be complete
as long as we see needs or potentials in our environment that shout for our attention.
Love and productivity directed externally is not only a moral good,
but is a necessary part of achieving inner peace and happiness.
We may not greatly impact the whole world,
but we can profoundly affect our personal worlds.


We may be so focused on ourselves that we overlook one of the greatest sources of happiness--giving to others. Loving, creating, and giving can bring internal satisfaction to the giver even though there is no external reward. As we grow, our caring about the external world grows. Our caring may start with loving "mama" and "dada" and expand to our siblings, friends, communities, and the natural environment.

Altruism simply means that we genuinely care about other people and our world. It is based upon empathy: when we see hurt, we hurt a little; and when we see happiness, we feel a little happier. Whenever I consider a new activity, one of my main criteria is, "How much positive impact will it have on the world--especially the happiness of others?"

Giving without expectation of reward improves self-esteem. When we give without anticipating any benefit from it, then we give ourselves a subtle message that we have abundance and power. That message raises self-esteem.

If I approach life as if I need to get all that I can from others ("take, take, take"), then I give the message that I am needy and dependent, because I am too inadequate to take care of myself and make myself happy.

Return to beginning

Get a clear idea, then focus on your goals--persistently!

ACHIEVING EXCELLENCE CYCLE--Achieving distant dreams and goals

Frank Sinatra grew up in an Italian section of Philadelphia. His parents actively discouraged him from going into a singing career. His father wanted him to do something practical that would produce a steady income. Yet, he loved to sing and developed great confidence from his enthusiastic audiences. Early in life, he set a goal to become the best and developed a belief that he could. He didn't do it because he should, he did it because he wanted to. He told his parents that he could make it to the top--even though he still was unknown.

Although there are many routes to successful accomplishment, Frank Sinatra's life seems to fit a familiar pattern that can help you maximize your own potential. People who achieve extraordinary levels of success often use a process that I call the Achieving Excellence Cycle. Follow these steps to reach your dreams.

(1) Fantasize about what you want. Develop highly valued and emotional fantasies or dreams about the future, whether they seem realistic or not. Then, move from fantasy to clearer, more realistic visions.

(2) Explore to achieve harmony of motives. Self-explore and list your values and abilities. Explore external sources of information. Begin to let each important part of yourself think about your fantasies and have input to your ultimate goals. Move from visions to clearer goals. Aim to satisfy a variety of values (and parts of yourself) from one clear dream.

(3) Set high, but realistic, distant goals. Set high distant goals based upon the dreams. If the dreams are true to your inner values, they will automatically generate persistent motivation. Make growth, learning, and achievement motivation a high priority. Frank Sinatra had to learn how to sing and perform before he could become famous.

(4) Develop intermediate outcome and process goals.  Focus on step-by-step realistic, interesting, and challenging goals. Work with great effort and confidence toward reaching those immediate goals. If a goal seems too difficult or vague, break it into smaller, simpler, behavioral goals. Use outcome goals to choose process goals, but focus on process goals and growth-oriented goals (especially if the outcomes are uncertain or remote). (See rise above chapter; strategy 4.)

(5) Monitor progress toward goals and modify whatever is necessary. Successfully achieving internal standards increases self-confidence. Positive feedback also increases confidence too. However, after developing a certain level of internal control and self-confidence, we become less dependent upon outside feedback. Frank Sinatra probably needed the praises of his audiences when he was young; but early, he developed an internal evaluator that kept him going--even when the outside world soured on his music and many thought his career was finished. His continued persistence lead to renewed success for over 40 more years!

Failure is common and a part of the learning and growth process. Regularly revise goals and plans to make them more realistic. The more difficulty you have achieving outcome goals, the more you need to focus on learning and process goals. Also, review alternative goals in case the entire enterprise does not work out. The O-PATSM system will provide a way of setting goals and monitoring progress.

(6) STAY IN THE ZONE--Focus on learning, growth, excellence, and enjoyment of the process. External goals such as making money are less important. If you stay in the zone of harmonious functioning, you will be making maximum progress most of the time because you will be in a state of peak learning, peak performance, and peak happiness.

Functioning harmoniously will give you more motivation to persist-despite difficulties--to be successful. It will boost your self-confidence, love, and energy for persisting. Use the six CHUG-OF harmonious thinking mental control strategies (from chapter 8) to stay in the zone. Use them to adjust your emotions and arousal like you adjust a thermostat when they drift into the states of overarousal and underarousal.

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Be the best you can be--express yourself and do what you love. Self-actualizing people focus on learning to be the best they can be at expressing their own unique styles and interests. Frank Sinatra continued to sing and perform even when he was down and out after enjoying success for many years. He kept singing and performing even into his 80's when he had all the money and success anyone could ever want. He could do whatever he wanted. He had tried retirement (over 25 years before), but found he loved performing too much to quit.

We can learn from people who have achieved extraordinary levels of success. In the area of music, Frank Sinatra seemed to have reached some state of harmonious functioning that has had powerful effects upon his own life and the lives of millions. Maslow's self-actualizing people seemed to have had similar experiences of love for their work, which lead to extraordinary success.

To achieve high levels of excellence and impact,
focus on developing yourself and
on developing your love and expertise for your enterprise.

How much we achieve will also depend on what resources we start with. Even our best efforts will not guarantee excellence or impact, but we can do our personal best. We can use the resources and talents we were given to make the world a little better place for ourselves and others.

Develop your achievement motivation--it makes pursuing goals more fun! The process of meeting goals can be rewarding in itself. It also increases our self-esteem and control over our lives. The more positive experiences and beliefs that we associate with achieving goals, the more attractive achieving per se can become. Research has shown that achievement motivation tends to increase high achievement.

