What Success Looks Like

A white picket fence, a couple of kids, a dog, a bank account and a pension are often considered to be the standards for success.

But success looks different to various people.

What Is The American Dream?

Every society quantifies success differently. In the U.S., a set of ideals called the American Dream pervade the national ethos. The American Dream says that democracy, rights, equality, opportunity and freedom can help people achieve prosperity and upward social mobility. But this is a patriarchal ideal that is bound by hard work and achievement.

However, the American dream wasn’t always about toiling away at your job. During the Gold Rush in the late 1800s, many people found instant prosperity by sheer luck. The idea of getting rich quick was born.

But the American ideal of success isn’t just about material possessions. In “The Epic of America,” John Truslow Adams wrote about the American Dream, “It is not a dream of motor cars and high wages merely, but a dream of social order in which each man and each woman should be able to attain the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position.”

People were immigrating to America from Europe, fleeing a social system that would forever leave them with fewer opportunities than those who were lucky enough to be royalty. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, the American Dream was all about embracing your skills so that you’d have a decent chance to overcome challenges and make something of yourself.

But writer David Kamp says that in the 1950s, with the popularity of sitcoms, people saw happy families living in perfect houses. They wanted to upgrade their standard of living. In the 1980s, people started to move away from the American dream as a desire for the common good, taking on debt and setting lofty personal goals.

By CNN, more than half of Americans believed that the American Dream was unachievable even though per capita income had doubled since the 1960s and more than two-thirds of American adults owned homes. But mental health issues have been on the rise since then, and many people don’t believe that they can achieve that ideal notion of success.

If success is all about hard work, opportunities and material possessions, can you still consider yourself successful if you’re not happy? Many people work more than 40 hours a week just so that they can take three vacations a year. Their leisure time is compacted into those short time frames, and they run themselves ragged while trying to fill their bank accounts.

What Does Success Really Look Like for Americans?

Traditional measures of success for our society include:

  • A booming stock market
  • Low unemployment rates
  • High graduation rates
  • Advancing technology

Personally, most people quantify success by the following factors:

  • Relationship status
  • Kids
  • Best friends
  • Education
  • Income
  • Hours worked
  • Commute time
  • Type of workplace
  • Time off
  • Travel
  • House value
  • Car value

To feel as though they’ve made it financially, most people want to be able to stop worrying about bills, have enough in their bank account to loan to family and friends and be able to donate to charity. The average person would also like to work only 31 hours a week, perhaps making more time for enjoying friends and family, exploring and relaxing.

Approximately 42 percent of Americans say that they want more wealth to feel successful. However, money is not the only factor that defines success. Thirty-seven percent of Americans want to live life as they please, without having to answer to others. That means working from home and perhaps even having more flexibility with work hours.

About 14 percent want more recognition, and 4 percent would like less responsibility. About 2 percent of people feel like they would be successful if they were famous.

Successful People Have Exceptional Habits

Part of the reason that some people don’t achieve their goals is that they have limiting beliefs and destructive habits. Your daily routine might not prime you for success. Here are some habits of highly successful people. You might want to try adopting some of them and seeing how things change for you.

1. Keep a daily journal.

Most people equate a journal with a diary, but you can use one for more than just venting about your day or writing down your thoughts. A journal can help you get in touch with your intuition to make better decisions. It can also help you sort out your dreams and turn them into actionable goals.

You can use a journal to do a brain dump every morning or afternoon. Follow your thoughts, plunking them onto the paper without worrying about spelling or grammar. You’ll be surprised at how clear your mind becomes when you’re no longer holding all of that information inside of it.

You can also use a journal to write down:

  • Things that you’re grateful for
  • What you want to achieve today
  • Celebrations of what you accomplished yesterday
  • The first three things you’ll check off your to-do list

You don’t always have to look back at your journal and organize your thoughts. For some, simply getting the jumbled ideas out of their mind frees up their brainpower for more productive thinking. Other people refer back to their journals, using them as inspiration when they’re feeling blocked.

