Success looks and feels different for everyone. What each person wants from a successful life is unique to them. While the definition of success varies, there are a number of qualities and traits that successful people have in common.
Getting clear on what you want and why you want it is always the first step to success. In addition, you will need a balance of traits and skills. Setting goals, getting organized, and being productive are all part of success. And, while it’s true that successful people get a lot done, there’s more to it than that. It’s getting the right things done – the things that truly matter and ignoring the rest.
We’ll get to the 8 traits of successful and thriving people in a minute. But first, let’s learn a little more about what we mean by traits.
Traits are Skills and Habits
Success is unique, but the traits that most successful people have developed are not. If you are reading this success skill, you probably already have some of these traits. And, while some people seem to naturally possess most of these traits, others have to work to develop them. Here’s the good news though – these traits are nothing more than skills and habits. If it is a skill, it can be learned. If it is a habit, it is a skill that needs to be practiced until its automatic.
“Without continual growth and progress, such words as improvement, achievement, and success have no meaning.” — Benjamin Franklin
Attitudes are the Lenses of Perception
Some traits are skills while others are attitudes. And, what are attitudes? Attitudes are the lenses we use to view and interpret the world. For example, while the pessimist sees the glass half empty, the optimist sees the glass half full. Let’s extend this thinking a bit further…
The pessimist sees the glass half empty because of a belief that there is limited water and the half-empty glass is not enough. The glass of water isn’t important, but it is indicative of how the pessimist sees the world. The pessimist believes there are limited resources in the world. The pessimist has to protect what little resources he has. The pessimist is always concerned that he won’t have enough for the future.
The optimist, on the other hand, views the glass half full and thinks “This is all the water I need right now.” The optimist believes the world is an abundant place. There will always be enough. In fact, the optimist believes he can be generous with what he has because the world rewards generous people.
Attitudes affect every aspect of life because they are the lenses we use to view life. When someone is wearing glasses or contacts, they don’t think about how the glasses shape what they see. They just assume the lenses give them an accurate view. Similarly, we rarely consider how our attitudes affect what we see and how we interpret it.
The lens of attitude affects success by allowing us to see or not see opportunity and abundance. Zig Ziglar is known for saying, “your attitude more than your aptitude determines your altitude.” This is exactly why the smartest and most talented people don’t always succeed. That’s great news because we don’t have to be uber-smart or ultra-talented. We just have to develop a more success-oriented attitude which anyone can do.
8 Success Traits At-a-Glance
1. Be Passionate – When you have a passion for what you do, it no longer becomes work. You don’t have to motivate yourself. It just becomes what you do, and not doing it feels wrong. Passion for what you do also attracts other people who will be willing to help you. When you run into challenges or have setbacks, passion will help you find the strength and courage to start again.
2. Keep Perspective – Perspective helps you see the bigger picture so that daily ups and downs don’t bother you. When you know for sure you will succeed in the long run, you will never quit. You understand that each new challenge or setback takes you one step closer to success. Three keys to a success-oriented perspective: 1) Success is a journey more than an outcome. It is about the person you become along the way. 2) Growth is more important than outcomes and performance. The outcomes are just evidence of how you have grown. 3) Look back at your progress and celebrate small wins. This builds self-esteem and momentum and boosts your confidence to pursue the next leg of your success journey.
3. Be Proactive – Take charge of your life and take responsibility for your present situation. Think ahead and take action. Too much thinking leads to procrastination. Too much action leads to frequent failure. Don’t be afraid to take action but look before you leap.
4. Embrace Failure – Failure is not a person. Failure is an event. Every successful person failed multiple times on their way to success. Failure is inevitable, but it’s not final. It’s simply feedback on what not to do. Don’t take failure personally. Instead, take the perspective that failure is a learning event. Look for the lesson and move on.
5. Take Stock – You have all the resources you need at your fingertips to succeed. Take stock of the time, talent, people and resources at your disposal. Develop the skill of resourcefulness. When you look for ways to use what you have, you attract more resources and more ideas.
