First, let’s get this outta the way: if you’re looking into the habits of highly successful people, you’ll find a gazillion different internet articles out there, and most of them will amalgamate the self-reporting of CEOs, millionaires, and people with MBAs. The habits of highly successful people that you read about will probably involve things like getting up at a certain time of day, setting priorities to execute or delegate, and other tangible actions that enable them to keep being CEOs, millionaires, run businesses.
In other words? The very definition of “successful” will be largely dependent on external metrics—the title, the money, the things they “do.”
That’s not the definition of success that I’ll use, here. For this list of habits of highly successful people, “successful” is constituted by metrics such as these:
– regularly feeling joy and fulfillment in your life
– work, titles, and money could go away tomorrow, and you’d have other identities that make up who you are
– you incorporate as much room for the invisible aspects of being human (creative thinking, some kind of spiritual or intuitive connection) as you do to the tangible aspects of being human (writing the book, starting the company)
– flow is part of the gig; as self-actualizing, growth-oriented humans, those who are truly highly successful people are not rigidly attached to their habits!
Want to be truly successful? Here are the habits you want to cultivate:
1. The habit of getting clear about wanting, craving, and desire. Your goals can be positive obsessions that drive you towards development, or they can be hungry ghosts—an endless desire to feed yourself with status or something outside of yourself. How do you know which is which? Through trial-and-error, making mistakes, and learning discernment about what you truly want. There’s no way to “hack” that process, other than listening, really listening, to the people who have come before you who keep saying that your social media following, the car you drive, the amount of money you have, or your job title will be no guarantee of happiness. Other than that? It’s all exploration to set about knowing who you truly are and what you truly want. Welcome to the human experience.
2. The habit of making conscious choices. How many times are you picking up your phone, each day? How much time are you surfing the internet? How many times a day do you think to yourself, “I hate this job”? How often are you spinning in fear about the state of the world when you read the news headlines? What are eating? Do you move your body? Do you know what your biggest life’s dreams are, and do you set conscious priorities that move in the direction of those dreams?
You don’t need to only eat lettuce leaves, or perfectly organize your closet, or decide never to look at social media again. But if you want to adopt the habits of highly successful people, you do need to make more conscious decisions. Is that food going to nurture you? Is surfing the internet really how you want to spend the gift of this day on the planet? Is thinking “I hate this job” helping you mentally or emotionally, if you need to stay there at the moment in order to pay the bills? (I’m going to vote “no” on that last one). So ante up, and start getting conscious and real about what you think, how you want to respond to what you feel, and the actions that you want to take.
3. The habit of confronting your own resistance. I was facilitating a workshop and doing a little front-of-the-group coaching for someone I’ll call Resistant Rachel. First things first: Rachel was a lovely, vibrant, creative human being with an infectious smile. Everyone adored her. Problem was, Rachel didn’t adore herself. Rachel could tell me, with detailed analytical precision, where her low self-esteem came from, but insisted over and over that she didn’t know “how” to change, didn’t have the motivation to change, couldn’t stick to a program to change. In these situations, I like to check to see if someone has some unprocessed pain that might be holding them back—I’m not a leap to strategy kind of gal—but Rachel wasn’t having that, either.
Fair enough (I don’t believe in pushing clients to go into anything they don’t want to go into). So then we talk strategy, tangible things that she can do…but then that spun out into how she couldn’t try X action because of Y complication, and she couldn’t try Z action because of some other issue…
So yeah. Resistance. She had every reason in the world for why every option available had to be the wrong option.
Here’s something I’ve observed across more than a decade of coaching: if you can describe your life’s problems and what went wrong and what you wish had been different, you have ample information to decide to change how you will let that experience limit you. Period. Once you’ve spent time in the pain, putting the situation into its context and tapping into holy tears and holy rage? All that’s left is this: what will you choose to make that experience “mean” for you and what you’re capable of, moving forward?
4. The habit of trusting that feelings have value. Shutting down feelings simply does not work—at least, not in a “habits of highly successful people” kind of way. You can decide to feel feelings and then prioritize them or feel feelings and then not let those feelings dictate your next move, but feelings are part of the human experience and they have value.
Even your fear, your anger, your sadness, your overwhelm are all signals from the body saying, “Pay attention—there’s something that requires your attention, here.” When you shut down those signals, they might get temporarily quieter but then they’ll scream louder, later. In The Courage Habit, I talk about how to start developing somatic awareness through “Accessing the Body” (there are some Courage Habit book bonuses, such as a body scan audio, that you can access through the YCL Subscriber Library). If Resistant Rachel decided to do something with her resistance—to scream it out, to take a breath with it each day—she can learn what that resistance is trying to tell her, and she can let it go.
My favorite way of accessing the body is through meditation, particularly spoken word meditation (I adore the Insight Timer app). The Courage Habit takes you through several different options, though, if meditation has never been your thing. The point is? Choose something that taps into what you feel, and do it daily.
