It seems that the desire to improve, grow, and become successful is universally instinctive. From business people to top level athletes and artists, people throughout the centuries have been able to find creative ways to develop their potential and talent.
Yet for every individual that is successful, there are many whose high hopes and dreams never even get off the ground. What seems to be the difference between these two groups?
There are a few specific life skills that seem to be consistent with those who are successful and lacking in those who are not.
In a study published in PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America), researchers from the University College London followed over 8,000 men and women to determine what life skills contributed to their having a successful life. What they found was that people who had untroubled and affluent upbringings weren’t necessarily the happiest or most successful once they grew up.
Instead, those with specific personality traits seemed to be the happiest, healthiest and most successful. These traits helped them feel internally, rather than externally, fulfilled. Let’s examine these life skills one by one.
“Our ability to stay ‘in check’ with our emotions is one of the most powerful life skills we have,” explains Joshua Klapow, PhD, a clinical psychologist and Associate Professor of Public Health at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. “Emotional stability is like a regulator on our life skill set. It allows us to not be falsely optimistic, overly determined, too self-sacrificing, or too controlling. It allows us to experience life but to come back to a middle ground.”
For many of us, an immediate emotional response when something negative occurs is sometimes stronger and more negatively charged than it needs to be. That’s because we don’t really expect things to go wrong, so we feel blindsided when they do. When life slaps us in the face, we don’t have to focus on the slap. This will only derailed us from a logical path and from seeing things rationally which will ultimately affect the way we weigh things out and make decisions.
Those who do expect life to throw them an occasional curve ball are the most resilient and emotionally stable. Learning to expect that there will be some uncomfortable bumps and bruises that come along in life and that they’re common occurrences for everyone will enable us to roll with the punches.
Researchers at the Indiana University-Purdue University Columbus found a direct correlation between emotional stability and future success in a work environment. Those who were more in control of their emotions could handle typical work stressors better, leading to further opportunities. Those who allowed their emotions to get the best of them had less energy, less motivation, less willpower, fewer ideas, and less opportunities.
Ask yourself how you react when life turns a bit sour and how quickly you bounce back.
Determination or drive to get things done, to make things happen, and to constantly look for better ways of doing things is key when it comes to anything we do. It can actually be more important than sheer intelligence, as smarts can only take us so far. The rest of the way is most likely going to be paved with how much grit and determination we have in us.
Life is neither perfect, simple nor fair and it can often be quite challenging to keep a positive mindset and keep going towards a goal when times get tough. However, avoiding difficulties and being afraid to reach beyond the safe or the known will make it impossible for us to fulfill our potential. Without determination to attain higher goals, life will pass us by and leave us feeling unfulfilled.
While it’s true that not everyone is born with a fire in their gut, determination and perseverance can become a learned life skill. By consistently practicing resilience when faced with everyday challenges and by conscientiously not throwing in the towel every time a stumbling block gets in the way, it’s possible to transform our life and also impact the life of the people around us by our example. If there is a determination to make a difference in life, whether big or small, it can and will happen.
Determination also boosts health. According to Dr. Klapow, “Determination is critical for health and well-being as the majority of our health and well-being goals require daily prolonged effort. Determination allows us to move beyond day-to-day living.”
Ask yourself how you embrace this life skill, especially when faced with a challenge.
Many people wait for their life to randomly unfold before them and don’t make any important decisions until they have to. Living this way can often lead to one stressful situation after another, especially when life takes its inevitable bad turns. These stressful situations can then lead to feelings of anxiety, panic, self-pity and confusion as to what to do. Rarely do these types of individuals achieve goals, if there were any to begin with. They feel that they are victims of bad luck and hope it turns around some day.
There are those, however, who don’t wait for life to lead the way. They take control and create a vision for what they want their life to be or what they want their life to look like.
This doesn’t mean that road blocks don’t come along the way, but these set backs are not something that cause a state of confusion or panic. Because there is an established sense of control and purpose, there is a motivation and a strong determination to push through any obstacles. These people don’t have a victim mentality. They believe in their own actions, are self-aware, proactive, and have a high chance of succeeding in whatever they put their mind to.
