That small question has led to thousands of books being written, countless conversations and much soul searching. Is it measured by a big house, a successful career and a large pay-packet?
The Oxford dictionary defines it as “The attainment of fame, wealth, or social status”
But can we really fit success into that small box? Is the meaning of success much bigger than that? Is that definition losing relevance as more of us move beyond just survival and owning more stuff to creating a life that craves more meaning and purpose.
The reality is that success can be seen from two sides. From the outside and the inside.
There is a tension between our personal view of success and what society sees as “success”. And they are very different.
How society defines success
Society, friends and family can shape your view of life, bend your priorities and have an impact on our success or failure habits.
What others think can be an external force for good or anxiety producing pressure. Is it keep up with the Jones’s or write your own story. Sometimes the truth sits somewhere in between.
In a recent online study by the NAB bank titled “Rethink Success” that interviewed 2,019 people aged between 16 and 70 those external pressures are revealed. It seems to fit the dictionary definition that is all about the externalities.
How we personally define success
But when the individual was asked what success meant for them, then the measures were a world apart. The external falls away and the true measures of what success really is are revealed.
So at a personal level success sits for most between “being happy” and “being on control of your life”. When you add the external expectation of a society to the mix then dissonance arises.
This matrix of success leads to two types of conversations.
But at the end of the day success for most is an “inside” job.
There are two types of conversations that we have every day.
The one we have with others and the silent internal dialogue. That quiet and often conflicting commentary can be the deciding agent for moving forward or sitting still. It depends on what you allow to reside in the moments between bustling activities.
But the antagonist is not in plain sight.
It whispers in your ear as you delay a project or contemplate starting that venture. It lurks in the stillness of the night and fills you with dread. Fear takes flight and doubts are amplified.
Your bashful adversary is ever-present.
Your biggest enemy
So we often look for enemies from without but the biggest one? The one within. It’s the daily battle with self. That is a challenge we face daily on many fronts
It’s fear of failure, putting off the important things that make a difference and being judged are but a few.
So don’t blame your parents.
Self mastery is where the magic starts and success happens and every day is a new battle.
The curse of procrastination
Tatsuo Miyajima (the reknown Japanese contemporary artist) is famous for his visual art. The theme that sits beneath and in his creations is the irreversibility of two things. Time and Life. And you can’t buy either of them.
They are given to you at birth and they are disappearing everyday. Every moment. Procrastination is the enemy.
Tim Urban in a lengthy post (and in an inspiring and funny TED talk) mentions there are two key types of procrastination. The one’s with deadlines and those without a starting point. The ones without that deadline are the most dangerous.
As an entrepreneur it could be that new product you should be developing or a new marketing initiative that you
As an entrepreneur it could be that new product you should be developing or a new marketing initiative that you should be implementing.
The cruel fact for the self employed?
Mum, the boss or the professor is not going to call you and say “when are you delivering that project?”.
The habits and rituals of life are often the only thing that stand between you and success. You just need to commit to the right ones.
The daily life habits for success
As a teenager the definition for success was simple. A fast red sports car. I eventually bought one of those. It made me happy for a while.
But I have discovered that true happiness and success lies within. More stuff doesn’t mean more happiness it just means more anxiety and more insurance.
The internal measures of success that include happiness, good relationships, feeling fit and healthy and being in control of your life are what we strive for every day.
So what habits produce that sometimes elusive sense of success? Here are the daily life habits of happy and successful people.
1. The creation habit
Life is busy. We show up at work and become buried in our tasks. The day is spent building a business for someone else. It is a value exchange. And along the way we do build skills and experience.
But creating for others is one thing. But if that is where it starts and finishes then you are giving away your best work to others.
Make and take the time to create something for you.
Start your day creating. Then the day is already a success. Life long success and creating a legacy is just a superset of that daily investment.
But some of us are night owls. So whatever your preference, block out the borders for the time you need to create and guard it religiously from distractions and procrastination.
Make it a habit to create something of consequence.
2. Commit to the habit of exercise
I am too busy and don’t have time for exercise. Have you heard that internal chatter before?
But the reality is that we are interconnected human beings. The physical body houses the brain. The mental health and the physical are interwoven.
In a busy life of family, work, commuting and socialising it can be put on the back burner. This is fine for short periods but exercising 3–5 times a week is essential. If you are dead from a heart attack it’s hard to enjoy your hard earned millions.
Most top performers have exercise as part of their regime. The trick is fitting it into what is often a busy schedule.
The two top tips that have worked for me are simple. Habitual exercise must be convenient and enjoyable. If they don’t tick those boxes it is easier to avoid and procrastinate. For decades that was running for me but today it is road cycling.
The truism “If you don’t use it you lose it” may not be embraced at 30 but at 50 you will understand the stark reality.
3. Cultivate the good food habit
The urban myth of the startup.
You may have heard it on Facebook or CNN as alternative facts. 18 hour days, sleeping in the office and ordering eating pizza and big bottles of coke to reach success. We call it the price of success.
Do that for too long and the signs may not be obvious. Dying from the inside will not be apparent.
I am not going to tell you what healthy stuff to eat. You can find that online. But it’s not Pizza and coke.
4. The habit of continuous learning
Committing to the habit of a life of continuous learning is one of the most empowering rituals that you can adopt. A university or college degree is not the end of your education but just a step towards wisdom and mastery.
