15 habits that separate successful people from unsuccessful people

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Everyone wants to be successful — but not many understand how to get there.

Along the way, there will be challenges ranging from financial to emotional.

Without proper care, one’s ego and hubris could throw a wrench into the whole process and consequently lead to failure.

If there were a formula for success, everyone would’ve been flying first class and taking vacations every few months.

Alas, such is not the case.

What can be used to our advantage is learning the common habits of successful people that unsuccessful people don’t seem to follow.

Here are 15 habits that separate successful people from unsuccessful people.

1. They Adapt And Change

The only constant natural force is change.

As the landscape changes — whether it be natural, industrial, or digital — those that have yet to adapt are bound to get left behind.

One of the most common behaviors of unsuccessful people is their stubbornness to stay the same.

Their ego tells them, “Don’t fix it if it isn’t broken” or “It’s the way we’ve always done something.”

Successful people understand that if their ventures aren’t making the money they sought to make, or if their employees are leaving at an alarming rate, a change needs to happen.

Holding on to traditions might backfire in the long run.

Adam M. Grant, author of Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know, says it best:

“Intelligence is traditionally viewed as the ability to think and learn. Yet in a turbulent world, there’s another set of cognitive skills that might matter more: the ability to rethink and unlearn.”

2. They’re Interested In Different Ideas

It’s easier now than before to keep up with the latest celebrity gossip: who’s with who, who’s doing what.

Even in our own social circles, we can talk to our friends about how shocked we are that someone we only sort of knew is pregnant.

As juicy as these conversations might be, they don’t lead to anywhere useful.

Successful people, instead, concern themselves with exciting ideas: ones that could change the way people use their phones, how they feel, how they think — anything.

According to Shane Snow, bestselling author of Smartcuts: How Hackers, Innovators, and Icons Accelerate Success, thinking about different ideas also allows successful people to improve lateral thinking:

“Lateral Thinking is the process of solving problems via different angles than you might expect. It doesn’t happen when you do more of the same thing. So just simply working harder may not accomplish a goal like rethinking the approach you’re taking. Lateral thinking is about getting in the mindset of breaking the rules that aren’t really rules; they’re just the way things have been conventionally done in the past.”

3. They’re Team Players

What unsuccessful people fail to realize is that success is largely a team effort. Professional successes couldn’t exist with just one person.

This realization isn’t new either.

Our ancestors thrived in the support of others. It’s what enabled our species to climb to the top of the food chain; enabled empires to rise, and countries to prosper.

To think that success is purely a solo undertaking is a guaranteed path to failure.

4. They Welcome Others

Since success relies on teams, it’s important to cultivate a productive group relationship.

Bob Iger, former CEO of Disney, said in an interview that decency can in fact enhance leadership.

Being kind, welcoming, and even vulnerable strengthens bonds among people, helping them achieve more success than shutting them out.

5. They’ll Never Say That They Know Everything

Success can blind people to their own flaws.

Just because they’ve finally reached it doesn’t mean that they’ve hit the ceiling.

Standing still, letting the days blur into the next one without learning anything new sets a future fall.

Success isn’t a permanent state.

Being successful on a Wednesday doesn’t guarantee success on Thursday.

With success comes bigger challenges: meetings with larger companies and higher expectations from consumers.

Improving oneself is never-ending, even if that improvement happens slowly.

James Clear, author of Atomic Habits, explains how consistent small improvements can turn into something much more in the long run:

“Meanwhile, improving by 1 percent isn’t particularly notable—sometimes it isn’t even noticeable—but it can be far more meaningful, especially in the long run. The difference a tiny improvement can make over time is astounding. Here’s how the math works out: if you can get 1 percent better each day for one year, you’ll end up thirty-seven times better by the time you’re done. Conversely, if you get 1 percent worse each day for one year, you’ll decline nearly down to zero. What starts as a small win or a minor setback accumulates into something much more.”

6. They Are Understanding Of Others

There will be people that will run late for an important meeting; they’re going to let you down and disappoint us, they may even disagree with us which could cause a rift in the office.

An unsuccessful person would take these actions personally: holding grudges and burning bridges.

There is nothing to gain from holding a grudge over someone except undue emotional and mental stress.

To succeed, one must have a clear and calm mind — one must forgive, forget, and keep moving forward together.

7. They Know Their Destination

Even the strongest winds would be useless if you don’t know where you’re sailing to.

The busyness of work — putting out managerial and corporate fires, and attending to task after task — can often obscure the bigger picture.

Work simply becomes a waste of time without a clear goal in mind.

People succeed because they know what they want and how to get there, using the appropriate methods.

If someone knows that their goal is to finish a novel, they’ll have a clear marker for when they’ve finally attained success.

There’s no more guessing what might work and might not.

8. They Take Ownership Of Their Actions

There are going to be points where something goes wrong.

Maybe the client wasn’t able to receive the brief or a dicey investment lost the company some money.

Without taking responsibility for these actions, nothing productive is going to come from it, which increases the likelihood of it happening again.

