What does it really mean to be successful? The answer depends a lot on who you are and on your particular life circumstances.
Of course, there are stereotypical markers of success: The big house, the fancy car, the important job, the best looking romantic partner. These ideas are often perpetuated in the media, through films like The Pursuit of Happiness. But these are largely superficial ideas of what makes a successful life. Ideally, the definition of success should be less material and more philosophical. Success is not about flashy accolades but about making a positive impact on others, living life to its fullest and finding happiness.
That said, finding your bliss doesn’t always pay the bills. So, most of us likely want to find a sweet spot between creating a life we truly enjoy and bringing in enough cash to continue to fund it. That’s really the definition of living the dream, right?
Being successful is the goal for many of us. But finding that success can feel elusive, especially when you’re young, inexperienced, or strapped for cash. Here are some ways to think about what success means to you and how to develop the right habits to create it for yourself.
How so you define success?
Success means different things to different people. For some people, success is defined by their career trajectory, a corner office and a cushy salary. For others, success means loving their jobs and feeling passionate about what they do day in and day out.
(Alistair Berg / Getty)
But some people don’t even think about work when they define success—success could be personal fulfillment, the strength of their relationships, the ability to give money to a charity they care about, being able to travel the world or simply afford to put groceries on the table without worrying about next month’s bills.
To be successful, you have to define what success is for you. How can you become successful without a goal in mind? You can’t complete a journey without knowing where you’re heading. Define success for yourself, whatever it may look like, in order to understand where you want to be.
To achieve success, you need intrinsic motivation
While those material images of success might be what you think about when you picture a successful person, accolades and money aren’t enough for most people to actually become successful.
To become successful, you need motivation, right? But there are many different types of motivation—and they’re not all created equal. One of the key motivational dichotomies to think about when it comes to success is the difference between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation
Intrinsic motivation focuses on the enjoyment of the work or task at hand. Extrinsic motivation is focusing on a desired outcome, which may or may not come to fruition. This outcome might be money, recognition or even success. It’s the difference between writing a novel in your spare time because you have a story you want to tell, versus writing because you’re determined to make it on the New York Times bestsellers list. While the latter would be nice, it shouldn’t be the reason you write a book.
If you focus on extrinsic motivation, seeking validation from external sources, you won’t have the stamina to keep going when you hit the inevitable roadblocks to your success. When you’re motivated by internal factors—like passion, drive, fun, adventure and so on—you’re motivated by the journey, not the potential outcome. This allows you to continue on that journey and will inevitably make you more successful in your endeavor as a result.
Life success: How successful people think
Being a successful or unsuccessful person doesn’t only have to do with your motivation, it also depends on the way you think. Your brain fires off countless thoughts and interpretations every second. Your thoughts influence your feelings, then your feelings influence your actions and interactions with people around you. If you’re not in the right frame of mind for success, you’ll never get there.
(Oscar Wong / Getty)
Having a growth mindset is a major predictor of success, according to Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck who consolidated twenty years of research into her widely popular book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. In it, she explains that your mindset—essentially your philosophies about life and yourself—is a major predictor of your success. Your mindset tells you who you are and what you believe. It’s your general attitude.
Having a growth mindset means that you can embrace challenges and setbacks as learning experiences. You take criticism in stride, allowing yourself to be human but also digesting the feedback in a healthy way in order to become a better version of yourself.
The opposite of this is being ridge, unimaginative, giving up in the face of adversity and staying close minded to any ideas that don’t match your own. This mindset will likely make you wildly unsuccessful.
Successful people not only have growth mindsets, they are usually positive people who are largely optimistic about themselves and their goals. They’re of course realistic about the hard work they’ll need to put in in order to be successful, but they really do believe that they will do great things. They don’t put themselves down, they lift themselves up.
In this same vein, successful people are able to visualize their success. They can dream it before they do it. Being flexible with your imagination and being able to picture your success allows you to harness the power of manifestation.
