10 rare traits that set successful people apart

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If you really want to be successful in life, you need to start looking at your habits.

As Aristotle once said:

“Excellence is not a singular act; it’s a habit. You are what you repeatedly do.”

The attributes shared by successful people don’t just happen by accident or luck. They originate in habits, built a day at a time.

If you do the right things every day, then eventually you’ll grow into becoming a successful person.

Here are the habits and traits that set successful people apart. How many do you have?

1. They’re proactive, not reactive

Some of us are so reactive in life that we never actually create progress.

We only act in response to change, rather than taking action to make a change.

The most successful and productive people don’t “merely react”. They focus on making things happen.

You can’t wait around for good things to magically happen. You need to take action. Barack Obama said it best:

“The best way to not feel hopeless is to get up and do something. Don’t wait for good things to happen to you. If you go out and make some good things happen, you will fill the world with hope, you will fill yourself with hope.”

A successful person creates a plan and understands what tasks will move the needle forward and they focus exclusively on them.

A successful person knows that most of us get 80% of results from 20% of the work we do.

This is why they figure out what tasks actually matter and they prioritize them.

They’re one-eyed focused on achieving progress rather than treading water.

2. They have systems rather than goals

What a successful person does right is creating a system that allows them to achieve progress step by step.

They don’t have a goal of losing 10 pounds. They create a system of healthy eating and exercise.

They understand the daily tasks that allow them to move the needle forward to getting where they want to get to.

For example, instead of having the goal of reading 15 books by the end of the year, they instead realize that they need to read 10 pages a day.

Focusing on “process goals” rather than “outcome goals” allows them to keep moving forward until they eventually (without even realizing it) reach a big goal like completing 15 books.

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.”

3. They manage their environments

To achieve what they want to achieve, a successful person makes sure they have the right environment around them.

They know what makes them productive and they engineer that environment as best they can.

They organize a particular place in their house that allows them to have peace and quiet to get things done.

They use separate browsers to avoid distractions.

They structure areas of their life so they can be focused on getting more done.

They know that they’re the product of their environment so they create the best environment they can to keep them focused and grounded on what’s important.

W. Clement Stone said it best:

“You are a product of your environment. So choose the environment that will best develop you toward your objective. Analyze your life in terms of its environment. Are the things around you helping you toward success – or are they holding you back?”

4. They keep their friend’s and family close

We’re all social beings. It’s important to have a support network around you.

Successful people know that if they’re going to be successful and fulfilled in life, they need to have comrades behind them.

They don’t rely on randomly bumping into the people that are close to them.

They organize meetings and catch-ups with those that are important to them.

They ask how their life is going and they really listen.

They also seek feedback about areas in their life they can improve.

After all, everyone has wisdom to impart, and this is why a successful person loves having honest and trustworthy people around them to tell them what they really think.

They constantly ask for feedback on how they’re doing and where things are at, and this is why they constantly improve.

5. They make sure to keep themselves positive

Research suggests that so much of motivation is about mood and how we feel.

When we’re positive, we’re more likely to be effective and productive.

According to the book, The Happiness Advantage:

“…doctors put in a positive mood before making a diagnosis show almost three times more intelligence and creativity than doctors in a neutral state, and they make accurate diagnoses 19 percent faster. Optimistic salespeople outsell their pessimistic counterparts by 56 percent. Students primed to feel happy before taking math achievement tests far outperform their neutral peers. It turns out that our brains are literally hardwired to perform at their best not when they are negative or even neutral, but when they are positive.”

A successful person tries to view every situation as optimistically as possible.

This doesn’t mean they ignore their reality or that they avoid difficult situations.

Being optimistic means you approach hardship in a more productive way.

They don’t waste time dwelling on the negative. They instead look to what they can learn from negative situations and how it can help them in the future.

A successful person realizes that everyone can choose to be optimistic. After all, studies show that optimism is about 25 percent inheritable. The rest is in our control.

