12 things you’re doing that successful people avoid

Success is different for everyone. 

For some, it’s having a high-ranking job or X amount of money in their bank accounts. Others benchmark their relationships. And I know some people who change their definition of success every time they enter a new life stage.

Regardless, there are certain behaviors and habits that you’ll find successful individuals have in common.

So I’m going to let you in on an insider secret: The key to success is focusing on the “don’t do” list.

While you can copy everything a successful person has said and done, don’t forget to pay attention to what they’re not doing.

What exactly do they refuse to do and why?

1) Successful People Don’t Start a Day Without a Plan

Having a game plan is crucial for your trajectory toward success, no matter the endeavor that you’re pursuing.

Without a plan, it’s easy to fall back into the habit of mindlessly scrolling through social media, placing priority tasks on the backburner, and getting sucked into the world of Netflix.

You have a new chance to take one step closer to your goals each day you wake up, so make it count.

Be realistic. Don’t overcommit with your to-do list as this would be counterproductive.

But at the same time, learn how to deal with some road bumps – you won’t always have the perfect day or finish everything you had planned.

If you want to imbibe the “successful person” mindset, don’t let setbacks or even a few seconds ruin your entire day and mood.

2) They Don’t Fall for Distractions

If you reach for your phone every time it dings, you may have a distraction problem.

Social media notifications, emails, texts – all these take away time that you could be using to get into flow state and, ultimately, deep work.

You’ll find that many successful individuals opt-out from these distractions.

And if you’re like me who usually has 74 tabs open in your internet browser all at the same time, stop it.

Close them right now. You’ll never be able to do your best work if you keep jumping from tab to tab and checking if there are any new updates on a certain topic you’ve been following online.

Every task switch you make takes up brain juice.

Before you know it, you’ve run out of willpower to stay focused.

3) They Don’t Waste Their Time and Energy

Let’s be honest with ourselves: We all procrastinate every now and again, whether it’s doing the laundry, cleaning the dishes, updating our LinkedIn profiles, and so forth.

Truly successful people don’t put off the things that are most important. You can trust that they’ll get it done.

Train yourself to “eat the frog.” This means identifying the most difficult task of the day (the frog) and accomplishing it first thing in the morning.

This way, you’ll be able to optimize the rest of your workflow and increase your chances of success.

4) They Don’t Wait on Opportunities

Opportunity doesn’t always come knocking on your door nor is there scarcity. Start developing an “abundance” mindset.

Aside from genuinely celebrating the success of others, you also have to believe that you can be just as successful and that you can create your own opportunities if you put in the work.

When good opportunities do fall into your lap, you may feel overwhelmed and underprepared. You think to yourself, “I’m not ready for this.”

Don’t let your self-doubt consume you.

You’ll never be fully ready until you take that leap of faith, ask for that promotion, or start a business, among others.

If you wait until you’re ready, you’re risking the possibility that you’ll be waiting your whole life.

5) They’re Not Paralyzed by Failures and Negative Thoughts

On the topic of self-doubt, successful people understand that fear is normal, sometimes even healthy, but defeatism won’t get you anywhere.

Success comes with a great deal of failure, contradicting thoughts, revisions, side comments, and countless do-overs.

Remind yourself that when you try again, you’re not starting over from scratch – you’re starting from experience.

In the same vein, make sure that you’re selective with the people you surround yourself with. You’re the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with.

When you have pessimistic, discouraging individuals in your orbit, especially for long periods of time, you’ll subconsciously absorb parts of their personality that will negatively affect your overall worldview.

6) They Never Let Others Define Them

Allow me to nerd out a bit about Derek DelGaudio’s “In & Of Itself” (a play-turned-movie which I highly recommend as it’s one of those films that prompt oohs, aahs, and eyebrow raises).

At the start of the show, each audience member picks a white card in the lobby: “I am a brother,” “I am a writer,” “I am a nobody,” and so on.

By fusing philosophy, storytelling, and existentialism, Del Gaudio was able to prove that identity is an illusion.

This is undeniably true because we – all of us – are infinitely complex beings. We’re not our jobs, our roles, our mistakes, our mental health diagnosis.

