Do you have a pragmatic outlook?

A pragmatic outlook can be useful in many situations. After the author, Isaiah Hankel in book, The Science of Intelligent Achievement, was given his cancer diagnosis, life quickly became stressful, and that’s when he realized that the way forward was to be pragmatic, and focus on small, doable actions that would improve his condition.

A pragmatic outlook is not only good for your health, it can do wonders for your success as well, which is why the third tool of intelligent achievement is Pragmatic Growth.

Pragmatic Growth is essentially about increasing your ability to be pragmatic. The hallmarks of being pragmatic are being proactive and relying on realistic plans – especially in emotionally charged situations. It’s also a great way to overcome self-doubt and thoughts like, “I’ll never be able to finish this.” In these moments, pragmatism can help you focus on small, doable tasks and get you back on track to reaching your goals.

Studies also show that pragmatism is a good defense against stress. In research published in 2008, psychologist Francis Flynn found pragmatists in general to be happier and more emotionally stable than other people. During times of stress, their happiness levels didn’t decline steeply, as was noted in participants who lacked pragmatism.

Other studies have also shown how a pragmatic approach can keep the tides of negativity at bay.

According to psychologist Rick Hanson, everyone has a negativity bias, or a tendency to focus more on unpleasant things than pleasant ones. His study showed that our brains will immediately store negative information in our memories, whereas positive information requires at least 12 seconds of focused attention for it to be stored. This is why we tend to remember the person who didn’t hold the elevator door open for us, but quickly forget the kindness of the person who did.

But once you know about the negativity bias, you can take pragmatic steps to correct it and keep it from interfering with your goals.

A 2008 study in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin shows that your negativity bias is likely to sabotage your success if you don’t take steps against it. You can set regular small tasks to help with this very purpose, like making sure not to dwell on bad moments, and not only recognizing good ones, but taking at least 12 seconds to appreciate them.

How do you feel about to-do lists? Are they a useful tool for staying on top of things? Or are they a daily reminder of all the things you wanted to do but never got around to?

Well, if you’re not a big fan of to-do lists, you may be happy to hear that part of Pragmatic Growth is about accepting that to-do lists are often a waste of time. The truth is, making lists rarely leads to the kind of direct action that moves you closer to your goals.

In a 2012 study, biologist Mones Abu-Asab found that a big problem with most to-do lists is that they’re made up of unrelated and dissimilar tasks. Some might take a few minutes, while others might take weeks to complete. And since people like the satisfaction of ticking off a completed task, they’ll focus on small tasks, while bigger ones, like preparing your business plan, linger and die on the vine.

Staying away from distracting to-do lists filled with small tasks once again comes down to saying no and staying focused on the work that will clearly get you closer to your goal.

You can even set your default response to incoming requests to no. Or use the rule of three and only accept incoming requests if the person asks three times, since it probably means you’re the only one who can help.

You’ll also find it helpful to say no in the right way. According to a 2012 study by Vanessa Patrick, making excuses while saying no won’t help you in the long run; stating clearly that you don’t want to take on a new task is empowering and shows that you have more important work to do.

In his role at the helm of countless productivity workshops, the author has worked with thousands of people who’ve helped him identify eight pitfalls to pragmatic productivity. You can think of the tips to avoiding these pitfalls as the ultimate tool kit for keeping you on the road to Intelligent Achievement.

The first pitfall is accepting gifts. As the saying goes, there’s no such thing as a free lunch, because chances are the person picking up the tab is looking for a favor. This doesn’t mean you need to be cynical and think everyone is selfish, but if you do get invited to lunch, it doesn’t hurt to question the motives and wonder whether it isn’t, say, just a ploy to get you to work overtime. In short: pay for your own lunch.

The second pitfall is not having a morning routine. Having a regular morning routine is great for reducing the amount of mental energy you use, since you don’t have to make any decisions – everything can just go like clockwork. This means you’ll have more mental energy to spend on more important tasks later in the day.

Third is the mistake of prioritizing busywork. Always focus on the big goals and taking the steps that get you there.

Similarly, the fourth pitfall is prioritizing easy tasks over difficult ones. Don’t do it!

Pitfall number five is to be overly reliant on the eight-hour workday. Remember, you only have five hours of high-level mental energy available. So it’s all about being efficient and focused during these hours while spending the rest of the time resting and recuperating.

The sixth and seventh pitfalls are the ever-present distractions of smartphones and incoming email. Constantly checking social media, texts and email wastes mental energy. Avoid these pitfalls at all costs.

The final pitfall is giving in to requests from others. Again, this is about becoming comfortable with saying that magical two-letter word: No.

So there you have it: the three tools for Intelligent Achievement are Selective Focus, Creative Ownership and Pragmatic Growth. Now it’s time to apply these tools to your life and accelerate your career with smart, Deliberate Practice.

Intelligent Achievement is about attaining your goals with the use of smart, focused practices, and the tools for doing so are within anyone’s reach. Once you focus your attention on what’s truly important in reaching those goals, you can begin to filter out distractions, including people with distracting requests and negative attitudes. You can then become more independent, creative and productive with tools like the Disney method, and use lead magnets to help you gain customers. The final tool is to be more pragmatic by being aware of your negativity bias, and taking small, realistic steps that will add up to major life goals.

Now try this out. Hone your creative voice by listening to others.

Finding a voice that connects with your audience is about combining your interests with things that resonate with the public. You can start doing this today by talking to your friends about a topic that interests you and seeing how they react. Maybe a different but closely related topic is more interesting to them? Take in this information, and try to write a new article that incorporates your views as well as those of your friends and target audience.

Check out my related post: How to discover the magic of teamwork?

Interesting reads:



  1. Great post as always, that engages one’s mind in a meaningful conversation! 🙂 And at a good time too under the current circumstances.
    I especially related to what you said about creating to-do lists; I have a lot of them but when it comes to executing it, I’m terrible at it. However, I have also found that if I don’t make a list, then I spiral even more out of control and do nothing at all, in most cases.
    So I think the tricky part here is to figure out mostly through trial and error, what is the habit/practice that suits us with our 5-hour mental energy that you mentioned (possibly 3 hours for me), and then stick to that routine which works for us on an individual basis.

    Liked by 1 person

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