How Successful People Think

The path to success isn’t paved with money or ambition. It’s lined with a specific way of thinking that’s unique to successful people. A positive mindset is important, but so is thinking outside the box and coming up with creative ideas. We’ve put together a list of how successful people think so that you can pick up a few habits to harness your own success.

Understand What Success Means

If you don’t know what success is, how can you achieve it?

Many people assume that they understand what success means. Some common criteria for success include:

  • Wealth
  • Owning a home
  • Having a family
  • Securing a career
  • Traveling a certain number of times each year

While these are fairly standard measures of success in some cultures, they’re not the only ones. They also neglect to account for enjoyment.

You can probably imagine how successful you’d feel if you padded your bank account with millions of dollars, owned an enormous house and drove an expensive car. But what if you didn’t have friends or family? What if you worked 75 hours a week and had no time to read a book, take a vacation or engage in a hobby?

You might realize that material abundance is not the same as success. The same goes for fame and fortune. People might say that they’ve made it when they are recognized as an expert in their industry, publish a book or land a role in a blockbuster film.

Those achievements are impressive, but they don’t make up for some inherent human needs, such as connection, helping others, enjoying leisure time, pursuing your passion and living with integrity.

Success is different for everyone. However, most people would probably agree that it’s a combination of achievement and enjoyment. If you love your life but don’t have goals, you might reach a point where you feel somewhat aimless. On the other hand, if you pursue your objectives tirelessly but don’t make time to appreciate what you have, you’ll never feel successful.

Take some time to define what success means for you. One way to do this is to list the following:

  • Your goals
  • Some objectives that you want to achieve
  • Things that have made you feel successful up until now

Then, you can close your eyes and envision yourself at the pinnacle of success. Then, answer the following questions:

  • Where are you?
  • Who are you with?
  • What are you wearing?
  • What are you doing?
  • What are you saying?
  • What environment surrounds you?
  • How do you feel?

Don’t overthink this exercise; write down ideas as they come to you. You may be surprised by the answers.

Focus on the Feeling of Success

The final question in the activity above may be the most important factor involved in success: how you feel. Most people are trying to accomplish their goals because they will feel a certain way when they do.

Tony Robbins talks about feeling fulfilled after achieving success. He says that some people who reach their definition of success don’t feel satisfied.

This may have happened to you. Have you ever reached a goal but found the accomplishment to be anti-climactic? Have you ever worked hard for something only to be disappointed that achieving it didn’t solve all of your problems?

Tony Robbins says that to feel successful, you need to master the science of achievement and the art of fulfillment. Accomplishing your goals is important because if you don’t achieve anything, it’s hard to feel fulfilled.

The Science of Achievement

The science of achievement involves:

  • Focus
  • Massive action
  • Grace

Start out by focusing on your desires and goals with clarity. Commit to them.

Take massive action by finding an approach that works for you, following it through and adapting it if you don’t achieve the results that you want. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel to go through your process. Working with a mentor who has accomplished something similar can help you follow a road map if you don’t know where to start, how to navigate the obstacles that will come up or how to get to the finish line.

Grace is the flexibility to acknowledge that things won’t always go according to plan. There are some elements to success that you can’t predict. Grace involves going with the flow and working with what you have.

The Art of Fulfillment

Fulfillment is what brings you joy. If your achievements don’t, then you may never feel successful.

One way to find fulfillment is to practice appreciation instead of expectation. When you set expectations, you may find yourself tied to a particular outcome. If things don’t go according to plan, you might be sorely disappointed. Focusing on expectations can prevent you from accomplishing your goals and feeling fulfilled in life.

That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t dream big or hold yourself to a high standard in order to push yourself. But you should appreciate the small things on your way to the top.

This might mean taking the time to be grateful for the friends that supported you as you auditioned for a role that you didn’t get in a play. You might be disappointed that you weren’t chosen for the part. However, you may feel fulfilled when you focus on your appreciation for the people who helped you learn your lines, craft the character and gain the confidence to put yourself on stage in the first place.