6. Stay Positive – The higher brain (neocortex) works best when you are relaxed. Negative thinking fuels stress which shuts down the higher brain. The lower brain takes over going into survival mode. Creativity and focus can only occur when your thoughts remain positive and relaxed. In addition, a positive outlook attracts other people.
7. Follow Your Intuition – Your intuition is your higher self speaking to you. However, it never shouts. It appears as a nudge, a feeling, or a quick insight. Your intuition will always guide you in the right direction because it knows what’s best for you. Self-talk, on the other hand, is the loud voice in your head that’s usually judgmental. Self-talk is driven by ego and past programming and doesn’t always have your best interests at heart.
8. Protect Your Character – Zig Ziglar said, “All great failures are a failure of character.” None of your worldly possessions will ever be as important as your character. Compromising your character is always a shortcut to failure, shame, and regret. Your intuition can guide you in your decisions involving character. If the little voice in the back your head says “no” or the gut feeling tells you it’s “not right,” don’t do it.
Time to complete: 5 minutes
1. Take stock of how you rate yourself in using success traits on a daily or weekly basis. How would you rate yourself on the following traits?
- Being passionate ________
- Keeping perspective ________
- Being proactive ________
- Staying positive ________
- Resources and resourcefulness ________
- Embracing failure as feedback ________
- Intuition vs self-talk ________
- Protecting character ________
2. List the one trait you would like to improve? ______________________________________
3. Schedule a 15-minute block of time to create a plan to develop this trait. Here are some ideas:
- Purchase or borrow 2 books on the subject.
- Use Google Scholar or Google to do additional reading on the topic.
- Watch a TED talk or YouTube video by an expert on the subject.
- Find and listen to a podcast by an expert on the subject.
- Ask a mentor or someone you respect for ideas to improve your success trait.
- Schedule weekly time for self-reflection and writing notes (journal).
Further Reading (for those who want to know why)
“It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.” — Charles Darwin
Attitudes and Traits that Successful People Commonly Possess
1. Be Passionate
The topic of passion is a popular in the business and personal transformation world these days. “Be passionate” has almost become an overused saying that doesn’t mean very much. But, let’s not gloss over it. Passion is the difference between inspiration and motivation and can be the difference between failure and success.
The simple definition of passion is that passion is simply infusing your thoughts and actions with positive emotions. While that sounds simple, it’s not always easy. Developing passion requires an emotional connection or belief in your goals or mission. It’s a belief that what you are doing is something that’s good for you, good for those around you, and ultimately good for the world.
Passion shows up as the enthusiasm that brings others to your cause. Passion shows up as the persistence to keep working and moving forward when you are seeing few signs of success. Passion shows up when others tell you are wrong or crazy, but deep in your heart you know you are right. Passion shows up after a major setback, and helps you pick up the pieces and start again.
Being passionate in the beginning is easy when the idea is fresh and new. Staying passionate is the challenge. Keeping passion requires frequently reminding yourself of your goals or mission. Keeping passion requires a focus on how good success will feel. Keeping passion is reminding yourself how important this work is for you and others. Keeping passion is thinking about how this is the reason why you were put on this earth.
2. Keep Perspective
Perspective is perhaps the most valuable trait of success. If you know for sure you will achieve your desire, are you willing to work for it? The answer is of course. If you know that you are going to experience setbacks and failures along the way, but you will succeed in the end, are you still willing to work for it? Again, the answer is of course. If you know it will take 5 -10 years to achieve everything you want, are still willing to work for it? Again, the answer is still yes.
You see, if we know sure that we will succeed, then it makes the journey bearable. If we’re not sure if we can succeed, and not sure if we can overcome challenges, and not sure how long it will take, then it becomes easy to quit. The only difference between quitting and persevering is perspective.
In Think and Grow Rich, Napolean Hill tells the true story of gold prospector who quickly found a few pieces of gold. He staked his claim and started digging. After weeks of digging and finding nothing else, he quit and gave up his claim. A few years later, a geologist who knew a little about how gold veins grew, took stake of the previous prospector’s claim and started digging. After digging just 3 feet, the geologist discovered the largest gold vein in U.S. history. The previous prospector had literally quit just 3 feet from gold. All the prospector needed to succeed was a little perspective.
