In these days of omnipresent social media and dwindling online privacy, there is a growing, insidious pressure on us all to present a particular picture of success to the world on a daily basis.
Even the briefest of visits to Facebook seems to show everyone you’ve ever met continually killing it – shiny white teeth, adorable children and an apparently never-ending parade of glamorous social occasions are the norm.
Look up friends or acquaintances on LinkedIn and you’re presented with a carefully edited track-record of relentless execution and unparalleled upward achievement.
We’re increasingly corralled into an oddly dissatisfying online hall of mirrors where success is entirely a matter of appearance and presentation rather than the natural, meaningful result of a life well lived.
Buying into this approach has real consequences in the form of the internal and external pressure that people subject themselves to in terms of expectation and obligation. Beneath all that glamorous, carefree surface floating lies an enormous amount of desperate paddling and, in many cases, real pain.
In this article we’ll go through five time-honoured success principles that focus on the essentials rather than the froth – straightforward rules you can use to radically simplify your chances of attaining solid success and avoid drowning in a sea of meaningless busywork in both your professional and personal life.
Rule Number 1 – Know How To Say No
There is a worryingly huge amount of people out there who seem to have mistaken busyness for productivity. One way this classically manifests itself is in the desire to take on as many simultaneous projects as is humanly possible.
Far from the badge of honour it appears to be, this is a fast-track to failure and an external indicator of several obvious underlying issues.
The most damaging of these is the scarcity mindset that doesn’t truly believe another opportunity will come along and so says yes to whatever proposals show up.
Successful people know how to say no. The reason for this is that they are acutely aware of both the value of their own time and their potential to make a real difference on any project they are involved in. They also know that there will be no shortage of these projects over time. That’s why they’re choosy.
This is no haphazard or capricious affair either, rather a calm process of continual evaluation of the situation they find themselves in and a steady removal of all but the most essential options.
Be aware, feathers will occasionally have to be ruffled here. Successful people are not afraid to turn down even opportunities that may result in actual success as they know they cannot afford to continually disperse their energies. Learn from their example.
Rule Number 2 – Sleep Is Not A Luxury
One of the most persistently destructive entrepreneurial archetypes out there is that of the high-functioning executive who powers through an entire career on a steady diet of four or five hours sleep a night.
To be fair, there are those rare individuals loose in the world who are capable of scaling the heights on this type of regimen. Margaret Thatcher, for example, famously claimed to get by on little more than three to four hours sleep per night during her years in power.
The reality for most people though is that by doing this you are writing a check your body will eventually be forced to cash.
While you may be able to get away with this as a strategy in the very short-term, you will soon start paying the price with dwindling reserves of energy, concentration and focus resulting in dramatically reduced overall productivity.
Rule Number 3 – Make Time For Play
Making time for play is not simply a question of slacking off from your duties or succumbing to frivolity. Along with sleep, creative play is one of the main wellsprings of inspiration for the mind, a chance for your brain to shift from one mode to another and access the power of its deeper levels.
As Sir Ken Robinson’s widely praised TED presentation famously demonstrated, creative play is an activity that is sadly being systematically discouraged in schools throughout the world.
The negative effects of its absence are equally apparent in the office or boardroom though. Play encourages flexibility of mind, teamwork and the ability to creatively solve problems; three qualities very few companies in the world can afford to live without and that significantly boost your own chances of future success.
Rule Number 4 – Learn To Listen
The most successful and powerful person in the room is often likely to be the quietest – the one sitting there carefully taking it all in and really paying attention to the reality of the situation before offering their two cents.
Successful people are, nearly without exception, great listeners. They may not always choose to make this obvious – some may even mask their abilities with some theatrical bluster now and then – but they all know the value of learning how to listen extremely closely.
They’ll listen just as intently to what is not said in any given conversation and are experts in distinguishing the signal from the noise. It’s a skill very much worth cultivating in terms of your future success.
Rule Number 5 – Play Your Own Game
Top-level coaches across a huge range of sports all share one trait in common. While they will be careful to do their due diligence on the opposition, they will never let it dominate their thoughts or preparations for the big event.
The only part of a game – be it in the boardroom or the ballpark – that is under your direct control is your own performance. Everything starts there.
Rather than falling into a reactive and often purely speculative spiral, concentrate relentlessly on improving your own performance and the results will take care of themselves.
There is continuous societal and business pressure on us all to succumb to a life of constant striving and relentless activity. While this can create the illusion of success in some people, real long-term results come from being able to manage your own energy levels effectively and focus on what is truly important.
Make this the year you commit to getting off the daily treadmill of expectation and reactive stress and start concentrating on simple rules like the five we’ve outlined here to drive meaningful long-term success.