Gratitude is a crucial factor in finding fulfillment. If you don’t appreciate what you have, you may not feel fulfilled.

On the other hand, gratitude is more than just a rewarding feeling. It activates regions of the brain that are involved in interpersonal connections, morality and shifting your perspective. Gratitude may be the glue that holds the reality of your life together with the meaning that you make of it.

Stay Ahead of Change

Jack Welch once said, “If the rate of external change exceeds the rate of internal change, failure is imminent.” Chick-fil-A CEO Dan Cathy lives by this rule.

He tries to keep up with changing environments by developing a rapid rate of internal growth. For example, he’s always experimenting with ways to make his fast-food chain better.

Cathy has an 80,000-square-foot facility in Atlanta with space for testing out various elements that could make the restaurant better, including store layouts and kitchen operations. By doing this, he can forecast what needs to change before it hits a breaking point.

Being aware of the potential for change is vital for someone who wants to be successful. The key is to understand that success is ever-changing.

You can set goals to accomplish on your way to success, but the outcomes may change. The steps to get there may shift. You grow as you move along life’s journey.

If you don’t embrace your evolution and that of the world around you, you might stop dead in your tracks at some point. Getting stuck in a particular idea or moment can prevent you from moving toward true success.

When you can embrace the concept that success is constantly changing, you can stay on top of it. You can make the adjustments that are necessary to keep going. You can take care of the unexpected obligations that arise when things shift.

Think Positively

There are a number of reasons why positive thinking can help you become more successful. According to the Law of Attraction, like attracts like. Your thoughts attract circumstances that match their frequencies.

If you think negatively, you might invite undesirable situations into your life. On the other hand, thinking positively brings you good things.

That’s a simple way to look at it, but it is more complex than that. Many people wonder how seemingly bad things can happen to good people if they’re always thinking positively.

The short answer is that the universe always gives you what you need. That doesn’t always mean that you’ll get the shiny sports car or the huge paycheck that you’ve been asking for. Maybe there’s a lesson that you need to learn before padding your bank account. Perhaps the skills that you’ll gain while driving your old clunker will teach you something that you can use in the future.

If you think positively, you’ll probably be able to see the benefits of every situation that would otherwise get you down. Positive thinkers see the beauty in everything, including the hardest parts of life. This allows them to keep moving forward even when they’re faced with adversity. It often lets them maintain momentum because of their hardship.

Even just putting a smile on your face can change your life. Even if you don’t feel happy, smiling releases feel-good neurotransmitters, such as serotonin, dopamine, and endorphins. These chemicals give you a mood boost and ward off stress.

When you’re feeling less anxiety while working toward a goal, you’re more likely to enjoy the journey. Plus, a feeling of happiness is often the ultimate standard for success that people work hard to achieve. If you can get that simply by flipping your frown, imagine what else is possible.

Change Your Stress Mindset

Stress can be construed as negative or positive. It can have harmful effects on your physical and mental health, but there are some benefits.

Stress is a natural response that evolved to keep you alive. When you’re stressed, the following changes happen in your body:

  • More oxygen flows to your brain.
  • You become more alert.
  • Blood flow to the muscles, heart and vital organs increases.
  • The lungs are able to take in more oxygen.
  • Sight, sound, touch, taste and smell become sharper.
  • Fats and sugars are released to supply the body with fuel.

You can use these biological responses to your advantage if you think about stress in the right way. Let’s say that you’re preparing for a presentation.

Your body is prepping you to be able to stand in front of the room of people tirelessly. You’ll have the energy to deliver your speech. You’ll become more in tune with what’s going on around you. You may even be more focused because of your body’s stress response.

On the other hand, you could see this as a disastrous, threatening situation. You could let that stress fill your mind with hypothetical failures. You might allow the fear to stop you in your tracks.

Successful people know how to turn stress into a game that keeps them feeling productive and performing well. They thrive when their heart is racing and their blood is pumping. They use those times to work faster and harder, capitalizing on their mind’s alert state.