“You learn best by reading a lot and writing a lot, and the most valuable lessons of all are the ones you teach yourself.” — Stephen King
This applies to any form of mastery. It’s not just reading…..it could be watching a TED talk or listening to a podcast. We all have different modalities of learning.
Make continuous learning part of your daily routine.
5. The time block habit
They are everywhere. Mobile phones, alerts on apps and even huge TV screens on freeways. No wonder the accident rate isn’t dropping.
But there are more insidious interruptions.
And they don’t come with a health warning and they have crept into our corporate life, business culture and daily habits. It’s those pesky technology diversions.
Always checking your emails is a trap for many of us. There is another more dangerous communication technology that is even worse. Messaging.
Facebook’s “Messenger” is now used by over 1 billion people. Skype’s version is titled “Instant messenger”. And to top it off many of us have alerts running on our smart phones for all of our social networks. I don’t know about you but being at the beck and call of other people’s priorities is not a good place to be and a time suck.
Instant messaging used well is a great tool but always on is evil.
To get real work done and create something of consequence time blocking is a daily habit and technique that is worth developing. Block out time daily for projects and creation that make a difference
The productivity tip offered by Dwight Eisenhower is worth contemplating.
“What is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important”.
The top right corner of the box (important but not urgent) is where we should focus if we are to create long term success that has meaning and purpose. And I promise you. That will make you happy.
Block out time each day for the important projects and deep work that over time will create true success. But turning off your email, messaging and social media notifications is essential tactic to be effective and productive.
Make time blocking your daily routine.
6. Escape and contemplate habit
Stopping and doing nothing is sometimes one of the best ways to achieve something.
The art of quiet contemplation is almost a forgotten custom in our busy western societies. Noise and busyness flood our lives. Quiet corners, time and places for contemplation are buried or missed as we rush from appointment to appointment.
Meditate, contemplate or just be in the now. When you make quiet space then insights and inspiration can flood in.
“There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in” — Leonard Cohen.
The art of mindlessness not mindfulness needs to be practiced.
Thinking too much and being full of mind will tire you.
Worrying about the past or being anxious for the future is a dangerous place to be. Why go there. They don’t exist. The past has gone and the future has’t happened. All you have is “Now”.
We are often haunted by the ghosts of the past. Our memories.
In his book “The Power of Now” , Eckhart Tolle reveals an art to living that is worth considering. Consuming it a decade ago was a revelation to me. Accepting the power of the now led to transformation.
Make space to crack that busyness. Seize the “Now”. Create a sliver of time for inspiration to creep into that crack in your consciousness.
Then write down your idea or inspiration before it slips away.
7. Create a community and relationship habit
Robert Waldinger is the director of a 75 year research project “The Harvard Study of Adult Development”. In a 2015 TED talk he reveals the findings on what factors lead to a life of happiness and health.
What did they discover? “Good relationships keep us happier and healthier”. That’s it.
It’s not complicated. But we still chase money, fame and stuff. Nourishing your relationships with friends and family is something that we need to value more and make a habit.
A good friend of mine Jeremy Epstein has a serious routine focused on this topic. Some may call it obsessive.
So we may not all be motivated to call nearly 2,000 people a year to say happy birthday but you get the message.
So…..cultivate your relationships and keep building community and happiness will show up.
8. The habit of persistence
Stephen King was asked” How do you write a 130,000 word novel?”
“One word at time……and the answer is invariably dismissed. But that is all it is. It sounds too simple to be true, but consider the Great Wall of China, if you will: one stone at a time, man. That’s all. One stone at a time”.
The habit of relentless persistent effort and strapping yourself in and doing the work will produce a body of work that will define you.
That sense of achievement is something worth pursuing.
9. Make goal setting a habit
I had just started in the technology industry. It was an exciting career change. Teaching had been left behind and I was now working for one of the first companies selling the IBM personal computer.
The management arranged to have all the sales staff complete a goal setting course. I can still remember the name of the company behind the course “SMI International“. The founder (Paul J. Meyer) was one of the revolutionaries of the personal development industry.
During this program I was inspired to write down my goals and few months later I left to take a more senior sales position with another company.
One year later one of my top goals of earning a six figure income were realised. The power of goal setting had been manifested. It meant making some hard decisions to make sure that I gave myself the best chance of making them happen.
That goal setting ritual is a key life habit.
10. Develop the organized habit
If your life is out of control and everything is a mess then it’s sort of hard to be successful unless it’s a convenient and lucky accident. But that doesn’t happen very often.
Here is the sort of stuff that happens if you aren’t organised and disciplined.
Don’t file your tax return in time. More fees and maybe a fine.
Forget to pay for your car registration. More fines and maybe lose a licence.
Don’t organise your office processes and filing? You will spend double the time getting stuff done
Being organised can be seen as boring for some of us strategic fluffy creative types.
If you really hate doing it then hire an accountant, personal assistant or even a cleaner. Hire someone (even part time) who has the process and attention to the detail DNA gene.
The habit of being messy with life can become a slow spiral into disaster. For some of us it will be a daily confrontation.
A final thought
You maybe showed up here hoping for that prescription or template for success. The truth? There isn’t one. Just a few hints and suggestions that I have discovered on the journey.
The author of “The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People” — Stephen Covey says this about success in an interview with the New York Times.
“If you carefully consider what you want to be said of you at your funeral….. there you will find your definition of success”2