Here’s my argument for this essay:
Successful people tend to have good relationships with their own minds.
When I get to know people who have been successful — and I use that term successful in a pretty broad sense — it seems to me that many of them have an uncommonly positive relationship with themselves.
- One of the marks of a healthy self-relationship is that you don’t fall into self-criticism very often or too intensely.
- Successful people tend to be quite reflective and honest about their shortcomings.
- But they also tend to avoid the more unhelpful and destructive end of that continuum — self-judgment, rumination, negative self-talk, etc.
Of course, there are plenty of people who are very successful despite not having a great relationship with themselves. But the exception doesn’t prove the rule.
It’s my experience that when you look carefully at people who have achieved and maintained some amount of meaningful success in their lives, one of the hidden factors behind that success is that they don’t get sabotaged and derailed by their thoughts, beliefs, and emotions.
It’s a lot easier to be successful when you have a good relationship with your mind.
Here are 7 psychological habits I’ve observed in highly successful people that we can all learn from — whatever your definition of success is:
1. They acknowledge their emotions early
It’s hard to be successful in any part of life if you constantly get overwhelmed by painful emotions. Of course, we all experience difficult emotions like fear, sadness, or anger. But why is it that some people manage these feelings relatively well while others don’t?
It’s easier to manage difficult emotions when you catch them early.
Most people get overwhelmed by painful emotions because they ignore them or distract themselves when those emotions are small. While this feels good in the short term, it usually leads to those feelings getting much bigger and more intense over time.
On the other hand, if you can get in the habit of acknowledging your emotions when they first show up — and then validating them instead of trying to get rid of them — you stand a much better chance of staying emotionally balanced and getting on with your most important work and goals.
2. They think about their thinking
Aside from ignoring your emotions when they first show up, the other reason they end up ballooning into giant, overwhelming feelings is because we unintentionally feed them. Specifically, patterns of thinking as chronic worry or negative self-talk lead to much stronger and longer-lasting emotions.
If you want to control your emotions, you must learn to manage your thinking.
Most people are not very aware of their mental patterns. As a result, they find themselves at the mercy of all the emotions those thought patterns lead to:
- Chronic worry → chronic anxiety
- Chronic rumination → chronic anger
- Chronic self-criticism → chronically low self-confidence.
On the other hand, successful people often have a habit of reflecting on and paying attention to their thoughts. They’re aware of the role they play in initiating or maintaining unhelpful mental patterns; and as a result, are better at regulating those thought patterns and the emotions that follow.
3. They’re compassionate with their mistakes
One of the things I’ve noticed in observing successful people is that there are two types of successful people…
- One type is very externally successful, but miserable on the inside.
- The other type is externally successful and also has a relatively calm and confident interior life as well.
And while many factors could lead to this difference, here’s a big one I don’t think is well enough appreciated:
It’s hard to be sustainably successful when you beat the heck out of yourself every time you slip up.
The externally successful and internally miserable types often have a pretty intense habit of self-judgment after mistakes. They’re constantly ruminating on past mistakes, worrying about future slip-ups, and generally being kind of nasty to themselves.
But the ones whose external success is matched by internal calm almost always have a strong habit of self-compassion. They reflect on their mistakes and try to learn from them. But they don’t dwell on them or generalize them to what they mean about them as people.
Photo: Darius Bashar/Unsplash
4. They listen to their emotions — but rarely trust them
Most people’s relationship with their emotions falls into one of two extremes:
- They’re dismissive and avoidant of their emotions. As a result, they don’t know much about them or how much those emotions influence them outside of their awareness (and they do!)
- They’re obsessed with and overly focused on their emotions. As a result, they frequently get lost in their feelings and are overly emotion-driven in their decision-making and choices.
On the other hand, people who tend to be successful often have a middle-ground approach to their emotions:
They’re aware of and sensitive to their emotions but don’t put blind trust in them either.
Instead, they see emotions as one source of potentially useful information but not gospel truth either. And when push comes to shove, they tend to use values rather than emotions to make big decisions.
5. They update their expectations frequently
Expectations are powerful beliefs about the future or what you believe should happen. But they also tend to run in the background of our minds, which means we rarely examine them or question them. As a result, we can end up thinking, feeling, and then acting in ways that are contrary to our values and what we want all because of old, unexamined expectations — either for ourselves or others.
If you insist on having expectations, you should insist on having realistic ones.
A lot of people end up falling into patterns of self-sabotage and bad habits because they’re still operating according to old expectations — often from childhood!
Successful people understand that to continue to make good decisions in an ever-changing environment you need to be regularly examining and updating your expectations so that they actually adhere to reality and move you toward your goals and aspirations rather than away from them.
6. They’re serious about self-care
It’s very hard work to manage difficult emotions well, think clearly and accurately, update strong beliefs and expectations, manage mistakes and criticism well, and perform all the other psychological functions that success depends on.
And yet, most people rarely do anything to support their minds in accomplishing those functions well. It’s like being a professional athlete and eating a terrible diet. Or owning a sports car and never bothering to get the oil changed.
Success depends on a healthy mind. And a healthy mind depends on healthy habits.
The term self-care gets a bad rap because it’s been hijacked to mean superficial acts of comfort and pleasure. But in reality, self-care means establishing and maintaining habits and routines that support your emotional health and well-being.
Successful people understand that doing your best work depends on being emotionally strong and mentally sharp. But more importantly, they know that those things require time and investment.
If you want your mind to work for you, you need to work for your mind.
7. They’re willing to be emotionally vulnerable
Emotional vulnerability is another one of those terms like self-care that seems silly and superficial and not worth even thinking much about. But that’s only because most people don’t understand what it means…
To be emotionally vulnerable means that, when appropriate, you are able and willing to talk about how you feel — especially when it’s tough. Not only is this important for your emotional health and well-being (see #1), but it’s vital if you want to maintain healthy and effective relationships — which almost all forms of success depend on (probably more than you think).
From business to parenting, a successful voyage depends on all parties feeling confident that they can talk about how they feel. Successful people understand that by modeling their emotional vulnerability and being honest about how they feel, they’re empowering others to do the same.
Photo: Ryan Arya/Pexels
Nick Wignall is a psychologist and writer sharing practical advice for emotional health and well-being. He is the founder of The Friendly Minds newsletter.
This article was originally published at Medium. Reprinted with permission from the author.