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Now we need you to hold on a minute here.
Put the baton down, relax your jaw, and stop grinding your teeth for a second.
Yes, in this article we’re going to take a quick dive into eight things which, according to research and science, can help us win at life. Factors that help us all to become successful people. However, before we start to soak up the magic juice, let’s take a moment to consider what we mean by the word ‘winner’.
Since the dawn of time, society has worshipped winners and successful people, as starters think of gladiators in Ancient Rome. However, to us, a ‘winner’ is someone who lives a life of happiness, purpose, and fulfillment where they achieve their goals.
Success means different things to different people, but the processes of achieving that success are similar to us all.
In this article, we take a look at 8 strategies that science shows will enable us to become more successful. Take your time to consider each one critically and have a look at the relevant research to see how you can fit it into your life.
Remember, you are in the driving seat in your life. With action, anything is possible.
1. Succesful People Embrace Failure
Some people think that failure is a fixed terminal condition, determined by their intelligence – or lack of it.
This is wrong.
Failure is good. In fact, more than that, failure is healthy, and experiencing it will actually make you smarter.
What the Science Says
Famed Professor of Psychology, Carol Dwek, is well known for her research into ‘growth mindsets’. Her book, Mindset: Changing The Way You think To Fulfil Your Potential, goes into detail on this truly groundbreaking idea.
Successful people know, from research like Dwek’s, that abilities can be developed – that they are not fixed.
Too many people spend their time running away from failure, fearful and hungry for constant validation, reward, and getting it ‘right’.
The fact is, that failing and then learning as a result, pushing out of our comfort zones, makes the neurons in our brains from stronger connections which, over time, means that you get smarter. Successful people, in order to truly flourish, actively seek out opportunities to fail.
Watch Dwek’s, amazing TED talk here.
2. Say ‘No’ to Self Doubt
Self doubt killed more dreams than failure ever did.
This shockingly poisonous act of self-sabotage is responsible for wasting time, turning out the light on our dreams and, it turns out, often destroying the way that we perform under pressure.
Here’s the thing. It doesn’t have to be this way.
It is possible to learn and master the psychological tools to help us perform at our absolute best. Successful people recognize this.
What the Science Says
She runs through what actions we need to take to knock this behavior on the head. You can watch her incredible TED talk here.
She outlines the fascinating links that exist between the body and the brain, how human performance is guided by our attention and our memory, and how stress and worry are critical factors in our performance. She then shares her practical can-do strategies for remaining cool under pressure and how to perform well when you’re in the spotlight.
3. There is no ‘One Thing’
Many people spend their lives looking for the ‘magic bullet’ that one thing that will immediately transform their lives.
In the words of Steve Jobs, “Overnight success stories take a long time.”
What the Science Says
Successful people know that improvement is an all-encompassing never-ending journey. There are no ‘quick fixes’, magic wands that all of a sudden make things right in an instant.
Instead, it is the daily grind of continually moving forwards that eventually brings success. The simple act of focussing on making the most of each day, whilst working towards a longer term goal, ultimately led to success.
Read this article here on Jamesclear.com, about the transformation of British Cycling and the marginal gains approach that was at least five years in the making.
4. Successful People are Accountable
Some people really struggle with their ‘lot in life’ or ‘the card’s that they have been dealt’.
We all have different starting parts on our journey, but what the future holds is totally within our control.
This is both terrifying and exhilarating at the same time.
The harsh truth is that giving in to excuses immediately places a limit on what we can achieve.
What the Science Says
Whilst this article focuses on organizational culture, its findings are equally as important to our personal lives. The research, across countless studies undertaken, shows that culture is the operating system on which everything else is based. If you have a culture, a basic operating system, that says it’s OK to make excuses for your mistakes, your failures, and when things don’t work out, you will never move forwards.
Embrace failure, learn to trust yourself – even when you mess up, but most of all take ownership of your life. Stop hiding; don’t allow yourself to be a pawn in the lives of others; instead, allow yourself to grow on the journey.
5. Stop Trying to be Perfect
The quest for perfection is littered with disappointment, anger, and frustration.
Fact: Nothing is ever perfect.