2. Move your body.

Richard Branson says that working out adds four hours of productive time to his day. When you’re busy trying to be successful, you may not feel like you have time to exercise. However, you may be surprised at what happens when you swap out 30 minutes of idle scrolling or furious working with a fitness session.

Exercise offers numerous benefits, including:

Moreover, exercise helps keep illnesses, such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes, at bay. When you’re in top form, you’ll be able to take action on your ideas and stay energetic in the workplace and your life.

3. Try to do something just a little bit better every day.

Whether you’re focusing on your communication with your spouse or trying to get a promotion at work, attempting to improve everything at once can be overwhelming. One way to develop a growth mindset is to commit to being 1 percent better at something every day.

If you’re working on your exercise goals, that may mean adding 20 seconds to your 30-minute run. If you’re making cold calls on the job, you may want to add one contact to your list every day.

Although it doesn’t seem like you’ll make huge strides by taking baby steps, the process compounds. In one year, you may achieve more growth than the person who takes infrequent, intense action and burns out.

4. Focus on your friends.

Busy people don’t always feel like they have time to socialize. However, strong relationships are crucial to your success.

It’s hard to succeed in a vacuum. At some point along the way, you might need feedback. When you’re struggling, you may need assistance. If you’re feeling down, you could need support.

Keeping your friends close allows you to balance your needs for giving and receiving, leisure and work and connection and alone time. Bonding with others is a basic human need. If you neglect your friendships in an attempt to get more money or rise to the top, you might hit a wall at some point.

Your friends are the ones who can give you their hands to help you hurdle that wall. If you’re the kind of person who burns bridges or neglects relationships, you might find it hard to achieve everything that you want.

Plus, most people say that one of the elements of success is having a tribe that they can call on when they’re in need. Friends are a measure of success for most people. Therefore, if you practice kindness and compassion and make a point of nurturing your relationships, you can check that success metric off of your list.

5. Stop distracting yourself.

Successful people know how to minimize distractions. They set clear priorities and have the discipline to follow them.

One of the greatest sources of distraction in modern society is the smartphone. We’re attached to our phones, and the constant buzzing and ringing is preventing us from deep-diving into our priorities.

Some strategies for reducing distractions include:

  • Breaking your productive time into smaller chunks, and rewarding yourself when you complete each period without distractions.
  • Using the Pomodoro technique, a variation on the previous tip.
  • Intentionally pause when you transition from one activity to another so that you can ask yourself if that’s really the best use of your time.
  • Turn off the internet.
  • De-clutter your workspace.
  • Schedule time for distractions.

6. Create systems.

The most successful people create systems. You can create systems at work and at home to help things run more smoothly. Some of the benefits of creating a system include:

  • Everyone is on the same page, minimizing time spent explaining, training or making corrections.
  • You minimize uncertainty (and therefore reduce stress).
  • Other people can take on your responsibilities when you’re too busy.

Creating a system can take time. On the surface, you may think that you don’t have time to schedule, plan and strategize because you have so many tasks to do. But have you noticed how easy it is to get distracted by creative ideas or bogged down by insignificant decisions if you dive into a project without a blueprint?

You can create systems for everything in your life. At work, an umbrella system for organizing your workday can remind you to check your emails only in the mornings and after lunch so that you don’t get distracted throughout the day. Systems for accomplishing specific activities take the guesswork out of tasks that you do regularly.

At home, systems help you keep your life organized and minimize chaos. For example, a system for dealing with the mail as soon as it comes in every day ensures that the envelopes don’t pile up on the counter, getting in the way while you’re cooking and giving you a time-consuming project to tackle every weekend.

Systems for getting the kids off to school enable life to run smoothly in the mornings so that you don’t sap your energy before heading off to work. Eventually, these systems become so routine that you don’t have to think about them.

One important system to set up is a method of tracking appointments and obligations. Getting into the habit of recording every engagement in an online calendar can prevent you from showing up late or missing important events. Just make sure that you set as many reminders as you need for each obligation.

Make those reminders work for you. For example, if your child’s school project is due on a Friday, set a reminder for the previous Friday to get started on it, a check-in on Tuesday, and a prompt to pack the project in the backpack the night before.

