What are the steps to success? Many people will answer, “Depends on your definition of success.” Yet a definition is not what you’re after.
You know what you want and you’re interested in hearing exactly how you can bring your dreams to fruition.
Your primary problem is time and the demands of everyday life. For every person who delays their journey to success, there are bills to pay. Your invention goes uninvented, your book remains unwritten, because you have to pay the bills right here and now. Once you’re done working, it’s hard finding motivation to work more on your dream; you’re tired and you just don’t feel like it.
Now’s your time to change. There is no key to success — there are multiple keys to multiple doors, multiple steps, each one leading to the next:
1. Don’t make it a matter of motivation
Wait, isn’t accomplishing goals all about personal motivation? How will you succeed if you’re not motivated?
Here’s the problem with motivation:
It’s subject to whims and feelings. If the only thing motivating you is an internal desire to achieve results, you won’t achieve results when desire is not there. Then, there will be times when your desire is strong, but you’re caught up in some other task. You can’t drop that task because if you do, you don’t get paid.
Aytekin Tank, founder of JotForm, recommends relying on “systems” instead of intrinsic motivation. Intrinsic motivation is self-motivation to take action, and Tank points out that “there are probably moments when you don’t want to take action.”
Instead of merely relying on desire, set up a system and follow it no matter how you feel. Here’s a quick synopsis of how Tank runs his system:
- Identify two or three things you want to focus on. These things should all have something to do with your primary goal in life.
- Establish a time each day for productive focus.
- Say no to any activity that doesn’t fit into your focus areas.
- Give yourself a certain amount of flexibility. If you have absolutely no motivation to sit down and start writing, read a book to help inform your writing, or spend time cataloging your surroundings.
For many of us, the hard part is saying “no” to those inevitable and attractive distractions. Tank recommends concentrating on what you love about your dream. Why are you doing this to begin with? Practice concentrating on what makes your goals great.
2. Emulate others
Not learning from successful people is the same as ignoring directions from locals in a city you’re visiting for the first time. It makes no sense.
Regardless of how adventurous you are and how much of a rebel you want to be, you must have mentors. Learn how they did it, start basic, and then find ways to differentiate yourself.
According to Ohio University, some of the most successful self-made business people share common traits including:
- Simple purposes and plans.
- Tendency to work with and rely on people who will help achieve goals, and to dismiss those who won’t.
- Grit and determination.
- Tendency to prioritize and streamline important, transparent communications.
- Tendency to save money when possible.
- Decision-making ability that incorporates a mix of facts and people’s stories and emotions.
If you’re having trouble deciding who to emulate, the above traits are good ones to cultivate.
Eventually, the more you observe and talk to successful people, the more likely you are to find a mentor or role model.
Look for the traits that make them great, and work on cultivating these in yourself.
3. Network the right way
There’s no doubt you need other people to help you succeed. No one — and no one’s great idea — exists in a vacuum. That said, there’s a right way to build your network.
If you approach networking the wrong way, you’ll walk away frustrated, even hurt. Never underestimate the emotional gamble you’re undertaking when building a network.
Sounds daunting, but effective networking is easier when you have a set of guidelines. Rutgers University has a number of networking tips to consider:
- Be helpful: Follow the Golden Rule of networking — help others, be kind and do favors. Then keep in touch with those you help.
- Be steady: Dependability, consistency, grit — show people you can be steady and cultivate an image that reflects your implacable commitment to your passion.
- Be authentic: Don’t connect because the person will benefit you. Make connections based on your honest interest in who that person is and what they’re doing.
- Be candid: Sugarcoating your words doesn’t work. Honesty, sincerity and forthright communication are the hallmarks of a great communicator.
- Be attentive: Pay careful and close attention to what others say, and don’t waste words. The more you talk about yourself, the less perspective you gain from the other person. Find out about others’ interests and passions.
Networking is its own journey and each step is just as important as the destination.
Be mindful of the moments, pay attention to what people say and do, and build relationships with the people who are passionate and full of purpose.
4. Practice perfection
You know you need to practice to excel at anything — your teachers, parents, and coaches drove this into you while you were growing up. But chances are they didn’t give you an accurate picture of right practice.
After all, this is a discussion on how to actually achieve your dreams. Your dream isn’t to be mediocre or proficient, your dream is to really nail something to the wall with excellence, finality and precision.
Don’t just practice. Practice doing it the right way and practice it that way again and again.