5. The habit of looking for growth. Researcher Carol Dweck has talked about the concept of the fixed mindset versus the growth mindset. A fixed mindset believes that what you’re born with is what you get—in other words, you’re a “certain type” of person, with “certain types” of capabilities. People who say things like, “Well, I’m just not as courageous as you” or “I’m just not a very artsy kind of person” are living life from that fixed mindset place.
A growth mindset, by contrast, trusts that everything is figure-out-able, that if someone else has done it then there’s a skill-set that could be learned to replicate or even exceed their results, that mistakes are learning opportunities, that curiosity is a supreme pleasure.
Here’s a great way to integrate this habit: look for anything in your life where you’ve felt unhappy, and ask yourself what you can do to change it. As soon as something comes up around how there’s not enough time, money, capability, ask yourself, “Who has faced these same challenges, and surmounted them?” Then ask yourself what they did, and start doing that. Yes, you’ll find some places along the way where what they did isn’t a match for you. You’re a unique human being, not a robot living life in imitation of others. But if you feel like you don’t know where to start? This is it. This is where you start.
Along the way, look for every opportunity for growth—and every time you think you can’t go further, question that. Given how often we’ve seen humans transcend incredible limitations, why in the world would you be willing to live a life believing that you can’t be one of them?
6. The habit of monitoring your language. This one is classic self-help, but it’s effective and bears mentioning: How often are you telling yourself that you can’t, that you don’t know, that you have to, that you wish you could _______ but…, or explaining how bad things/people “always” show up in your life or how good things/people “never” show up in your life? Here’s the truth for most of the people who have access to an internet connection in order to read this right now:
It’s not that you can’t. It’s that you’re not choosing to (yet).
It’s not that you don’t know. It’s that you’re either still learning, or you do know and you’re ready to face even the things that are uncertain.
It’s not that you have to, it’s that you get to or you choose to.
It’s not that you wish you could but…it’s that you wish you could and you need to take action.
It’s not that bad things “always” show up in your life and good things “never” show up in your life; it’s that you’re choosing to ascribe a lot of power to the bad stuff and minimize the good stuff.
A little side soapbox on this one: In particular, I pay attention to my language around “can’t,” and “have to,” because I live in privilege every day, and it seems to me a terrible affront to those who truly can’t, who truly have to, who truly wish they could but…for me to talk as if I’m facing those same challenges. If you are someone who CAN, who has choices, who has the option to turn away from bad, traumatic things and put your focus on the good of life? Please, please, please: DO that. Exercise the options that you have the privilege to exercise.
Speaking of which, how about not saying “I’m starving,” when you’re simply hungry and food is abundantly available? How about not walking into the gym saying, “This is gonna kill me,” before a hard workout? How about not listening to songs with lyrics that extol the negative—unless, of course, you actually want those lyrics to be your life?
7. The habit of surrounding yourself with people who practice integrity. There’s a saying I heard, growing up in the Midwest: “Don’t go laying down with pigs, thinking you won’t wake up covered in mud.”
As humans, we are wired for connection. We are social creatures (even the introverts among us!). Sometimes, our desire for connection causes us to excuse things that are out of integrity. Without a doubt, there’s no one out there who is in integrity in every area of their lives. You don’t need to start expecting perfection of people.
Also without a doubt? Sometimes telling yourself, “Golly gee, no one’s perfect” ends up being someone’s get out of jail, free, card for piss-poor behavior.
And let’s just get this straight, in case you’re wondering about how to set a benchmark for this: if they lie to you? Out of integrity. Period. End of story. There are scores of people you could give your love to, who won’t lie to you—hanging out with someone who lies, is a choice. And if they justify their lies, and all the reasons why they couldn’t tell you? Run like hell in the opposite direction.
8. The habit of prioritizing integrity within yourself. My coach, Matthew Marzel, gave me this definition of integrity: “Integrity is: when your words and actions match, and they are in alignment with your values, commitments, beliefs, and life vision.” In other words, integrity goes beyond just doing what you say you’re going to do, and incorporates more nuance. It’s also about knowing (and living) your values, knowing (and living) your commitments…you get the picture.
The perfectionists among us can sometimes take this on as a mission (“Yes! Integrity! Something else to try to be perfect at!”) so I like to remind people that it’s not in integrity…to try to make yourself perfect at being in integrity. Everyone is out of integrity, somewhere. The best we can do is notice that and then come back into integrity, with ourselves. Moment, to moment, to moment, that’s what we do (entre: the reason why I say that the habits of highly successful people have to include flow, not rigidity).
If you want to live a better life, if you want to step into these habits of highly successful people, you’ve got to stop wiggling out on your own integrity. You’ve got to stop saying “someday,” when there is today. You’ve got to stop saying “I’ll try…” which only ever gives you a back door to give a half-hearted effort. You’ve got to stop pretending as though you, too, are not on earth having a very short life experience—it is so short, that 100 years if we’re lucky, is simply not enough to experience the magnitude of what it means to be human.
Let’s stop wasting time. Let’s redefine success—because it’s sure as shit not about titles or money. Success is about how you feel in your own human skin, and it will require the courage for you to totally trust yourself, to make who you truly are on the inside into how you actually live, on the outside. And that? That means…everything.