Trying to be perfect undermines your ability to take action and move forwards. It actually stops you from making progress.
Similarly, trying to be perfect feeds your imposter, that voice inside your head that tells you that you don’t belong and that you’re not good enough.
What the Science Says
… is a little bit scary!
In a recent study conducted by Curran (University of Bath) and Hill (York St John University), the findings
“suggest that self- oriented perfectionism, socially prescribed perfectionism, and other-oriented perfectionism have increased over the last 27 years. We speculate that this may be because, generally, American, Canadian, and British cultures have become more individualistic, materialistic, and socially antagonistic over this period, with young people now facing more competitive environments, more unrealistic expectations, and more anxious and controlling parents than generations before.”
Curran and Hill, 2019
In other words, we really need to beat this epidemic before it destroys our lives and those of our children. In this BBC article, Amanda Ruggeri talks about the dangers of perfectionism and the litany of mental health conditions associated with it.
The one biggest thing to combat it? Learning the art of self-compassion and self-forgiveness. In the words of Buddha, “You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.”
6. Successful People have Mastered the Subtle Art of Saying ‘No’
There are lots of reasons why people struggle to say ‘no’ and some of these can be deeply complex and rooted in past experiences.
The fact is that in order to accomplish your goals you really can’t do it all. It doesn’t make you a failure – it’s just that you are human.
Successful people know that focussing on goals means that some things have to give. Sometimes this can be hard, and we have to say no to things that we want to do. Other times it can be a matter of feeling guilty – have a read of this article here.
What the Science Says
Saying ‘no’ is incredibly empowering and really puts you in charge of your life. Research has shown that the art of saying ‘no’ is a crucial strategy in combatting overwhelm and burnout.
A study in the Journal of Consumer Research found that the power of using “I don’t…” as opposed to “I can’t…” was instrumental in allowing participants to remove themselves from unwanted commitments.
Be clear on what your most important commitments are and be strong. You owe it to yourself.
7. Succesful People are Focus – it’s Time to Give Up Multi-Tasking
For the longest time, people wrongly assumed that having the ability to focus on more than one thing at once was somehow super-human and would lead to success at a much faster rate.
This is a myth. Successful people know that multitasking is actually one of the best ways to waste time and come up with sub-standard results.
What the Science Says
According to the American Psychological Association what the research shows is fairly clear:
“Doing more than one task at a time, especially more than one complex task, takes a toll on productivity. Although that shouldn’t surprise anyone who has talked on the phone while checking E-mail or talked on a cell phone while driving, the extent of the problem might come as a shock. Psychologists who study what happens to cognition (mental processes) when people try to perform more than one task at a time have found that the mind and brain were not designed for heavy-duty multitasking. Psychologists tend to liken the job to choreography or air-traffic control, noting that in these operations, as in others, mental overload can result in catastrophe.”
Do yourself a favour, and do what successful people do, focus on one thing at once – save time and cut out the errors.
8. Healthy Body, Healthy Mind
We saved this one until last to make sure that you read all the way down!
This one is simple. (Yes, dear reader, we are aware that we know this already! But read on nonetheless!)
Science continues to show us, day in, day out, that the best way to achieve optimal mental functioning, and therefore the ability to perform at our absolute best, is by looking after our bodies and our minds.
There is no doubt about it, success starts here. Winners in life look after themselves.
There are three simple ingredients to this:
If you look after yourself and take care of these three elements of your existence you will live longer, you will be more independent as you get older, you will be less likely to develop chronic diseases like heart disease and cancer, you will have better mental health and you will be able to live life to its fullest for longer.
Yes, in theory.
But life isn’t perfect and we are not finely programmed robots. We like eating junk from time to time, drowning our sorrows in a fine glass of red late at night, and sometimes we are just too damn tired to get off the couch.
Here’s what some of the science says:
Everyone needs to ensure that they sleep the required number of hours according to their age. Check out how much you need by looking at the Sleep Council Guide.
A Harvard Medical School study found that overcoming sleep deprivation is not as simple as sleeping longer to ‘catch up’. An additional study completed jointly by the University of Pennsylvania and the University of South Australia also found that adequate sleep recovery extended way beyond the Saturday morning lie-in. Long term exposure to sleep deprivation poses even greater challenges. Recent studies have also demonstrated that regular sleep patterns, such as going to bed and waking up at the same time each day are found in those with a longer life expectancy.
