Finding success in anything is never easy. Whether we’re trying to write a decent essay, learn an instrument, or improve our habits, it’s always a struggle when we’re not seeing any results.
But, surely there’s a secret to extraordinary results?
Why is it that some people are more successful than others?
These are the questions I want to explore in this article. And, ultimately, I found there are 6 lies we tell ourselves that limits our ability to succeed.
- Everything Matters Equally
- We Need to Live a Disciplined Life
- Willpower is Always on Call
- A Balanced Life
- Big is Bad
Everything Matters Equally
With so much stuff going on in life, it’s easy to think everything is urgent and important. So, in our minds, we start believing that everything is equally important.
This leads us down a path where we end up being busy for the sake of being busy. We do loads of work, but very little of it actually moves us closer to our goals i.e. we move further from success. Remember: being busy isn’t related to productivity.
“The things which are most important don’t always scream the loudest.”– Bob Hawke
When most people write their to-do lists, they end up becoming something like a ‘survival list’. Like, unless we get those things done we’re not going to be behind so we need to work until everything is checked off. But, this is the wrong way to think about to-do lists.
Our to-do lists should be a ‘success list’ – a list purposefully crafted to give clear next actions you need to take to sequentially build the life of your dreams.
For example, if you know that getting an A* in your exam and building a personal brand are the most important things in your life, why are you spending so much time learning to code, watching TV, and trying to learn another language? If you really wanted to do well in your exams and build a personal brand you’d make that a priority.
Many of us think we can multitask. Just think of all the times you’ve been working on a project with the TV on in the background, social media open in another tab, and your lunch in the microwave. This may feel like work, but it’s not proper work.
The problem is, when we try to do more than one thing at a time, we’re incapable of doing any of them well. We can’t feasibly learn something, follow a TV show, and follow the latest social updates at 100% efficiency if our attention is divided between each of these activities.
Some of us may say “oh, well, I’ve just got no time to do everything I want to do”. But, again, this is a lie. The truth is that we just feel the need to do too many different things in the time that we have.
What we need to do then is focus on one thing at a time. I like to do this by using something called time blocking. The idea is that I give myself a specific amount of time – perhaps 1 or 2 hours – to complete a task completely free from distractions. That way I know exactly what I need to be doing at a given moment, so I’m far more likely to succeed in getting it done.
We Need to live a Disciplined Life
A lot of productivity gurus say stuff like “fuck motivation, what you need is discipline”. But, this sorta mindset is only ever going to lead to long-hours of gruelling work and, eventually, burnout.
The point is, we’re not going to be a successful if we have to constantly rely on things like discipline to make us sit down and get on with what we need to do. Instead, we need to understand that real success boils down to a surprisingly short sprint – a sprint fuelled by being disciplined just long enough for a habit to kick in and take over.
Once doing something is a habit, we don’t need discipline. Doing the action is simply part of our identity.
Ultimately, where most people screw up is that they think they need to be doing everything right, where in reality it’s just about doing the right thing. Just find the area you want to succeed in, build a habit, and don’t worry about everything else.
Willpower is Always on Call
The more we use our mind, the less cognitive energy we have.
This is largely due to something called the circadian rhythm. Basically, the amount of energy we have at different points on the day changes. Typically, we have our greatest amount of energy in the morning and a natural energy slump after lunch. And successful people work with these natural energy cycles.
For example, we want to do our most important work when our energy/willpower is highest i.e. in the morning. Like, if I have an important writing project due tomorrow or a video that I really want to release ASAP then I will prioritise that for the morning. On the other hand, if I want to organise my social media or just hang out with friends, I know the mid-afternoon is the best time to do this stuff too.
A Balanced Life
No matter how hard we try, there’s always going to be stuff we didn’t do. Whether it’s the end of the day, end of the year, or the end of our life, we’re never finished. So trying to get them all done is pointless.
In fact, leaving some things unfinished is a necessary tradeoff for success.
This is similar to the point I made about the problems with multitasking, but the idea here is that we should only ever be dedicating our time to the 1 or 2 things that matter most to us. And then focus on those things every single day.
Sure, you may miss out on becoming an Olympic gymnast, a world class pianist, or an astronaut, but at least you give yourself the best shot at becoming a YouTuber or whatever the hell you want to be.
There’s a great quotation by Sylvia Plath in The Bell Jar that sums up this situation perfectly:
“I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story. From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked. One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another fig was a brilliant professor, and another fig was Ee Gee, the amazing editor, and another fig was Europe and Africa and South America, and another fig was Constantin and Socrates and Attila and a pack of other lovers with queer names and offbeat professions, and another fig was an Olympic lady crew champion, and beyond and above these figs were many more figs I couldn’t quite make out. I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn’t make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet.”– Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar
Big is Bad
Lots of people will tell us that we shouldn’t worry about the end result and thinking big is bad because it distracts us from the present moment. And to a large extent I’d agree. Focusing on the process is what’s going to eventually lead to our successes.
But, we can’t completely ignore the big. If we do, small thinking will rule the day.
When we allow ourselves to think about the big picture, and what success looks like, we change the way we look at the world. We start asking bigger questions, following unique paths, and trying new things i.e. we start doing the things that successful people do.
For example, every week I’ll check in with my big goals and occasionally visit the places that inspire me. Visualising the end result, at least for me, is a huge part of getting to the destination I dream about.
So think big and shoot for the stars.