While it’s naive to think that simply believing something is enough to make it come true, there is meaning behind being able to imagine your own success. Having this picture in your mind allows you to picture what success looks like and can keep you going when the going gets tough.
Habits that make people more successful
Once you’ve defined success for yourself and you have your mind in the right place to accomplish our goals, then comes the nitty gritty of how to be successful.
Most successful people work on developing habits to help them along the way. These habits allow them to stay committed to their goals, practice time management, keep on the right path and remain mentally and physically healthy enough to keep going.
Here are some of the key habits that can make your more successful at whatever it is you’re wanting to accomplish in life:
Cultivate your grit
While there is certainly a privilege element to certain types of success, you don’t have to have unique genius in order to be successful. Psychologist Angela Duckworth, in her book Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, explains that the most successful people have a unique combination of passion and perseverance, or grit.
You don’t need to be born with some special talent to be a success, you just need to cultivate your grit: Discover what you’re passionate about and don’t let anything get in your way.
Kick imposter syndrome to the curb
One of the biggest roadblocks to success is feeling like a failure before you’ve even started. Many of us have felt imposter syndrome at one time or another—it’s a sense of not being good enough for a job, not belonging in a room of professionals or questioning your own skills.
This is where you come back to the power of visualization. When you feel less than, visualize your personal goals and remember what you’re working toward. Reminding yourself of your skills and expertise will also go a long way toward getting your mojo back, and that while some things happen overnight, in most cases the only way to get to where you want to be is to be in it for the long haul.
Be prepared to step out of your comfort zone
Being successful doesn’t come easy. You’re going to have to face challenges along the way. Exactly what these hurdles look like will be different for different people. For some, asking for help (or money) from a family member may be a challenge. For others, you’ll need to learn a new skill and may find yourself back in a classroom environment as the oldest student in the class.
Getting comfortable with discomfort and pushing negative thoughts out of the way is just one more thing you have to do to be successful. But the more you challenge yourself to get uncomfortable, the more you’ll get used to that feeling.
Create a routine that works for you
Routines can be boring but they can also make you more productive and save you time. Understanding where your daily minutes are allocated, and then streamlining that process, will allow you to focus on what really matters.
Try to wake up and go to bed at the same time each day. Block out time for emails and other time-sucking activities. Make sure you schedule yourself meal times and exercise so you can stay balanced. When you know how your days are structured, you can get more out of them.
Get enough sleep
Sure, you’re bound to pull a few all-nighters if you’re building a company from the ground up or working on a similarly challenging project. But making your health a priority is simply not optional. You need to stay on top of your game to be successful and sleep is a mandatory part of that. Without sleep you’ll be well on your way toward burnout, which could mean that you’ll lose motivation or won’t have the stamina to keep going.
Make sure self care is a priority
The most successful people know that they can’t pour from an empty cup. To begin solving these issues, you’ll do your best work and be your best self if you make taking care of yourself a priority.
Now, this doesn’t mean you need to spring for weekly massages. Sure, a healthy body can be just as important as a healthy mind, but self care is unique to each person. What you do to recharge is personal to you. However, making sure that those meals you’ve scheduled are filling and full of nutrients is an aspect of self care.
Getting outside each day, even for just a short walk, is another way to take care of yourself. Recognizing when you need a break—and actually taking one—is a great way to put your well-being first. True success is a long-term journey, and so you need to pay attention to what works best for you. It’s not the same thing for everybody.
Don’t waste time on nonessentials
Many successful people streamline things that don’t matter to them so that they can spend more time crushing their goals.
For example, you might consider making yourself the same breakfast each day so you can spend less time creating a grocery list and cooking. You might downsize your closet into a capsule wardrobe or wear a self-imposed work uniform so you don’t waste time picking out an outfit each day.
You could even consider blocking certain apps and websites from your devices so you don’t end up, say, scrolling social media for hours on end after a long day. Determine what activities you can cut from your daily routine so you can focus on things that really matter to you and be more successful in life.
