Have you ever prepared for a trip that you were excited about, then thought, “why do I think I am good enough to drive?”
Or were you ever longing to take a journey, but you were struck by the thought that “there is no way I can walk to the door, open it, and leave.”
These statements seem ridiculous by analogy, but they show the torture we put ourselves through when we think about success. We often feel an immense amount of frustration and inadequacy and a healthy helping of self-doubt. Anxiety causes us to resign ourselves before we even start.
The conversations that we have and the stories we tell ourselves about success, often dictate our journeys. When we think we are too far away even to imagine our most heartfelt desires, we crush possibility before beginning.
We must challenge self-doubt by looking at our successes, and examining the successes of others. This two-part process is a straightforward way to give yourself enough confidence and direction to begin your journey to success.
1. Reflect on the Success You’ve Had.
When you think about past wins, you should identify times in the past where you have had an achievement. Richard Koch’s 80/20 Principle: The Secret to Achieving More With Less, provides helpful exercises to examine success.
Koch suggests using Achievement Islands and Deserts and Happiness Islands and Deserts.
You take a blank sheet of paper and list all of the achievements you have had in your life, and they should reflect your idea of accomplishment, not necessarily an award.
Koch also recommends listing achievement deserts, which indicate a time when you felt that you were not achieving.
To create a Happiness Island, you repeat the same process and record (create circles or tables—whichever works best for you), moments of happiness. You then write your happiness deserts or when you were most unhappy.
The exercise is designed to have you write these experiences—so that you can tease out or identify causes or instances of happiness and unhappiness, and common factors or correlations in achievement and non-achievement.
If you need more help with isolating variables that contribute to success or happiness, the book Unique Ability: Creating the Life You Want, provides a robust framework for finding your strengths.
In it, there is an exercise where you reach out to people close to you, those you trust, to ask them what they see as your unique ability.
You explain that this includes your talents and skills, characteristics that describe you, what you are good at, what they value you or rely on you for, and any other distinguishing features that they see about who you are.
Although it may seem a bit awkward, or like you are fishing for compliments, this is a highly useful exercise to at least confirm some of your suspicions about your talents and interests. After engaging in exploration that might at first seem tedious, you can narrow down certain aspects of your capabilities, identify similarities and consistencies in the things you are naturally good at, and engage in deliberate practice for improvement.
The second part of this two-step process requires examining other people’s successes.
2. Imitate Successful People.
When you imitate successful people, you do two key things: (1) process information to give you an idea of what they did to become successful, and (2) act on this information by making it specific to your journey.
You can imitate successful people that you know personally, or others who are world-renowned for their successes. Following the path of someone you know personally can mean shadowing them or having conversations with them about their processes, opportunities they pursue and forgo, and their routines and habits.
Reading business and personal development books, or autobiographies and biographies, and also listening to and reading interviews with successful people, give a basis for imitating those you do not know personally. It is important to hear what they say, and also what they don’t say.
When Laney High School varsity basketball coaches did not select Michael Jordan for the team as a sophomore, and instead for junior varsity, he was upset. He believed that there were others on the team who did not play as well as him. The team had fourteen returning upperclassmen, eight of whom were guards. Michael was 5’9 at the time, and most of them towered over him.
His recourse after not being selected that season was to practice. He practiced at the high school gym each morning, even before the gym teacher arrived.
Upon retelling the story of Jordan not making varsity, people focus on him as if he were a phoenix, emerging from the ashes. The truth is that he was on the court, where he expected to find his success, practicing every day, rain or shine, basketball season and all other seasons, while other similarly-situated players were sleeping. The fact that he grew six inches did not hurt his pursuit of making the varsity team, either.
Imitating successful people means doing by acting.
When there is no clarity, it’s hard to take action. Having particular direction seems like it would be most helpful, but being uncertain is sometimes the only option.