The Achievement Habit: An Interview with Bernie Roth

I interviewed Dr. Bernard Roth, the Rodney H. Adams Professor of Engineering at Stanford University. He is the co-founder and academic director of Stanford’s The Hasso Plattner Institute of Design, better known as the He arrived at Stanford in 1962, an expert in the world of machine design. He has organized and led workshops on creativity and personal effectiveness, and was one of the co-founders of Stanford’s “d-school.” He is the author of the recently published book The Achievement Habit: Stop Wishing, Start Doing, and Take Command of Your Life. (See the instructions below to win a free copy of Bernie’s book.)

PAUL: What inspired you to write The Achievement Habit?Bernie Roth - Achievement Habit

BERNIE: I have been developing this material since the the late 1960s. I use these ideas in my life, in my teaching and in my workshops on creativity and problem solving. Over the years, many people have asked my if I had written material to supplement my teaching. Three years ago I had a sabbatical leave and decided it was finally time to put the material in to written form.

PAUL: Can you distill the big idea behind the book? How do you define the achievement habit?

BERNIE: The big idea behind this book is that if you become mindful about what you are doing and how you are doing it, you can take more command of your life and have a more satisfying life. I define the achievement habit as having a good life; getting the job of living done in a satisfying way that nurtures the life force within us and within those we associate with. It entails developing some self-mastery to handle the difficult aspects of our lives and relationships. It involves finding something to do with our lives that engages us and gives us positive feedback. If we’re doing it right, our life should flow and shouldn’t be a debilitating struggle, even if at times it takes considerable effort.

PAUL: As a co-founder of Stanford’s, you introduce the power of design thinking. How does design thinking help achieve our goals?

BERNIE: Design thinking is the name we use for a set of mindsets and procedures that facilitate problem solving. Applying these to our own lives gives us a useful set of tool that supplement the more traditional analytical problem solving tool people learn in school. The design thinking tools speak directly to what it means to be human. They are extremely useful in assisting us to re-frame the issues in our lives and how we go about our daily activities in such a way that we can have more satisfying lives.

PAUL: In your book, you share many ideas that will improve our confidence in doing what we always wanted. I find your insight between doing vs. trying fascinating. Can you elaborate how these two are different? Why is it important to differentiate the two?

BERNIE: People love to use the Star Wars quote by Yoda: “There is no try, there is only do.” I understand the inspirational aspect of Yoda’s statement. However, it is bit too type-A for my taste. I believe there is both a “try” and a “do.” And that they are both okay states to be in. The difficulty comes when people think they are the same thing. If you are “trying” then you may or may not accomplish what you have in mind. If, while trying, you encounter obstacles you can be stopped. When you are “doing” then you will accomplish what you have in mind regardless, obstacles will not stop you. They are both okay states.  It can be fun to try and not succeed. You just have to not kid yourself that someone else stopped you. You just need to realize that if you do not succeed you chose to be  “trying” rather than  “doing.” At times it is better to try and not succeed, than it is to succeed. It might even save your life!

PAUL: Another helpful idea is training yourself to ignore distractions that prevent you from achieving your goals. Can you share concrete examples of how to do this?

BERNIE: I find the key element is to have the intention to do something and then to give it the attention it requires to carry it out. So, for example I go to a yoga class every Friday at noon. At the beginning of every year I block out that time on my calendar for the entire year, and I resolve not to let anything other than foreign travel get scheduled in that time slot.

Similarly, when I wrote The Achievement Habit I set my clock to get up a 6:30AM each morning and did not schedule anything before 10:30AM, so I had about four hours every day regardless of how late I went to bed the previous night or what came up in the morning. I had the intention to write the book and I gave it the attention it required even on the days when a part of me came up with a good reason to deviate from the schedule. It is a matter of setting priorities and sticking to them.

Question: What is the one thing standing between you and reaching your goal? 