6. Successful people have the ability to let go

We all face challenges in life. Nothing works out 100% of the time.

A successful person knows that if they are going to succeed, they have to overcome adversity and adapt.

This is why successful people are able to let go. They are OK when things don’t go as they planned.

They simply dig their heels in and try again using a different approach.

If they can’t let go of past mistakes and failures, then they’ll never be able to move forward.

As the great Chinese philosopher, Lao Tzu said, “If I let go of who I am I become who I might be.”

If you’re struggling to let go, Bill Burnett has some good advice.

In his best-selling book, Designing Your Life: How to Build a Well-Lived, Joyful Life, he says the key to letting go is to move on and put your attention on something else:

“That’s the problem with letting go—it’s more of an inaction than an action, and your brain just hates that, the same way nature abhors a vacuum. So the key to letting go is to move on and grab something else. Put your attention on something—not off something.”

7. They don’t fear failure

Similar to the point above, a successful person has the ability to accept failure.

They understand that in order to improve, you need to fail and learn from your failures.

Everyone who has achieved something great has also failed…countless times.

It’s a part of life.

Successful people don’t let failure define them.

They see failure as an opportunity to grow and learn.

Adam M. Grant, author of Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know, says, it’s an oppurtunity to “rethink and unlearn”:

“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.”

It’s important to realize that failure is rarely about who you are, but more about how you went about things.

This means that it’s always possible to improve your approach and succeed if you learn why something went wrong in the first place.

As Thomas A. Edison said:

“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

8. They are grateful

An often overlooked trait of successful people, but it’s important to acknowledge the good things in life.

A successful person takes stock in all the positive things in their life.

This is what keeps them positive and happy.

Practicing gratitude will help you when times are tough. It will keep you from giving up in the face of hardship and spiraling further into disorder.

Furthermore, being grateful is scientifically really good for you. There are all kinds of positive benefits, both mental and physical.

Showing gratitude helps a successful person make positive decisions and be proactive (not reactive) through every step of life.

They understand that they’re probably a lot luckier than a lot of people in the world, and they appreciate all the blessings they have received.

Changing your perspective to be more positive is crucial to moving forward through challenging situations in life.

James Clear in his book Atomic Habits explained it well:

“I once heard a story about a man who uses a wheelchair. When asked if it was difficult being confined, he responded, “I’m not confined to my wheelchair—I am liberated by it. If it wasn’t for my wheelchair, I would be bed-bound and never able to leave my house.” This shift in perspective completely transformed how he lived each day.”

This is why a successful person is always focusing on what they do have, rather than what they don’t.

James E. Faust says that gratitude is a successful mode of living:

“As with all commandments, gratitude is a description of a successful mode of living. The thankful heart opens our eyes to a multitude of blessings that continually surround us.”

9. They reward themselves

No one can keep working for 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. It’s impossible.

A successful person knows that it’s important to take a break and reward themselves for the hard work and what they’ve achieved.

In her book, Better Than Before, Gretchen Rubin explains why rewards are important:

“When we give ourselves treats, we feel energized, cared for, and contented, which boosts our self-command — and self-command helps us maintain our healthy habits.”

These rewards could be for small things along the journey.

For example, perhaps they had a goal of reading 50 pages in a book.

If they are to achieve that goal, they reward themselves with a steak dinner afterward.

It may sound trivial, but little rewards like this keep us motivated.

This helps them to drive forward to be more successful and get more done.

10. They are selfless

A successful person knows they aren’t the center of the universe.

They appreciate the luck they have found in life and they try to give back and help others as much as they can.

Life is more meaningful when you help others.

As Gandhi said, “you find yourself in the service of others”.

Their actions might be small. Perhaps they hold the door for a stranger. They smile and say hello to people who pass them by. They listen to their friends when they ask them how they are.

A successful person is simply focused on others and not themselves. They want to make life better for other people, and that will, in turn, make life better for them.

And this is why they are living a fulfilling life.

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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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