Sorry to pop the bubble, but the secret to success is not really a secret at all. Take any great achievement from the boardroom to the battlefield and the common determining factor is the same. Big picture thinking. Behind any success story you’ll discover at least one individual with an elevated perspective. Somebody who looked beyond convention to see things others missed. Which leaves one obvious question. If the secret is so obvious, why isn’t everyone more successful?
The answer comes in two parts. We are human, and life is incredibly distracting. Most of us have an idea of where we’d like to be but getting there can be another matter. Emails, meetings, reviews, updates, more meetings, more emails. Be honest. What percentage of your time truly brings you closer to that ultimate goal? And whilst we’re on the topic, what is that goal anyway?
We’ve worked with leading figures from a range of industries including business, politics and the law, people who embody success by any definition of the word. Despite the variety of their experiences, there are values and habits common to every story. Over the years we’ve distilled our observations into eight practical tips anyone hungry for their own success can use.
1. Define success with brutal honesty
The title. The bonus. The yacht. Our idea of success is often borrowed. Sometimes from the lives and opinions of colleagues. Sometimes from the pages of a magazine. We spend so much time chasing prescribed ideas of success we don’t ask the most important question. What is it we really want? What will make us happy? This first step is by far the hardest. It demands a degree of self-inspection most of us find difficult. Can you accept the personal sacrifices needed to rise to peak of your industry? Is your passion robust enough to ignore the temptations of a more lucrative career? The more honestly you can answer the hardest questions, the less time you will spend chasing empty dreams.
2. Plan backwards and focus
Once you have defined what success means to you, you can articulate the steps needed to get there. Work backwards to where you are now. This breaks down the scale of the task and helps identify priorities. Everything taking up your time that doesn’t align with your plan can be recognised as a distraction.
3. Decide the measurements of progress
Most great intentions end up on dusty shelves. Around 70% of gyms memberships are not regularly used. When we don’t see immediate results in the pursuit of a goal, self-criticism strangles enthusiasm. Rather than deal with feelings of failure, we capitulate. No dream worth pursing is going to be easy. To give yourself a better chance of staying the course, decide the measurements of progress, and reward yourself when they’re reached. Don’t think about the marathon. Focus on the next mile and celebrate the distance already covered.
4. Take inspiration from positive people
Every successful person can talk about failures overcome. There will be days when things go awry, when your goal feels further away than ever. Cynics, critics and petty politicians poison the self-belief needed to weather these storms. Look at the people around you. Make a conscious decision to limit the influence of negative voices. Use the energy and passion of positive people to put fresh wind in your sails.
5. Make time for the big picture thinking
Make contemplation time an immovable part of your calendar. Without that discipline, this critical function will be swamped by the incessant clamour of the day-to-day. If you’re an early riser, capitalise on the opportunity. Many of the world’s most successful business leaders rise early to plan their days in the quiet moments before the storm.
6. Find your escape
Music. Running. Taking the kids to the park. Every mind needs a break. Find activities that get you lost in a moment. As well as re-charging mental batteries, finding time to turn off gives you the space needed to consider new perspectives and find fresh ideas.
7. Look after your body
Exercise does as much for the mind as it does for the body. Most successful people are at the very least health conscious. Many are committed to staying fit. The sense of achievement generated by hitting physical goals will swell your reservoir of mental stamina.
8. Look after your mind
Nobody denies the intense pressure of the modern workplace yet seeking help to rise above the associated mental challenges is often stigmatised as a sign of weakness. It has long been understood by professional athletes that mental strength is what separate the good from the great. Use the services of a coach to fine tune your mind and your performance, and you’ll reap the benefits for years to come.
Dr Amy Iversen is the founder of the Iversen Practice.
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