What are the secrets of high achievers? What are the secrets to their success? Are you born a high achiever? Do you need special gifts or unique talents to create success in the way high achievers do? Are you curious to know what works and what doesn’t?
Before we get there, let’s understand one thing - high achievers are also human beings, just like you. As Benjamin Graham, in the context of investing, once said, “Even the intelligent investor is likely to need considerable willpower to keep from following the crowd,” high achievers also need daily habits, resilience, and motivation to keep from following the crowd. What that means is that while you are not necessarily born as a high achiever, you choose to grow and stay as a high achiever.
Luckily success is rarely the result of anything you can’t acquire in your adulthood. These are all things that can be learned if you’re willing to put in the time and effort.
They operate from a place of freedom and choice.
I heard Rich Litvin, a leadership coach, once talk about 3 degrees of freedom. The first is freedom from — freedom from stress, freedom from pain, freedom from my boss, freedom from this job, freedom from my spouse or kids, freedom from this hustling… The second degree is the freedom to — freedom to travel more, the freedom to start my own business, the freedom to read more, the freedom to invest more, the freedom to pursue my hobbies… And, then he talks about the third degree of freedom and that’s just freedom, not freedom from or freedom to, but just freedom.
Billionaire and investment guru, Warren Buffett, lives in the same residence in Omaha, Nebraska, that he bought in 1958 for $31,500. Boxed in as the first lady, Michelle Obama said she’s not running for president. Instead, she chooses to be a woman who is comfortable in her own skin and be an advocate for girls around the world.
One may argue that you need to reach the desired stature to be able to operate from a place of choice and freedom. I beg to differ on this. We have this freedom within us all the time. It is just buried deep under the debris of all the have to’s, need to’s, and should’s we picked up along the way from our childhood. Our society and culture place a lot of demands on us, wanting us to behave and show up in a certain way, and that’s when we get stuck in the first two degrees of freedom.
They are comfortable with boredom.
While listening to James Clear’s Atomic Habits on Audible, he mentioned something about success that has stuck with me. He said, “The greatest threat to success isn’t failure, it is boredom.” Take a moment to look back at your life and all the things you once started. How long did you persist with it, before cajoling yourself into believing that it was not for you? It could be setting up a morning routine, or a nightly ritual, an investment in an online course, a new workout regime, changing your relationship with food, or even starting a new side hustle.
High achievers make themselves comfortable with boredom. They realize that if you wait for the perfect conditions, you will never do anything. They make progress each day, regardless of how bored they might be feeling at that moment. They push themselves for progress, even if it’s only for 10 minutes, amidst all the boredom. They find their balance between their ambition and boredom, be it 100 jumping jacks a day and just 2 the next.
Even at the peak of his professional career, basketball legend Michael Jordan accommodated almost five hours of practice each day. Despite her levels of boredom, Oprah Winfrey had her late afternoon walks or runs. During a 2012 interview, the Pulitzer Prize nominee, Barbara Kingsolver talked about her daily routine as a writer, “I write a lot of material that I know I’ll throw away. It’s just part of the process.”
They make success a daily exercise.
For most of us, success is an elusive target to catch. It’s when we reach a particular designation in our jobs, or when we achieve a certain level of income, or when we buy a particular car, or when we are able to send our children to a particular school. We try to define success through a series of achievements. When you reach the top of a mountain, you often realize that it’s only the base of another mountain.
We spend a great deal of time focusing on our performance — setting various goals, evaluating our efforts, results, and commitment. Yet all too often, we ‘underperform according to our expectations. In other words, we begin to feel unsuccessful in life.
When you operate from this mindset of success, things can often get slippery. It can feel like building steps with sand while pitted against the tide. On the other hand, what we can learn from successful high achievers is that success is a place to come from, and not a place to get to. In his TED Talk, The Anatomy of Results, Eric Plantenberg, the CEO of Freedom Personal Development, invites you to relook at success and high achievement as a state of mind rather than a goal. In his work with elite athletes, business executives, and other high performers, he concluded that your state of mind is responsible for 60% of how you show up. For ultra-high achievers, success is a daily exercise. It’s how they show up in the world each day. And when they come from that place, they show up ‘in the zone’ and ready to play.
As Stephen Covey puts it perfectly, “If the ladder is not leaning against the right wall, every step we take just gets us to the wrong place faster.” High achievers operate from a place of an end goal, a mighty vision, and start from the finished product like they are building forwards and backward in time simultaneously.
Recently, I undertook a fun exercise to rewire my mindset around money. In this exercise, I would receive an email twice every week, from an elusive place called The Bank of The Universe sending me a certain sum of money to be completely spent in a way I want to. In the beginning, I found it a fun and interesting way to play along but soon realized that I was at a loss of ideas of how I would spend the money as these sums started to get larger and larger. I began to procrastinate on this exercise. The learning for me — No one wants a great strategy to accelerate their progress to a place they neither know about nor can envision. Even as I help my clients build a mighty vision for their life, I was completely clueless about my financial vision. Because I did not have a vision around money, I lost all motivation in that exercise. I began to feel unsuccessful at a harmless fun money game. I am a coach, how can this happen to me, you might ask? I am a human first. I have my own insecurities, challenges, and wins.
They prioritize others ahead of themselves.
Unfortunately, many people view achievement as an individual endeavor. We look at success as a win-lose game. Something that’s available in limited quantities and we need to grab it at the expense of everything else.
Ask any real high achiever and you’ll quickly realize that we have been sold a myth. No real high achiever has been able to become one and stay one for a really long time without their willingness to go out of their way to help others. People who forget to help others along the way, thinking of success as a win-loss endeavor eventually fizzle out. Right from our childhood, our parents, our teachers, our education system, our culture, our corporate environments, and largely our society have wired in a competitive mindset. It’s not wrong to have a competitive mindset. What we should understand is that it really means a “fair-play” mindset and not a “win-lose” mindset. To give you a real-life example, I would invite you to watch an episode of two versions of Masterchef, a competitive cooking show, one from India, and the other from Australia.
High achievers understand this difference earlier and know that success is for everyone, not a chosen few. In his book, The Motivation Myth: How High Achievers Really Set Themselves Up To Win, Jeff Haden shares this through a Malcolm Gladwell quote. Quoting Gladwell, “My editor at the New Yorker magazine, David Remnick, is a better writer than 95% of the people who work for him. He’s constantly in this position of having to accept articles that are not as good as the ones he would write himself. If he were to be completely honest and say, ‘I can’t accept this,’ he wouldn’t have a magazine.”
This is what real high achievers do – they optimize to support the efforts and success of others rather than demand an output mimicking their own level of perfection. It’s not what they do for themselves, but what they do for others that differentiates them.
This Maya Angelou quote summarizes this point well, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
I am offering a group coaching program, ‘Reinvent Yourself’ starting Saturday, 25th September 10: 30 AM — 12 PM, IST. This is a 14 session/4 month program to help high achievers reimagine success in an entirely new way. If you want to know more about this program, drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or write to me here.