We’re more than the societal expectations that make us believe that we must be a certain weight, excessively attractive, rich, or Ivy League-educated to be successful.

7) They Don’t Betray Their Own Values and Goals

Maybe you have deeply held religious beliefs. Maybe you’re not a fan of eating meat. Maybe you like a certain basketball team because of how dedicated their players are.

Whatever your values are, make sure that you never betray them. By the same token, don’t take your eyes off your vision.

One characteristic virtually all successful individuals share is laser focus.

That said, hunger for learning is what spells the vast difference between identifying and pursuing your goals.

People who are successful do what they need to do with meticulous determination. They don’t let their skills atrophy.

They are constantly reading books, upskilling, and learning from the best in their field.

8) They Refuse to Fit in a Box

It’s one thing to “think outside the box,” but successful people take it up a notch – they live outside the box.

They don’t listen to a jealous friend who says that they don’t deserve the job. They don’t think that they’re unworthy of good things because a parent or a teacher told them that they’ll never make it.

They don’t falter with wild, artistic ambitions because someone had said that they weren’t “creative enough.”

Don’t let others set your agenda.

While you’re supposed to do your responsibilities, make sure that you know where your priorities stand.

It’s okay to say no to an invitation or a volunteer request if you don’t have the time.

If you’ve been dreaming of taking that vacation, doing that hobby, or finding a creative outlet, do it because you made it a priority – not because someone else told you so.

9) They Don’t Pretend to Know Everything

Very knowledgeable people are self-aware of how much they don’t know about a given topic.

The people who think they know everything usually boast about their “expertise” and how well-versed they are.

Keep in mind that wisdom brings humility, but at the same time, a reality check.

Successful people know that the world has so much to teach them.

That’s why instead of acting like a know-it-all, they stay curious and have a flexible worldview.

This used to be a problem of mine, especially back when I was taking my undergraduate degree: I wanted everyone to know how smart I was.

I was the first to raise my hand every time a teacher asked a question; I flexed my grades on social media; I would ask my classmates about their quiz scores then compare mine.

It was not until a friend told me about my behavior when I began to realize that I had built this reputation of being arrogant and that I was projecting a lot of my underlying insecurities.

10) They Can Deal With Conflict

This whole arrogant reputation that I had built spilled into my group projects. Collaboration wasn’t easy.

I always thought I was right, that my ideas were the most creative and most appropriate for the task at hand.

My groupmates felt like they weren’t heard. It took growing up for me to understand that we all need to learn how to adapt and get along with different personalities, and how situations can be managed so that they don’t escalate into heated arguments.

For most people, conflict falls under the “things to avoid” category. It might even be tempting to pin the blame on someone else sometimes.

Successful people have mastered the art of choosing their battles. They refuse to argue over “nothing.”

However, they also know how to have a productive and civil conversation with someone to move things forward.

11) They Never Fragment Themselves

A lot of us have different identities online, offline, with specific people, or even in certain environments.

While there’s nothing inherently wrong with that, we may not notice sometimes that we’re already faking it.

There is a disconnect between who we are on the inside and who we’re presenting on the outside.

Success calls for consistency, not just with how often we show up for our goals but also with our own identity (inside and out).

If you believe that you deserve success, then the self-deprecating jokes will dwindle and people will start seeing you for who you really are.

12) They Refuse to Quit

Successful people are often more successful simply because they keep trying. They don’t cover up their shortcomings with excuses nor do they allow the same mistakes to be made. They’re always trying to be better.

They eliminate the habits that are holding them back. To quote the book “Atomic Habits” by James Clear, “Success is the product of daily habits, not once-in-a-lifetime transformation.”

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Justin Brown

Justin Brown is an entrepreneur and thought leader in personal development and digital media, with a foundation in education from The London School of Economics and The Australian National University. As the co-founder of Ideapod, The Vessel, and a director at Brown Brothers Media, Justin has spearheaded platforms that significantly contribute to personal and collective growth. His deep insights are shared on his YouTube channel, JustinBrownVids, offering a rich blend of guidance on living a meaningful and purposeful life.

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