Here are three tips for keeping perspective:
1) Understand that success is a journey more than an outcome. When you learn to enjoy the journey, success comes more easily.
2) Growth is more important than outcomes and performance. When you learn to focus on your growth, then the outcomes become less important. The benefit of growth is that your chances of success continue to improve.
3) Look back at your progress and celebrate small wins. When you have climbed a third of the mountain, it feels a long way to the top. However, taking time to look at how far you have come brings a sense of satisfaction, accomplishment, and a renewal of energy and determination. Celebrating the success of small accomplishments builds belief and momentum. The term “success breeds success” is based on the psychological principle that past success creates belief and momentum to achieve greater success.
3. Be Proactive
Take charge of your life and take responsibility for your present situation. If you are unhappy with your present circumstances, blaming others or the world will not change anything. On the other hand, don’t blame yourself either. Assigning blame is not helpful, taking responsibility to make changes is helpful.
If we break down the word proactive, the prefix pro means forward or ahead, and active means activity or action. So, being proactive literally means to move ahead. There’s an old saying that it’s easier to steer a moving ship. This means that when you are taking action towards your goals, it easier to make adjustments and corrections than if you are doing nothing.
The path to success is not a straight line. It’s filled with twists, and occasionally we will make the wrong turn. That’s part of the journey. If our goal is to drive from New York to Los Angeles, we don’t have to know the exact route and make sure all the stoplights are green. We just need a map and trust in our ability to figure it out along the way.
On the other hand, being proactive doesn’t mean jumping into something with both feet when we don’t know what we’re doing. Being proactive means thinking ahead as much as it means moving ahead. If we think ahead, then we will have time to learn and prepare to make our action more effective. Just make sure to be willing to take action when the time is right. Overthinking things turns a proactive attitude into procrastination.
4. Embrace Failure
Failure is not a person. Failure is an event. No failure is ever permanent, and every failure carries a lesson. Edison failed 10,000 times before inventing the light bulb. With each failure, he learned something new. He never took failure personally. Instead, he viewed it as one step closer to his vision of providing light to the world.
How we handle failure is one of the most important aspects of becoming successful. Interpreting failure is similar to the discussion about perspective. When we take the perspective that “failure is feedback”, it doesn’t feel as bad. Failure is a part of how we learn and grow. As a child, every one of us failed along the way in learning to walk. We would stand up and fall down. We weren’t afraid of falling down. We weren’t afraid of failing. We wanted to walk, and so we kept trying until we did.
Allowing failure to keep us from success usually comes from one of two sources. The first is the fear of failure. Fear is the anticipation of something bad happening. Fear can be viewed as the acronym False Evidence Appearing Real. In most cases, we are worrying about something that will never happen, and if it does happen, the consequences are usually not as bad as we expect.
The second source of concern is too much focus on outcomes instead of growth. When we focus only on the outcome, we correlate failed outcomes to flaws or defects in ourselves. By looking at failure as a learning event, we instead see how we can gain greater knowledge and skill. By overcoming the fear of failure, accepting possible outcomes, and embracing failure as a learning event, we free ourselves to continue our pursuit of success.
5. Take Stock
The best stories of success are not about those people who had everything and achieved more. No, the best stories of success are of people who started with nothing and rose to great levels of success. One of today’s most popular and respected motivational speaker is Tony Robbins. Tony came from a poor family, and he wasn’t popular or especially good at school. Tony didn’t have access to money, coaches, or success blueprints. However, he had access to his local library, and found ways to get recordings of motivational and inspirational talks to feed his mind. Later, he began speaking to small groups for free before becoming a professional speaker. Tony did not have lots of resources, but he did take stock of what he had. Tony was very resourceful in getting everything he needed to succeed.
Consider what you currently have. How much time do you have to devote to your goals? How much money do you have access to use? What tools do you have access to help you? What people do you know who can help guide you or connect you to others? When we take the time to take stock of what we truly have, we begin to see the possibilities of what we can accomplish. Developing an attitude of resourcefulness is more important than having more resources. Taking stock will help us see that we already have access to everything we need to succeed.
