How to Succeed in Life

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How to Succeed in Life

Learn more about what success looks like and how to achieve it in your life.

When we say that someone has succeeded in life, often what we mean is that they’re wealthy, famous, or extraordinarily skilled. In reality, success looks different for everyone. For some, success might be owning a yacht whereas, for others, success is simply being able to spend quality time with their loved ones.

The Greek Philosopher, Aristotle, defined a successful life as living in a way that aligns with your purpose. So, if you’re an artist and you make art, you’re successful. If you’re a dancer and you dance or a scientist and you do research, you’re successful. In other words, as long as you are moving through the world in a way that is true to you, you’re successful. You get to decide what you want out of life, what your personal values are, and what success looks like for you.

Given this definition, there are many different strategies we can employ to be successful. Some strategies may work better for some people than others, so it is important to try them out to see which one works best for you. Here are a few examples:

Visualizing

Visualization is an effective strategy that has been used in therapeutic contexts for decades to enhance cognitive, emotional, and behavioral change (Blackwell, 2019). When we visualize a particular action, our brains are essentially rehearsing that action. For example, neuroscience studies using brain imaging techniques have shown that when we imagine making a movement, our brains are activated in the same way that they would be if we were actually making that movement (Pearson et al., 2015). In the same way that imagining an action is a sort of mental rehearsal, we can use mental imagery to identify the discrepancies between our current selves and our ideal future selves, which can help inform the behavioral changes we need to make to succeed in our goals (Murphy et al., 2015).

We can also use visualization to help us foreshadow failure or other potential obstacles that may negatively affect the pursuit of our goals. That is, by imagining the steps we will need to take as we move toward our goals, we can identify possible outcomes or personal characteristics that we may need to manage or for which we may need to develop alternative plans or compensatory mechanisms.

Make a Plan

Visualizing is only a first step toward succeeding in life. The next necessary step is to make a plan. We can use visualization to create a sort of rough draft of our plans, but when it comes to actually laying out our plans it is important that we get as specific and detailed as possible. Two helpful strategies for making plans and achieving our goals are to create subgoals and set deadlines.

Create Subgoals

Success is predominantly achieved by taking several incremental steps toward a goal. For example, if your goal is to be an ultra-marathon runner, you might work toward this goal by setting sub-goals like training every day and eating more healthful and nutrient-dense foods.

Research has shown that structuring a goal into a set of subgoals makes it easier to work toward your goal, enhances your self-efficacy, or your belief that you are capable of achieving your goal, and provides positive reinforcement which improves motivation and persistence (Latham & Seijts, 1999).

Set Deadlines

Research shows that one of the best ways for us to achieve success is to set deadlines for when we can accomplish each of our identified subgoals. People commonly underestimate how long it will take them to complete a task, a phenomenon known as the planning fallacy. Being as specific and detailed as possible when creating your sub-goals (and sub-subgoals when necessary) is the best way to achieve your goals within the timeframe you set (Kruger & Evans, 2004). It can sometimes be hard to identify every subcomponent of a task in advance, so don’t get discouraged if a task ends up taking you longer than anticipated. It’s far better to just adjust your deadlines as needed than to scrap the whole plan.

“Success in life is not for those who run fast, but for those who keep running and always on the move.”
― Bangambiki Habyarimana

Track Your Progress

Tracking your progress toward your goals and subgoals is an extremely effective strategy for helping you succeed in life (Harkin et al., 2016). There are two major benefits to tracking your progress:

Provides an Accurate Perception of Effort

One benefit of tracking your progress is that it provides a more accurate perception of how much effort you’re actually putting in and consistently you’re sticking to your plan. We often hold inaccurate perceptions of our behaviors. For example, we might think we aren’t working hard enough when in reality we are putting in more than enough time and effort. On the other hand, we might think we are consistently doing the most when we are missing the mark by a substantial amount.

It’s Motivating

Checking off completed subgoals and being able to see the progress we are making can be rewarding and can promote a sense of competence. The positive emotions that come from progress tracking can help promote sustained motivation, which increases our chances of success.

In Sum

Success means something different for everyone and the way in which you define success might even change throughout your life. To live a successful life, it is important that we first understand what success is for us, what we truly want out of life, what we value, and what makes us feel alive. Only after we know what we are aiming for can we start to implement strategies such as visualization, making a plan, and tracking our progress to help us live our dream life. The combination of a clear vision of success and effective strategies for attaining it is a surefire way to live our very best lives.

References

● Blackwell, S. E. (2019). Mental imagery: From basic research to clinical practice. Journal of Psychotherapy Integration, 29(3), 235.

● Harkin, B., Webb, T. L., Chang, B. P., Prestwich, A., Conner, M., Kellar, I., … & Sheeran, P. (2016). Does monitoring goal progress promote goal attainment? A meta-analysis of the experimental evidence. Psychological bulletin, 142(2), 198.

● Kruger, J., & Evans, M. (2004). If you don’t want to be late, enumerate: Unpacking reduces the planning fallacy. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 40(5), 586-598.

● Latham, G. P., & Seijts, G. H. (1999). The effects of proximal and distal goals on performance on a moderately complex task. Journal of Organizational Behavior: The International Journal of Industrial, Occupational and Organizational Psychology and Behavior, 20(4), 421-429.

● Murphy, S. E., O’Donoghue, M. C., Drazich, E. H., Blackwell, S. E., Nobre, A. C., & Holmes, E. A. (2015). Imagining a brighter future: the effect of positive imagery training on mood, prospective mental imagery and emotional bias in older adults. Psychiatry Research, 230(1), 36-43

● Pearson, J., Naselaris, T., Holmes, E. A., & Kosslyn, S. M. (2015). Mental imagery: functional mechanisms and clinical applications. Trends in cognitive sciences, 19(10), 590-602.