But you have to know that it’s not healthy for your body’s stress response to linger. When the perceived threat or danger goes away, your parasympathetic system is supposed to take over, relaxing you and allowing your body to function normally again. If it doesn’t, you could develop mental and physical health conditions that are related to chronic stress.

Successful people know when to rest. They give themselves plenty of downtime to counteract the periods when they have to be on the ball. This balance allows them to optimize their health, make the most of their productivity and stay sharp so that they can succeed in the future.

Employ Risk-Based Thinking

If you’re thinking positively, you might wonder how you can use risk-oriented thinking. Isn’t that just focusing on what could go wrong?

Instead of considering risk-based thinking a negative mindset, imagine that it’s a proactive mentality. You don’t have to get bogged down in the idea of failure. However, you should analyze potential risks before you move forward in life.

Successful people don’t use this type of thinking to prevent them from taking on challenges. To them, risk doesn’t necessarily equal fear. It often represents a challenge that teaches them how to harness their skills, pull together their resources and consider all of the factors before they dive into a project.

When you have already addressed everything that could go wrong, you’re more prepared to take action. Moreover, you won’t be surprised when life happens and something doesn’t go according to plan.

There are two questions that successful people ask themselves about risk:

  • What will happen if I take this risk?
  • What will happen if I don’t take this risk?

Asking yourselves these questions lets you take calculated risks. When you can predict the consequences of taking a particular risk, the action might not seem as scary. Forecasting the possible pitfalls lets you get in the right mindset to take care of them, and you develop opportunities to grow.

Make a Solid Plan

Preparation isn’t everything, but it’s important. If you’re able to look at risk with an objective eye, you can develop a sound plan to deal with it. One important thing to remember is that your plan doesn’t have to be perfect. It should a reasonable starting point for dealing with the situation, however.

Planning ahead of time offers the following benefits:

  • You automate tasks so that you can save your decision-making power for when you really need it.
  • You know what’s coming.
  • You separate your creative process from the preparation so that you can jump on inspiration when it hits you.
  • You gain clarity about what you should be doing and when.
  • You learn how to prioritize.

Planning takes time, and many people avoid doing it because they feel like they can just fly by the seat of their pants. While successful people do need to be able to go with the punches, they’re often so flexible because they’re such good planners.

Imagine if you started your week by spending an hour planning your schedule every day. You don’t necessarily know what you will want to be doing on Wednesday afternoon, but you do know that there are some chores to do, projects to initiate and tasks to complete. You can work those into your schedule.

Perhaps you start the week feeling particularly organized and motivated. It’s not hard to stick to your plan. But by Wednesday, your car has broken down, you’re feeling exhausted and you’re not sure what to do with your time.

It’s a good thing that you’ve written it all down for yourself. You’ll always go through periods during which you feel unenthusiastic and foggy. This is when your planning will really help you. You can maintain your momentum by checking your schedule and doing the next thing.

You’ll get your inspiration back soon; in the meantime, you can check off some tasks on your to-do list. When you’ve spent time planning your time, strategy and life, you can also rearrange your activities easily. If you were supposed to brainstorm on Wednesday but aren’t really feeling it, you can take on some of Thursday’s tasks instead, giving yourself a window during which you can brainstorm when you’re in the mood.

What happens if you don’t spend this time planning? You might become derailed by a sour mood. When you feel indecisive, you might stop in your tracks because you never prepared for the next step. You may get bombarded with decisions that you have to make at once amid an already busy day.

That kind of overwhelm is a huge detractor from your ability to achieve success.

Utilize Inference Thinking

Although you shouldn’t jump to conclusions, you should be able to make realistic assumptions based on the data that you have. This is using inference thinking.

Inference thinking is using reason to consider the facts. Many people are pressured to make fast decisions. Therefore, they might make inferences that aren’t true.

People usually go through a subconscious analytical process to get to the facts so that they can make a decision or take action. This thought process involves:

  • Seeing the real facts
  • Passing them through our own experience and perception
  • Interpreting what we think that they mean
  • Applying assumptions to those facts and meanings
  • Drawing conclusions based on our interpretation
  • Creating opinions and principles based on those conclusions
  • Taking actions that align with our beliefs

If you follow this way of thinking automatically, you might be led to hold onto beliefs that don’t serve you. For example, if you have had three partners break up with you in the past three years, you might take on the belief that you’re unlovable.

