I’ve been thinking recently about how I define success, and what a life well-lived encompasses. I’ve come up with ten pillars that I believe create the foundation for how I wish to live my life. My goal for outlining these is to help myself define my beliefs, but more importantly, to amplify the success of you, the reader, who may share the same values.
Below are the ten pillars I have defined as the keys to success. If you like these ideas – great – you’ve found a community of like-minded people.
1. Be the gladiator in the arena, not the spectator in the sidelines
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood…who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.
To be the doer and not the critic. This distinction defines how you spend your days and how you tackle the inevitable problems life will throw at you. It’s easy to remain on the sidelines and judge those in the arena from the safety of the crowd. It’s easy to watch their vulnerability, their failures, their missteps with guilty pleasure. In fact, this seems to be how most people live their entire lives.
However, glory ultimately befalls the one in the arena, not the critic who watches. Success simply cannot emerge without action or without risk of failure. There will be times others will judge you or question you, but that is the small price you pay on the road up. Luck happens when opportunity meets preparation. The more times you step into the arena, the more luck you’re creating for yourself.
Be the creator instead of the consumer. The wolf instead of the sheep. Try new things, even when dissenting voices say it can’t be done. Think differently, innovate, and take action. Ultimately, contribute and create more value, and do the things that others won’t. This is what it means to be the arena, and not the sidelines.
2. Continuous self-improvement
“Man is a goal-seeking animal. His life only has meaning if he is reaching out and striving for his goals.”
Self-improvement is the belief that no matter where you came from, what your life is like currently, a better future is possible by bettering yourself today. You’re not sitting idly with a victim mentality waiting for others to help you. You’re improving yourself to become the best version of yourself, knowing that you’ll ultimately benefit the world at large by doing so.
Self-improvement can take shape in an endless number of ways, from reading to exercising to dressing better to practicing public speaking. All of this is done with the end goal of living a happier and healthier life, and seeing steady progress brings excitement and purpose to your days.
Part of continuous self-improvement is the willingness to seek lifelong education. Most people think that the end of college signals the end of learning, and rarely bother to keep up with new advances in their industry or technology. This leads to mediocrity.
Successful people never stop learning, and attribute their achievements largely to their own self-education. They’re open and willing to learn even after they have achieved competency to ensure they don’t stagnate. They understand that education and knowledge is the lifeblood of success.
This means willingly investing in yourself. There are no quick fixes or hacks that will improve your life overnight. The name of the game is incremental improvements – to be 1% better every week.
This pillar is to set a higher standard for your life, even if the rest of the world settles for average.
Further reading:The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People
3. Associate with people who will bring you up
The simple but true fact of life is that you become like those with whom you closely associate – for the good and the bad.
The less you associate with some people, the more your life will improve. Any time you tolerate mediocrity in others, it increases your mediocrity. An important attribute in successful people is their impatience with negative thinking and negative acting people. As you grow, your associates will change. Some of your friends will not want you to go on. They will want you to stay where they are. Friends that don’t help you climb will want you to crawl. Your friends will stretch your vision or choke your dream. Those that don’t increase you will eventually decrease you.
You’re the average of the five people closest to you, so who do you want in your circle to influence you? Studies have shown our inner circle of friends has a direct impact on our body weight and even our income. By associating with the right people who will support you and mentor you, while replicating that same guidance yourself, you uplift yourself along with everyone you come in contact with.
In Napoleon Hill’s classic Think and Grow Rich, thousands of successful, wealthy men and women were studied. One of the most common practices among them was that they all participated in “masterminds”, close-knit groups of friends and peers who helped each other solve problems and move forward with their goals. Today, one can also find virtual mentors through books and online interactions – by no means a substitute for the real thing, useful nonetheless.
Some people want to be the smartest person in the room. I don’t believe that’s the right way to go about it. Rather, strive to be the dumbest person in any room so you can learn from those around you. When you think like this, believing there is something you can learn from everyone, there will be.
4. Avoid dogmatism
When you shout ideology out, what you’re doing is pounding it in, pounding it in, and you’re gradually ruining your mind. So you want to be very, very careful of any ideology. It’s a big danger.
I have what I call an iron prescription that helps me keep sane when I naturally drift toward preferring one ideology over another and that is: I say that I’m not entitled to have an opinion on this subject unless I can state the arguments against my position better than the people who support it.
Dogmatism is the tendency to lay down principles as incontrovertibly true, without consideration of evidence or the opinions of others.
In today’s society, there is a glut of movements, anti-movements, ideologies, religious beliefs, political views, and advocacy groups. While they support different positions, each of them essentially want the same thing: to indoctrinate you to believe the same thing they do.
