The Psychology of Success


What if you understood the fundamental principles of success? Would this help you? Would you put them into practice? One of the elements that most studies agree upon is that there is no ‘one size fits all’ formula for success; after all, we are all individuals with unique goals, dreams, values, interests and skills. However, there are a few traits that are common to the most successful people; let’s take a look at these.

Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck has spent many years studying the psychology that underpins success. A notable conclusion from her research is that those who see their intelligence and ability as fixed (either you have it or you don’t) tend to limit their likelihood of success, whereas those who see their intelligence and ability as fluid, able to be learnt or improved through effort, tend to put themselves in a better position to excel.

As an example of this, a few years ago Dweck was asked to help out players from the Blackburn Rovers, an English Premier League football team. Their performance director suspected that while he had great players, many were not performing up to their full potential. One of the prevalent traits of English football is a tendency to believe that footballers are born rather than made; if you’re a player and convinced  that you’re already naturally amazing, why practice? While Dweck may have been an unlikely mentor for footballers, her years of research into the psychology of success showed players just how important a role mindset has to play.

A quick delve into the works of various commentators and researchers into success reveals that while everyone has their own set of ‘principles’ (‘the 6 principles of success’, ‘the 20 principles of success’ etc) they all tend to boil down to a few common themes;

1. Having a strong value base (and sticking to it!)

If you know what you are about and you stick to your ‘brand’, you are more likely to be successful at what you do that someone who waivers or is unsure. “If you stand for nothing, you’ll fall for anything”.

2. Challenge limiting beliefs

Much like the mindset as determined by Carol Dweck, being able to recognize the thought patterns and behaviors that hold you back from trying or doing things is a trait of successful people. For example, you may have the desire to achieve a goal but your inner-voice may tell you you’re not smart enough or strong enough. Research shows that the most successful people, while they may have still had doubts, overcame these by effecting a mindset of success.

3. Be an agile learner

See learning as a life-long experience and look for what you can learn out of each experience you have. Similar to this, successful people often have multiple failures before they achieve the ‘big break’; they keep going through a combination of mindset and looking upon failures as learning opportunities.

4. Plan

“A goal without a plan is just a wish”. Antoine de Saint-Exupery

While dreaming is often the start of many great ideas, it is the ability to plan and make the necessary steps to achieve that dream that often separates successful people from others. Have a plan and stick to the path that will lead to the achievement of your goal (being prepared to change parts of the plan if they are not going to serve your purpose!).

5. Listen and be prepared to change!

The chances are whether you are in business or work for a company, you will get feedback from time to time on your performance. Be prepared to listen objectively to feedback and make changes where necessary. After all, if you are in business you are there to solve a problem for, or serve the needs of your clients. Showing that you listen is often an admired trait that can actually bring you more business.

6. Be determined

If you take a look at Steve Jobs, Richard Branson or any other well-known successful people, you will generally find an extremely strong determination to succeed. Success is generally in proportion with how badly you want it and how willing you are to do what it takes to succeed.

“The surest way not to fail is to determine to succeed”  Richard Brinsley Sheridan.

7. Give

As Anthony Robbins states; if you can add more value to people’s lives, you will never have a problem with success. We all want to feel that life matters and that ours counts for something, as such giving helps to give that meaning to life. The principle of ‘philanthropic capitalism’ has been viewed by many as one of the most successful business models ever. TOMS shoes is one example of this model, where the successful company gives away a pair of shoes to a needy child in a developing country for every one pair sold. There are many examples; The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Virgin Money Giving and plenty of smaller businesses or individuals who make giving a part of their regular activity.

8. Be passionate

No one can muster untold determination and drive for an unlimited period on a project, job or business they are simply not passionate about! Blake Mycoskie, founder of TOMS shoes had tried several different businesses before deciding on one he felt really passionate about. The success of the company since is a testament partly to the passion of its founder.

There are many theories and lists of success principles out there, feeding the hunger that we have for the knowledge and tools for success. These 8 aspects presented here are a summary across many of these theories and studies. When it comes down to it, success both begins and ends with your mindset.