6. Stay Positive
Psychologists have shown that expectancy is one of the greatest predictors of success, and expectancy is nothing more than a positive attitude and belief we will succeed. There’s an old saying that the mind is like a parachute, it works best when it’s open. Studies have shown that problem solving and creative work is best done with a relaxed mind. Neuroscience shows that negative thoughts and emotions shut down the neocortex in favor of more primitive brain functions as part of a survival mechanism. On the other hand, positive thoughts relax the primitive brain and allow the neocortex to function at peek levels. Keeping a positive attitude literally helps you think, solve and create better.
Additionally, people enjoy being around positive people. If your success involves other people which it likely does, you will attract the support of other people by staying positive. Nobody likes to be around a “neggy Nelly.” And, nobody wants to hear us whine and complain and listening to others whine and complain drains us of precious energy. Maintaining a positive attitude attracts others and builds energy.
Maintaining a positive attitude is challenging. When we are feeling down, it’s often because we need more rest or to take better care of our self. Getting some rest and some light exercise will restore our balance and give us a clear head and a fresh look.
7. Follow Your Intuition
Intuition is the little voice whispering in our head or nudging us to do something. Intuition also tells us when something is off or doesn’t feel right. Our intuition is the connection to our higher self. It is our spirit letting us know what it desires. Don’t ignore it. Even if you are not naturally intuitive, listen to those hunches or nudges. They are your intuition speaking. Intuition, however, comes from your inner spirit and usually gives you a feeling if something feels right or feels off.
Intuition and self-talk are vastly different things. Self-talk comes from the automatic thoughts that stem from subconscious beliefs. They are the voice telling us what we can and cannot do. Self-talk is often judgmental. Intuition is not judgmental because it comes from our inner spirit.
The more we take time to clear our mind and self-reflect, the more we will able to listen to our intuition. Intuition is a small quiet voice nudging us in the right direction. Self-talk on the other hand is a loud voice telling us what we can and cannot do.
8. Protect Your Character
The great motivational speaker Zig Ziglar used to say, “All great failures are a failure of character.” All of your possessions combined are not as important as your character. If you lost all of your possessions tomorrow and maintained your character, it wouldn’t be hard to rebuild. The opposite is not true. There are hundreds of stories of millionaires who lost their fortunes and rebuilt them. They maintained their character and success traits. They embraced their failure as feedback and learned their lessons. Their true success was within themselves, and the money and possessions were just the external evidence. Possessing internal success, it was just a matter of time before external success showed up again.
The stories of those who forfeited their character to shortcut success are not so happy. Lying, stealing, cheating, conning, and hurting other people to get what we want never ends well. Why is I that nasty, mean people who clearly take whatever they can seem to have success? The answer is that they have money or power, but they don’t have success. They are generally unhappy and living one decision away from losing it all. All we have to do is to look at the lives of Bernie Madoff (Investor), Kenneth Lay (Enron), OJ Simpson (Football Player), Tiger Woods (Golfer), Jim Baker (Preacher), Lance Armstrong (Cyclist), Tonya Harding (Ice Skater), Chris Brown (Singer), and Martha Stewart (TV Celebrity) who ruined their lives and the lives of others by forfeiting their character to get ahead.
Success Skill Summary
Your personal vision of success is unique to you. However, there are qualities and traits that most successful people have in common. Most traits are skills that can be learned. Others are habits that need to be practiced. And, still others are attitudes or mindsets that change the way we think.
Developing passion is important for inspiration and perseverance. Maintaining perspective is important for understanding the challenges of achieving success. Being proactive helps us think ahead and move ahead. Staying positive will keep our mind open and functioning as well as attracting other people. Learning to become resourceful ensures we can find all the resources we need. Embracing failure as feedback helps us overcome challenges and setbacks. Learning to listen to and follow our intuition will guide our choices. And, protecting our character will ensure we achieve lasting success.
Olson, D. A. (2017). Success the psychology of achievement. New York, NY: DK Publishing. Retrieved from https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/541743/success-the-psychology-of-achievement-by-dk/
Ware, B. (2012). The top five regrets of the dying: A life transformed by the dearly departing. Carlsbad, CA: Balboa Press.