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Successful people will often tell you that luck and hard work got them where they are. But under the surface, there's much more going on. People who rise to top of their fields have a lot in common. Learning what sets them apart can help you find lasting success in your own business.
Jeff Brown, a Harvard Medical School faculty psychologist and co-author of The Winner's Brain (DaCapo, 2010), studies highly successful people, looking at their brain activity and life stories for clues to what makes them unique.
Turns out, they think differently than those whose success peters out or never comes to pass. "People who are successful have learned to optimize their brains," Brown says.
He's uncovered strategies, which he calls "brain power tools," that successful people use to achieve their goals. Each tool is a way of thinking that affects your choices and actions as you work toward a goal. Taken together, they help you find opportunities, build mastery, work through failures and surpass the status quo.
Consider Brown's five keys to lasting success as outlined below. Give these tactics a try to reach your goals time and time again.
1. Create your own serendipity.
If you look at highly successful people, their road to greatness was full of twists and turns. "Successful people take very circuitous paths," Brown says. "They have a real knack for recognizing nontraditional opportunities."
Rather than waiting in a long line of succession, look for paths that others haven't tried. Take on projects that add a unique skill to your toolkit, find ways to meet people you admire, or pitch yourself for opportunities that seem like an unexpected match. Don't be afraid to get creative. There are many ways to reach every destination.
2. Know what you bring to the table.
Successful people take inventory of their skills and abilities regularly, and they use that feedback to improve. "If they have a deficit, they want to know it," Brown says.
Ask mentors and coaches to assess your strengths and weaknesses, and measure your skills objectively if you can. Use that information to identify what to learn or practice so that you master strengths and bolster weak skills. And don't shy away from criticism out of fear or pride, Brown says. "That's the kiss of death when it comes to success."
3. Focus on a single end goal.
The ability to choose a goal and work toward it without getting distracted is a trademark among highly successful people. "They have laser focus, which boosts their ability to think and execute," Brown says.
Create a list of priorities and use them to select which opportunities to pursue. "Don't be duped by the illusion of missed opportunity where you think you have to do everything that comes your way," Brown says. "Lock onto your goal and don't get distracted."
4. Work at the edge of your comfort zone.
Risk is necessary if you want to truly excel, and successful people approach risk with a clear sense of how much they can handle. "They take moderate risks," Brown says. "They're out of their comfort zone but not going crazy."
Test your own boundaries by looking for risks that make you slightly uncomfortable but still more excited than anxious. "You have an optimal risk range that you have to learn to gauge and understand," Brown says. The more you experiment with taking risks, big and small, the easier it will be to find your sweet spot in the future.
5. Put your energy into the daily grind.
Successful people work tirelessly toward their goals. They're propelled by an internal energy that keeps them moving forward, even when they face setbacks or success seems far away. "They keep giving to the process and keep investing," Brown says. Their drive isn't pushy or demanding. It's persistent.
Rather than always looking ahead at the end goal, immerse yourself in the daily practice of building toward it. Learning to enjoy and embrace that process will help you develop the stamina and resilience you need to see it through. "You should enjoy the pursuit of success," Brown says. "The chase lasts much longer than the catch."
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Nadia Goodman is a freelance writer in Brooklyn, NY. She is a former editor at YouBeauty.com, where she wrote about the psychology of health and beauty. She earned a B.A. in English from Northwestern University and an M.A. in Clinical Psychology from Columbia University. Visit her website, nadiagoodman.com.