May your actions speak louder than your words. May your life preach louder than your lips. May your success be your noise in the end.
The result of enormous success is often pretty noisy — lots of people talking, writing, and sharing stories about it. The actual process of achieving enormous success, on the other hand, is far more discreet. But it’s this process that happens quietly, behind-the-scenes, that makes all the difference in the world.
Marc and I are fortunate enough to know a number of enormously successful human beings. Regardless of lifestyle, industry or profession, they share many of the same quiet habits. And that’s precisely what I want to discuss with you today. Here are twelve key things the most successful people we know do quietly and diligently:
1. They have calm and consistent morning routines.
Too many books and courses on personal success act like we’re robots, and completely overlook the enormous power of our emotions. The less frenzied emotions we have at the start of the day, the less we will have all day. Because when we start the day in a calm and mindful state, it’s easier to focus and get the right things done.
But when we wake up and stress is already upon us — phones ringing, emails and texts dinging, fire alarms going off — you spend the whole day reacting instead of being proactive. This means you’re not in the driver’s seat working on your priorities — the things that drive success. You’re simply responding to what gets thrown at you, whether it’s important or not.
Try to have the first hour of your day vary as little as possible. A trusted routine can be extremely effective in helping you feel in control and non-reactive, which reduces anxiety and stress, and therefore makes you more mindful and competent. The bottom line is that how you start the day has an enormous effect on your overall effectiveness.
2. They eliminate needless busywork.
At some point we all wonder, “Why is it so impossible to get everything done?” But the answer is stunningly simple: We’re doing too many of the wrong things.
Every book ever written on productivity has shown that people never get more done by blindly working more hours on everything that comes up. Instead, they get more done when they follow careful plans that measure and track key priorities and milestones. So if you want to be more successful and less stressed, don’t ask how to make something more efficient until you’ve first asked, “Do I need to do this at all?”
Simply being able to do something well does not make it the right thing to do. I think this is one of the most common problems with a lot of time-management advice; too often productivity gurus focus on how to do things efficiently, but a lot of things people do efficiently should not be done at all.
If you think about it, it’s actually kind of ironic that we complain we have so little time, and then we prioritize like time is infinite. So do your best to focus on what’s truly important, and not much else. (Read “Getting Things Done”.)
3. They don’t procrastinate on their top priorities.
While everyone else is talking about it, successful people are quietly doing it.
Remember, it doesn’t matter if you have a genius IQ and a PhD in Quantum Physics, you can’t change anything or make any sort of real-world progress without taking action. There’s a huge difference between knowing how to do something important and actually doing it. Knowledge and intelligence are mostly useless without action. It’s as simple as that.
Successful people know that a good plan executed today is better than a perfect plan executed someday. They don’t wait for the “right time” or the “right day” or the “right (impossible) circumstances”, because they know these ideals are based on a fear and almost nothing more. They take action here and now, today — because that’s where real progress happens.
4. They gradually turn life’s obstacles around.
Many of the most iconic novels, songs, and inventions of all time were inspired by gut-wrenching pain and heartbreak. Therefore the silver lining of these great challenges is that they were the catalyst to the creation of epic masterpieces. In fact, an emerging field of psychology called Post-Traumatic Growth has suggested that many people are able to use their hardships and traumas for substantial creative and intellectual development. Specifically, researchers have found that moderate trauma can help people grow in the areas of interpersonal relationships, contentment, gratitude, personal strength, and resourcefulness.
When our view of the world as a safe place, or as a certain type of place, has been shattered, we are forced to reboot our perspective on things. We suddenly have the opportunity to look out to the periphery and see things with a new, fresh set of beginner’s eyes, which can be very conducive to personal growth and long-term success. (Note: Marc and I discuss this in more detail in the “Adversity” chapter of “1,000 Little Things Happy, Successful People Do Differently”.)
5. They learn by stretching themselves to their limits, one step at a time.
You learn best when you’re stretching yourself beyond your previous level of comfort.
Sure, getting into a routine is important. “Flow” is great too. But neither is the best way to learn. You want to be stretched to the edge of your ability sometimes too. It needs to be hard and uncomfortable for a little while because that’s how your brain grows. We learn when we’re in our discomfort zone, with boundaries.
When you’re struggling to make something good happen, that’s often when you’re growing stronger and smarter. In other words, it’s better to spend an extremely high quality ten minutes growing, than it is to spend a mediocre hour running in place. You want to practice at the point where you are on the edge of your ability, stretching yourself slightly, over and over again, making little mistakes, stumbling, learning from those mistakes, and stretching yourself just slightly farther.
6. They turn to their intuition when making tough decisions.
Intuition is very real and something that is never wise to ignore, because it comes from deep within your subconscious and is derived from your previous life experiences. If someone else is telling you “yes” but your gut is telling you otherwise, it’s usually for a good reason. When faced with difficult decisions, seek out all the information you can find, become as knowledgeable as you possibly can, and then evaluate this information with your God-given instincts.
Successful people know that trusting your intuition is equivalent to trusting your true self; and the more you trust your true self, the more control you have of making your goals and dreams come true.
7. They mindfully focus on the positive.
As described in the bestselling book “The Happiness Advantage”, recent scientific studies have shown that doctors who are put in a positive mood before making a diagnosis consistently experience significant boosts to their intellectual abilities than doctors in a neutral state, which allows them to make accurate diagnoses almost 20% faster. The same studies then shifted to other vocations and found that optimistic salespeople outsell their pessimistic counterparts by over 50%. Students primed to feel happy before taking math tests substantially outperform their neutral peers. So it turns out that our minds are literally hardwired to perform at their best not when they are negative, or even neutral, but when they are generally positive.