“As we learn to look at the world as a series of events and situations that we can exert control over, we feel mastery and predictability. That allows us to remain calm, to be determined, and to take action. It is not a matter of having false beliefs that we can control everything in our lives, but rather looking at situations and challenges and believing that our own actions can have an impact,” explains Dr. Klapow. “This results in less stress, more proactive behavior, and more opportunities to succeed.”
Start looking at the bigger picture. How will your actions now, affect you later?
There is a distinct difference between an optimist and a pessimist: An optimist sees a challenge as a temporary set back and as a stepping stone that is leading them to a better solution. A pessimist sees a challenge as a massive mountain in front of them which makes it impossible to move forward - it’s the end of that road as far as they’re concerned.
Many research studies have shown that optimism has a real impact on whether something succeeds or fails when it comes to anything we pursue in life. Those who are more optimistic are more resilient in the face of day-to-day struggles and can see a brighter future despite set backs. Liz Mascolo, the business unit director at General Mills, defines optimism as being able to focus on a positive outcome. “It doesn’t mean that you’re necessarily shiny and happy at all moments of the day,” she says. “But it does mean that you have an ability to look at a situation and while it might be tough, you’re able to see around that corner and see the possibility…versus the difficulty.”
Without question, optimistic people are a lot more pleasant to be around since they are genuinely happier, healthier, and more successful. They have a positive energy that draws people to them, and they also tend to attract more opportunities into their lives because they are open to possibilities. There is a big difference between optimism and over-confidence however. Over-confidence tends to give people an attitude of “that couldn’t happen to me” whereas optimism gives an attitude of “it may happen to me, but if it does I will find a way to get through it.”
The University College London study, led by psychology professor Andrew Steptoe and his colleague Jane Wardle, showed that this key life skill, in combination with some of the other life skills mentioned, have major impacts on the ability to take better care of our health and find success in life. Optimistic people move past negative aspects of their jobs and everyday lives more easily and are less likely to be hospitalized, develop heart disease, and have low immunity. They are more likely to be successful and live longer and healthier lives.
How optimistic are you? How do you view challenges?
One of the most important life skills that consistently leads to success is conscientiousness. “It’s emerging as one of the primary dimensions of successful functioning across the lifespan,” Paul Tough writes in “How Children Succeed.” “It really goes cradle to grave in terms of how people do.”
Conscientiousness as defined by Psychology Today is: “…a fundamental personality trait that influences whether people set and keep long-range goals, deliberate over choices or behave impulsively, and take seriously obligations to others.” Conscientiousness is the character trait of being deliberate, careful, meticulous and vigilant and requires an organized and industrious mind.
In other words, it is the ability to live with intention.
Having this life skill influences people to set and systematically chase goals, keep their word, fulfill their obligations and remain steadfast in the face of opposition. There is a considerable amount of research linking conscientiousness with living longer, getting better grades, committing fewer crimes, earning more, having higher influence, leading companies that succeed long-term, being happier at work and having better marriages.
The absence of conscientiousness is one of the key contributors to the absence of success. Though we often attribute success to having intelligence, good luck, or creativity, it’s the conscientious individuals who are consistently successful.
How do you know if you’re conscientious? You are conscientious if you are concerned with doing things correctly, are very organized, responsible, pay attention to details, are hard working, control your impulses, are able to plan ahead, and work hard to overcome challenges. In a nut-shell, if you are conscientious you have a knack for avoiding negative behaviours that will damage your long-term happiness and success.
On the other hand, if you have low levels of conscientiousness, then you are easily distracted, unfocused, unmotivated, spontaneous, flighty, and all over the place. If you are constantly failing to achieve your personal or professional goals or are quitting projects midway through, you may need to work on living a more conscientious life.
Ask yourself if you can start living with more intention.
Reaching the pinnacle of life doesn’t come from outside, but springs from within us. There have been many successful people in history. They each had their own style, personality, vision and contribution. And they all exhibited the above mentioned life skills no matter where they started financially, socially, technologically or intellectually. Each of us has the opportunity and ability to choose to develop these life skills as well, wherever we are, and in whatever way we hope to achieve our own success.