A lot of people have the wrong idea about being successful. They love to say things like:
“I’ll be successful when I make my first million dollars.”
“I’ll be successful when I find the love of my life.”
“I’ll be a success when I have my first million followers.”
Have you noticed something these ideas have in common? They all look at success as being a destination- a place that you reach after learning the plan for how to be successful.
But the truth is success is much more nebulous than that. Success isn’t a goal or a destination- it’s a mindset that you take on to achieve your goals. Like all mindsets, you don’t drop it when you have reached your goals, you adopt it and carry it with you forever.
Just because it’s not a destination, doesn’t mean that success is any easier to achieve.
It’s in our nature to look for quick fixes and get rich quick schemes, even though we know those methods are often very temporary and incredibly ineffective.
If we want to learn to be successful, we have to challenge the three mental barriers that knock us off course.
- Chasing “Magic Bullets”
- Fearing Failure
- Letting guilt control you
Only by breaking down these barriers can we indeed become successful.
Stop Chasing “Magic Bullets” and Quick Fixes
A magic bullet is basically, a quick fix that requires little to no work from us and will make us reach our goals of success quickly.
Hitting your big goals can seem like an overwhelming, daunting task. That voice in the back of our head that says something like “I’m going to eat healthy this week!” or “I’m going to be super sociable on Instagram this week!” but a day later our minds flood with excuses like, “I don’t have time”, “I don’t have the money”, or “this is too hard”.
So then we look for a quick fix like a juice cleanse, buying followers, or some other unsustainable practice. But quick fixes are just that- quick and temporary. It might work for a week or so, but are you going to sustain these habits or growth in the long run? No.
There is no magic bullet. There is no such thing as a quick fix.
No pill, product or diet is going to do the work for you.
Quick fixes and magic bullets don’t work in personal development, fitness, marketing or any other thing you need to do to be successful.
It’s our instinct to look for something that will get us to where we want to be quicker. We need to have everything we want right now. As hard as it is, there is indeed only one way to achieve your goals; and that is to work through them, and to them. The more you work and the harder you fight, the sooner you’ll see results. The reward you’ll feel after working towards your goals will be far, far greater than any reward you’ll get by being inauthentic.
Overcome Your Fear of Failure
Fear of failure is a genuine and debilitating barrier that holds us back from achieving.
- We don’t apply for a fantastic job because we “know” we won’t get it.
- We don’t talk to that cute person because we “know” that they’re out of our league.
- We don’t take that life-changing course because we think “what if it doesn’t work for me?”
Do you want to know a secret? These examples are all things I’ve done. Repeatedly.
How can we prevent fear of failure from setting us back (again)?
We need to redefine failure. What is your definition of failure? Is it giving up? Not reaching your goal? Not achieving your goal within an anticipated timeframe? Being clear about what you consider failure is essential.
To make your goal fail-proof, change from thinking about failures to thinking about differences between what you want to achieve and what you might achieve. These differences will provide you with info that you can study, explain, and learn from to recalibrate your future tries.
Expect a good outcome, but don’t get attached to it. The more attached you are to the result you visualise when you set the goal, the more likely it is that you’ll interpret differences from that outcome as a failure. As our circumstances change, and your experiences change you, what you saw as an ideal outcome might not be attainable, appropriate or meaningful to you anymore.
If you choose not to adjust the outcomes you expected, you’ll be stuck on the differences and convinced that you’re failing. Some goals require focus and persistence, and others need openness and flexibility. Being able to re-evaluate and redefine the outcome you hoped to achieve is a suitable buffer against the fear of failure.
We should value success by the amount of thought and effort put in, instead of by the results we achieved.
Fear is a response to two kinds of threats: real and imagined. Real threats threaten our survival. Imagined threats are hypothetical scenarios. Giving a speech in front of a group of people is an imagined threat because there is little risk to your survival. Giving a speech in front of a pride of lions is a real threat because they aren’t interested in listening to you, they’re interested in eating you.
Fear of failure involves imagined threats. The concern may be real, but the danger isn’t. For the time being, your threat is a hypothetical situation. This doesn’t make your fear unjustified or unreasonable, but it does make it unnecessary. Instead of letting your fear stop you, figure out exactly what you’re afraid of and plan on avoiding the consequences that you’re scared of.
Fear of failure isn’t about being afraid of the work we must do; it’s about the remote chance that our work mightn’t be enough to get the results that meet our standards.
Researchers have identified several negative consequences people with a fear of failure expect, including feeling shame and embarrassment, losing self-esteem, the idea of an uncertain future, and disappointing others. You might’ve noticed people estimate the psychological cost of failure as much higher than the material cost.
Identify the costs of failing that scare you the most and assess your ability to deal with them. Instead of talking yourself out of the fear, focus on building confidence to deal with the consequences.
