What makes someone successful?
There are lots of theories and quotes about what makes some people successful, but all “successful people” have one thing in common: they continue to try new things. They don’t just focus on what failed, or how their new idea might fail. They have an idea, put it into action, and put it out into the world without knowing beforehand if it might work.
It sounds so simple.
So, if it’s so simple, why do some people have a lot of success, and others can’t get a break? If it’s just a willingness to try something different, what is holding back people from trying? Some people are able to run by putting one foot in front of the other for miles. Some people are able to face failure after failure and continue to make new art, new work, new ideas – and share them bravely. Some people commit themselves to the process of creating, and figure out the consequences later. And, lots of people do this without ever being successful.
I once believed that their success comes from confidence. Successful people are confident enough to try new ideas, and as they try more ideas, they are bound to be successful. Success leads to confidence, and confidence leads to Success. Or at least, that was my excuse.
To claim that confidence = success means that you had to have confidence before you tried something: but if its new and hasn’t been done before, you can’t have confidence.
So, what is the difference?
Successful People have a Positive Mindset
Successful people live with a different perspective on the world. I mean this in the most literal way – they are utilizing a different part of their brain when they are considering what they want to work on. When they look at opportunities they see the same obstacles, but because of their Positive Mindset, they are able to see ways to work around those challenges. Their brain is operating in Thrive Mode.
The simplest explanation is that our brains have two modes – Thrive Mode, and Survival Mode***. In Survival mode, your brain is being managed by parts of your brain that limit you. In this state, your Amygdala is highly active, trying to inspire action to keep you alive. When something big happens, or you get really bad news, you enter the Fight-or-Flight state. But, often we’re not dealing with big problems. In Survival more people live in a perpetual state of fear, with a sense of ever-present risk. You feel like you need to do something, but your brain isn’t giving you clear signals what to do. Your Amygdala is keeping you at the ready, just in case a tiger jumps out of the bush at you, or more specifically, keeping you ready for when that worry you have about your job just might come true.
Just a few years ago, this is exactly what I was struggling with. I was worried I was going to lose my job, but I hated my job so much that I wanted to get fired (note the contradiction there). I wanted to create a photography business, but when I looked at what it took to be a successful photographer I was unwilling to commit to the effort (at the time I believed that I needed to be working 80 hours a week, between social media, traveling, advertising, digital editing, and taking photographs). Again, note the contradiction.
Survival mode often creates unwinnable situations for you, which perpetuates the mindset.Your awareness narrows when you’re in this state, so you are less conscious of other opportunities to achieve success. Your brain is 5 times more likely to pick up on negative information, so you’ll be more likely to miss the positive opportunities that are around you that could help you get the success you want. Survive mode, unless you have an opportunity to hit reset, creates a perpetual cycle.
In Survive Mode, you’re like a Mountain Biker who can’t take their eyes off of the big rock that’s in their way– and on a bike, you go where you’re looking.
When your brain is in Thrive Mode, you have a wider awareness. You are more curious, which will help you look for more information that can help you make the choices that will lead to success. You are better able to filter out the negative information that is distracting you from your goals. You are more social, which increases your ability to connect with others who can support you in your goals. In this state, you are more likely to enter Flow – which makes you more efficient. You are happier, as a result of increased amounts of dopamine in your brain. And, most importantly: you are more conscious of opportunities that are around you that will lead you to success. Oh, and a side affect of being in this mental state is that when you do fail, you’re more resilient, which gives you more opportunity to respond positively to the failure.
This feels like common sense information – people who are happy are more social, more creative, and are willing to try new things. Is it possible to create this mindset for yourself (without needing to a few drinks)? Can you make your mind more positive?
Recent research has discovered that your thought patterns aren’t fixed.
You can create a positive mindset
When you want to learn a piece of music, you sit down at the piano and play, play, play. You have to spend hours, days, weeks, running through the notes, trying to write the patterns into your fingers and your brain. It takes practice. Positive Thinking is the same thing.
Our habitual thought patterns develop as a response to the world around us. They were influenced by our parents, our teachers, our friends and the media we consume (music/books/podcasts/etc.). We learn to think from those around us, and then repeat those same patterns. For some people, if they have positive influences in life, they learn how to thrive. For many people, we need to learn how to thrive.
If we want, we can create intentional thought patterns to correct for bad mental habits that we developed in our past. Negativity is like smoking – its toxic a habit that’s hard to give up. A few years ago, I wrote a short piece for a magazine. In it, I share my experience of a time when I tried to give up complaining for one week. I failed. I couldn’t go one day, and most days I couldn’t even make it past lunch without having complained. I was living in a perpetual negative mindset. I was stuck in Survival Mode. If someone shared an idea with me, I could list ten reasons why it was likely to fail. If I created something, I could come up with twenty reasons why it was bad and should never be shared. My mind was my worst enemy. I wanted success but I could only see how I was going to inevitably fail.
In the past two years, I’ve changed that. I have learned how to train my brain in the same way that I train my body – by creating intentional practices that lead to stronger Positive Thinking. I’ve put together the five best practices that can help you do the same in my Ebook. [Click Here to download your free copy]. It was created with the intention of offering you the best empirically tested and science based techniques that have been proven to increase positive emotions (oh, and they made a massive impact on me). In my Ebook, I also share the neuroscience explaining how these practice are re-wiring your brain. What’s great about these practices is that they are simple, straight-forward, and aren’t Woo-Woo.
In 2015, I learned how to thrive at a work-place that I was convinced I hated (turns out I was approaching my work all wrong, but that’s a post for another day). I launched my coaching business, and have taken chances to put myself out in the world that I could have never imagined before. On top of all of this my wife and I took the greatest risk of our lives by trying to buy a business. We quit our jobs, moved our family across the province, and did it without certainty. At this point, I can’t say whether we will be “successful” or not – but even though I’m in the middle of significant uncertainty, I’m not distracted or focused on it. I am focusing my attention on the opportunities I do have, rather than be hung up on what I don’t have. I have learned how to thrive, and think positively in the midst of risk and uncertainty.
This is what makes successful people differently – they are able to see risk and uncertainty, and respond wisely to it. They don’t run away from it (unless it’s a bad risk), and they don’t give up if something is uncertain. If they fail, they learn from it and try again. They focus on what they can do, and approach it with the perspective that they have strengths to use to support them being successful. They see the risk and uncertainty, but they aren’t distracted by it.
I know that no matter what happens in the next few months, whether my wife and I buy the business or not, my family is going to thrive.
I had to practice to create this attitude in myself. I had to create new thought-patterns that are “louder” than the old, negative patterns. Over-coming a scarcity mindset can be achieved if you are willing to do the work. Download my Ebook, and give these exercises a test for ten days – it just might help you see the opportunities around you that you’ve been waiting for, and help you enjoy the process even more.
***I say “two modes”, with the acknowledgement that there isn’t really a toggle switch. But, when our Amygdala senses a threat, it does flood our brain with cortisol, which turns off the parts of our brain which are responsible for finding connections between divergent things (which is the essence of creativity). So, I say two modes to suggest that our Amydala is saying “Be Afraid” or “All Clear”.