Of course, that’s not to say that successful people never get upset, but your effectiveness in all walks of life will fare better if you’re able to mindfully accept and let go of negative emotions, rather than dwelling on them. Think a little less about managing your problems and a little more about managing your mindset. Keep it generally positive.
8. They create visual reminders of their long-term goals.
You want to get in shape, but when you’re tired it’s easy to rationalize that you’ll start exercising and eating healthier tomorrow. You want to build a more profitable business, but when you’re caught up in the daily grind it’s easy to just do what’s familiar instead of what’s required for growth. You want to nurture your closest relationships, but when you’re busy it’s easy to rationalize that you really need to work on that client proposal instead. In other words, few good things come easy, and when the going gets tough we often take the easy way out — even though the easy way takes us the wrong way.
To combat this, many successful people create tangible reminders that pull them back from the brink of their weak impulses. A friend of ours who has paid off over $100K of debt in the past five years has a copy of her credit card balance taped to her work computer’s monitor; it serves as a daily reminder of both the progress she has made and debt she still wants to pay off. Another friend keeps a photo of herself when she was 90 pounds heavier on her refrigerator as a reminder of the unhealthy lifestyle she never wants to go back to. And another fills his office bulletin board with family photos, both because he loves looking at them and because, when work gets really tough, these photos remind him of the people he is ultimately working for.
Think of moments when you are most likely to give in to impulses that take you farther away from your ultimate goals. Then use visual reminders of those goals to interrupt the impulse and keep you on track.
9. They keep some kind of personal journal.
Taylor Swift keeps a journal. Oprah keeps a journal. Eminem keeps a journal. Enormously successful people typically track their progress, set goals, reflect, and learn from their mistakes. And they often use some kind journal to accomplish this.
If you want to get somewhere in life, you need a map, and your journal is that map. You can write down what you did today, what you tried to accomplish, where you made mistakes, and so forth. It’s a place to reflect. It’s a place to capture important thoughts. It’s a place to be able to track where you’ve been and where you intend to go. And it’s one of the most underused, yet incredibly effective tools available to the masses. (Note: Marc and I build the small yet life-changing habit of journaling with our readers in “The Good Morning Journal: Powerful Prompts & Reflections to Start Every Day”.)
10. They have mentors they observe and consult with.
Regardless of what you’re trying to achieve, you can’t do it completely alone. It can be hard to learn actionable skills from books, and sometimes the internet makes it difficult to separate truth from fiction. You need someone who has been where you want to go, and you need them to show you the way — you need a mentor.
Sure, 10,000 hours of diligent practice can make you an expert at something, but what makes you dedicate 10,000 hours to something in the first place? The answer is having a great mentor or two. If you study the lives of enough successful people, it becomes obvious that most world-class performers in all fields — athletes, musicians, entrepreneurs, etc. — had incredible mentors, coaches or role models who made the activity of practice worthwhile and rewarding.
And sometimes just observing a mentor works wonders too. When we observe someone we want to learn from and we have a crystal clear idea of what we want to create for ourselves, it unlocks a tremendous amount of motivation. Human beings are socially inclined, and when we get the idea that we want to join some elite circle up above us, that is what really motivates us to achieve greatness. “Look, they did it. I can do it too!” It may sound overly simplistic, but spending time studying people who are great can be one of the most powerful things you can do for your success.
11. They welcome honest feedback and criticism.
“To avoid criticism say nothing, do nothing, be nothing.” That’s what Aristotle said, and obviously he was being facetious. If you are being criticized for doing, saying or thinking something that’s a bit out of the ordinary, that could be really good news. Because it just might mean you’ve taken a stand for something sometime in your life recently, which is a huge part of being successful. Truth be told, you simply can’t base your idea of success and happiness on other people’s opinions and expectations.
Follow in the footsteps of enormously successful people by learning to effectively process the criticism you receive. Hateful and negative criticism should be received, assessed, and then let go, while constructive criticism should be evaluated and acted upon. Solicit feedback from people whose opinions you value — people who have been where you want to go. And remember to be gracious when receiving feedback too, so the people around you feel heard, and will therefore be more likely to give you their support in the future. (Read The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.)
12. They keep their pride in check.
Last but not least…
To admit they made a mistake. To say they are sorry. To know that they can’t possibly know it all. To have big dreams without rigid expectations. To admit they owe their success to others too. To poke fun at themselves from time to time. To ask for help when they need it. To fail big, and to try again willingly…
Most successful people know there are no permanent jobs or absolutes on this planet. We are all just interning and exploring here. So learn from everyone, remain humble, and swallow your pride when you must. It’s not giving up, it’s growing up and learning the way on the way.
That’s what successful people do.
Now, it’s your turn…
Yes, it’s your turn to start putting the points above into action, one small and quiet step at a time. And if I were going to make a recommendation, I’d say start with just these two words: “Stretch” and “Observe.”
- Stretch: As in… stretch yourself a little bit today, and then tomorrow too. Push yourself gently closer to the edge of your ability in some part of your life, again and again, so you can gradually expand it and grow.
- Observe: As in… observe your mentors and those who are more skilled than you, so you can take notes, learn, and emulate them in some capacity going forward.
Finally, remind yourself that you will never make real progress or change your life until you change something you do daily. The secret to your success is always found in your daily habits.
And before you go, please leave Marc and me a comment below and let us know what you think of this essay. Your feedback is important to us. 🙂
Which one of the points above resonated the most today?
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