How to Win a Free Copy of The Achievement Habit (All you have to do is to two things):

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2)    Leave a comment on bottom of the post. (Answer the question above)

  • Charles S Areson

    What is standing in my way?

    People like Paul Sohn.

    There may be some thing beyond our control at 48 I am not going to be going to the going to the Superbowl as a player. However, for most everything else its the guy looking at me in the mirror is my problem (and that is not Paul) . We are our own worse enemy even God can not help us if we refuse to try.

  • LuAnn Braley

    Answer to #2 above: getting started.

  • Rohit Bastian

    The fear of not doing something ‘prestigious’ enough and laziness are clearly the things standing between me and my goal.

  • Honestly… Myself and my fears

  • Nitin Kumar Ruparel

    I want to read this book. It looks better than Braon Tacy’s Goal

  • Kimberly C

    Burning out is probably what would prevent me from reaching my goals. It’s important to work hard towards achieving your goals, but working too hard could have the opposite effect.

  • bhrush

    My barrier is not knowing exactly how to market my material that I know would help people move higher into their realm of achievement. So I am hindered from achieving all I want.

  • Kristin Tucker

    My barrier is mental obstacles, self-defeating thoughts AND time.

  • This is one self-leadership book I DO NOT already have on my bookshelf. I am very eager to read it! Thanks, Paul.

  • Answer…..myself and endurance (motivation). Staying the course is the toughest challenge.

    • Brent, congrats! You are one of the two who won the giveaway contest!

  • Steve Goble

    The daily challenge of balancing entrepreneurship, fatherhood, and being a husband.

  • Right now? My pillow. I’m wasting the precious morning hours. Can’t seem to move myself out of the bed until I absolutely have to.

  • Definitely procrastination and poor time management. But as I look back at the last six months, I realize I’m improving. Thanks for the opportunity to win. This book sounds very inspiring.

  • Jennifer Harshman

    Two things stand between me and the achievement of my goal, not counting the time I devote to my family. The one I feel most acutely is not being able to cram 48 hours into 24. Everyone knows that will never happen, though. The other is not knowing which will be the most effective things to do. Would you like to loan me your crystal ball? 😉

  • Just an FYI I don’t see a Facebook share button so I shared on Twitter and LinkedIn 🙂
    Now, in regards to your question, my answer would be self-discipline… So, Me and my excuses.
    – Parker Waldrop

  • Gary Runn

    In reality–it is confidence!

  • Matthew Plotner

    My own fear! I am afraid of failure to the point I won’t try.

  • Bethany

    Fear. Fear has held me back.

  • Paul

    Hmmmm intention huh. That is right in the money

  • Leslie

    The one thing standing between me and my goal is fear of failure.

  • Rebecca Rayfield

    The “committee” that’s in a constant debate in my mind!

  • Jennifer Wilder

    me and my . . . gulp . . . procrastination and “this should be easy” mentality. #thetruthhurts

  • Lori Waters

    Fear! However, I’m getting over that because if I can help ONE person on the journey, it doesn’t matter what the 999 critics thought.

  • Beverly Guevara

    Procrastination! I need to scheduled my priorities and be intentional about them.

  • Angel Bolton

    I change my goal list….too frequently!

  • Spencer Marona

    1) What is standing in the way between me and my goals are habits. I need to take time for myself and reflect on what I am doing each day and whether it was busy work that could have been delegated or whether it was productive.

    2) I agree and appreciate Professor Roth’s statement about being mindful about “what” we are doing and “how” we are doing it.

    Great interview and I always get out of something out of reading your posts. Thank you and I look forward to read

    • Spencer Marona

      reading Professor Roth’s book.

  • Lynn Bradley

    What’s standing in my way? Myself. I overcommitt myself to help other people and never leave enough time for myself to get done what I want to do.

  • Justin Dearing

    Balance. Balance. Balance! Being Healthy for my kid, Full Time Employee, Full Time Husband. ALL THE THINGS.

  • Michele Lunar Clark

    I need to read this! Thanks for sharing, Paul!

