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The Secret To Success

image loading... by Bo Bennett, PhD, Social Scientist, Business Consultant
posted Wednesday May 06, 2015 12:00 AM

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Bo Bennett, PhD

Social Scientist, Business Consultant

About Bo Bennett, PhD

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This is what is called a loaded question, or a question that contains an unjustified assumption. The unjustified assumption is that there is a secret to success. The question also incorrectly implies that "success" is unidimensional, that is, its definition is simple enough that such a secret could exist that if known, would allow people to achieve success. Since there is no standard measurement of success, it is best to focus on something more measurable that is often synonymous with success: achievement. Rather than assuming such a secret exists that makes achievement easy, realize that many strategies exist that help people achieve more in life, but these strategies require effort. Given all this, the question that I will answer is "what do you think is the best strategy for achievement?"

A reason I no longer like to talk about "success," is because a common trend has been to water down success and define it in such a way where everyone is successful. This is like giving all kids trophies simply for playing the game. A strategy for "success" is to feel better about what you do have rather than focus on what you don't have, or to put another way, want what you have rather than attempting to get what you want. This celebration of mediocrity, while arguably good for our personal well-being and sense of self-worth, diffuses the positive frustration and desire that lead to greatness through achievement.

I do want to point out that achievement is an area of study within psychology, and there have been several theories that look at aspects of achievement such as motivation, self-efficacy, and intelligence. Many of the theories attempt to explain the "why" of achievement, but I would rather address this question from the more philosophical and practical "how" perspective. In absence of solid scientific data on how to achieve more in life, I offer this strategy that I have developed over the years, so do realize I am speaking more as a person with a strong track record of lifetime achievements than a social scientist relying on research of others.

In 2004, I published my first book called Year To Success, which outlines specific advice for achievement. The central theme of this book is that there is no secret to success, rather success is like a game where you have control over the odds. The way you control the odds is by making lifelong incremental self-improvements, 250+ of which are discussed in the book. For example, define what success means to you, be persistent, create a "dream collage", etc. While this is a great start, 10 years and two advanced degrees in human behavior later, I realized another very important piece of the puzzle.

It has been said that our most precious resource is time. What makes time so valuable is not what we lose by wasting it, but what we fail to gain. This is also known as opportunity cost. The Internet and bookstores are full of self-help advice and books offering specifics on how you can improve yourself. It is easy to be consumed by this advice and make these "improvements" for the sake of the improvements, and forget about what it is you are trying to achieve. Every book or article you read, course you take, podcast you listen to, video you watch, or self-improvement technique you apply to your life comes at a cost. This cost is what you can otherwise be doing with your time that will bring you closer to achievement. The missing piece of the puzzle is to critically evaluate each self-improvement technique while considering your achievement goals, and be selective on which you choose to implement. While learning a foreign language can be useful and personally fulfilling, it is likely to require a significant time investment. The question most people would ask is "will learning a foreign language bring me closer to my goal?" but the far better question would be "is learning a foreign language the best use of my time in terms of my goal?"

A final piece of advice on this topic: realize that knowing "the best use" of one's time is an idealistic goal, meaning that considering the opportunity cost is an exercise meant for expanding the number of options and choosing among the best of the available options; it is not meant as a way to justify excuses for not taking steps to improve oneself. Achievement requires a good strategy implemented with effort and perseverance, not the discovery of some mysterious secret. The strategy I offer consists of making lifelong incremental self-improvements and choosing those self-improvement techniques based on how likely they are to help you achieve your specific goal(s). Give it a try.

Podcast Episode: The Secret To Success

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