Success doesn’t happen overnight.
It's the result of many ideas, plans and behaviors over time.
Much like your happiness and health, it has something to do with external factors like “luck”, genetics, connections and timing.
But, it's mostly under your control.
You have the ability to create a life you love.
“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.” -Aristotle
If you repeatedly enact the right behaviors, chances are, you’ll be successful in whatever you set out to accomplish.
So, what’s the secret to success?
I figured the best way to find out was to study the habits of those who have already achieved a BHAG or two.
They may have achieved success in different ways, but they all have some things in common that we can apply to our lives.
Here are 9 little-known habits of highly successful people to help you achieve your goals:
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1. They Harness the Power of Neuroplasticity
If you could have any superpower, what would it be?
Flying? Invisibility? Mind control?
Well, guess what. You already have an amazing superpower. It’s called neuroplasticity – the ability to change your brain both physically and functionally through your thoughts and actions.
Highly successful people embrace neuroplasticity.
They know they have the power to turn limiting beliefs into empowering beliefs.
They're constantly improving themselves – consequently, increasing their chances of success.
As Stanford University researcher Carol Dweck explains, a growth mindset is one that is based upon the belief that our abilities and qualities (such as intelligence, character and creativity) can change and grow over time.
A fixed mindset, on the other hand, is based upon the belief that we are stuck with the abilities and qualities that we are born with.
Those with a fixed mindset are constantly trying to prove themselves, seeking external validation rather than internal fulfillment.
When you have a growth mindset, you view failures as learning opportunities, not a reflection of your self-worth or abilities. You embrace neuroplasticity and have the confidence to take risks because you know that’s what it takes to succeed.
Highly successful people understand that failure is an inextricable part of success. It’s not that they aren’t scared; everybody is scared to pursue their big goals in life.
They just choose to turn those fears into fuel for success. Those who are successful keep working towards their ultimate goal little by little, constantly improving themselves (and their chances of success) along the way.
“Failure is the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.” – Henry Ford
2. They Take Risks
Highly successful people know when to hold ‘em and when to fold ‘em.
If you’ve ever played poker, you know that it’s pretty much impossible to win the game if you never call or place a bet – the blinds will just slowly chip away at your stack until there’s nothing left.
BUT, it’s also not a great idea to go all in every hand. Sooner or later, someone will call your bluff and you’ll be out.
You win by taking calculated risks. By going all in at the right time.
“Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.” - Goethe
Rarely does anyone become successful by playing it safe.
Think about the someone who inspires you.
Chances are, they had the confidence to do something extraordinary. Something that required them to step outside of their comfort zone and take a risk.
Margie Warrell, bestselling author of Brave, explains that humans are innately risk-averse creatures. We’re hesitant to put ourselves out there.
When we think about taking a risk, we catastrophize about all the things that could go wrong.
Self-doubt, fear of failure and concern over what others think cloud our judgment and we become paralyzed.
“Why risk it?”, we think. It seems much safer to just stay where we’re at and maintain the status quo.
But the truth is, we tend to overestimate the negative consequences of risk taking and underestimate our ability to handle those consequences.
Highly successful people have the habit of asking themselves one very important question – What’s the worst that can happen?
Remember that inaction has consequences as well. And I think we can all agree that regret is much worse than failure.
“It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default.”- J.K Rowling
3. They Practice Self-Care
You’ve got to take care of yourself before you can take care of others or do anything else!
Highly successful people understand that self-care is not selfish.
They have a habit of looking out for their physical, spiritual and mental well-being.
They take measures to simplify their lives.
Your health should be your number one priority. If you’re not in a good place, how can you do any good or be any good to others?
“Man sacrifices his health in order to make money. Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health. And then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present; the result being that he does not live in the present or the future; he lives as if he is never going to die, and then dies having never really lived.” – Dalai Lama
First item on the self-care to-do list is make sure you are getting enough sleep.
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According to a study published in the Journal of Neuroscience, sleep deprivation can cause anxiety.
If you’re always on edge, reaching your goals will be a very stressful process (and it shouldn’t be!)
One way to improve your sleep quality is by taking care of yourself physically. Which brings us to number two on list – exercise. Regular exercise has its own benefits including that it:
And last but not least, nurture your spiritual health if you want to be successful.
Whatever your religion, do things that bring you peace and fulfillment.
Truly successful people are not concerned with external validation, but rather internal growth.
Make a habit of setting intrinsic goals – ones that align with your purpose and mean something to you personally.
4. They Read a Lot
“Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.” - Mahatma Gandhi
Highly successful people tend to be avid readers because of their never-ending quest for knowledge.
Famous figures such as Elon Musk (read 10 hours a day before becoming Tesla’s CEO) and Bill Gates (reads 50 books a year) say that reading played a role in their success.
One study of 1,200 wealthy people found that they all had one habit in common – reading. Thanks in large part to a growth mindset, successful people understand the importance of reading and learning.
Highly successful people are constantly educating themselves by reading books on how to become more successful in their industry, autobiographies of other successful people and books on personal development.
But you don’t have to read non-fiction books to reap the benefits of reading.
According to neuroscientists, reading novels improves brain function and increases emotional intelligence. Reading also reduces stress, improves memory and increases concentration – all super important things when it comes to achieving goals.
But, perhaps the most important gift of reading is that it helps us to imagine the possibilities, to compose our own definition of success.