My position on ideologies as a whole is like Munger’s – they can be very, very dangerous, especially to young minds that tend to be easily molded.
Why? Because when you begin to espouse a certain outlook on an issue, you begin to identify with that set of beliefs. You go from believing in ____-ism (replace the blank with any ideology), to becoming a _____-ist. This invariably changes how you see yourself and even the actions you take. It creates an “us” versus “them” dichotomy which creates a sense of helplessness as you fight against “the Man” or whoever the enemy may be.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t have beliefs, but that you should be very careful about holding onto them as facts. The ability to examine new ideas or opinions with an open mind is important as you open yourself up to many more opportunities you otherwise might have missed.
You also won’t be wasting your energy, willpower and time (perhaps the three most important ingredients on the road to success) as you’ll inevitably be caught up in arguments with people who believe differently than you.
Basically, as Munger says, until you can argue the other side better than your opponent, avoid taking a stance one way or another.
Further reading: Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion
Too many people spend money they haven’t earned, to buy things they don’t want, to impress people they don’t like.
The less stuff you own, the less you let stuff own you.
Apparently one-third of American households live paycheck to paycheck. These are middle-class families that earn an income not at all near the poverty line, but they somehow have no savings.
The problem is that people are overspending on material possessions. We’re taught to think that the more stuff we have the better off we are. So we buy the fancy car, upgrade to the new iPhone, and splurge on designer clothes, usually all paid by credit.
One of the most important lessons I’ve learned as I’ve grown up is that our things don’t define us. I’ve realized I need very little in order to be happy. It’s much more valuable to me to spend money on experiences to cherish and look back on. Experience also shape who we become. Traveling to a foreign destination, for instance, can alter your values and how you perceive the world. It can open up your mind to vast new frontiers of potential you never thought existed before.
Minimalism doesn’t just apply to material things, though. It means getting de-cluttering your day so you can spend time with people you love and do the things you love. It means simplifying your life so you are left with only that which gives you value.
Minimalism keeps you grounded safely while everyone else crashes and burns, and simplifies your life to help you find peace.
6. Put physical health first
Physical fitness is not only one of the most important keys to a healthy body, it is the basis of dynamic and creative intellectual activity.
-John F. Kennedy
Physical health may be one of the most underrated aspects when it comes to the achievement of success. Most of us tend to take our bodies for granted in this day and age – we don’t get enough sleep, we eat too much sugary, processed food, we drink too much alcohol, we sit for prolonged periods with bad posture, and we don’t exercise enough.
The truth is our physical health carries over into all other aspects of our lives, including our mental and intellectual health. Being strong physically means having the energy to work harder, be more productive, and think more creatively. Ask any top-performing CEO, and you’ll find the majority of them swear by their morning exercise regime.
Studies on the brain have shown that even a 20-minute brisk walk stimulates the brain immensely. Added into all the other benefits of exercise, such as decreased risk of cancer, disease, muscle loss, and all other ailments, and it’s plain to see why physical health is part of the foundation for future success.
Our bodies are the vehicles through which we navigate the world. Just as we tune up a car and fill it with oil to ensure it runs properly, we must do the same with our bodies by taking care of our diet, exercising right, and sleeping enough. Successful people take care of their bodies because they believe they’re here to make the world a better place, and they understand that they can only do so in good health.
7. Cultivate the mindset
Whatever the mind of man can conceive and believe, it can achieve. Thoughts are things! And powerful things at that, when mixed with definiteness of purpose, and burning desire, can be translated into riches.
Research has recently shown us that a person’s success is directly related to his or her mindset. We now know that much of your success hinges on whether you believe that your abilities can be developed versus believing they are fixed – in other words, a growth mindset versus a fixed mindset.
The successful mindset goes beyond just having a growth mentality, though.
It also involves having an abundance mentality as opposed to a scarcity mentality. It means removing limiting beliefs about money or the creation of wealth or the capitalist society we live in. It means being grateful and living in the present.
Most of us can improve in this regard. We all have stories and excuses in our mind we’re replaying over and over to justify to ourselves why we haven’t achieved success or a million other reasons why we can’t do something. Removing these barriers is part of cultivating the proper mindset.
Examine the top performers in any given field and you’ll notice the most important thing that separates them from everyone else is their mindset. They’re simply operating at a higher level, and it all starts in the mind.
8. Develop emotional intelligence & emotional control
If your emotional abilities aren’t in hand, if you don’t have self-awareness, if you are not able to manage your distressing emotions, if you can’t have empathy and have effective relationships, then no matter how smart you are, you are not going to get very far.