7. Get enough sleep.

If you’re extremely busy, skimping on sleep seems like a good idea. You can work in solitude after the world has gone to bed, when distractions are at a minimum. However, burning the midnight oil isn’t beneficial in the long run.

Some symptoms of sleep deprivation include:

  • Fuzzy thinking
  • Irritability
  • Fatigue
  • Memory loss
  • Illness

Most adults need between 7 and 9 hours of sleep a night. If you skimp, you’ll have to make it up to avoid experiencing these symptoms of sleep deprivation, which can prevent you from operating at optimal capacity.

Some tips for getting adequate sleep are:

  • Making your bedroom a sleep sanctuary
  • Going to bed and waking up at the same time every day
  • Avoiding caffeine after noon
  • Exercising regularly in the mornings or early afternoon

If you get enough hours of shuteye but don’t feel rested, you might want to check with your doctor. You may have a condition such as sleep apnea, which can make it difficult to get high-quality rest. You could also have an underlying medical condition.

8. Don’t wait for the chaos.

Many people don’t address issues in their lives until they are full-fledged problems. This goes for physical health, interpersonal relationships, financial woes and time management.

By the time these things are out of hand, you can wear yourself out trying to fix them. Instead of waiting until things get bad, practice preventative strategies that help you avoid the chaos altogether.

Get regular physical exams. Practice open communication with your loved ones. Check your bank account frequently, and keep track of your spending. Do small tasks every day.

When you consistently bring your attention to different areas in your life, you can pick up on potential problems before they derail you. Also, spending time taking care of the things that are important to you can help you maintain momentum.

Tending to your health, relationships, finances, projects, mental state and environment gives you something to look forward to every day. Addressing these categories of your life regularly also helps you feel balanced and avoid burning out.

Your life is like a garden. When you water it daily, you can see the growth and easily pull the weeds that could take over if you ignored them.

This is What Success Looks Like for These People

If you ask some billionaires, they’ll tell you that money isn’t everything. Maybe they’re able to focus on the other metrics of success because they have financial freedom, though. Here are some stories from some of the wealthiest people that show you what success looks like.

Sir Richard Branson

By the age of 23, Richard Branson was already a millionaire. The entrepreneur launched the Virgin Record chain in 1972, which took off. By 1980, he had created Virgin Atlantic airline and expanded his record label. In 2004, he expanded into space tourism with spaceflight corporation Virgin Galactic.

The entrepreneur is reportedly worth $4.1 billion. He has also been knighted for his services to entrepreneurship. Time named him one of the 100 most influential people in 2007. Branson is rich and famous.

Yet he says that wealth has nothing to do with success. In Branson’s opinion, true success should be measured by happiness.

He didn’t go into business to strike it rich. He wants to make a positive difference in people’s lives. He says that his companies are so successful because they make his customers happy.

That same measure of happiness defines his own life. He claims that wealth didn’t bring him happiness; it was the other way around.

So what does Branson’s daily life look like?

  • He wakes up at 5 a.m.
  • He exercises before breakfast.
  • He spends time with his family to get in a good mindset before working.
  • He checks his emails and the news.
  • He spends time connecting with his audience on social media.
  • He takes meetings at lunch and arranges group dinners.

That doesn’t sound much different than most people’s lives, does it? One of the differences is that Branson does all of this from his residence on private Necker Island in the British Virgin Islands.

Although it sounds like he’s always working, he’s not. He has plenty of hobbies and has been in the “Guinness Book of World Records” seven times. He does keep a notebook with him at all times (except when he is kitesurfing) so that he can jot down his ideas, though.

Warren Buffett

Warren Buffett is one of the wealthiest men in the world. Yet he claims that the most important measure of success is love. If people don’t think well of you in your old age, he claims that your life is a disaster.

In his biography, he said, “I know many people who have a lot of money, and they get testimonial dinners and they get hospital wings named after them. But the truth is that nobody in the world loves them.”

What good is money without love or good friends? Warren says that love is a measure of success because you can’t buy it. You can purchase everything else, including friends. However, the only way to be loved is to be lovable.