    • Michele, congrats you are one of two who won the giveaway contest!

  • Christian

    Daily disciplines, must master myself.

  • I’m standing in my own way. I’m working on changing it though. I’d love to read this.

  • Ashley Armbruster

    Put simply? Fear.

    Fear of finance. Fear of failure. Even fear of attention. Not living up to expectation.

  • Kemosabie

    Me, my fears and a whole lot of excuses! :/

  • I lack time due to balancing mama duty with a part-time job and sleep. There are other things, of course – husband, friends, travel, faith, housework, health, etc. – but the first three…well, those are the trifecta, and the right balance seems to be a moving target I have yet to nail down.

  • Angela Davis

    My health.

  • Tami Romani

    My inability to pin down exactly my purpose right now. I have too many irons in the fire, so to speak, and need to find the one thing I’m supposed to do & focus on that.

  • araoguerreiro

    I believe most of the times I spend too much time trying to understand the obstacles instead of going through them.

  • As an introvert, I recharge by reading after the rest of my family is asleep. As Bernie mentions in your interview, I think the only way I’m going to achieve my goals is to force my self to get to bed earlier and have the discipline to get up early to do the work.

  • I stand in my own way, self-doubt, fear, anxiety and belief that I can win.

  • Steven Tessler

    At first it was fear. Then clarity.

    I’ve now started on my path to my goal!!

  • Mike Watson

    The barrier that exists is a mind of fear-always wanting security, too risk-adverse. Currently working through that- thanks for the share/and the book.

  • Tammy Fuller

    One thing standing between me and my goal is fear. I’ve done a lot of work over the last couple of years to push past my fears but there is work left to be done.

  • Brian Mays

    Hmmm…what’s standing in my way? I think it would be confidence in approaching people. I’m selling myself and services, and I feel very out of my element.

  • Todd Greer

    Focus (and an administrator who can keep me on task – and remind me that time is money : )

  • Sheryl Anne

    I think the thing that is holding me back is priorities and self doubt. With God all things are possible. I am trying to remember that. Thanks for being a great leader for me. GBYD

  • Heidi Kilde Kleine

    My perception of lack. Lack of time and resources.

  • Walter


  • Julie

    The main thing standing between me and my goals is myself and my lack of confidence that I really can achieve what I am setting out to do.

  • Anita Demyan McHenry

    I am… I’m overwhelmed by the clutter in my life and now that I’m not raising children anymore, I don’t know what my goals are, or how to determine what I want them to be!

  • Carlos Garcia

    What is the one thing standing between you and reaching your goal? Based on Paul Sohn’s interview with Dr Bernard Roth, for me the main thing is being more intentional about fulfilling my goals. I think I have been “trying” too long, and have forgotten the “doing” side. When my mindset is on trying I almost set myself to fail because my focus is on the thought that I may not succeed in achieving the goal, instead of the determination that I will get it done no matter what it takes.

  • Deddy Wirata

    I am taking a lot of responsibilities in order to boost my leadership experience… but it somewhat consumed my time so much to chase my dream to be a world class of bridge junior player…

  • Cathy Phillips

    Choosing the right goal to focus on instead of getting lost in all the possibilities of things I want to do; feeling overwhelmed

  • homebrewgeek

    The imposter syndrome catches me on some days. I’m in a new role at a smaller company than I’ve ever worked for but with a much higher level of responsibility. I have the knowledge and experience but am learning new things daily that some of my direct reports are having to teach me. My fear is they’ll see me as an imposter before I have a chance to prove myself.

  • Jay Lee

    This will be a useful tool in my new assignment! Help! I love free stuff too. Just being honest! 🙂

  • Louise Morman

    Finding someone to partner with on the project.

  • Maya Markova

    very intresting book

  • Mike Rowell

    I think taking my trying and transitioning it to my doing may be the one thing. Thanks for this!

  • Tristan K. Frazier

    Doing. It comes down to consistency for me. Some days I make choices to not fulfill my goals.