Beyond a certain level, IQ alone does not contribute to one’s success. Rather, it’s emotional intelligence that is the deciding factor. Emotional intelligence means having the ability to examine your own and others people’s emotions and use emotional information to guide your thinking and actions.
Studies have shown that top performers in various careers exhibit better emotional intelligence than their peers, as being able to judge emotions accurately leads to better sales, better marketing, and better communication skills.
Control of your own emotions is just as important. Data shows that children who are systematically taught how to manage their distressing emotions are able to empathize, collaborate, and perform better than their peers: they have fewer problems with substance abuse and violence, enjoy school more, and score significantly better on tests.
Emotions are, in fact, considered irrational occurrences that often distort rational reasoning. Life is full of hardships that can impact our lives, and while we may not be able to control what happens to us, we can choose how we deal with such events. We can either spend our time and energy languishing over things that have already happened, or to remain calm and tackle issues as they arise.
We can react to an offense from someone by losing our temper and fighting back, or we can brush it off and remove them from our lives. It is their problem, not yours. If you choose to view this as an attack, your mind will perceive it to be and your emotions will cause you to feel anger. To maintain control over your emotions is to remember that life is short.
Again, an examination of the highest achievers in any field would reveal the ability to separate emotions from decision-making. In the realms of high-stakes poker, where up to millions of dollars can swap hands in every pot, it is consistently those with the highest degrees of emotional intelligence and control that come out on top. Similarly, top-performing CEOs consistently make emotionally removed decisions to better the company.
This is the emotional aspect that is so crucial in the foundation of success.
9. Provide immense value
Get good at coming up with lots of ideas that help other people. That’s how you create the most wealth. That’s the fastest way to choose yourself.
The most important word on the road to success is “value.” Value is the key to any business’ success, for value is what a market desires, and a market will always exchange money for value. The quantity of value a business is able to deliver is thus directly correlated with how much money it makes.
This concept of delivering immense value applies to our personal lives as well. How? By helping people erect the pillars of success in their own lives. By connecting people in our network who can mutually benefit from each other. By pushing people forward towards their goals (this is precisely the value a mastermind group creates).
The important thing is you have to be willing to provide an immense amount of value without any expectation of anything in return. Value will then come back to you in mysterious ways. It may sound strange, but some of the people I look up to most can’t emphasize the importance of this enough.
I’ve noticed that when I focus on creating value for others, it completely shifts my perspective. You naturally move away from self-serving motives into helping others solve their problems.
We have all benefitted from someone else’s added value in the past. I started this website and began writing due to James Altucher, and began reading more due to Ryan Holiday. These people added enough value to my life that compelled me to change and improve my own life, and led me to turn around and help others as well.
Regardless of how you add value, your impact can only be as big as your willingness to serve. If you wish to create a meaningful impact during your stay on this planet, you have to be willing to serve a greater cause and help those around you. This is the pillar of value.
Further reading: Choose Yourself!
10. Remain humble
“A great man is always willing to be little.”
-Ralph Waldo Emerson
Submerging your ego and remaining humble even through the windfall of success can be the difference between maintaining it and losing it all.
An untamed ego has led to the downfall of many a man throughout history. Those who experience a taste of greatness seem to fall the hardest, as they believe they can do no wrong. But it’s a great advantage to be able to swallow your pride to lose the battle in order to win the war.
It’s difficult, of course, and I imagine it to be that much harder once you’ve risen to the top. The ego is at the root of insecurity and fear and if it’s not instilling in us arrogant qualities, it’s reminding us that we aren’t good enough, lovable enough, or that we’ll be found out for who we really are.
The best answer to constraining the ego seems to be humility; modesty. It’s taking the conscious choice to not allow fame and fortune and the ego to overtake us but to remain grounded. It’s the desire to continue serving a greater cause, and to find support from the rest of the pillars of success to continue moving forward.
Further reading: Humility: An Unlikely Biography of America’s Greatest Virtue
There are, of course, other important traits that are necessary for the emergence of success, but these are the 10 pillars I believe form the foundation. And while I don’t have all the answers nor am I perfect with regard to any of these, I do believe that if you lay the foundation and work at it, success will be imminent.
The underlying theme is that we are masters of our own destinies. We determine our impact on the world by improving ourselves intellectually and physically, mastering our mind and our emotions, taming our egos, and choosing who we associate with in order to create and deliver the most value during our time on this planet.
If you believe in these pillars, this community is right for you. On this website, you’ve got a group supporting you and myself who wants nothing more than to see you succeed.
This is all about bettering ourselves and making the most out of the life we have to make a dent on this planet.
If you agree, join us now.
Thanks for reading.