In Doug Lemov’s book Practice Perfect (co-authored with Erica Woolway and Katie Yezzi), the author points out it’s not just about practicing a lot — it’s about how you practice. He provides some valuable tips on training yourself to succeed:
- Determine the correct way and practice it repeatedly. Practicing how to do something the wrong way encodes the wrong method on your brain.
- Practice the most important, effective things most. The 80/20 rule says 20 percent of right practice yields 80 percent of results.
- Through repetition, engrain the activity so deep that you barely have to think about it later.
- Repeat until you are able to think creatively while performing rote tasks.
- Each time you practice, set an objective first — Lemov says to make it “manageable and measurable.”
- Concentrate on what you’re already good at and keep practicing it.
- If you do something wrong, correct it by going back and doing the right way repeatedly.
To practice perfection, it helps a great deal to have someone providing feedback. If you don’t have a mentor or coach, consult the information readily available in libraries and online.
5. Treat failure as a part of the process
If you expect to do nothing but succeed, you’ll be sorely disappointed.
Anything worth doing is difficult, and failure is a part of the process — an important part. Failure grants you valuable insight on what not to do.
Even if you can’t figure out what you did wrong, there are probably external/environmental factors that contributed to your failure.
Now’s your chance to analyze what those factors might be. Once you fail, you’ll analyze these things:
- What, if any, were the external/environmental/societal factors that tripped me up?
- How can I respond differently the next time a problem comes up?
- Were there any problems I created regardless of external factors? Why did I create them?
- Who can I and should I ask for help this time around?
Analysis and learning aren’t necessarily easy, which is why you should be prepared to fail multiple times.
As step 4 says, optimize your practice. Failure will become less frequent the more you practice each part of your process with the correct method in mind.
6. Set realistic goals
Realistic goals and objectives are the checkpoints you can meet on your way to success. If your goal is to be a rock star or a celebrity, that’s not something you can immediately realize. It’s a dream.
Without realistic goals that bring you ever closer to your dream, it won’t become reality.
A study published in ScienceDirect found that people experience higher levels of depression and anxiety due to goal conflicts and ambivalence about goals.
In other words, you might have a dream of success, but your immediate goals may conflict with each other, and when that happens, your mental health suffers.
Additionally, you may be ambivalent about your current goals because they don’t align with what you truly value. Evaluate your goals and ask yourself what you truly want out of life. Are your goals in line with what you truly want?
7. Figure out what’s causing conflicts in your life
You could be facing an issue that blurs your vision, in which case your dreams and the steps to success fade into the background as you continually confront your immediate issue.
About 18 percent of people suffer from anxiety disorders at some point in their life, yet only 37 percent of sufferers seek help.
Anxiety and other common disorders, such as depression, can affect your ability to perform at work, and can hurt your home-life. In turn, your focus fails as your disorder looms in the foreground.
Oftentimes, those who suffer from anxiety are thinking about the future too much. The path to achieving your dreams will not open until you focus on your immediate goals and objectives. Set out immediate steps — e.g. I will write 500 hundred words a day from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. — and concentrate on the action in front of you.
Additionally, consider mindfulness meditation to help alleviate anxiety.
8. Eliminate distractions
Distractions are a big part of goal conflict. Strangely enough, you find yourself scrolling your Facebook news feed when you’re at work. You decide to go drinking when there’s an important conference the next morning.
Sadly, Facebook and drinking have nothing to do with advancing your career — but improving your work has everything to do with your dream.
Eliminating distractions can be as simple as loading a productivity app on your phone or tablet. Or, you may need to physically remove distractions from your workspace — whatever it takes to concentrate.
9. Give yourself downtime
You need to eliminate distractions while you’re focusing on objectives, but you also need to give yourself time to refresh.
The best type of downtime helps rejuvenate your brain. Take walks in nature, play a game with friends, exercise, read a book — anything you enjoy doing that’s not unhealthy for you.
10. Compartmentalize your activities
When you’re working on objectives, that’s all you’re doing. When you’re networking, that’s all you’re doing. When you’re taking time to relax, you’re not responding to work emails.
Compartmentalization enables you achieve maximum focus and heightens your passion.
The binding thread of these steps to success — the single factor that brings your dreams to fruition — is focus.
Determine simple objectives that will bring you closer and closer to what seems like a fantastic dream. As you work on each objective, practice complete focus.
You’re practicing for those moments that pop up, seemingly by chance, the moments that bring you to the doorstep of your dream.
Repetition is the key to focus. Practice building your skills the right way, listen to advice from others, build in mechanisms to make yourself work, and build your network. Each small step will eventually add up to something huge