Work on your productivity
Speaking of wasting time on social media, you might want to evaluate your productivity and take stock of how you can improve.
If you tend to procrastinate on tasks and save everything to that last minute, that system may work for you—and that’s great. But if procrastinating is causing you anxiety or activating your imposter syndrome, then it’s worth looking into ways to change these habits.
(Tom Merton / Getty)
Just starting a task is usually enough to get you going. Try setting a timer for five minutes and tell yourself that you can stop completely when it’s over. Chances are that once you sit down to work, you’ll probably want to keep going.
You can also offer yourself a reward after completing a task, if that also helps your productivity. Once you create new habits you won’t need to trick yourself into getting things done.
Commit to saving money and commit to yourself financially
Depending on your goals, you might need to save money in order to accomplish them. In that case, dedicating a savings account to your endeavor is a good way to help you stay on track.
Having a set amount directly deposited into this account each month will grow your success fund and inspire you to keep pushing with your goals. Even if you can only afford $10 a month, that’s still something. And if you need to cut back on other fun expenses for a while in order to fund your dreams, so be it. Committing to yourself financially shows that you’re all in.
Realize that failure is not only an option, but okay
Every successful person has experienced a setback along the way. These people just didn’t let a failure keep them from continuing to follow their passions. If you know that you will fail in some way, you’ll be less surprised when that failure inevitably happens.
Picking yourself back up and working around the roadblock will continue to build your grit and make your future success even sweeter.
Enlist accountability partners
Few people find success completely by themselves. Find people in your life that you can lean on to help you celebrate your wins, keep you on track with your goals and help you when you’re struggling or feeling like giving up. Whether it’s friends, colleagues or family members, these are people you can trust to tell you like it is and inspire you to keep going.
Seek out mentors(Thomas Barwick / Getty)
Find people in your field you can speak to or who have certain expertise that would be useful. Even if you can’t meet these people in person, you can send emails or follow them on social media and participate in live chats. Seeking out people who have done what you want to do can help give you perspective on your success journey and help you map out how you want to get there.
Never stop learning
Don’t ever assume that you’re an expert. Even the greatest minds of all time continue to learn and expand their thinking. Read books, listen to podcasts, attend lectures, take classes—do what you can to always elevate yourself intellectually. Even if your particular field doesn’t require research, having a curious mind allows you to be more adept at problem solving and creative thinking.
Trust your gut
You know yourself better than anyone else. While you do want to take other people’s opinions and perspectives into account, at the end of the day, you have to be able to listen to your own intuition when you make important decisions. To be successful, you have to be confident in your ability to make critical choices and live with them. Get in
One of the most quoted axioms about success comes from leadership expert Rory Vaden. He says: “Success is never owned. It is rented and the rent is due every day.” Whew.
Success is never a destination. It’s about continuing to up your game and become the best version of yourself that you can be. To be truly successful, you’ve never really done. You’re always working toward your own self-improvement or your next move.
How can I be successful in 2022?
Achieving success doesn’t just come overnight. And being successful is a process that can take a lifetime. (If Rory Vaden has anything to say about it, it never stops.)
Cultivate and pursue success by choosing one or two habits in the previous section that you want to work on. Perhaps you want to become more productive. Maybe you need to get in touch with your intuition and learn how to trust your gut. Maybe it’s time to clear your closet and create a capsule wardrobe. Only you know what habits feel attainable to you.
Once you master a few of these habits, continue to level up on your goals of success. Carve out time for what you’re passionate about—and leave those excuses about not having enough time at the door. Even if you only have five, ten or thirty minutes a day to devote to your own project, it’s enough to get started.
Remember that success isn’t about the outcome, it’s about the journey. So think of these moments of creating your own success as the ultimate self-care throughout your entire life. Making time for what lights you up is always worth the sacrifice. Your success is within you right now!