There are many definitions of success. However, only one of them is important. The only definition of success that matters is yours! The problem is that everybody wants “success”, but few have taken the time to define what success means to them. And, until you create a clear vision of what your personal version of success looks like, you will never be able to achieve it.
This is important and profound, so let’s repeat it.
You will never be able to achieve success until you clearly define it.
This is a simple yet powerful principle. You cannot measure progress towards a destination unless the destination is clearly defined. Better or more are not an intention, goal or destination. They are abstract concepts that provide no clear direction or motivation for you conscious or subconscious mind to pursue. The greater the clarity of vision, the clearer the direction and the greater the motivation to achieve it.
General vs. Specific Success
There is no such thing as general success. We see people who have success in multiple areas of their life and appear to be “generally” successful. However, you can be assured that they became successful by being laser-focused on what they wanted. They were specific about their dreams and desires. They were specific about their goals and intentions. And, they focused their energy towards achieving specific outcomes.
Fuzzy goals make for fuzzy results. Nearly every goal setting book starts with making specific goals or intentions. Maybe you have heard of S.M.A.R.T. goals which stand for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timely. The most important part of the SMART process is being specific. Without a specific outcome, there is no way to know when the goal is reached, and success achieved. It is only when goals and dreams are specific that progress can be measured.
Your Specific Success
Success is defined as the achievement or attainment of a desired outcome. The more specific the outcome, the more easily your mind can focus on how to achieve it. Giving your mind a clear picture of what you want is the strongest and most effective success tool there is.
What does success look like for you? How would you change any part of your life? Imagine it perfectly. Now, one by one, look at every other area of your life. Imagine what it would look like if it were absolutely and completely perfect. Combine all these perfect pictures into one grand masterpiece. That is perfection. That is success. That can be your life!
Deciding What You Want
Ironically, the most difficult part of success is deciding exactly and clearly what you want. Most of us have a fuzzy idea of what success looks like. It usually involves having plenty of money, a nice house, nice cars, great relationships, good health and traveling around the world. However, have you actually ever decided what salary you want to make and how much money you want in the bank?
- Have you picked out the exact house that you would live in and the location it would be in?
- Have you decided on the exact car as you would drive?
- Do you know exactly where you would travel to and what you would see and who you would see it with? What would your love relationship look like?
- What would be the relationship with the rest of your family members, kids, parents, siblings?
- Who would be your friends and who would you hang out with?
- What kind of physical shape would you be in?
- What kind of work would you be doing?
- What hobbies would you pursue?
- How would you give back to your fellow man?
It’s normal to think about money and career first. Lack of money can certainly bring unhappiness, but money by itself does not bring happiness. A study compared the rise in the U.S. Gross National Product representing the standard of living compared to life satisfaction scores over 50 years. While the U.S. standard of living tripled, life satisfaction stayed the same. Money can’t buy happiness. The key is to make sure you consider all areas of life, not just money.
Finding Your Starting Point
If your life was like school and each area of your life was a subject. One class was career, another was physical health, etc., what would your report card look like? You can use A, B, C grades, a 1 to 5 scale or a “poor to excellent” description. In fact, a rating doesn’t really even matter. What matters is that you take the time to write down what you like, what you don’t like, and what you want to change.
This exercise is only effective when you take enough time to really think about each life area. Think about what’s important and not important to you. Don’t be judgmental or too hard on yourself. Be honest and compassionate. Making an honest assessment is how you set your starting point. And feeling good about yourself is just as important as knowing where you are. So, before moving on to what you want, take some time to acknowledge the success you already have.
You Are Already Successful!
No matter where you are in life, you are already successful. You have achieved what your mind was consciously or unconsciously focused on. If you are unhappy with your current circumstances, you may have unconsciously chosen them. The good news is that your current circumstances have nothing to do with your future. Your current circumstances only determine your starting point. They do not determine your destination
Don’t discount the success you have in other areas of your life. It is rare that a person has succeeded in every area of their life or has completely failed. Each of us has something we can be happy and grateful for.
Gratitude vs. Discontent
It would seem that gratitude or feeling grateful for what one has would make them feel content. And, contentment is often associated with lack of motivation or desire. However, the lack of gratitude causes discontent which is not the same as desire.
Gratitude leading to desire is a positive force bringing happiness, a sense of accomplishment, and positive self-worth.
Discontent leading to desire is a negative force resulting in unhappiness, more lacking, and poor self-esteem.
A perfect example of this principle is the professional athlete, movie star or musician who appears to have everything, and yet is still unhappy. They are unhappy in their abundance because they never found gratitude.
Contentment Before Desire
Gratitude leading to contentment brings a sense of peace. Contentment allows you to clearly see where you are and re-evaluate your priorities. It allows you to be at peace with the current situation before you decide where to go next.
Without contentment, it is easy to lose sight of your priorities and just keep plowing forward in life. It’s like the lost driver speeding down the freeway. The passenger says, “Where are we headed?” The driver responds, “I don’t know, but we’re getting their fast!”
It is human nature to focus on the one area that we are most unhappy about. Take time to acknowledge the success you have in any area of life. By taking the time to acknowledge and be grateful, you improve your self-esteem and your outlook. You also improve your ability to think clearly decide what you truly desire most.
Wanting Leads to More Wanting
Focus on what you desire, NOT what you don’t have. Wanting only leads to more wanting. When you focus on what you don’t have, you are perpetuating an emotion and belief of lacking. Focusing on what you don’t have blocks your ability to move forward. It clouds your thinking and zaps your energy. By focusing on what you lack, you will only get more “lacking”.
Instead, start with thoughts of gratitude and turn towards desire. Be grateful for where you are and what you have. Then, focus your energy on what you desire. Being unhappy, ungrateful, envious, or negative in any way only blocks your progress. These negative thoughts and emotions chain you to your current situation. Being grateful and filled with positive desire inspires you to action to become the person you want to be. And, when you become the person you desire to be, it is only a matter of time before you will have the things you desire.
Success can only be achieved when it is clearly defined, and the only definition that matters is yours. Fuzzy or general definitions like more or better do not work. We must clearly identify and visualize what we want in each area of our life. To do this, it is important to first understand where we are. Taking stock and being grateful sets the stage for developing positive desires. Feelings of discontent and wanting are important barriers that need to be removed because wanting only leads to more wanting. Instead, be grateful for where we are and what we have. Then, become very clear on what we desire and why we desire it.
Everyone has their own measure of success. Most people look outside to measure success and others don’t look at all. The answer is simple but not easy. Look within. Looking within takes time and effort. Maybe, that’s why so few people do it. Yet looking within is the is the only way to achieve true happiness and success. The alternative is unhappiness and regret. So, take the time. Reflect on where you are and what you desire. Establish your own measures of success. You’ll be glad you did!
1 – Diener, Ed, and Martin EP Seligman. “Beyond money: Toward an economy of well-being.” Psychological science in the public interest 5, no. 1 (2004): 1-31.