A lack of sleep is really bad for your health. There is no other way to say this. Resolving this, if you need to, needs to be a priority.
We don’t think it takes a genius or for us to quote the studies here (but I will in a moment). People who regularly overeat and are significantly overweight are at much higher risk of shortening their life expectancy by developing chronic diseases.
A recent study found that overweight people die one year earlier than expected and that moderately obese people die up to three years early.
Clearly maintaining a healthy BMI and eating a healthy balanced diet are a critical part of a healthy lifestyle. However, have a read at this fascinating article here and the ‘interesting nuances’ that some of the research shows. It turns out that we all don’t need to look like we’ve just stepped off the catwalk…..
Struggling to fit in the recommended 5 periods of exercise a week?
Don’t be disheartened. A 2017 study by the University of Loughborough published online on the JAMA Network found that “weekend warrior and other leisure-time physical activity patterns characterized by 1 or 2 sessions per week may be sufficient to reduce all-cause, CVD, and cancer mortality risks.”
In other words, something is better than nothing. Don’t beat yourself up because you’re not out pounding the streets daily at 5 am, or doing daily yoga with the sunrise. Get out there when you can.
Further reading from The Rediscovery of Me
American Psychological Association. (2019). Multitasking: Switching costs. [online] Available at: https://www.apa.org. (2019). Multitasking: Switching costs. [online] Available at: https://www.apa.org/research/action/multitask [Accessed 5 Sep. 2019]. [Accessed 5 Sep. 2019].
Beilock, S. (2019). Why we choke under pressure — and how to avoid it. [online] Ted.com. Available at: https://www.ted.com/talks/sian_leah_beilock_why_we_choke_under_pressure_and_how_to_avoid_it?language=en [Accessed 5 Sep. 2019].
Beilock, S. (2011). Choke. London: Constable.
Cbsnews.com. (2019). Obesity could take this many years off your life. [online] Available at: https://www.cbsnews.com/news/obesity-could-take-this-many-years-off-your-life/ [Accessed 5 Sep. 2019].
Cohen, D., Wang, W., Wyatt, J., Kronauer, R., Dijk, D., Czeisler, C. and Klerman, E. (2010). Uncovering Residual Effects of Chronic Sleep Loss on Human Performance. Science Translational Medicine, 2(14), pp.14ra3-14ra3.
Curran, T. and Hill, A. (2019). Perfectionism is increasing over time: A meta-analysis of birth cohort differences from 1989 to 2016. Psychological Bulletin, 145(4), pp.410-429.
Dweck, C. (2017). Mindset. New York: Robinson.
Dweck, C. (2019). The power of believing that you can improve. [online] Ted.com. Available at: https://www.ted.com/talks/carol_dweck_the_power_of_believing_that_you_can_improve?language=en [Accessed 5 Sep. 2019].
Gleeson, B. (2019). TAKINGPOINT. [Place of publication not identified]: SIMON & SCHUSTER.
Gleeson, B. (2019). Why Accountability Is Critical For Achieving Winning Results. [online] Forbes.com. Available at: https://www.forbes.com/sites/brentgleeson/2016/12/08/why-accountability-is-critical-for-achieving-winning-results/#35f61b2245e1 [Accessed 5 Sep. 2019].
O’Donovan, G., Lee, I., Hamer, M. and Stamatakis, E. (2017). Association of “Weekend Warrior” and Other Leisure Time Physical Activity Patterns With Risks for All-Cause, Cardiovascular Disease, and Cancer Mortality. JAMA Internal Medicine, 177(3), p.335.
Patrick, V. and Hagtvedt, H. (2012). “I Don’t” versus “I Can’t”: When Empowered Refusal Motivates Goal-Directed Behavior. Journal of Consumer Research, 39(2), pp.371-381.
Ruggeri, A. (2019). The dangerous downsides of perfectionism. [online] Bbc.com. Available at: http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20180219-toxic-perfectionism-is-on-the-rise [Accessed 5 Sep. 2019].