As an FBI agent, being successful was not an option — it was a requirement. The FBI only hires successful people because investigations often involve life and death situations where our mindset dictated the choices we make every day.
As successful leaders, entrepreneurs, and business owners, your ability to make decisions and execute is the lifeblood of your organization. As such, you need a mindset that says, “Grit up and make it happen.” You need to have intense focus under pressure.
Research suggests that it takes just the right mix of innate talent, personality traits, and life experiences to be successful and reach the top of the ladder.
Here are four characteristics that set successful people apart:
1. Successful people grit up
Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan “Press On” has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race—Calvin Coolidge
No matter how talented someone is, success demands psychological traits like grit and persistence if they expect to keep moving forward when confronted with an obstacle or roadblock.
A grit up and make it happen attitude requires confidence, competitiveness, positivity, and mental toughness. It also requires that you are able to relish your accomplishment while at the same time tolerating mistakes that you make along the way—self-criticism can be very destructive since it brings your focus on the negative instead of the positive.
Tip: To sharpen this grit mindset, place yourself in situations where you have ample opportunities to experience it. You can recognize when this mindset occurs when you are doing something excellent and you perceive you are close to your best performance.
2. Successful people look in the mirror
The way you view yourself predicts your level of effectiveness in every area of your life. It explains why the brain has such a powerful effect on your performance. If you see yourself as someone who cannot organize effective meetings, you won’t.
No matter where you are in business and life, you need to uncover and develop your skill sets. What you can glean from coaching and mentoring depends a great deal on how you see yourself. Coaches and mentors can make you smarter, but they cannot make you smart.
Success demands that we identify our innate talents and skill sets, apply mental toughness to keep moving toward our goals, and train to develop and expand our talents.
Tip: Most of what you think about yourself and your abilities were programmed in early childhood. This will play a decisive role in the way you approach challenges, and successes, in life. Take the time to trace back the origins of many of the self-limiting beliefs you have about yourself. Ask yourself whether they are still true because you can use mental toughness to change your self-concept when new information is shown to you.
3. Successful people find the flow
Successful people spend their time thinking about what they want to do and how to make it happen. And it doesn’t always take talent; it needs flow to make it happen.
Claude Bouchard’s research on elite athletes found no correlation between innate talent and trainability. Mental traits were just as important as fitness level in differentiating top athletes from amateurs.
Whether it’s an elite athlete, entrepreneur, business owner or leader, the most successful people are those who have experiences described as flow — a state of deep absorption in the activity during which performance seems to happen effortlessly and automatically.
According to positive psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, flow happens when a person’s skills are fully involved in overcoming a challenge so it acts as a catalyst for learning new skills and increasing challenges.
Tip: If challenges are too low, one gets back to flow by increasing them. If challenges are too great, one can return to the flow state by learning new skills.
4. Successful people don’t expect a bed of roses
There’s a long-standing belief that happiness makes people achieve more. However, a study by sports psychologist Tim Woodman suggests that happiness is not the key to success. In fact, it didn’t factor anywhere in the results. Instead, those who were most successful had experienced a negative, critical event in their life, such as death, the divorce of parents, disease, or some other perceived loss, all fairly early in life.
This is when they kicked into high gear and began to develop their talents and skills, and in the process, changed their life course almost immediately. As a result, they felt valued, important, and inspired — perhaps for the first time.
What stands out in Woodman’s study is that these same individuals also experienced another critical turning point in mid-life. It could have been positive, like finding the right marriage partner, or negative, like the death of a loved one; but it caused these successful people to redouble their efforts.
The study also implies that those who do not experience trauma or tough times earlier in life are less likely to have the drive necessary to achieve peak performance. The mid-life event reminded them of the original loss and motivated them at a deep-seated level.This is a common finding among successful people; they have a deeper motivation that pushes them toward fame, happiness or money.
Tip: Successful people are not content with beating their competition; they are just as interested in beating themselves. Personal best is very important because they believe they can always do better, no matter how well they perform. They are always striving toward peak performance.
LaRae Quy was an FBI undercover and counterintelligence agent for 24 years. She exposed foreign spies and recruited them to work for the U.S. government. As an FBI agent, she developed the mental toughness to survive in environments of risk, uncertainty, and deception. LaRae is the author of “Secrets of a Strong Mind” and “Mental Toughness for Women Leaders: 52 Tips To Recognize and Utilize Your Greatest Strengths.” If you’d like to find out if you are mentally tough, get her free 45-question Mental Toughness Assessment. Follow her on Twitter.
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