When you can methodically work through this thought process, though, you can step away from your emotional reactions and consider the facts more logically. All you have to do is bring more awareness to your thought process.

If you realize that you’re the kind of person who jumps to conclusions, you might want to practice using inference thinking. When you find yourself stuck in a negative situation or unable to make a decision, consider writing down the steps to this process and working through them consciously.

It may seem tedious at first, but you’ll get better over time. Eventually, you’ll train yourself to think constructively without letting your emotional interpretations cloud your thinking.

Seek Out Learning Opportunities

In his book “How Successful People Think: Change Your Thinking, Change Your Life,” John C. Maxwell encouraged people to look at their schedule every day and identify potential learning opportunities. Maxwell gave the example of meeting with an NFL coach. He said that he would be nervous before the meeting.

Instead of letting his anxiety get the best of him, he made it a learning opportunity. He would prepare himself with questions so that he wouldn’t be caught without something to say. Arming himself with curiosity allowed him to approach the situation as a learning opportunity.

Think about the people that you hang out with. Do they know more than you?

Successful people surround themselves with people who have something to offer them. Although they may seem like powerful leaders who have all the confidence in the world, they aren’t always the boss. In their social and professional circles, they recognize the benefit of being with others who can teach them a thing or two.

By crafting their networks in this way, successful people always have the chance to learn. Some say that you’re the average of the five people that you spend the most time with. Use your time wisely.

But you’re not just on this earth to achieve greatness. You should also enjoy yourself. Make sure that you enjoy the people with whom you surround yourself. Building meaningful relationships can help you get to your destination.

Your Stumbles are Not Falls

Even the most successful person in the world doesn’t succeed at everything. You’re going to make mistakes along the way.

In fact, highly successful people lean into failure. This doesn’t mean that you should not try your best. However, it explains why successful individuals are eager to take risks.

The more you put yourself out there, the more you put yourself in a position to fail. If you can’t admit when you’re wrong or forecast failure as a possibility, you might end up spending all of your time tending to your wounds.

If you expect a healthy amount of failure, however, you can work with it. When we do something well, we attribute it to something internal. Perhaps you tell yourself that you’re great at coming up with creative solutions or thinking on your feet.

When we make an error, we’re likely to blame it on an external factor. Therefore, we internalize the things that helped us succeed, but failure always seems to hit us like a surprise ton of bricks. Because we don’t usually take responsibility for it, we don’t see how we can change to avoid failure in the future.

Successful people are different. They take credit for their failures.

Sarah Blakely, the founder of Spanx, said in an interview that failure was the secret to her success. Growing up, her father would ask her what she failed at every week. In encouraging her to fail, he also helped her feel comfortable trying new things.

If you don’t try, you can’t do much of anything at all.

Routine is Helpful

Some say that routine is the secret for success. You might think that successful people have a strict schedule and are disciplined about following it. But that’s not always the case.

They do know when to plan and when to be spontaneous, though. If something is working well in your life, make it a habit. Consistently repeating effective strategies for success is one of the fastest ways to get you to your destination. It’s the difference between taking a new route to work every day or finding the one that works best for you.

Once you’ve established your game plan and incorporated it into your life, you can run on autopilot. Your mind will be free to make decisions, think creatively and solve problems in other areas.

On the other hand, a lack of preparation can help you in some scenarios. Successful people are known for taking leaps of faith. You don’t always need all of the information before you try something. If you wait until you’re ready, you may never achieve what you set out to accomplish.

Do you notice a trend in how successful people think? They create a workable vision for themselves and stick to it as much as life allows them to. However, they see growth and change as learning opportunities and are resilient enough to change with the seasons. When you know that the road to success has many twists and turns, you’ll be better prepared to take the curves with grace, never giving up until you reach your destination.

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