Are they just lucky? Intelligent? Born with a silver spoon?
No, success is not limited to your race, IQ level, or the size of your bank account. So while there’s no proven formula, there’s no denying people that we admire share certain traits that helped them get ahead.
I’ve compiled a list here, along with their famous advocates.
1. Read. A Lot.
Think book nerds are losers? It’s quite the opposite, actually. Last I checked, they rule the world.
Mark Cuban insists on reading 3 hours a day, while Bill Gates reads for 1 hour as part of his bedtime routine. J.K Rowling, the first ever billionaire author, read ‘absolutely anything’ as a child. President Obama, Sheryl Sandberg, and Albert Einstein are book lovers, too.
Reading helps you learn from the mistakes and successes of others. Instead of just diving in; relying on your guts and motivation to lead you, reading gives you a mental map to bypass rookie mistakes people make in life.
2. Organizing Lessons Learned for Future Application
You read a wonderful book and highlight tons of passages. You’re excited to apply what you just learned. Then a few days (or weeks) pass and you forget the quotes, insights and ideas you just learned.
Fret not, because Ryan Holiday, author of The Obstacle is the Way, and Robert Green, author of The 48 Laws of Power, have a great method for organizing and retaining information.
There’s not enough space to explain it, so just click here for a full explanation. If their paper and shoe-box method seems tedious, you can create a digital commonplace book using Evernote, IFTTT and other apps.
3. Wake Up Early
Notable early risers include Sir Richard Branson of Virgin Group, Disney CEO Robert Iger and Yahoo’s Marissa Mayer.
Waking up early isn’t an easy habit to cultivate, though. I suggest you experiment with different techniques, but in general, the most effective ones are:
- Find a no-mercy alarm clock: Clocky Alarm Clock on Wheels, I Can’t Wake Up on Android, or Sleep Cycle alarm.
- Don’t hit snooze: Hitting the snooze button and going back to sleep for 5-10 minutes will make you feel worse.
- No screen or light (even a tiny blue light) at least one hour before bedtime. Light affects your circadian rhythm and melatonin production, the hormone responsible for inducing sleep.
- Hal Elrod, author of The Miracle Morning, suggests writing your plans for the next day. The first task listed should get you excited enough to part with your comfy bed.
4. Get Your Butt Off the Couch
Successful people have all the resources they’ll ever need to keep themselves fit and healthy. They can afford lipo, Botox and spa retreats. And yet exercise is still a part of their daily habits. Why?
Yes, exercise keeps you fit and all that, but it also keeps your brain healthy, minimizes stress, and improves memory. In fact, using ‘too much work’ as an excuse not to exercise is counterproductive. Studies show that exercise can boost creativity and productivity by as much as two hours. It makes you smarter, too.
Ursula Burns, Xerox’s CEO, bi-weekly exercise habit is a 1-hour session with her trainer, and Anna Wintour, Vogue’s Editor-in-Chief has a habit of playing tennis one hour a day.
5. Train the Muse
What separates professionals from wannabes? Pros work, even when they don’t feel like it.
E.B. White, author of Charlotte’s Web, famously said, “A writer who waits for ideal conditions under which to work will die without putting a word on paper.” That applies to us all, whatever your occupation is.
Next time you don’t feel like working, keep calm and use the Force. And by that, I mean, force yourself to work for just 15 minutes then see what happens. Usually, those 15 minutes will be enough to give you some momentum.
If that doesn’t work, spend 30 minutes breaking down the task into its basic components, and then do the items one at a time until you finish the whole task.
6. Quiet Your Monkey Brain
Studies suggest meditation alleviates anxiety, pain and prevent depression. It can also improve your ability to focus instead of getting overwhelmed with everything that’s happening around you. That’s what happened to Arnold Schwarzenegger when he had a habit of doing transcendental meditations in the 70s.
Unfortunately, quieting the mind doesn’t come as naturally to many of us. So for beginners, you can create the habit of meditating by concentrating on your breath for 3-5 minutes, which is the average starting point of new meditators.
If random thoughts keep popping in your head, give your monkey brain something to chew on by chanting “Om Namah Shivaya” (I honor the divinity within me).
7. Minimize Distractions by Batch Checking Emails (and Social Media) Twice a Day
Tim Ferris is famous for suggesting this in his book, The 4-Hour Work Week. Reading and answering emails doesn’t make you productive. If anything, you’re just being responsive.
To minimize distractions, Ferris recommends checking email twice a day: 11 AM and 4PM, or after you’ve completed at least one critical item in your to-do list, and once more before the end of your workday.
Successful people allot time to give back to their community by working with charities, volunteering and donating. Tom Corley, author of Wealthy Habits: The Daily Success Habits of Wealthy Individuals, states that 73% of the 233 wealthy people he studied for 5 years volunteer 5+ hours a month. Bill Gates, Oprah Winfrey, Mark Zuckerberg, all donate to different causes.
Not rich? No problem. Volunteer at your local soup kitchen, help at the nursing home, or teach kids to read. Many times, your time and the pleasure of your company is enough.
9. Deliberate Practice and Hard Work
Serena Williams wakes up at 6 AM to practice tennis, and she’s been doing that since she was a kid. Even her after-school routine revolved around practicing the sport. Dallas Mavericks owner and famous Shark investor, didn’t take a vacation for seven years when his company was just starting up. That’s dedication.
You can find shortcuts for everything in life, but you can never sidestep the hard work required to build the foundation of your goals.
10. Don’t Break the Chain!
Have you ever heard of the calendar method supposedly created by Jerry Seinfeld?
Get a big calendar and a red marker, then mark “X” on each day you work on your goal or habit.
In two weeks, you’ll have a long chain showing your progress. It will motivate you to keep going, too.
Don’t Get Too Excited!
I hope you don’t get too excited and apply all these habits at once. That will drive you crazy.
Instead, pick the easiest habit for you, and then do it for 3-6 months until it becomes a natural part of your routine. After that, check back here to pick another one.
Use the 1st habit as an anchor to prompt you into doing the new habit you’re trying to master.
For example, the first habit you mastered is waking up early and now you’re trying to exercise regularly.
Your habit formula can look like this: After I wake up at 6 AM, I will jog for 30 minutes. This works well because waking up early is strongly programmed into your brain’s neurons, so stacking another habit to it leverages the existing neuron’s fast and steady connection.