- Which consequences do you fear the most?
- What effect will they have on you? Will they be life-threatening, or just unpleasant? Will they make you feel uncomfortable or will you be hurt deeply and irreparably?
- How fast will you be able to move on? Will the consequences be permanent or reversible?
- How well can you manage them? Will you be able to exercise damage control, or will you have to hide and disappear?
What makes us fearless isn’t that we don’t experience fear, it’s that we’re confident in our ability to deal with the consequences.
Stop Letting Guilt Control You
Many people fall into the guilt paradox and don’t realise it’s happening.
How often have you spoken to a friend about exercising, saving money or revising and had them say, “Yeah, I know I should be doing that but…” followed by a half-arsed excuse about why they aren’t doing it?
“I know I should be doing that” is code for “I’m not going to do that.”
When I say you should be honest and hold yourself accountable, I positively don’t mean “feel unbelievably guilty for the things you aren’t doing.”
When you do feel guilty, don’t hide away from it. Overcome it.
When you become aware that you’re feeling guilty about something, take a moment and acknowledge. Recognise your guilt and ask yourself what is making you feel guilty.
Once you’ve realised what’s making you feel guilty, do the “five whys.” At the heart of this technique, as you might have guessed, is the question “why?” The idea is that most, if not all problems can be solved by asking “why” five times, sometimes even less, and getting to the root of the problem.
Say you feel guilty because you’ve been intending to start working out regularly but haven’t. You can utilise the technique like so:
Why do I feel guilty?
Because I haven’t joined the gym
Why haven’t I joined the gym?
Because it’s too intimidating
Why is it intimidating?
Because I don’t know how to use the machines.
Why don’t I know how to use the machines?
Because I haven’t been taught/learned how
See what happened? In less than five whys, we’ve figured out how to begin solving this issue with one step!
It’s a great idea to write this all down, your guilt, the whys you asked and how you can solve everything. This will help you get a good, clear understanding of how your mind works when it comes to both guilt and problem-solving.
Because we’re humans (probably) we’re naturally cognitive misers with limited willpower. Doing the five whys and thinking about your guilt takes a lot of it. Pick it up tomorrow when you’re fresh and ready to act.
How to be Successful: A Roadmap
I’m not going to give you vague platitudes on how you should “wake up early” or never quit. Yuck. I’m going to provide you with three proven and steps you can take action on, that’ll help you to adopt success mindsets today.
Success is hard, but it isn’t complicated.
Step 1. Set a Goal.
I’ve talked about how to set goals before, but I never really talked about how important they are. Your goals need to be SMART, if not SMARTEREST.
I love setting big goals for myself, but I’ve never really hit them before, not until I found (made) the smarterest method. It’s changed how I see success, and how I look at failure too. Because if you set a good goal, then even if you fail, you’ll have achieved something worthwhile. The only way to fail after setting a specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, timely goal is by not taking action.
Setting a goal can be freeing because you have to know why you want to attain this thing, you work out how you’re going to do it and you research how other people have done it. You come to realise that, yeah, you can do this thing. No matter what it is.
Once you have a specific goal in place, you’re able to focus on doing whatever it is you need to do to be successful. If you want to become successful in any area in your life, you have to have crystal clear focus.
Step 2. Find a Mentor
Sometimes it’s hard to see the right path. That’s because of the enormous amount of choice we have when it comes to decision making.
Although a wide variety of choices might seem fantastic, it can hinder your ability to make a decision (decision fatigue). To overcome this, you need to find someone who’s already been there- a mentor.
Your mentor is going to be the person who’s going to help you through the tough decisions and guide you on the path to success.
Your mentor doesn’t have to be some guru who lives on top of a mountain only accessible by llama or donkey.
It can be someone who is as close to you as a friend or family member. You could even find a mentor in someone you never meet face-to-face through books or blogs. Do you want to start getting fit? Maybe you know someone who goes to the gym every day.
Do you want to ace a specific class next semester? Talk to the lecturer or teacher and schedule office hours to discuss the material.
Step 3. Act and Work Towards Mastery
Mastery is the antithesis (fun word!) of magic bullets and quick fixes.
Real success comes from the work that you put in. We all want a hot body, or a Maserati, party in France, sippin’ martinis…
Sorry! Got carried away, where was I?
Real success comes from the work that you put in. When you read comments about “what’s your secret?”, You can almost be guaranteed that they won’t be the ones succeeding five years from now. The ones who are willing to work, including you and me, are the ones who’ll be partying in France (You know what I mean!).
Being successful isn’t about being catapulted into the atmosphere overnight. It’s about taking consistent, targeted action and seeing consistent, building results.
This plan for how to be successful sounds simple enough- set goals, get a little help, work hard. But you do have to take action every single day.