Successful people take responsibility for their mistakes and modify their behavior and their systems to ensure that such things don’t happen again.

In fact, according to Shane Snow, bestselling author of Smartcuts: How Hackers, Innovators, and Icons Accelerate Success successful people tend to prefer negative feedback than positive feedback:

“The research showed that experts—people who were masters at a trade—vastly preferred negative feedback to positive. It spurred the most improvement. That was because criticism is generally more actionable than compliments.”

9. They Don’t Take All The Credit

Success isn’t a ladder climbed alone.

Unsuccessful people tend to be driven by the notion that, since they were so focused on their own energy into something, that they’re entitled to all the credit.

While it might be so sometimes, successful people give credit to those that helped them along the way.

Unsuccessful people pass the blame for failures but take all the credit for successes.

This is a case of “You can’t have your cake and eat it too” Both ideas require not honesty but also humility.

Showing gratitude is one of the most important things to do in a team.

Without showing the proper Thank you’s, a team relationship would be less likely to persevere under the management of a selfish and narcissistic boss.

10. They Can Always Smile

If the company encounters problems and the leader turns pessimistic, that negative attitude will spread like a wildfire.

Getting caught up in the stress of work or the frustrations towards colleagues never really gets anyone anywhere.

Carrying around a negative attitude will not only hide opportunities that are right in front of us, but it will also drive people away; no one wants to be around someone that makes them feel bad.

That’s why successful people always keep their chin up and look on the bright side of things, while also keeping it real.

This also means that successful people are mindful of their environment. They know that have negative people around them, then they’re unlikely to develop a positive mindset.

David J. Schwartz:, in the book The Magic of Thinking Big, says it well:

“You are a product of your environment so your mind and goals are influenced by your environment. Association to negative and petty people yields negative thinking and petty habits. On the flip side, association to positive and ambitious people yields positive thinking and great results.”

11. They Take Care Of Themselves

While working hard is a major component of achieving success, it doesn’t mean that there should no longer be time for self-care.

The human body can only handle so much before the quality of work being produced begins to decline.

While pushing oneself is essential to achieving success, one should be careful not to push too hard. Burnout and injuries might end up stopping progress altogether.

Even the greatest athletes need time between games to let their bodies and minds recover.

12. They Try Not To Be The Smartest Person In The Room

Steve Jobs once said that we hire smart people to tell us what to do, and not the other way around.

By being surrounded with people that are much smarter and much more capable than us, we’ll get the benefit of not only learning from them but also having the first-hand experience at trying something new: at improving ourselves.

Building relationships with others also has the added benefit of opening up opportunities that would have otherwise been hidden to us.

13. They’re Organized

Time is our most precious resource. It was Annie Dillard that wrote, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives”.

If we aren’t allocating the time and energy needed to achieve a certain goal, it will never be fulfilled.

The benefit of having an organized system is that it allows all the focus to be placed on the work itself.

According to James Clear, author of Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones, all big things come from small beginnings, and it’s really your habits every day that determines where you’re going:

“All big things come from small beginnings. The seed of every habit is a single, tiny decision. But as that decision is repeated, a habit sprouts and grows stronger. Roots entrench themselves and branches grow. The task of breaking a bad habit is like uprooting a powerful oak within us. And the task of building a good habit is like cultivating a delicate flower one day at a time.”

14. They Stay Focused

Contrary to popular belief, multitasking isn’t only ineffective but also produces lesser quality work.

By tackling a problem one at a time, you’re able to give your absolute best effort and energy to accomplish it.

Successful people are focused on their work and themselves only.

According to Shane Snow, bestselling author of Smartcuts: How Hackers, Innovators, and Icons Accelerate Success, successful people tend to focus intently on a tiny number of things:

“There are a lot of great inventors and improvers in the world. But those who hack world-class success tend to be the ones who can focus relentlessly on a tiny number of things. In other words, to soar, we need to simplify.”

Getting into the cycle of comparison may be productive on the surface — understanding what can be done better — but getting caught up will lead to emotional and mental stress along the way.

So successful people stay in their lane and focus on what they can do.

The energy spent comparing oneself to another person could be better allocated to making oneself better.

15. They Have A Sense Of Purpose

It was German philosopher Nietzshe that said that “If you have a why you’ll be able to overcome anyhow.”

Successful people are guided by a mission that’s larger than themselves, whether it’s to make others smile, provide a service to people around the world, feed people, or bring honor and respect to the team and the sport.

Having a purpose is not only motivational on the good days but on the bad days too — the times when work feels like a chore when it’s more of a mission.

By having long-term goals, successful people aren’t brought down by the short-term problems that unsuccessful people stress about.

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Lachlan Brown

I’m Lachlan Brown, the founder, and editor of Hack Spirit. I love writing practical articles that help others live a mindful and better life. I have a graduate degree in Psychology and I’ve spent the last 15 years reading and studying all I can about human psychology and practical ways to hack our mindsets. Check out my latest book on the Hidden Secrets of Buddhism and How it Saved My Life. If you want to get in touch with me, hit me up on Facebook or Twitter.

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