My own earlier experiences helped make achieving goals important for me. My mom and friends got excited when my team won a baseball game or when I played well. They praised me for getting good grades, and Mom was proud when I converted a back porch to a den. Consequently, I felt proud of my accomplishments. They helped me develop a greater desire to achieve goals and value achievement for itself.

Many parents are too overprotective. They do not give their children enough responsibility or let them receive natural consequences. On the other hand, many parents are overly critical and punitive. Or, they view failure as something terrible instead of viewing failure as a learning experience. Being overprotective and being too punitive both tend to increase fear of failure. Research has shown that people who are motivated more by fear of failure than achievement motivation tend to underachieve.

The more positive associations we develop about achievement per se the more we tend to be motivated to do well at whatever we attempt. The more difficult the goals we achieve, the more we develop confidence that we can achieve success in difficult situations in general.

Frank Sinatra developed confidence from overcoming difficulties. His father put obstacles in his way and his rebellious subparts were stimulated to show his father that he could succeed. That does not work for everyone, but it worked for him.

The psychologist Dr. David McClelland has achieved great prominence for his research on achievement motivation. In a recent review of research on achievement motivation, he stated that one of the greatest factors for building achievement motivation is overcoming a series of difficult goals to obtain only small to moderate amounts of reward. Not being over-rewarded for achievement seems to get people into the habit of working persistently toward important goals--even during lean times.

PRACTICE: Are you motivated more by fear of failure or achievement motivation? Complete the following questionnaire:
  1. When you set goals, are you more worried about failing and think more about avoiding a failure than about the joys of success?
  2. Do you tend to set overly easy or extremely high goals?
  3. Do you often give up or lose motivation short of attaining your goals?
  4. Are you easily sidetracked when pursuing goals?
  5. Are you easily discouraged by any failure or negative feedback?
  6. Does it take a lot of external encouragement or success to keep you pursuing a goal?

 ["Yes" on any of the above are signs of too high a fear of failure and too low achievement motivation.]  
  1. When you set a goal, are you excited about reaching your goals?
  2. Are you determined to reach your goal--just because you set the goal?
  3. Does it feel good to reach a goal--just because you reached your goal?
  4. Do you make any goal important and strive hard for it--even if you are not veryinterested in the goal content
  5. Do you value high grades in all subjects (versus only those you like)?
  6. Do you tend to set realistic, moderately difficult goals?
  7. Do you tend to underestimate how easy it is to reach your goals?

["Yes" on most of the above are signs of high achievement motivation.]

Try some of the suggestions in this chapter (achievement process and O-PATSM), and re-read the self-esteem and internal control chapters (5 and 6) to get more achievement motivation and internal control.

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IT PAYS TO WORK TOWARD HIGH-RISK GOALS: We are part of a larger process

Some of our dreams and goals might seem so distant or difficult to reach that we fear we may never reach them. We may not. Does it mean that people who spend their lives working toward big goals--and never reach them--are failures? That they are failures as people?

Unless we can accept the possibility of not reaching big, long term goals, then we will be doomed to either not setting difficult goals or to feeling high levels of anxiety. How can we accept the possibility that we may work very hard, very long--and still not achieve the goal? How can a scientist spend his life looking for an AIDES cure--and never find it?

Ideally, I would like this book to help millions of people live happier lives, to make a lot of money, and to create new options for me. When I was thinking about writing it, I realized that getting it written and published would take hundreds of hours. I knew that if I devoted the same amount of time to extra teaching and counseling, I could make thousands of dollars. I also knew that there were huge odds against the book ever being published, much less being a big success.

However, I set other goals that I have a high chance of obtaining. One goal is to write for my own knowledge development. Another goal is to see my own ideas about how to be happy in print. I have been accumulating this knowledge for many years and am determined to record them. I know they can help people. Finally, the most important goal is for this book to help my students, clients, and other readers lead happier lives.

Together we can accomplish miracles that no one can accomplish alone. Thousands of scientists searched for a polio cure, but only Dr. Jonas Salk found it. Were the rest of their efforts wasted? Of course not. Many contributed to the knowledge that led to Dr. Salk's discovery. What if Dr. Jonas Salk had looked at the odds against finding a cure and given up?

Whenever we work toward some important goal that matters for humankind, we are part of a larger group working to accomplish a similar goal. Though we are part of a group, we each have something unique to contribute. We have a different point-of-view and approach. If we do not pursue it, no one else can exactly duplicate it and something will be lost.

Even if we do not reach our highest goals,
the bigger social goal will never be achieved without the efforts
of many people like us working to achieve it.
We are part of a larger harmonious group process achieving miracles
like finding a cure to polio or dismantling the iron curtain.
These miracles could not happen if only a few people pursued the goal.

As I write, I am part of a larger process involving many people working toward human enlightenment. Thousands of potential authors have ideas they want to publish--ideas they believe can help people. If all of us let the high risk keep us from writing, then no books would ever be written. But if most of us write our books, then some books will survive the odds and will help enlighten millions of people. Even if my book is not chosen, my writing is part of a larger group writing process which must happen if humankind is to be enlightened. Repeating that thought to myself increases my motivation to write! 

Return to beginning
Go to next section of Chapter 9 to learn the O-PATSM 
system for accomplishing your goals and managing your time


The BOOK (free download): Go to Contents of Dr. Stevens'  book,  You Can Choose To Be Happy: "Rise Above" Anxiety, Anger, and Depression.

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  How to ORDER You Can Choose To Be Happy  

Success and Happiness Attributes Questionnaire (SHAQ)  to assess self on many factors  including HQ-Happiness Quotient 

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