Real Leaders

The Science of Success: In Five Steps

The factors that define success have been studied and researched to a very fine point over the last 50 years. Success is not a mystery; it’s a 5-step habit:

1. The first stepSelf-Vision, is the most critical because it’s how you define success. It answers your ‘WHAT’ question. What do you really want? This is nothing less than the intention you hold for your life. Many people spend their whole lives investing superhuman effort in achieving goals that are ultimately not satisfying. We can avoid all that. Today we have well researched ‘end of life’ studies that definitively tell us what goals will make us happy and satisfied as our lifetimes come to a close. (See “Triumphs of Experience” by George Vaillant) So as I laid out previously, take the time to reflect on (1) what you want to achieve through your work, (2) how you want to enjoy your life, and (3) the difference you want to make. The more clearly you KNOW what your soul desires the easier it will be to say NO to other people’s agendas and the zillion distractions we face each day.

2. The second step is self-inspiration. This answers your ‘WHY’ question. Achieving success will take you out of your comfort zone because soul satisfying success requires growth. Without inspiration it is almost impossible to transcend old habits, procrastination and general foolishness that gets in the way of your best life. Self-inspiration starts with motivation. Psychologists tell us that we are far more motivated by our fears than by our lofty desires. So the way I have come to teach this principle is that we are motivated by our fears and inspired by our dreams.

Researchers at the University of Michigan have found that the key to high motivation is to clearly define the things in your life that are unacceptable and ask yourself “What will happen if nothing changes?” So, if you are in a mind-numbing job that requires constant overwork resulting in relentless stress…what will your work life be like two years from now if nothing changes? It will suck, right? Then ask yourself “Is that okay?” If you have maladapted and expect nothing greater for yourself it means you have come to accept the un-acceptable. Stop that. Stop accepting your status quo. Your motivation to change has to come from your self-respect.

Once you are motivated to change, you can unleash the inspiration of your self-vision. Vividly imagine how good your work and life can be by doing intrinsically rewarding work with people you respect at a pace that is sustainable. Ignite a bonfire of creativity and commitment. It will inspire you to act.

3. The third step is self-initiative. This addresses the ‘HOW’ question. This means taking responsibility to get into consistent action. Be proactive. The world will open up when you put the key in the lock to your best future. Economist Richard Wiseman, author of the “The Luck Factor” outlines the three elements that unlock good fortune.

  1. Open your mind.  There are many paths to your self-vision. Don’t get trapped by the mistaken notion there is only one company you should work for or even one profession that will satisfy you. When you open your mind you will see opportunities for learning and experiences that will be useful on your journey. Exercise wisdom and discernment to distinguish between being sidetracked and open-minded. I have found virtually no life experience is wasted if you stay focused on how to leverage it in the pursuit of your genuine dream.
  2. Engage new people and tell them what you’re up to. Wiseman has identified this habit as being the single most important activity for people who want big, beautiful opportunities.  People you know well probably already know what you want and what you can do. They are already providing all the help they can. It’s the big ring of people known as the ‘friends of your friends’ that you want to talk to… and also strangers. Research confirms your best opportunities will come from meeting new people.  If you express your goals and dreams with clarity and confidence they will often think of someone else you don’t know that you need to meet because they can help you.  In the college class that I teach on career changes I challenge students to tell 100 new people in 100 days what their professional dreams are. What these students experience is a massive increase in new opportunities. So please try it for yourself.
  3. Pay attention. Pay attention to what’s working and what isn’t. Pay attention to what is helping you get closer to your dream and what is a waste of time. Your daily experience is full of clues that serve as Hansel and Gretel breadcrumbs that will keep you from getting lost in the forest. Follow the breadcrumbs. Stop doing what isn’t working so you can increase your energy for step number four.

4) The fourth step is self-investment.  This is the ‘DO’ principle. It means you are going to ‘over invest’ in learning what you need to learn to be able to do what you need to do to become extraordinary. Most people will just try to keep getting what they want by just continuing to do what they are already doing.  But real success comes from making a ferocious commitment to what is necessary. By ferocious I don’t mean that you put your personal life on hold, ignore your health or ditch your loved ones. What I mean is that you must simply focus virtually all your working energy on the few activities that will make the most difference.

You must still live a balanced life. Research shows that the social support from intimate relationships and the benefits of fitness and hobbies will make you more creative, productive and successful than if you just become a mono-maniac.  So the over-investment I am talking about is simply over-investing your work time, attention and effort in the key activities that will drive your success.

S-Strengths.  You need to over-invest your motivated talents in what you are trying to accomplish. Your motivated talent is something you enjoy doing that gives you a high return on effort. If you are clear on what your strengths are, ask others who know you well what they most admire about you and what they think you do really well. You might be surprised.

G-Gaps. What needs to happen for you to be successful that you probably are not going to do? For instance I have been diagnosed as a hyper-visionary. I am a volcano of new ideas. But I tend to get scattered. Sustained focus is not my strength so I need to find others to team with to fill in my gaps. Everyone has gaps.

O-Opportunities. What opportunities do you have right now that you need to seize to keep moving in the direction of the success you’re seeking? Right now there are people that you should follow-up with who will help you meet the people you need to meet that will be a booster rocket to your success. Act on your opportunities and you will have more of them.

D-Distractions. I have found it’s helpful to make a list of internal and external distractions. Internal distractions arise from an undisciplined mind that quickly leads to external distractions. For instance if you were spending more than 30 to 45 minutes today on recreational social media that is valuable time you could be spending learning and doing things vital to your success. By writing down your habitual distractions your awareness will disempower them.

So the summary of step four is to use your strengths to invest in opportunities with increasing velocity. Enlist others to fill in your gaps and change any distracting habits.

5) Grit. This is the ‘Review’ principle. This means you are constantly reviewing what is working and what isn’t and re-investing in your progress. Researcher Dr. Angela Duckworth has isolated that the most potent success factor of all is GRIT. Grit is simply creative persistence. Persistence alone will lead you to drown in the ocean of Einstein’s definition of insanity. (Doing the same thing over and over again while expecting a different result.) Creative persistence means that you remain locked on your self-vision but you are constantly employing thinking agility to make course corrections that will enable you to overcome the inevitable roadblocks that suddenly appear around blind corners on the road of life. Grit is primarily an act of Will. (Ok, that was a pun I could not resist.)

The 5 evidence-based success factors; Self-Vision, Self-Inspiration, Self-Initiative, Self-Investment and Grit will transform your life. I know because it transformed mine. Go for it.

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