Oprah Winfrey says that as a child, reading allowed her to discover that “there was a whole world to conquer” beyond the pig farm she grew up on in Mississippi.
This is HUGE when it comes to success.
If you don’t think BIG enough, you sell yourself short. Being able to imagine the possibilities helps you to define your Big, Hairy Audacious Goal (BHAG) – which is the first step to achieving it.
Reading is knowledge. Knowledge is power.
5. They Play or Listen to Music
Several studies suggest that music is the key to success.
High achievers often credit music when it comes to their professional achievements, saying that music sharpened their ability to:
Learning to play an instrument requires a great deal of patience and dedication – useful skills to have when trying to reach your goals.
It also requires the use of both sides of the brain and an integration of vision, hearing, emotion, touch and fine motor skills.
Musical training structurally alters the brain and enhances neurogenesis (the formation of new neurons) in the hippocampus – the part of the brain responsible for memory, learning and emotion.
If you don’t play an instrument, not to worry. Just listening to music has some outstanding benefits.
Any kind of music that motivates you or lifts your mood is helpful, but classical music is particularly conducive to success.
Studies show that listening to classical music:
Since I started listening to classical music while writing, both the amount and the quality of my work has significantly increased.
If you’ve never listened to Mozart, Chopin, Beethoven, Liszt, Tchaikovsky or Vivaldi (<-- my fav!), I encourage you to give it a try! You’ve got nothing to lose and a whole lot to gain.
6. They Are Mindful
Highly successful people understand the importance of the mind-body connection.
It is now well-accepted in the scientific community that our emotions impact our physical health.
With approximately 40 million people suffering from anxiety in the U.S. alone, it is increasingly important to focus on lowering our stress levels and improving our mental health.
Many are recognizing that it is now not only desirable but necessary to make life simpler and less stressful.
One way to do so is to become more mindful.
Mindfulness allows us to clear the clutter from our minds and release our worries about the past or the future. By focusing on the present, we become happier, calmer and more open to success.
“All that we are is the result of what we have thought: it is founded on our thoughts and made up of our thoughts. If a man speak or act with an evil thought, suffering follows him as the wheel follows the hoof of the beast that draws the wagon.... If a man speak or act with a good thought, happiness follows him like a shadow that never leaves him.” - Gautama Buddha
Some high achievers set aside time to sit down and practice mindfulness meditation while others go for walks outside or drink tea or do yoga or take baths.
It doesn’t matter what you do as long as you are aware of and focused on what’s happening and you experience it to the fullest.
Over time, as you continue to gently push out of your mind any thoughts that may pop up during meditation, you will become more aware of your thoughts when you’re not meditating.
You’ll be better able to step back from any negative, anxious or self-defeating thoughts and realize that they are not facts. You will be more likely to achieve your goals because you’ll have the confidence in yourself necessary to pursue them.
7. They Have Pets
“Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened. – Anatole France
You probably already know that there are many health benefits of having a pet, including:
Animals not only enrich our lives, they also help us to succeed in life.
A recent survey conducted by Banfield Pet Hospital and Kelton Research suggests that there is a link between having a pet and professional success.
Here are some of the interesting findings from that survey:
Animals can also teach us a thing or two about believing in yourself, focusing on what’s important and living in the moment. They trust their intuition and act with confidence.
Animals don't catastrophize about the future or ruminate over the past. They live in the moment.
“This is a wonderful day, I have never seen this one before.” – Maya Angelou
8. They Pivot & Bounce
“Life is not about how fast you run or how high you climb, but how well you bounce ”
Adaptability is an increasingly important quality in today’s era of risk and instability. Companies must constantly reassess their products and marketing strategies in order to thrive.
It’s important to be able to quickly change course in order to survive (or to give yourself a competitive advantage) and bounce back from setbacks along the way.
Entrepreneurship is fraught with uncertainty and flexibility can mean the difference between success and failure. The ability to pivot increases the chances of success.
Highly successful people rarely succeed in the first thing they set out to accomplish. They usually have to tweak their ideas and businesses to fit the demands of the market.
They understand the power of perseverance, but they're also willing to modify their plans as circumstances dictate.
What works today may not work forever so be willing to evaluate your systems and processes to see if there is anything that can be improved.
“Stay committed to your decisions, but flexible in your approach.” – Tony Robbins
9. They Expect Success and Express Gratitude
Finally, highly successful people expect success.
They dream big and they believe that their dreams can come true.
That belief strengthens their work ethic and motivates them to keep going when times get tough – two extremely important factors when it comes to success.
People who are optimistic not only tend to be more successful but also live longer, healthier lives than those with a more negative outlook, regardless of the objective “good” or “bad” things that happen to them.
“When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.” – Max Planck, Nobel Prize Winner (physics)
When you’re optimistic, you’re able to see the silver lining in any situation and learn from it. You’re able to recognize opportunity when it presents itself. And because you expect success, you’re able to manifest it more easily.
Highly successful people also make it a habit to consciously express gratitude for what they have, whether through journaling, volunteering or setting aside time to reflect.
Expressing gratitude makes you appreciate what you have even more and helps you to remember how blessed you really are.
“Be thankful for what you have; you’ll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you will never, ever have enough.” – Oprah Winfrey
To recap, the 9 little-known habits of highly successful people are:
Over to you – any little-known habits I left out? Let me know in the comments!
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