Buffett can put his money where his mouth is, and he does. He is committed to philanthropy and encourages wealthy people to give back to the community.

With a net worth of $84 billion, Buffett still leads a fairly modest lifestyle. He purchased his home in 1957 for a humble $31,000. He still lives there.

He also tries to take private transportation whenever he can. He enjoys playing bridge and would rather get together with a few people than throw a huge party.

A millionaire by the time he was 32, Buffett still lives simply. He believes in kindness and compassion.

Bill Gates

Bill Gates is the wealthiest person on the planet, with a net worth of $99.6 billion. You might wonder what someone with this much money does all day.

He ran Microsoft until 2006. Today, he focuses plenty of time on the Bill & Melissa Gates Foundation, which donates to a variety of organizations.

He still maintains a varied routine, traveling often and launching new initiatives through his foundation. When he’s not globetrotting, he gets to wake up in a sprawling mansion in Washington State.

His lifestyle has many of the same characteristics as Branson’s. Gates exercises regularly, takes notes when he gets a brilliant idea, and carefully plans out his day in five-minute intervals.

He enjoys reading and recommends many books on his personal blog. Gates also tries to spend as much time with his family as possible. Sometimes, he plays bridge with Warren Buffett on the weekends.

Success Is in Your Mindset

Successful people don’t live that differently from the rest of us. Of course, they don’t have to worry about dredging up the money to pay bills. However, they still have responsibilities, friends and family. They probably do travel more than the average Joe.

You can get on the path to success by making sure that you have the right mindset. Although you often hear about the importance of goal setting, successful people see life as an endless journey. Success is not the ultimate goal; it’s a feeling that you strive for in everything that you do.

When you experience the emotions of success, you have to understand that they can go away at any time. When you realize that they can be fleeting, you work consistently to take the necessary actions to support them.

How can you develop a growth mindset? Understand that your qualities are not carved in stone. You are responsible for your life, and you can make anything of it. To have a growth mindset, you must adopt the idea that you can cultivate the things that are important to you by consistently building your knowledge base, improving your skills and taking action.

Nothing in life is fixed. Research into neuroplasticity is finding that brains continue to develop even though scientists once thought that they don’t change much after age 30 or so. Understanding this will prevent you from settling for anything less than what you deem as successful.

When you embrace a growth mindset, you recognize that everything is fluid. For example:

  • Failures are learning experiences.
  • Challenges are opportunities.
  • Enjoy the process as much as the result.
  • Set intentions instead of expectations.
  • Reward actions instead of inherent characteristics.
  • Rest as much as you work.
  • Say “not yet” instead of “no.”

What Do Successful People Tell Themselves Every Day?

Part of shifting your mindset involves recognizing the way that you speak to yourself. When you become aware of your self-talk, you may realize that you’re holding yourself down.

Some examples of negative self-talk include phrases like:

  • That’s too hard for me.
  • I’ll never be as successful as that person.
  • I can’t do that.
  • That’s not possible for me.
  • It’s no use.
  • I’m not worth it.
  • People won’t like me.
  • My opinion doesn’t matter.

Have you ever heard the saying, “You’re getting in your own way?” That’s what happens when you operate with this kind of self-talk as your foundation. These are just excuses; they are not your truth. However, these thoughts become lodged in your subconscious. If you believe them on a deep level, your actions will reflect them.

One way to bring these harmful beliefs to the surface is to become aware of them. You might start by jotting down the negative things that you tell yourself when you notice that you’re saying them.

Then, you could tell yourself, “I had the thought that I’m not worth it again.” Labeling it as an idea instead of a fact helps you move past it instead of internalizing it and allowing it to disrupt your every move.

Success doesn’t look like a finite goal or a specific experience. It’s different for everyone. You can even feel successful in some areas of your life but not others.

Success is a journey, not a destination. It looks like a life that gives you meaning and makes you feel fulfilled. A successful person faces adversity with grace, recognizes their strengths and weaknesses, embraces failure, celebrates accomplishments and lives harmoniously with the environment and other people.

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